Bob McKenzie: No NHL Olympic decision expected soon

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The NHL probably won’t decide for at least another month whether it will participate in the PyeongChang Olympics, hockey insider Bob McKenzie said on NBCSN on Wednesday night.

“The puck is now on the stick of the National Hockey League and the NHLPA,” McKenzie said. “Maybe the National Hockey League is just sitting back, waiting for the National Hockey League Players’ Association to provide a concession or an inducement or something that would change the owners’ mind about going to PyeongChang.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said league owners are feeling “fatigue” after going to the last five Olympics. They are worried about another midseason interruption and potential injury risk.

On Monday, the IIHF council held a conference call with representatives from all 12 teams qualified for the Olympics.

“The majority of this group felt that the NHL will likely need to decide during the month of March because of their scheduling needs for next season,” IIHF president Rene Fasel said on the IIHF website. “However, we do not feel at this time that it would be constructive to set a hard deadline for the NHL and NHLPA to confirm their participation.”

Fasel said that if the NHL does not participate, the Olympic men’s hockey format would likely not change to an under-23 tournament similar to that of Olympic soccer.

“Olympic ice hockey has a wonderful and exciting history that goes further back than just Nagano [1998],” the first Olympics with NHL players, Fasel said. “Look at the Swedes in Lillehammer [1994], the Soviets in Cortina d’Ampezzo [1956], and the Americans in Lake Placid [1980] … these are just some of the great moments we have witnessed playing under the rings.

“If we do not have the NHL in PyeongChang, I have zero doubt that the Olympic men’s tournament will still be as thrilling and competitive as any we have seen.”

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Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

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Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

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Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

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Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

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The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

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