Roberto Luongo

Burning questions as Canada decides Olympic men’s hockey team

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It turns out Steven Stamkos might not be the biggest injury concern for Canada’s Olympic hockey prospects.

The reigning Olympic champions could be down their starting goalie from 2010. Canada is scheduled to announce its roster on Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET, the final day for nations to submit Olympic hockey rosters.

An injured player on the initial Olympic roster can be replaced up to Feb. 12. This is key for Canada, as outlined in the three burning questions going into the team announcement below.

Olympic hockey rosters: U.S. | Slovenia | Switzerland | Czech Republic

1. How serious is Roberto Luongo’s injury?

The starting goalie on the nation’s gold-medal run in 2010 suffered an undisclosed injury in a collision in a game Saturday and was held out of Sunday’s game. This came after Luongo missed three straight games with a groin injury.

He was listed as day to day, but it might be worse than that. He was scheduled to be re-evaluated Monday.

Luongo or Carey Price is expected to be Canada’s starter in Sochi. As skilled as Canada’s skaters are, goalie is a position where it is merely comparable to several other nations.

Luongo was strong for Canada after taking over for Martin Brodeur in Vancouver, posting a 1.76 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. His recent NHL seasons have been less stellar, but his 2013-14 campaign has been his best in three years.

Price, of the Montreal Canadiens, has been better statistically than Luongo this season but has zero minutes of Olympic experience.

Barring a significant injury announcement Monday, expect Luongo to be named to the team with Price. The likely No. 3 is the Phoenix Coyotes’ Mike Smith.

If Luongo has to be replaced, Canada has options in 2010 Olympian Marc-Andre Fleury and Josh Harding, who has been the best Canadian goalie in the NHL this season.

2. What are Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis’ chances?

Before Luongo’s injury, the focus was on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s two biggest stars — forwards Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.

There was significant doubt in Stamkos’ Olympic availability when he suffered a broken tibia Nov. 11.

The NHL’s leading scorer in 2010 and 2012 embarked on aggressive rehab with his first Winter Games in mind and skated in full equipment last week. He appears set to be named to the team. Again, that Feb. 12 injury replacement deadline helps.

St. Louis, the Lightning captain at age 38, is more of a question to hear his name Tuesday. He made the team in 2006 and missed it in 2010 but should be optimistic given Canada’s GM that left him off four years ago, Steve Yzerman, is now the GM of the Lightning.

St. Louis’ 38 points this season are tied for 13th among Canadian players and behind younger fringe Olympic hopefuls Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.

“I think Marty deserves a spot on that team regardless of any other player, whether they’re injured or not,” Stamkos said last week. “Marty, especially the last 10 games, has really carried us. He’s a leader, he’s the captain for a reason, and he probably should have been on the last [Olympic] team — he’s using that as motivation, and I’ll be very surprised if he’s not on the team.”

3. Who else is on the roster bubble?

Aside from the Lightning pair, several star forwards seem locked in — Sidney CrosbyJonathan ToewsRyan GetzlafJohn TavaresCorey PerryMatt DucheneLogan Couture and Patrice Bergeron.

Claude Giroux and Patrick Sharp also appear likely, but it gets murky after that.

Two-time Olympian Joe Thornton leads the NHL in assists, but is there any more room at center with Crosby, Toews and Getzlaf and Tavares?

Jamie Benn, Chris KunitzRick Nash and Hall and Seguin have a shot, too.

Five of eight defensemen look locked in — Jay Bouwmeester, Drew DoughtyDuncan KeithAlex Pietrangelo and Shea WeberP.K. Subban and Brent Seabrook also make pretty strong cases.

There are also San Jose Sharks Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, making nine guys for eight spots.

Another tough call for Yzerman and Co., who have the enviable embarrassment of riches and the unenviable task of cutting players any other country would love to have in Sochi.

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Pressure on Ashley Wagner at world championships

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Ashley Wagner‘s four-year plan has her peaking in 2018, not at the 2017 World Championships, but many call Wagner to carry the U.S. women at worlds in Helsinki next week.

“Next year is the year that I am, like, in it to kill,” she said. “This year is maintaining. This year is my chance to work out all of the kinks, figure out where I want to be mentally going into next year.”

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, is the only skater of three American women on this year’s worlds team with prior worlds experience. She is the only one ranked higher than 20th in the world this season.

Normally, figure skating is an individual sport. But next week, the top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no greater than 13 (Wagner places third, and either U.S. champion Karen Chen or U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell places 10th or better, for example).

If not, the U.S. will have two rather than the maximum three women’s entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. had three spots at four of the last five Olympics.

Anything less than three in 2018 would mean the U.S. is not keeping up with world power Russia and maybe even Canada and Japan. And it becomes that much harder for Wagner and everyone else to make the Olympic team.

“I know that I have a huge role in these three spots at these world championships,” Wagner said. “I need to set this team up as good as I possibly can, so that way the pressure’s off the other girls.”

The others are the 17-year-old Chen, the surprise winner at the U.S. Championships in January, who then placed 12th at February’s Four Continents Championships, an event that doesn’t include Europeans. Chen said she suffered from nerves, a flu and foot pain caused by broken boots at Four Continents.

And Bell, who took silver at October’s Skate America behind training partner Wagner. Bell, 20, finished sixth at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, where she competed with an amount of pressure she had never before felt.

Of skaters entered at worlds, Bell has the 10th-best total score this season. The skater with the 12th-best total in the worlds field is more than nine points shy of Bell. Chen comes in seeded 16th.

“The tough thing about this worlds is that we have two rookies going into a very stressful event,” Wagner said. “So these two girls are in a really tough position, and I really feel for them. It’s kind of like you have to buckle up and deal with this, and that’s like your only option.”

There is reason for optimism, should Wagner put up something close to the performance of her life from last year’s worlds, where she became the first U.S. women’s medalist in a decade.

“Success in Finland is getting onto that podium,” Wagner said.

But Wagner is nearing the end of her (so far) least impressive season in probably six years. She is seeded eighth at worlds by this season’s top international scores.

She failed to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011. She was beaten at nationals despite longtime rival Gracie Gold underperforming.

However, Wagner’s goal at nationals wasn’t to win, but to finish in the top three to make the worlds team. She called the runner-up result “perfect.” She focused the last two months on firming up the areas where she lost points.

“Even though to some on the outside looking in, it wouldn’t look like it was the most successful season for me,” Wagner said. “I think at the end of the day this season has been exactly what I needed it to be.”

The favorite in Helsinki is clearly Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost since November 2015 and can become the first repeat world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

Wagner said she hasn’t watched any of Medvedeva’s programs this season.

“The only thing that I know about is her long program music is not my favorite piece of music,” Wagner said, alluding to Medvedeva’s choice of sound from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a 2011 film relating to the 9/11 attacks. The music includes, at one point, the voice of George W. Bush declaring that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

But Wagner was effusive of Medvedeva, the latest in a string of Russian Olympic and world champions dating to the Sochi Olympics.

“She is a set bar that everybody is chasing after, and I think in years past that bar was always changing,” Wagner said. “Now it’s one set thing I know exactly the quality of skating I have to reach, I know exactly the technical program that I have to be able to accomplish.”

Wagner, a seasoned 25 years old, noted a key point this week. She is the only active women’s skater in her class, with her length of experience, who hasn’t taken a break.

Italian Carolina Kostner is 30, but she’s competing at worlds for the first time since 2014, following two seasons off. Japan’s three-time world champion Mao Asada is 26, but she took a season off after Sochi and this year failed to make the worlds team.

Wagner reflected on her world silver medal and her three national championships. She knows they mean nothing next week.

“I have to prove myself all over again,” she said.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

More Russians retroactively disqualified from 2012 Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Three Russian athletes have been disqualified from the 2012 Olympics after failing doping retests, the country’s track and field federation said.

Hammer throwers Maria Bespalova and Gulfiya Khanafeeva and triple jumper Viktoria Valyukevich were all disqualified. None were medalists.

The disqualifications of Bespalova and Khanafeeva mean all three Russian women who competed in the hammer throw in 2012 have tested positive for doping. Tatyana Lysenko was the original winner, but was stripped of her gold medal in October.

Valyukevich, a former European indoor champion, was eighth in the triple jump at the 2012 Olympics and finished two places ahead of Russian teammate Tatyana Lebedeva, who has been stripped of two medals from the 2008 Beijing Games for doping.

In Tuesday’s statement, Russian officials didn’t say which substances were involved. The International Olympic Committee had no immediate comment.

It is the third time Khanafeeva, who won European championship silver in 2005, has been found guilty of a doping offense. She previously served bans in 2002 for a positive test and in 2008 for providing someone else’s urine in a drug test sample.

Bespalova is currently serving a four-year ban after testing positive for a banned steroid in 2015.

Since the IOC started retesting samples from the 2008 and 2012 Games last year, more than 30 Russians in various sports have tested positive. That makes them the largest group out of more than 100 positive tests. Seven more Russians have been disqualified for other doping offenses.

Russia has lost 26 Olympic medals as a result, most of them in track and field. Many of the cases involve turinabol, a substance which former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov has admitted supplying to athletes in a steroid cocktail.

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