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Cup of China preview, broadcast schedule

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After a world silver medal and a Skate America victory, the demanding question of Ashley Wagner is, can she be better?

In a way, Wagner faces less pressure at Cup of China this weekend than at worlds last season and Skate America in October.

Combined with the latter win, Wagner will clinch a spot in December’s Grand Prix Final with any podium placement in Beijing. Perhaps even if she finishes fourth or fifth.

The Grand Prix Final is the second-biggest annual competition, and the most exclusive. Only six skaters per discipline qualify via their two results on the six-event Grand Prix series. Cup of China is the fifth of six events.

Wagner said she left points on the table at the first event, Skate America, noting the need to work on her spins. She also singled the back end of a jump combination and under-rotated two more jumps in her free skate in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

It showed in the scores. Wagner won with 196.44 points, a total that would not have won any of the next three Grand Prix events leading up to Cup of China.

Though Wagner is the only skater in this weekend’s women’s field who boasts a Grand Prix victory this season, another skater owns a higher score. That’s Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, who took runner-up at Skate Canada with a personal-best 206.45 points, more than 10 clear of Wagner from Skate America.

The field is deep, including 2015 World gold and bronze medalists Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Yelena Radionova and rising Japanese 17-year-old Mai Mihara.

Another American, Courtney Hicks, can push into Grand Prix Final contention for the first time if she can reach the podium.

Three U.S. men with Grand Prix Final aspirations will be intently watching the results in Beijing. Adam Rippon, Jason Brown and Nathan Chen are all in contention to become the first U.S. man to make the final since Jeremy Abbott in 2011.

But none of them are competing this week. Rippon was third in both of his Grand Prix events, while Brown and Chen skate at next week’s NHK Trophy in Japan.

They should all be rooting for Canadian Patrick Chan to win Cup of China. Chan already has a victory from Skate Canada, so he is one foot into the Grand Prix Final like Wagner.

China’s Jin Boyang is of greater concern. The world bronze medalist took fifth at Skate America, so he pretty much needs to win Cup of China to have a shot at the Grand Prix Final. Jin, the first skater to land four quadruple jumps in an international program, certainly has the skill.

If Jin finishes second or lower, Rippon will be ahead of him in the Grand Prix standings, which will pretty much assure that the U.S. men’s Grand Prix Final drought ends.

Also in China, world silver medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani will become the third U.S. ice dance couple to qualify for the Grand Prix Final with any podium finish.

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Cup of China broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Friday Short dance 2:30 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s short program 4:10 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 6:05 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Pairs short program 8 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s, men’s short programs 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Saturday Free dance 1:30 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s free skate 3:30 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 5:45 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 8 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance, pairs free 9-11 p.m. UniHD
Sunday Cup of China 11 p.m.-12:30 a.m. NBCSN, NBC Sports app

Key Short Program Start Times Friday (ET)
Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 2:36 a.m.
Courtney Hicks (USA) — 4:17 a.m.
Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 4:24 a.m.
Ashley Wagner (USA) — 4:37 a.m.
Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 5:17 a.m.
Patrick Chan (CAN) — 6:12 a.m.
Jin Boyang (CHN) — 6:59 a.m.
Max Aaron (USA) — 7:12 a.m.

Top Grand Prix Season Scores
Men
1. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 292.98 (Rostelecom Cup)
2. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 285.38 (Trophée de France)
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 285.07 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 279.34 (Skate America)
5. Denis Ten (KAZ) — 265.26 (Trophée de France)
6. Jason Brown (USA) — 268.38 (Skate America)
7. Adam Rippon (USA) — 267.53 (Trophée de France)
8. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 266.95 (Skate Canada)
9. Nathan Chen (USA) — 264.80 (Trophée de France)
10. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 263.06 (Skate Canada)

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 221.54 (Trophée de France)
2. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 220.65 (Skate Canada)
3. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 215.21 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45 (Skate Canada)
5. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 200.35 (Trophée de France)
6. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 196.44 (Skate America)
7. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 195.60 (Rostelecom Cup)
8. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 194.48 (Trophée de France)
9. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 192.10 (Trophée de France)
10. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 192.08 (Skate Canada)

Pairs
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30 (Skate Canada)
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 210.59 (Trophée de France)
3. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 207.89 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 206.94 (Trophée de France)
5. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 202.08 (Skate Canada)
6. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 198.58 (Trophée de France)
7. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 197.77 (Rostelecom Cup)
8. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31 (Skate America)
9. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 192.65 (Skate America)
10. Natalya Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 192.56 (Trophée de France)

Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 193.50 (Trophée de France)
2. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 189.06 (Skate Canada)
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24 (Skate Canada)
4. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 186.68 (Rostelecom Cup)
5. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75 (Skate America)

6. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 182.57 (Skate Canada)
7. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 182.13 (Rostelecom Cup)
8. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 180.35 (Skate Canada)
9. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 178.57 (Rostelecom Cup)
10. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 175.77 (Skate America)

 

Several women’s players spurn worlds inquiry from USA Hockey

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As sports organizations and notable hockey figures express support of the U.S. women’s team, several players say they rejected overtures from USA Hockey to serve as replacements for the upcoming world championships.

Two players told The Associated Press on Friday that USA Hockey reached out to them to gauge their interest for the worlds, which begin next week in Plymouth, Michigan.

Brittany Ott, a goaltender for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, and Annie Pankowski, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, said the email from USA Hockey was not an invitation but rather an inquiry about their availability.

“I responded to that email and I said I’m not willing,” Pankowski said.

A third player, goalie Lauren Dahm, told the AP on Saturday she also turned down an invitation. Dahm plays for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Boston Blades.

The U.S. team has said it plans to boycott the worlds over a wage dispute with USA Hockey, which confirmed Thursday it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players. Several players posted messages on social media saying they support the national team and would decline or have declined any outreach from USA Hockey.

“From a personal standpoint I have never been invited to a USA Hockey series or camp or anything like that and I would honestly love to be invited to something like that,” Ott said by phone. “However at the current time, this is a fight that I believe in and I’m definitely going to stand up and help fight as much as I can.”

Many players posted a version of a Jerry Rice quote on Twitter on Friday: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC.” Not all players who tweeted that message were asked by USA Hockey if they could play.

On Saturday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the chorus of support for the players, saying on Twitter the organization stands behind their pursuit of fairness and equality.

“These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers,” Smith tweeted. “Of course, they have the NFLPA’s support in daring to withhold their services until a fair agreement is reached.”

Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol posted his support on Twitter, calling players competitors and role models.

On Friday, the NHL Players’ Association and Major League Baseball players posted messages of support. The NHLPA posted on Twitter that it supports players and panned USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements, adding that the decision “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

The MLBPA encouraged all female hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period. The sides met for 10-plus hours Monday, but players have called USA Hockey’s counterproposal “disappointing.”

USA Hockey said Thursday its priority was to have all the players selected for the national team on the ice March 31 when the tournament begins. But the organization added that it informed players’ representatives it would begin reaching out to potential replacements with the tournament coming up.

Star national team forward Hilary Knight said last week she wished USA Hockey luck putting together a suitable team of replacements to defend the gold medal because the player pool was united in the dispute. Ott and Pankowski said they had not heard from any players expressing a willingness to play in worlds.

“It’s a very unified front,” Ott said. “It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together.”

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MORE: Stanley Cup-winning goalie joins U.S. women’s coaching staff

World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner knows pressure’s on her at worlds

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.