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.

WATCH LIVE: Possible Olympic final preview in FIVB World Tour Finals — 2:30 p.m. ET

Alison, Bruno
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The World champions will play beach volleyball’s hottest team Sunday in an intriguing FIVB Word Tour Finals championship match and possible Olympic final preview, live on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Brazilians Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt established themselves as beach volleyball’s best team by winning every international tournament they entered this July and August, including the World Championship.

But the U.S. pair of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena has been the talk of the sport since partnering in July for the first time since separating in 2005. The duo has only entered five FIVB World Tour events this year, but they have made four finals.

“We don’t consider them to be a new team,” Bruno said. “They already play together so well.”

WATCH LIVE: FIVB World Tour Finals — 2:30 p.m. ET

There are many similarities between the pairs.

Alison and Dalhausser are both intimidating blockers. Dalhausser has been named the FIVB World Tour’s best blocker six times, while Alison was recognized in 2011.

In fact, Lucena called Alison “a thicker version of Phil.” Alison, who is known as “Mammoth,” has 35 pounds on Dalhausser, the “Thin Beast.”

Bruno and Lucena are speedy defensive specialists. Dalhausser called Bruno, nephew of Olympic basketball’s all-time leading scorer Oscar Schmidt, the world’s best defender.

“Bruno might be better than me,” Lucena said, laughing, “but I am taller.”

Both Bruno and Lucena are listed at 6-foot-1.

Dalhausser also compared to Lucena to Todd Rogers, his 2008 Olympic gold medal partner. Dalhausser described Lucena as “more explosive” than Rogers, who was named the FIVB World Tour’s best defensive player three times.

“Todd was super competitive, and Nick is the same way,” Dalhausser said.

Alison and Bruno and Dalhausser and Lucena split their first two meetings (not counting a recent exhibition on a helipad). They’ve played 209 points. Alison and Bruno have won 104. Dalhausser and Lucena have won 105.

Alison and Bruno won the first clash, 21–16, 20–22, 15–13 in the World Series of Beach Volleyball final in Long Beach, Calif., on Aug. 23.

Then Dalhausser and Lucena won Wednesday, 18-21, 21-16, 15-11 in a pool-play match that Lucena called “the most competitive match we’ve played.”

Dalhausser and Lucena, who are both from Florida, are counting on the heat to be a third teammate in Fort Lauderdale.

“We have to wear out the big guy,” Dalhausser said, referring to Alison. “We hope it’s 150 degrees, and we will serve him every time.”

The winning team will receive $100,000. It is the biggest international first-place monetary prize ever.

“They are the best team in the world,” Lucena said. “We want to change that and show what we can do.”

On the women’s side, Brazilians Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes and Germans Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst advanced to Sunday’s final, which will be live on Universal Sports Network at 1:00 p.m. ET. Larissa and Talita have won 10 of the 15 international events they’ve played since debuting in July 2014.

Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings missed the World Tour Finals due to season-ending right shoulder surgery. Her partner, Olympic silver medalist April Ross, teamed with Lauren Fendrick this past week, and they lost in the quarterfinals.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: ‘Mammoth,’ ‘Magician,’ bring Brazil back atop beach volleyball

Usain Bolt returns to Oktoberfest, with Olympic Alpine skier

Usain Bolt
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Usain Bolt drank, danced and sang at Oktoberfest on Saturday, partying at the Munich festival for (at least) a third straight year.

This time, Bolt brought Germany’s best Alpine skier with him — World Championships slalom medalist Felix Neureuther. Bolt also brought Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, the man who has helped the six-time Olympic champion sprinter get over recent injuries.

Here’s video of Bolt and Neureuther sharing a microphone to join in on a group song.

Here are Bolt’s highlights from past Oktoberfests: 2014 | 2013.

Bolt has been enjoying his offseason, having also partied with Lil Wayne in south Florida the previous weekend.

MORE USAIN BOLT: Watch Bolt lose at the Athens 2004 Olympics