Hockey qualification kicks off in Japan

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While we wait for the NHL pros to end their differences with management and lace up their skates on American soil once again, hockey fans everywhere will be glad to know that Olympic qualification kicked off in Japan Friday.

The Japanese squad started their journey off well, winning 2-0 against Romania as they seek their first Olympic berth since automatically qualifying as the host nation during the 1998 Nagano Games.

Yutaka Fukufuji, who played four games for the Los Angeles Kings during the 2006-07 campaign, stopped 22 shots in the shutout while teammate Tetsuya Saito scored in the first period and Takuro Yamashita added an insurance goal in the third.

South Korea earned a 5-4 OT victory against Great Britain in the second game after falling behind by two goals three different times. Won Jung Kim scored a hat trick to keep the South Koreans in the game, Geunho Kim scored the equalizer to force overtime, and goaltender Sungje Park shut out the Brits in a shootout.

“We expected to win, we didn’t think we were the underdogs,” Won Jung Kim told an IIHF reporter after the game. “We are a fast team and our coach told us that we could outskate them.”

The winner of this weekend’s four-team round robin will go on to the final stage of qualification in February, where teams from around the world will vie for the final three spots in the 12-team Olympic tournament.

The other nine teams will earn automatic bids for Sochi based on the International Ice Hockey Federation world rankings. The United States team currently sits safely in seventh place.

U.S. senators speak up as women’s hockey worlds near with no resolution

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Sixteen U.S. senators wrote a letter to USA Hockey’s executive director Monday over their concerns about the treatment of the women’s national team.

Players have threatened to boycott the upcoming world championships over a wage dispute. The senators, all Democrats, urged David Ogrean to resolve the matter and ensure the team receives “equitable resources.” They cited the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.

USA Hockey’s board of directors meets Monday, and players said Sunday night they hope there’s a deal.

The senators, all Democrats, joined a chorus of support that includes unions representing players from the NHL, NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball. Those organizations said over the weekend they stood with the women’s team and criticized USA Hockey for attempting to find replacement players.

Prominent NHL agent Allan Walsh tweeted Sunday, “Word circulating among NHL players that American players will refuse to play in men’s World Championships in solidarity with the women.”

Zach Bogosian, an American-born Buffalo Sabres defenseman, went to high school with U.S. captain Meghan Duggan. He tweeted his support and said he hopes the dispute is resolved.

The U.S. is the defending champion at the International Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, which begins Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

In negotiations over the past 15 months, players have asked for a four-year contract that pays them outside the six-month Olympic period. The senators’ letter notes the $6,000 that players earn around the Olympics and USA Hockey’s $3.5 million annual spending on the men’s national team development program and other discrepancies.

“These elite athletes indeed deserve fairness and respect, and we hope you will be a leader on this issue as women continue to push for equality in athletics,” the senators wrote.

In a statement Sunday night, players said they hoped USA Hockey would approve terms discussed during a meeting last week. They said the agreement has the “potential to be a game changer for everyone.”

The letter was signed by: Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Patty Murray of Washington, Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Thomas Carper of Delaware, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

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Ugandan Olympian’s body shuts down at World Cross-Country Champs (video)

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Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei went from leading the race to finishing 30th in the final kilometer at the World Cross-Country Championships in Kampala, Uganda, on Sunday.

Cheptegei, a 20-year-old Olympian, saw his body shut down in the last four minutes of his race.

His stride shortened. His pace slowed. Cheptegei appeared on the verge of falling. At one point, a teammate deliberately pushed him from behind to keep going.

Cheptegei led by 12 seconds going into the final two-kilometer lap. He would finish 1 minute, 44 seconds behind Kenyan winner Geoffrey Kamworor, with 28 other runners separating them after the 10km race that took about a half-hour.

Cheptegei’s body movement looked similar to that of British triathlete Jonny Brownlee, who had to be helped to the finish line by brother Alistair Brownlee at the World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Cozumel, Mexico, in September.

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