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Gary Bettman on hockey at Summer Olympics, leaving the door open, Ovechkin

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In his first year as NHL commissioner in 1993, Gary Bettman met with then-International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch to discuss NHL participation in the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Bettman asked the 73-year-old Samaranch if hockey could be moved to the Summer Games.

“I don’t think I finished the sentence before he said no,” Bettman recalled in 2009, according to the Canadian Press. “The Winter Olympics are too dependent on hockey in terms of attention [and] ticket sales. We are from that standpoint perhaps their most important event.”

On Tuesday night, Bettman made his first public comments since the NHL’s Monday announcement that it would not accommodate sending players to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, ending a streak of five straight Olympics with blanket NHL participation starting in 1998.

Bettman intimated that he brought up the Summer Games again in recent discussions with Olympic and international officials.

“Listen, if the IOC would move the Olympic hockey tournament to the summer, that would be great. OK?” Bettman said on Sportsnet in Canada. “We’d be thrilled to have our players participate because then it doesn’t affect our season.”

Bettman was asked Tuesday if there is any chance the NHL could change it’s mind on 2018. He did not completely rule it out:

Sportsnet: It’s still believed by most that we have talked to that the door is not 100 percent closed, that the timing of your announcement leaves the opportunity for someone, whether it’s the IOC, the IIHF or the Players’ Association, to come forward with a proposal that would be more amendable to ownership.

Bettman: I don’t think that’s accurate or realistic. The fact of the matter is that we have been clear for a very long period of time that the clubs have had enough of how disruptive the Olympics are to our season, when we have to shut down for three weeks.

Sportsnet: If you hang up from us, and the phone rings and it’s [NHL Players’ Association executive director] Don Fehr on the other line, saying, ‘I’d like to sit down and discuss possible things we could to make sure our players go to the Olympics,’ will you listen?

Bettman: I would never not take a meeting with Don to hear anything he has to say on any subject. But the more important point here is, we’re not looking for a negotiation. … We left the door open, not for a negotiation, to see if anybody had a suggestion.

It was unclear from Bettman’s last answer whether “left the door open” referred to the past, before Monday’s announcement, or remains Bettman’s current view.

If the NHL follows through on not participating in PyeongChang, the most immediate issue is that of individual players wanting to leave their teams to go anyway.

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has taken this stance, and his team owner, Ted Leonsis, has supported him. Ovechkin repeated his desire Tuesday.

Leonsis backed off a bit Tuesday, saying he had not thought about what he will do if one of his players wants to go to PyeongChang, according to Sports Business Daily.

“What the league now does with the IOC, I will wait to see what happens,” Leonsis said, according to the report. “But I’m not going to spend five seconds thinking about what happened yesterday when the playoffs are a week away.”

Bettman said those situations will “be dealt with appropriately at the appropriate time.”

“I love Alex as a person and as a player,” Bettman said. “We don’t have to deal with that now. My expectation is that NHL players will be here playing for their teams. We don’t have to get into that kind of debate and argument now. There’s plenty of time between now and the Olympics.”

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Nick Goepper opens Olympic qualifying on podium; contenders crash out

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — U.S. Olympic men’s ski slopestyle qualifying is underway with Sochi bronze medalist Nick Goepper delivering the first blow.

Goepper finished second at Dew Tour Breckenridge, taking the early edge in Olympic qualifying.

With a victory at any of the remaining selection events, Goepper would be looking good for one of up to four spots on the team for PyeongChang.

“I was really hoping to ski my best today, and I think I skied 98 percent,” Goepper said. “The Olympic selection podium is a bonus and eases the pressure a little bit for the next couple, but the pressure wasn’t really there. I’m just thinking of these as individual events [instead of Olympic qualifiers].”

Alex Hall (fifth place) and Sochi silver medalist Gus Kenworthy (sixth place) also got their Olympic qualifying attempts off to a decent start, but in order to be automatically nominated to the Olympic team, skiers need a minimum of two top-three finishes among five selection events.

Goepper was the only U.S. skier able to crack the podium in Breckenridge.

Sweden’s Henrik Harlaut (first place) and Norway’s Oystein Braaten (third place) played the role of spoiler for the rest of the U.S. team. Harlaut and Braaten are both considered medal contenders for PyeongChang.

Crashes took their toll on several U.S. Olympic hopefuls.

McRae Williams, the reigning world champion, was forced to drop out after crashing on his first run. Colby Stevenson and 2014 Olympian Bobby Brown also did not finish the contest after taking spills of their own.

The contest also missed the reigning Olympic gold medalist. Joss Christensen sat out the event as he rehabs from a torn ACL but plans to return in January for the final four selection events.

On the women’s side, Maggie Voisin remains on track for a nomination to the U.S. Olympic team.

She finished fourth, best among Americans, in the Olympic qualifier at Breckenridge on the strength of a run that featured three 900s.

Voisin won the first qualifier for women’s slopestyle, which was held last season.

She still needs one more top-three finish at any of the three remaining selection events to be eligible for an automatic nomination, but she has consistently been the top performer among the U.S. women.

With two-time X Games gold medalist Kelly Sildaru sidelined with a knee injury this season, the field looks wide open for PyeongChang.

Voisin, then 15, was slated to make her Olympic debut in Sochi as the youngest American in any sport but was injured just days before the competition.

As long as she stays healthy, she will be a medal contender in PyeongChang, as will Norway’s Johanne Killi and France’s Tess Ledeux.

Killi narrowly edged out Ledeux, who recently turned 16, for the victory in Breckenridge. Sarah Hoefflin of Switzerland rounded out the podium.

Four U.S. selection events remain for the men, and three events remain for the women. Olympic qualifying resumes in January with a series of contests in Aspen, Colo., and Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Ski Slopestyle 
(women through two of five events; men through one of five)
1. Maggie Voisin — 150*
2. Devin Logan — 82
3. Darian Stevens — 81
4. Taylor Lundquist — 52
5. Nadia Gonzales — 28

1. Nick Goepper — 80*
2. Alex Hall — 45
3. Gus Kenworthy — 40
4. Bobby Brown — 32
5. Cody LaPlante — 29

**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

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Maame Biney, J.R. Celski join U.S. Olympic short track team

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Maame Biney will become the second African-born athlete to compete for the U.S. at the Winter Olympics and the first black woman on a speed skating team.

J.R. Celski, a three-time medalist, is going to a third Winter Games.

Biney, Celski and Aaron Tran qualified in short track at the Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, after the 500m on Saturday.

The team is now at five skaters — John-Henry Krueger and Lana Gehring qualified on the first night Friday.

Three more skaters will qualify Sunday after 1000m races — two men and one woman.

One of Katherine Reutter-Adamek and Jessica Kooreman, the top U.S. women at the last two Olympics, is guaranteed to miss the PyeongChang team.

Neither could keep up with the 17-year-old Biney, who moved to the D.C. area from Ghana with her father at age 5, on Saturday.

Biney swept the 500m finals, taking leads from the start and holding off more experienced women. She actually fell — while celebrating after crossing the finish line in the last race.

Afterward, NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce told Biney that eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno believes Biney doesn’t know how good she is.

“People have been telling me that forever, and I think right now I’m kind of seeing it, but I feel like I have a long ways to go, but thanks Apolo,” said Biney, who won a junior world championships bronze medal last season.

Celski did not win the men’s 500m, where he is the world-record holder. Krueger did, with Tran in second.

But the fact that Krueger finished in the top two in Friday’s 1500m and the 500m means that Celski gets on the team via his second-place finish in the 1500m.

Celski won two bronze medals at the 2010 Olympics and another relay silver in Sochi.

He took a full season off after Sochi — undergoing hip surgery — and overcame further knee and back injuries the last two years to return to the World Cup podium this season.

Celski is the only American to earn an individual World Cup medal this season (a bronze) in 24 total races.

Celski won’t be able to race the 500m in PyeongChang if Thomas Hong makes the Olympic team on Sunday.

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U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK