Seth Jones

Burning questions as USA Hockey decides men’s Olympic roster

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It appears the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team will not include any players with multiple Olympics under their belt for the first time since NHLers were allowed into the Winter Games in 1998.

The 2010 roster, dubbed young and somewhat inexperienced, surprised by winning a silver medal. It beat Canada in preliminary play and nearly did it again in the gold-medal game, falling on Sidney Crosby‘s overtime goal.

The Sochi team is expected to bring back the stars from 2010 — including tournament all-stars goalie Ryan Miller and forward Zach Parise — among as many as 17 players from the 25-man roster (plus two injury replacements) in Vancouver.

The entire squad will be announced at the conclusion of the Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at The Big House in Ann, Arbor, Mich., on New Year’s Day.

Here are three burning questions going into the announcement:

1. Who will be the No. 3 goalie?

It “looked good” to be Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, according to a report Sunday citing an unnamed person with “knowledge of the selection process.”

That isn’t concrete at all but must be noted. Howard is thought to be in the running for the spot with the Lightning’s Ben Bishop and the Devils’ Cory Schneider. He was expected to return to game action Monday after not playing since Dec. 10 due to a knee injury.

2010 Olympic goalies Jonathan Quick and Miller are expected to be the top two, in some order. The third goalie from the 2010 Olympic team, Tim Thomas, is considered a longshot at age 39.

Bishop is the hot hand choice. He leads all American NHL goalies in goals-against average and save percentage this season and was the backup to John Gibson on the 2013 World Championships team that won bronze.

Howard started at the 2012 World Championships, where the U.S. was eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Bishop or Schneider, both 27, would also be preferable to Howard, 29, if age plays a factor. A third goalie usually only sees time in the case of disastrous showings and is a good use of a roster spot for a player to get the “Olympic experience.”

Quick was the third goalie in 2010 at age 24.

2. Do promising teens Seth Jones and Alex Galchenyuk have a shot?

The outlook is not good for either. Jones or Galchenyuk, both 19, would be the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s hockey players since 1992.

Jones, the Predators defenseman and son of retired NBA player Popeye Jones, has seen his ice time dip from 25 minutes per game in October to 22 minutes in November and 15 in December. Keep in mind, though, that Jones plays for U.S. Olympic general manager David Poile in Nashville.

Galchenyuk, the Canadiens forward and son of a 1998 Belarusian Olympic hockey player, scored 10 goals with 12 assists in his first 40 games this season. The 22 points ranked third on the Canadiens despite playing 15 minutes per game.

His statistics give him a better chance than Jones, but the U.S. has plenty of experienced and capable forwards at its disposal. It might simply be a case of not enough room for the young Galchenyuk.

3. Who else is on the roster bubble?

The U.S. is expected to go with 14 forwards and eight defensemen with the former presenting a clearer picture two days before the roster announcement.

It would be surprising to see any of these nine forwards from the 2010 Olympic team not make the cut — David BackesDustin BrownPatrick KaneRyan Kesler, Phil KesselZach PariseJoe PavelskiBobby Ryan and Paul Stastny

Another 2010 Olympian, Ryan Callahan, is a little bit of a question mark with an MCL sprain that’s kept him out since Dec. 10. He’s hopeful of a mid-January return.

T.J. OshieMax Pacioretty and James van Riemsdyk are the leading newcomers. The real questions come from other would-be rookie Olympians, a list that includes but is not limited to Kyle OkposoBrandon SaadDerek Stepan and Blake Wheeler

Questions abound on defense, where perhaps only Ryan McDonaghKevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Suter are safe selections at this point.

How valuable is Dustin Byfuglien‘s versatility? What is the importance of Jack Johnson‘s experience with USA Hockey? What about Paul Martin (out since Nov. 25 with a fractured tibia) and Brooks Orpik (back after missing three weeks with a concussion), who play for U.S. Olympic coach Dan Bylsma on the Penguins?

No matter the roster, perhaps only Canada will have greater overall talent than the U.S. Hockey Canada will announce its team on Jan. 7.

Russia suicide bombings will not affect Sochi Olympic security

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 by the IOC.

The USOC has 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.

Kenworthy repeated that stance on Monday. He 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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