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Russian hockey team knows ‘whole country is behind us’

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SOCHI, Russia — The entire Russian men’s hockey team held a press conference Tuesday at the Main Media Center. You’ll forgive the blurriness of the image, but I wanted you to see the set-up, because it was meant to be symbolic. This is a team, the Russians wanted to demonstrate. It wasn’t just a handful of superstars, and some other guys.

In the middle was legendary goalie Vladislav Tretiak, now the president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia. Vice captain Alex Ovechkin sat to the right of coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who sat to the right of Tretiak. Captain Pavel Datsyuk, along with vice captains Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, were also front and center. The rest were up there for a show of solidarity. It was extremely unlikely they were ever going to talk.

“I think all of us here together decided to appear at this press conference as a team because we want to show we are one team,” said Tretiak via interpreter. “It is a team sport and it is up to the entire team to get the gold, and that is why we are here together to talk to you.”

As expected, the big names got the questions. Occasionally, the Russian press corps and volunteers broke into applause, which is something you don’t see in North America.

“We do believe that as now we are playing on the home turf we will have even more brothers,” Datsyuk said via interpreter. “The whole country is behind us.”

It’s worth mentioning at this point that if you had to pick the two most famous losses in Russian hockey history, you’d probably pick the 1972 Summit Series versus Canada and the 1980 Winter Olympics, where they were shocked by the United States.

Related: Are expectations too high for Russia?

That ’80 Miracle on Ice team has been celebrated as one of the greatest teams — in the truest sense of the word — ever. And Tretiak said today that the underdog Americans taught the Soviets an important lesson about respecting one’s opponent.

As for ’72 , here’s what Canadian hero Paul Henderson once said about the heavily favored Canadian squad that had to pull together and battle back versus the Soviets: “I would say that at the start of that [series], we really weren’t a team, we were a bunch of individuals. But as the series went on, we became a team. And even today, guys that never played a game feel every bit as much a part of the team as guys who played all eight games.”

That kind of bond is what the Russians are hoping to build here in Sochi. The other teams are hoping for that too, of course, but given the number of times the “Not a team player” label has been attached to the likes of Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Radulov, and so many other star Russian players in the modern era, it will be especially interesting to see how this group comes together.

“When we lost to the Canadians [in 2010], it was a big blow to us, a big failure, a big blow to everyone in Russia,” Ovechkin said via interpreter.

On Thursday versus Slovenia, the quest for redemption moves from the dais to the ice.

Mikaela Shiffrin likely to return next week

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin will probably race the next World Cup slalom in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, next Monday, according to the Denver Post.

Shiffrin, 20 and the reigning Olympic, World and World Cup slalom champion, has been out since suffering a right MCL tear and a bone fracture in a Dec. 12 warm-up crash.

Her timetable for a return this season has shifted in the last eight weeks.

The rescheduling of a canceled Jan. 31 slalom for next Monday changed her previous plans to return the final weekend of February, according to the report.

“Our goal is to have her be really close to 100 percent, if not 100 percent [before competing],” said Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, in an earlier Denver Post report. “We’ve heard all these horror stories about athletes who went back too soon and then sustained injuries that did end their careers.”

The World Cup season concludes March 20. There are four slaloms left on the calendar, and Shiffrin trails slalom standings leader Frida Hansdotter by 305 points.

A winner receives 100 points per victory, so Shiffrin could take her fourth straight World Cup season title, but it would all but require her to win all four remaining slaloms and for Hansdotter (and others) to struggle.

MORE: Lindsey Vonn’s winning streak snapped

Tony Parker plans to play in Olympic qualifying, Rio Games

Tony Parker
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Tony Parker said he plans to play in both Olympic qualifying in July and the Rio Games in August, according to L’Equipe.

Parker, 33, previously said he could miss the tournaments this summer, at least in part due to his wife’s pregnancy, according to French media.

Parker said his wife is due in late July, which would fall in between France’s Olympic qualifying tournament (July 4-10 in the Philippines) and the Rio Games (Aug. 6-21).

Parker led France at the 2012 Olympics with 15.7 points per game. The French lost two games in London, to the gold medalist U.S. in group play and silver medalist Spain in the quarterfinals.

Parker led all players with 19 points per game at 2013 EuroBasket, won by France.

In September, Parker and France fell in the EuroBasket semifinals to Spain in a winner-goes-to-Rio game.

The defeat forced France to a last-chance, winner-take-all, six-team Olympic qualifying tournament in the Philippines in July.

In the Philippines, France will face a field that includes Canada, which had nine NBA players on its roster (including Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins) at August’s FIBA Americas yet was stunned in a winner-goes-to-Rio game by Venezuela, which had zero NBA players.

France is likely to be without Chicago Bulls All-Star Joakim Noah this summer as he underwent season-ending left shoulder surgery in January and hasn’t played a major tournament for the national team since 2011 EuroBasket.

Other French NBA players include Charlotte Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw and Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier.

MORE: Kristaps Porzingis not yet committed to Latvia Olympic qualifying run