Ilya Kovalchuk

Ilya Kovalchuk should be Russia flagbearer, Vladislav Tretiak says

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A candidate to light the Sochi Olympic cauldron has one man in mind to carry another Russian honor at the Opening Ceremony.

Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary, three-time Olympic champion Soviet goalie, said current Russian hockey star forward Ilya Kovalchuk should be the Russian flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony.

“When people have come up to me and asked who could carry the Russian flag, I named Kovalchuk,” said Tretiak, 61, president of the Russian Hockey Federation, according to R-Sport. “He deserves it. I don’t want to offend the other players like [Pavel] Datsyuk, [Evgeni] Malkin or [Alex] Ovechkin, but they’ll be in Sochi later.”

He’s right. There might not be any NHL players at the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7 because the NHL season does not begin its Olympic break until Feb. 9.

Kovalchuk, 30, does not play in the NHL anymore. He signed a 15-year, $100 million deal with the New Jersey Devils in September 2010 but now plays for SKA St. Petersburg after retiring from the NHL in July 2013.

He’s a three-time Olympian for Russia, winning bronze with the 2002 team.

Russia’s other top athletes seen as candidates to carry its flag in the Parade of Nations include three-time Olympic medalist figure skater Yevgeny Plushenko, two-time medalist bobsled driver Aleksander Zubkov and 2006 silver medalist luger Albert Demtchenko.

In 2010, Russia’s Opening Ceremony flagbearer was also a KHL player, former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Aleksey Morozov.

Plushenko was the Closing Ceremony flagbearer in 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin wrestles with doubt in seconds before World Cup downhill debut

Mikaela Shiffrin, of the United States, skis during the third training run for the World Cup women's downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
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After a momentary panic in the start house, Mikaela Shiffrin raced to a tie for 18th in the first downhill of her World Cup career in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion who has also won a World Cup giant slalom, has been slowly adding the speed events of super-G and downhill to her repertoire the last two seasons.

“It wasn’t bad,” Shiffrin said, according to SkiRacing.com. “I certainly didn’t risk anything crazy.”

Her result Friday, 1.99 seconds behind Slovenian winner Ilka Stuhec, came after Shiffrin was 18th, 24th and 30th fastest in downhill training runs the previous three days. Shiffrin also had to wait several minutes in the start house as the racer before her crashed (video here).

“That was just a bummer,” Shiffrin said, according to the Denver Post. “I was like, ‘Just don’t let it affect you,’ but being up there for 10 minutes, like, ‘What happened? What’s taking them so long? What’s going on? Is she hurt?’

“Then I started doubting myself, like my technique going off the jumps, which is actually pretty good. I was going back and forth between, ‘Should I even be doing this? Maybe I just should pull out because I don’t want to kill myself.’ Then I’m like, ‘You’re absolutely fine, you haven’t felt sketched out a single time on this track in the past three days, so stick with that. You don’t have to go crazy.'”

“To be fast in speed there certainly needs to be a certain level of risk, and I know that, but now, if [giant slalom] and slalom are my main priority this season, I don’t need to be going crazy in a downhill with flat light and after I got iced [waiting so long],” Shiffrin said, according to SkiRacing.com.

Stuhec won Friday’s race by .22 of a second over Italian Sofia Goggia. Swede Kajsa Kling was third.

A race replay can be seen here. Full results are here.

Lindsey Vonn, owner of a record 18 wins at Lake Louise, is missing the annual World Cup stop in Alberta due to a broken arm from a November crash. Vonn had raced at Lake Louise each of the previous 15 seasons.

Last season, Shiffrin made her World Cup debut in the super-G at Lake Louise and finished 15th.

The women have another downhill Saturday and a super-G on Sunday in Lake Louise, both streaming live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app (schedule here).

MORE: Vonn eyes January return from her most painful injury

High-speed crash at World Cup downhill in Lake Louise (video)

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Swiss Joana Haehlen crashed into netting at high speed during a World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Haehlen, 24, lost her right ski after landing from a jump and sped uncontrollably off course. She braced for impact, slammed into red netting and was turned around before landing with neither of her skis still attached.

She lay on the snow while being attended to and eventually skied down the mountain on her own.

It caused a 10-minute delay before the next skier, American Mikaela Shiffrin, could take her run.

VIDEO: Vonn details the most painful injury of her career