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

What to watch at Drake Relays, Penn Relays

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Olympic gold medalists ramp up their track and field seasons at the Penn Relays and Drake Relays, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold this weekend.

Athletes are working toward the U.S. Championships in June and the world championships in August.

First, the historic Penn Relays will air on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Friday (5:30-6:30 p.m. ET) and Saturday (12:30-3 p.m. ET).

USA vs. The World in men’s and women’s 4x100m, 4x400m and sprint medley relays will air live on Saturday from Franklin Field in Philadelphia. A full schedule is here.

The U.S. teams are led by Olympic relay champions English Gardner and Natasha Hastings. The full roster is here.

Rio Olympic rematches highlight the individual-event fields at the Drake Relays in Des Moines on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold from 3-5 p.m ET on Saturday. A full schedule is here.

Perhaps no field is deeper than the 100m hurdles. World-record holder Keni Harrison takes on Rio silver and bronze medalists Kristi Castlin and Nia Ali, plus 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson.

The 110m hurdles contingent is strong as well. It features the last two Olympic champions, Jamaican Omar McLeod and American Aries Merritt, plus 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Grenada’s Kirani James and American LaShawn Merritt, who earned silver and bronze in Rio, go head-to-head again in the 400m at Drake.

The men’s 1500m is headlined by Rio Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy and London Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano.

Rio bronze medalist Jenny Simpson races individually for the first time this year in the women’s 1500m.

That field also includes New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, who gained fame of her own in Rio. Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino fell in an Olympic 5000m heat and helped each other make it to the finish line. Both were praised for their sportsmanship.

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IOC president unsure whether esports should be considered sport

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Esports are gaining momentum in the international sports movement, but they are not close to becoming an Olympic sport.

“We are not yet 100 percent clear whether esports is really sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered sport,” IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday, according to insidethegames. “We do not see an organization or a structure that will give us confidence, or guarantee, that in this area the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place, and that the implementation of these rules are monitored and secured.”

The first clear step (of many) to become an Olympic sport is for the IOC to recognize the sport’s international governing body.

Esports will be added as a medal sport to the Asian Games in 2022, and has been praised by LA 2024 Olympic bid chairman Casey Wasserman, but it is not yet IOC recognized.

“We are watching it, we see the differences, we see the lack of organisation,” Bach said, according to the report. “But we also see the high engagement of youth in esports. Therefore, we have to carefully consider how this could be consolidated.”

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