Jocelyne Lamoureux, Kelli Stack

U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team roster marked by youth

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For the first time, the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey roster will have no ties to its 1998 team that won gold in the sport’s Olympic debut. 

Forward Julie Chu is the only player named to the 21-player squad Wednesday who competed at either the 2002 or the 2006 Olympics. Chu, 31, is also the only player on the team born before 1985.

In addition to Chu, the team is led by forwards Meghan Duggan (the team captain) and Amanda Kessel, the reigning NCAA Player of the Year who scored the gold medal-winning goal in overtime against Canada at the World Championships in April.

Kessel, the sister of NHL All-Star Phil Kessel, hasn’t played a single minute of the U.S.’ seven games against Canada this fall and winter due to a lower-body injury. The U.S. took the series 4-3, winning the final four games after the shock resignation of Canadian coach Dan Church on Dec. 12. The longtime rivals brawled in two of those games.

“It’s an incredible rivalry,” Duggan said on NBC. “Everyone in here just loves the sport of hockey.”

The same three goalies from the 2010 Olympics return, led by Jessie Vetter, who started the gold-medal game at the 2010 Olympics and the 2013 World Championships.

The final two cuts were 2010 Olympic defenseman Lisa Chesson and forward Anne Pankowski. Defenseman Jincy Dunne, 16, was cut in December, ending her bid to be the youngest U.S. Olympic women’s hockey player ever.

The U.S. is coached by Harvard’s Katey Stone. Stone is set to be the first female coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team.

The average age of the U.S. team is a little over 23 years old, which is almost three years younger than Canada’s average age for its team named Dec. 23. The U.S., reigning world champion, and Canada, three-time reigning Olympic champion, are expected to play in the gold-medal game Feb. 20.

The U.S. opens its Olympic schedule against Finland on Feb. 8, the day after the Opening Ceremony. Finland, backed by goalie Noora Raty, beat the U.S. at the Four Nations Cup on Nov. 8.

The U.S. will play Canada in a group-play game Feb. 12.

The top four ranked teams in the world were put in the same preliminary group — Canada, the U.S., Finland and Switzerland — with all four guaranteed to advance to the playoff round. The top two teams in that group get byes into opposite semifinals.

Angela Ruggiero and Jenny Potter were the last links to 1998 who played in the 2010 Olympics. They have since retired.

“We’ve got some veteran experience, and then we have a lot of youth coming in,” Duggan said on NBC. “They bring a lot of speed. They bring a lot of excitement and intensity. We’ve got the right group.”

Here’s the full U.S. roster:

Jessie Vetter — 2010 Olympian (started medal-round games at 2010 Olympics)
Molly Schaus — 2010 Olympian
Brianne McLaughlin — 2010 Olympian

Kacey Bellamy — 2010 Olympian
Gigi Marvin — 2010 Olympian
Megan Bozek
Michelle Picard
Josephine Pucci
Anne Schleper
Lee Stecklein

Julie Chu — 2002, 2006, 2010 Olympian
Meghan Duggan — 2010 Olympian
Hilary Knight — 2010 Olympian
Jocelyne Lamoureux — 2010 Olympian
Monique Lamoureux — 2010 Olympian
Kelli Stack — 2010 Olympian
Alex Carpenter
Kendall Coyne
Brianna Decker
Lyndsey Fry
Amanda Kessel

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Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner can next week become the first U.S. singles skater to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, but not if she performs like she did last weekend at NHK Trophy in Japan.

“NHK was a disaster,” the three-time U.S. champion said Tuesday, “but that was kind of a one-time deal.”

Wagner backed into the Grand Prix Final as the sixth and final women’s qualifier by finishing fourth at NHK Trophy on Saturday, snapping her streak of 10 straight podium finishes in Grand Prix events. She had won Skate Canada four weeks earlier.

The Grand Prix Final is the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships and an event that Wagner calls a preview for Worlds (in Boston in late March/early April).

In Japan, Wagner had trouble cleanly landing and fully rotating jumps in both programs, and though she didn’t fall, her mental state was clearly shaken even before the free skate Saturday.

Japanese legend Mao Asada (one of three women to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, along with Irina Slutskaya and Michelle Kwan) skated immediately before Wagner.

The home crowd was at its loudest after Asada rebounded from her own poor short to move into the lead (temporarily, Asada finished third).

“I didn’t know how Mao had skated,” said Wagner, who was in third after the short program. “I figured I needed to at least get on the podium [to definitely make the Grand Prix Final], and I knew that I could probably afford a fourth place [to still make the Final]. I think that is where I went wrong. I should have just put my head down, started fresh and gone into that long program not focusing on, OK, well, I can get as low as this and I’ll make it to the [Grand Prix] Final. I think that didn’t really get me into the fighting spirit that I’m so used to competing with. When I focus on the results and not how I’m going to get there, it usually doesn’t go so well for me. It was a rookie mistake.

“I think I was playing it safe and trying to avoid making a mistake, and of course that’s exactly what I ended up doing.”

Wagner placed fifth in the free skate and fourth overall. She actually could have finished sixth overall and still made the Barcelona Grand Prix Final.

So she goes into next weekend’s competition as an underdog to Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Yelena Radionova, the last two World Junior champions. Plus countrywoman Gracie Gold and Asada.

Wagner’s confidence that the NHK hiccup won’t repeat could be bolstered by last season, when she was also the last qualifier into the Grand Prix Final (before Gold withdrew), was in last place after the Final short program but starred in the free skate to grab bronze.

“I like it when I have something not go so well,” she said. “When things are too perfect for too long, in a way it kind of freaks me out a little bit.”

Wagner called the women’s field in Barcelona “wide open.” It may be, given six different women won the six qualifying events, the first time nobody doubled up since 2006.

However, Wagner tapped Asada when asked to name her biggest competition. Wagner, 24, and Asada, 25, are the only women’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers older than 20.

“When she’s on, [Asada] has the whole package,” Wagner said of the three-time World champion who took last season off from competition. “She knows how to put on a performance. The audience loves her. Technically, she’s very strong. I think that If I had to pinpoint someone, Mao Asada on one of her good days, is definitely going to be one of the top girls.”

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Travis Ganong on the rise, leads U.S. men into Beaver Creek

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Before checking into his Colorado hotel, Travis Ganong made a quick pit stop with his doctor to get the stitches removed from his surgically repaired right thumb.

The digit remains extremely swollen even two weeks after a training crash. So much so that he can barely push out of the starting gate.

Not that anyone could tell in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend, when Ganong finished third in a downhill race and came within a wisp of another podium spot in the super-G.

Stitches removed and confidence soaring, Ganong’s eager to take on the demanding course in Beaver Creek over the weekend. This is a place where last February he earned a breakthrough silver medal in the downhill at World Championships (video here).

”It’s really nice to have these solid results so early in the season. It takes the edge off,” Ganong said. ”Before you have the first result, you’re always questioning yourself. Now I can relax and that’s when the really good skiing comes.”

The 27-year-old from Squaw Valley, California, has been a rising force on the U.S. speed team since a fifth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games.

In such a fast sport, though, he’s taken a gradual approach to his development – never racing outside his comfort zone until he was good and ready. That was all part of his calculated plan, which came to fruition last season as he won his first World Cup downhill race in Italy and earned his first medal at Worlds.

”I was always building, building, building, getting better and better incrementally,” Ganong said. ”Last year I was like, ‘OK, my time is now. I need to try something new.’

”Bam, I won a race. But then I would have a horrible race. … Now this year it’s all about bringing that consistency back to the top, top level.”

Growing up in Squaw Valley, Ganong could always be found somewhere on the mountain, whether it was skiing powder in the back-country with his father, cross-country skiing (he was good, too), snowboarding (yep, he tried that), going over moguls or training with his team.

”We had this two- or three-inch rule where if it snowed that much, we didn’t worry about setting up gates. We’d go freeskiing and chase each other around the mountain,” Ganong said. ”That’s the No. 1 reason why so many good skiers come out of there.”

Like longtime U.S. skiing great Daron Rahlves, one of Ganong’s idols as a kid. The two talk all the time about ways Ganong can uncover more speed.

”I really excel on the steeper, more gnarly courses,” Ganong said. ”I need to try to figure out a way to bring that same intensity to the easier hills that are a little flatter and not my strong suit. Daron and I, that’s all we talk about when we talk about ski racing.”

Ganong broke through last weekend in Lake Louise, which is more of a glider’s course.

Not bad considering his recent wipeout. He tumbled during an early morning training session in Vail when he didn’t pick up a roll in the terrain. He needed surgery to fix a torn tendon and ligaments. He also bruised his left knee.

So he didn’t have all that high of expectations going into Lake Louise.

”For me to have that kind of speed on that kind of hill, yeah, that was a little surprising,” Ganong said. ”I skied really relaxed and just kind of within myself.”

No one could catch Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, though, who came away with wins on both days as he returns to the World Cup circuit after tearing his Achilles tendon last season while juggling a soccer ball.

”Aksel just knows how to let the skis go,” Ganong said. ”But Beaver Creek? It’s a different hill.”

Ganong’s kind of hill.

”Beaver Creek is way more my style of skiing and my style of hill,” said Ganong, who was fifth last December in a World Cup downhill at Birds of Prey. ”I’m trying to not think too much about it, just keep working hard, and keep thinking I’m an underdog and have something to prove.

”Hopefully, that’s a good mentality to keep me fired up.”

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