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Don’t expect ‘status quo’ to get NHLers to 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The NHL is likely to skip the PyeongChang Olympics unless something big changes in the next few months.

The league’s owners are still leaning against allowing the world’s top hockey players to participate in the Olympics next year, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Saturday.

In the league’s most strident comments yet on this quadrennial issue, Daly flatly said the NHL’s Board of Governors doesn’t want to shut down the league to allow its players to participate in South Korea. The owners’ minds would have to be changed by something dramatic, but Daly doesn’t know what that new ingredient would be.

“If the status quo remains, I don’t expect us to be in the Olympics,” Daly said.

The league and the International Ice Hockey Federation have no firm deadline to decide whether NHL players will participate in their sixth consecutive Olympics, but the final decision has already been left for later than in previous years.

The parties waited until June 2013 to execute their agreement for the Sochi Games, but the decision was made several months earlier. The NHL prefers to release its yearly schedule in June, which means a final decision might not be made until summer.

While the IIHF has found the money to cover the costs of a PyeongChang trip after some initial reluctance, the NHL has numerous concerns that aren’t overwhelmed by the excitement of nurturing the game overseas and exposing its biggest investments to injury.

Commissioner Gary Bettman drove the NHL’s decision to participate in its first Olympics in 1998, but the league sees fewer reasons to shut down for three weeks while playing a compressed schedule. Bettman said the issue “got about 10 seconds of discussion” at the board meeting Saturday because nothing has changed.

“I think the realities of Olympic participation are more apparent to our board now, and I think it just leads to less enthusiasm about the disruption,” Daly said. “Quite frankly, we don’t see what the benefit is from … the league standpoint anyway with respect to league participation, so that’s the challenge. As Gary said numerous times, if there was a compelling reason that we could bring to the board that this is something we should do again in Korea, then we present it to the board and see what they would have to say.”

Daly acknowledged that geography plays a role in the board’s position: PyeongChang is 14 hours ahead of New York, which will mean difficult game times for viewers in North America. The league also doesn’t anticipate major growth in its game from playing in South Korea.

“I think on occasion in the past, it has” produced growth in the game to play in the Olympics, Daly said. “I’m not sure it necessarily would in South Korea. Time and exposure, all those issues related to (being) a long way away.”

The IOC and the IIHF benefit enormously in exposure with the NHL’s participation. Bettman and IIHF President Rene Fasel are expected to meet up this weekend

The players gathered in Los Angeles for All-Star weekend are unanimously hopeful they’ll be allowed to play, but they’re aware of the increasingly strident tone against the games being taken by their owners.

“I don’t think you should be able to pick and choose what Olympics you go to,” said New Jersey forward Taylor Hall, who has been to world championships for Canada, but not the Olympics. “That’s not what the Olympics stand for. If you ever talk to anyone that has participated in the Olympics, whether it is a hockey player or a javelin thrower, it’s a special place. It’s something that I would love to be a part of, and I wouldn’t want to see it taken away because the NHL didn’t want to go to South Korea. It’s special no matter what.”

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has previously said that he would play for Russia in PyeongChang even if the league didn’t shut down. He didn’t repeat that declaration Saturday, one day after being recognized as one of the 100 greatest players in NHL history, but he left no doubt he wants to be there.

“I’m pretty sure everybody wants to go,” Ovechkin said. “When I talk to the guys from my team in Washington, everybody wants to go. I think it’s great for hockey, great for us and great for our countries.”

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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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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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.