Sidney Crosby

For Canada, repeating double hockey gold is the goal at Sochi Olympics

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CALGARY, Alberta — Camera crews, photographers, adoring fans waiting for autographs — no, this wasn’t a Hollywood movie premiere.

It was the scene at Calgary International Airport on Sunday morning, as members of the Canadian men’s hockey team arrived for an Olympic orientation camp. In this hockey-crazed nation, these are the celebrities.

Rick Nash, the New York Rangers’ $7.8 million forward, sat alone unnoticed that morning at his gate at Newark Liberty International Airport, but as soon as he stepped out of baggage claim in Calgary, light bulbs flashed and cameras swarmed.

Welcome to Canada.

The Canadian men’s and women’s teams descended upon the largest city in Alberta for meetings and training sessions this week, taking one step closer to becoming members of Canada’s Olympic team. Nearly four years removed from their gold-medal runs on home soil in Vancouver, both squads are under pressure to stand atop the podium again at the 2014 Winter Games.

The attention surrounding the men was intense. This marked the first and last time the group will meet before arriving in Sochi. In their meetings with the media in Calgary, players reflected on their experiences in Vancouver and looked ahead to upcoming challenges in February.

Head coach Mike Babcock, who also leads the Detroit Red Wings, recalled his speech in the locker room before the overtime period of the gold-medal game against the U.S.

“One of you is going to be a hero … forever,” he said.

Several players laughed when asked if they were surprised when Sidney Crosby became that hero with his shot past Ryan Miller after 7 minutes, 40 seconds of overtime at Canada Hockey Place.

“It couldn’t have been anyone else,” New York Islanders forward John Tavares said.

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who enjoyed a relatively short summer break after winning his second Stanley Cup, said there was a certain amount of pleasure snatching gold away from his friend and teammate Patrick Kane.

The Canadians set the bar quite high for an encore performance in February. With such lofty standards, every detail about this team has been scrutinized, from who will be in net to the effect of the wider, international-sized rinks in Sochi.

At times, these concerns can seem trivial with such a talented roster and rich history. However, the men’s tournament is filled with such strong teams, like the U.S. or the host, that one small factor could prove to be the difference.

While the Canadian women won’t likely have to worry about multiple countries competing with them for gold, their supremacy still appears to be in danger, due to the rise of the U.S. team.

Canada won the last three Olympic gold medals, but its edge over the U.S. narrowed in recent years. And with the Americans’ wins at the 2011 and 2013 World Championships, the field may be as level as it’s been in this heated rivalry.

source:
Canada was disconsolate after the U.S. won 3-2 in the worlds final. (AP)

Head coach Dan Church, who is entering his first Olympics at the helm, went so far in Calgary as to call his team “the hunters” in Sochi. His players weren’t far behind, admitting that they think about their neighbors to the south during every training session.

The recent loss in Ottawa at worlds in April still stings. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Caroline Ouellette didn’t mince words.

“It sucked to lose,” she said.

A looming meeting with the U.S. in the Sochi final seems nearly inevitable at this point — the two teams have met in every Olympic final except for one and every World Championship final.

The U.S. boasts a more youthful roster with star forwards Hilary Knight, 24, and Amanda Kessel, 22. Canada counters with the leadership and experience of Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford, who have played in every Olympic hockey tournament dating to the women’s debut in 1998.

Though the questions surrounding the women may be fewer, the expectations in Sochi will be just as great. After all, this is hockey. And this is Canada.

USOC supports athletes expressing themselves after anthem protests

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PARK CITY, Utah — The U.S. Olympic Committee supports American athletes expressing themselves at winter sports events leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics.

Some MLB, NFL and WNBA players kneeled and remained in locker rooms during the national anthem at games over the weekend.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun was asked Monday if the USOC would support American athletes peacefully protesting during the national anthem this fall and winter at pre-Games competition.

“I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t,” Blackmun said at a pre-Winter Games media summit. “We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.”

Blackmun was correct to reference the Olympic Charter, which states that “no kind of demonstration … is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ raised-fist salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, which got them kicked out of the Games.

The USOC has since honored Smith and Carlos. They visited the White House last year with the Rio Olympic team.

“That was a seminal moment not only for the Olympic Movement, but for the U.S. Olympic team,” Blackmun said of the 1968 podium gesture. “Our stance on this has been fairly clear. We certainly recognize the rights of the athletes to express themselves.”

Olympic hopefuls were peppered with questions about possible protests at the media summit.

“One of the proudest parts of being an American is the ability to have freedom of speech,” four-time Olympian Julia Mancuso said. “I really look up to athletes who take a stand for what they believe in. I really believe as athletes that compete for Team USA, when it comes to the Olympics, I like to think it’s a special event. Not like the NFL or pro sports teams that compete every weekend. For us, it’s every four years. I’m proud for athletes that stand up for what they believe in if they really want to have a message to get out. But I like to think of us all as patriotic.”

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic bobsled medalist, is the daughter of a U.S. Marine who served in Kuwait and spent summers in the 1980s playing at Atlanta Falcons training camps.

She said any decisions on demonstrations or whether she attends a post-Olympics Team USA White House visit come secondary to her pursuit of making the Olympic team this winter.

“I can’t afford to focus on what I would do in that situation or how I would react,” Meyers Taylor said, adding that anything would be a “game-time decision.” “Maybe the social climate changes a little bit [before the Olympics]. … There’s a lot to consider.”

Aja Evans, a 2014 Olympic bobsled bronze medalist, the sister of former NFL defensive tackle Fred Evans, did not say that she would follow the football players’ lead.

“I honor and commend anyone that does that,” Evans said. “My way of showing my stance is to continue to try to be a positive influence for my city, for my country. I’m representing Team USA the best way I can.”

NCAA hockey players Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, both prospective Olympians with the NHL not participating, said they didn’t envision taking a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve always stood for the national anthem,” Greenway said. “I always will.”

Olympic freestyle skiing medalists Maddie Bowman and Gus Kenworthy have said they plan to skip the traditional Team USA post-Olympic White House visit due to the current presidential administration. Figure skater Ashley Wagner, too, said she would not go if she had to choose today.

Kenworthy said he was shocked that President Donald Trump believed that athletes kneeling during the national anthem disrespected the flag.

“Those people [servicemen and women] are fighting for the freedom to express their beliefs,” Kenworthy said. “I feel proud to be from a country where we have the right to be able to kind of say what we feel, speak up for what we believe in. I feel that people kneeling before a game is actually quite admirable.”

Kenworthy didn’t rule out a personal demonstration at the Olympics, should he qualify again, but knows he could be stripped of a medal for doing so.

“I’m not saying that I would want to be dictated by fear, and if I was to get a medal and be too scared that it would be taken away from me,” he said. “I think that there’s a way to do things in a way that’s not going to sabotage yourself. You can stand up for something and not throw yourself under the bus.”

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U.S. Olympic men’s hockey player from 2006 has shot at PyeongChang

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PARK CITY, Utah — Though no active NHL players will be in PyeongChang, veteran NHL forward and free agent Brian Gionta could very well play for his second U.S. Olympic team in February.

A USA Hockey official confirmed Monday that the 2006 Olympian Gionta “has a very decent opportunity” to be part of the 2018 Olympic team.

That came in response to a Buffalo radio report that Gionta said it’s looking good for him to play for Team USA.

Gionta, 38, played 15 NHL seasons through last year but is currently unsigned as the NHL preseason continues. The U.S. Olympic team of 25 players named around Jan. 1 is likely to include very few, if any, players with Gionta’s experience.

Gionta was seen at the Rochester (N.Y.) AHL club’s practice Monday (but not taking part), according to media in that area. Gionta could play for an AHL club and be eligible for PyeongChang. USA Hockey wants prospective Olympians to be active in the AHL, NCAA or a European league.

Gionta’s agent has not responded to a request for comment on his Olympic prospects on Monday. Earlier in the summer, Gionta’s agent said that the skater was considering the Olympics.

Gionta led the 2006 U.S. Olympic team with four goals. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals to Finland, their worst Olympic result over the last four Winter Games.

That came during Gionta’s most productive NHL season — 48 goals (sixth in the league) and 41 assists for the New Jersey Devils.

Another Olympian — Ryan Malone from 2010 — embarked on a comeback this preseason and could pursue the Olympics. He has been in camp with the Minnesota Wild. If he doesn’t make the Wild, Malone could play on an AHL contract and be eligible for the Olympics.

USA Hockey confirmed that other players in the potential Olympic pool — at some 100 players at the moment — include Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe, a 30-year-old forward, played 394 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes from 2008-16 before joining the Swiss League.

Another is goalie Ryan Zapolski, who ranks third in the KHL in goals-against average this season.

John-Michael Liles, a 2006 Olympic defenseman and unsigned NHL veteran, is not interested in continuing his career in a non-NHL league to be considered for the Olympics, USA Hockey said.

U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said this summer that he was interested in some players who “have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster.” Johannson wouldn’t name names then.

Johansson said a “long list” of potential players for the final 25-man roster must be submitted in September.

A U.S. team of primarily European-based players will take part in a tournament in November in Germany. That roster is expected to be named in October.

The U.S. staff will also look at NCAA and AHL players ahead of naming the PyeongChang team.

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