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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Russia track and field boss: ’50-60 percent’ chance of Olympics

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Russia’s new track and field federation president said he thinks his nation’s track and field athletes have “between 50 and 60 percent” of a chance of competing in the Rio Olympics, according to Reuters.

The IAAF is expected to rule June 17 whether Russia’s ban from international track and field competition will be lifted before the Rio Olympics.

Russia’s track and field athletes were banned indefinitely in November by the IAAF, after an independent World Anti-Doping Agency report alleged widespread doping issues.

Russia was given criteria to earn reinstatement, and Dmitry Shlyakhtin, elected new Russian track and field chief in January, believes the situation has improved.

“A mouse would not be able to slip past us now!” Shlyakhtin said, according to Reuters.

Russia has recently come under more scrutiny following reports of widespread winter sports doping leading up to the Sochi Olympics and cheating during those Winter Games to avoid positive drug tests.

MORE: Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva plans to file suit if Russia’s ban from global track and field competition remains in place and she is barred from competing at the games in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s a direct violation of human rights, discrimination,” Isinbayeva said.

Russia’s athletics federation was suspended by the IAAF in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency commission report detailed systematic, state-sponsored doping. The IAAF is due to rule next month on whether to reinstate Russia ahead of the Rio Olympics in August.

“In the case of a negative ruling for us, I will personally go to an international court regarding human rights,” Isinbayeva said. “And I’m confident that I’ll win.”

Speaking from her home city of Volgograd in a Skype interview arranged by Russian track officials, Isinbayeva held up four forms documenting recent drug tests she had passed — proof enough, she said, that she should be allowed to compete in Rio.

“Of course I’m angry because of this helplessness. All I can do now is train,” she said, adding that young Russian athletes’ careers could be destroyed if they have to wait until 2020 to go to the Olympics. “Four years, it’s a long time. Many of them can be, how can you say, broken.”

Isinbayeva’s comments came as a key adviser to Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that Russia’s government supports making doping a criminal offense.

Adviser Nataliya Zhelanova told reporters at the ministry that the government hopes to get the law on the statute books for 2017, targeting coaches and officials who encourage or coerce athletes to dope. Fines or prison sentences were possible, she said, though this could change during the legislative process.

“It’s quite a long procedure but now everyone understood that we are in crisis and we have to do quick steps to fix the situation,” Zhelanova said.

In December, the IAAF asked the Russian track federation to consider lobbying for distribution and trafficking of doping substances to be made a criminal offense.

The new head of the Russian track federation maintained Russia was on track to meet IAAF conditions for reinstatement, but admitted to The Associated Press that a notorious training center was still part of the country’s track and field system.

The IAAF last year demanded the federation “immediately suspend all cooperation” with race-walking coach Viktor Chegin‘s state-funded center in the city of Saransk, which has been linked to more than 25 doping cases.

While Chegin was later banned for life, several of his top athletes are still competing and would be Olympic medal contenders if Russia is reinstated.

“I don’t rule out that (athletes are) living and training there,” Russian track and field president Dmitry Shlyakhtin said in an interview with the AP, adding that dozens of coaches who were part of Chegin’s hierarchy remained part of the federation’s system.

“If we shut down the Chegin center as a key point, we can’t stop and we won’t stop 75 coaches who are clean and transparent,” Shlyakhtin said.

Shlyakhtin said those coaches were working with children, but documents from this year’s national championships show top Russian walkers continuing to work with coaches from the main Chegin center. Officially, the athletes now represent local clubs and sports schools in and around the city.

Former Olympic gold medalist Olga Kaniskina, who lost her 2012 Olympic silver medal because of a doping ban, won the Russian 20-kilometer title in February in the fastest time recorded in the world this season. Federation documents list her as being coached by three trainers from the Chegin center and officially representing a children’s sports school, even though she is 31 years old.

“Kaniskina has finished her ban. She’s completely rehabilitated,” Shlyakhtin said. “Western people who are caught doping are not outcasts (either).”

Sergei Kirdyapkin, who lost his Olympic gold medal from 2012 due to a doping ban, is listed as being coached by Chegin center coaches, as is national champion Sergei Bakulin, who was stripped of his 2011 world championship gold. Both recently returned from doping bans.

Ahead of next month’s IAAF vote, Shlyakhtin said he was confident that Russia had made a significant effort to reform.

He said “90 percent” of the conditions for reinstatement had been fulfilled, including extra testing for Russia’s national track team in recent months and a shakeup of senior management.

Shlyakhtin suggested political interference, rather than a lack of reforms, could keep Russia out of the Rio Games, saying that countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, India and “especially China” deserved similar scrutiny on doping. He hinted that international officials turned a blind eye to some violations.

“The brakes are put on a lot of issues and they go away. Let’s all play fair according to one set of rules,” he said.

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