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After 2 years off, NHL veteran returns with Olympic goal

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The U.S. Olympic hockey team in PyeongChang — the first without NHL players since 1994 — should include an array of collegians and veterans in minor leagues and Europe.

It could also include a previous Olympian who hasn’t played professional hockey in more than two years.

Ryan Malone, a 37-year-old forward who earned a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, will try out for the Minnesota Wild during a preseason training camp starting next week.

Malone is setting realistic expectations — not to return to the NHL (though it would be incredible), but to make a minor-league team so he can be eligible for PyeongChang. He would love for his two boys — Will, 9, and Cooper, 7 — to watch him in South Korea.

“Either way I’m looking at it as a win-win for me to get back into the game on borrowed time and enjoy it,” Malone said in a phone interview Wednesday. “That was something I never even dreamed about or thought was possible [to play in the Olympics]. To have that experience and put on those colors, you get goosebumps talking about it. To have the slightest chance to do that again is well worth taking for me.”

He is older than all but one previous U.S. Olympic hockey player (Chris Chelios, who played at age 40 in 2002 and 44 in 2006 and is an assistant on the PyeongChang team).

The comeback began earlier this summer, when Malone was coaching in Minnesota’s “Da Beauty League.”

Despite the farcical name, the summer league is competitive. NHL.com called it “a glorified pickup game” for NHL and college players.

One night, Malone’s team was short on players. He laced up and felt pretty good for a retiree.

Earlier this summer, Malone had called USA Hockey GM Jim Johannson about a possible scouting gig. USA Hockey must scour the NCAA, Europe and U.S. minor leagues for talent to fill its 25-man Olympic roster.

So Malone decided to call Johannson again, but this time to ask about playing for the U.S. Malone was told that he would be eligible for Olympic consideration as long as he was playing in a non-NHL league (and not in the top minor league, the AHL, on an NHL contract).

“They’re in my corner,” Malone said of USA Hockey. “They have a good sense of my character and the player I am. It’s up to me to go out there and prove it.”

Malone made more calls that led to a tryout with the Wild, whose general manager, Chuck Fletcher, worked in the front office for the Pittsburgh Penguins when Malone was on that team a decade ago.

Malone debuted in the NHL with the Pens in 2003 and tallied 51 points for them in 2007-08, highlighting an 11-season NHL career. He opened 2009-10 with 19 goals in the first 38 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning and was named to the Vancouver Olympic team.

Malone can’t forget being on the bench when Zach Parise tied the gold-medal game with 25 seconds left, and for when Sidney Crosby won it with a golden goal. His silver medal has been in storage for a month or two as he has been between houses.

In April 2014, Malone was arrested for cocaine possession and driving under the influence and later sentenced to 12 months’ probation. His contract was bought out by the Lightning, and by the next year he was out of pro hockey.

Malone confirmed that his retirement wasn’t brought on by the arrest, but rather from leg injuries.

“I literally had legs like a 70-year-old lady,” Malone said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and confirmed that he underwent surgeries for varicose veins. “I feel better now than I did probably my last two years in the league.”

Malone might not be the only player with Olympic experience eyeing the 25-man U.S. team for PyeongChang.

“There are some guys that have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster,” Johannson said last month, without naming names.

A pair of 2006 Olympians — John-Michael Liles, a 36-year-old defenseman, and Brian Gionta, a 38-year-old forward — played in the NHL last season but are currently free agents.

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Ashley Wagner details dropping ‘La La Land’ free skate

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Ashley Wagner, the pre-eminent U.S. female figure skater of the last decade, changed her mind on one of the most significant decisions a skater can make going into the Olympic season.

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist and three-time U.S. champion, tossed out the new free skate she had been working on last month.

It was set to music from “La La Land,” which earned a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations earlier this year and won six Oscars (and, briefly, infamously, a seventh for Best Picture).

Now, she’s back to music from “Moulin Rouge.” It accompanied her free skate in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

Those years, Wagner posted the highest free skate scores in U.S. Championships history and for an American in international competition history.

“I really did love the [‘La La Land’] program,” Wagner said Wednesday, while promoting the Dick’s Sporting Goods Contenders program, which assists 41 Winter Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls with their preparation for the PyeongChang Winter Games.

“I was very passionate about what I was doing,” she continued. “I started training it day to day, and the music is beautiful. But just something wasn’t quite clicking, and the character didn’t really feel as complicated as I wanted her to be. There really didn’t feel like there was much of an emotional range. And I love drama. I love having those moments.”

The return to “Moulin Rouge” came abruptly as Wagner described it. One day at practice in early August, she consulted her steely coach, Armenian Rafael Arutyunyan.

“Is this program good?” Wagner asked.

“Yeah, it’s a really good program,” Arutyunyan responded.

“Is it good enough? Is this going to get me through the Olympics?” she pressed.

Arutyunyan told Wagner to put “Moulin Rouge” music on and skate.

“I made it to the first double Axel in the program,” Wagner said. “He turns off the program, and he goes, this is the program I want you to do.”

Wagner agreed.

“It’s my Olympic moment,” she said Wednesday, “and this is the person I want to be at the Olympics.”

Wagner, who lives and trains in Southern California, said publicly as far back as February that she wanted to skate to “La La Land” at the Olympics. Skaters usually wait until after the preceding season ends in early spring to announce program music for the following season.

But Wagner was so enamored that she texted her choreographer from a movie theater to say she had chosen “La La Land” for her Olympic free skate.

Wagner’s 11-year senior international career is marked by ups and downs, tears and several concussions. She identified with the film’s theme of hope.

“I love the music. I still do,” she said. “I just think that it was very much like an inspirational kind of a setup. I loved that. I loved the choreography. I can’t speak highly enough of the music. But I just know myself, and I know that after a couple of months of just one emotion, I get bored.”

Two weeks after the switch, Wagner performed to “Moulin Rouge” at last month’s U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp. At Champs Camp, skaters receive preseason feedback from officials on programs before debuting them in competition.

“I gave them the opportunity to see ‘La La Land’ if they wanted to, but everyone at U.S. Figure Skating was very supportive of my decision,” Wagner said.

Wagner said she will make her Olympic season debut at a small, local event. She won’t say where or when it will be. Her international season debut is at Skate Canada the last weekend of October.

She’s gearing up for the U.S. Championships in January, after which three women will be named to the Olympic team. That team will be chosen by a committee based on results not only at nationals but also previous top-level competitions.

Wagner is familiar with the selection process.

She was the top U.S. woman in fall 2009 but finished third at the 2010 U.S. Championships and was left off the two-woman Olympic team.

Wagner was fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and placed on the three-woman Olympic team over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu. Wagner earned that spot based on performing the best of all U.S. women nationally and internationally the previous year.

Now 26 years old, Wagner can become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928.

Wagner wants to separate from her own past this season, even as she performs to music associated with some of the biggest triumphs of her career.

Skating to “Moulin Rouge” again last month, “made me feel like the athlete that I was at 2016 Worlds, so that definitely made me feel nostalgic,” she said, referencing moving from fourth to second in the free skate in Boston to become the first U.S. world medalist in a decade. “Maybe that’s why I like this program so much.”

But judges may want to see something new.

So Wagner added professional dancer Benji Schwimmer to her choreography team. Schwimmer has worked with Wagner’s best friend and training partner Adam Rippon.

“This is a new season,” Wagner said, “and hopefully somewhat of a new version of Moulin Rouge.”

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MORE: What to watch every day of the PyeongChang Olympics

Officer body checks fan at world road cycling championships (video)

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A man dressed as a police officer leveled a fan at the world road cycling championships men’s time trial in Bergen, Norway, on Wednesday.

Spectators often run up close enough to touch riders on mountain stages at the Tour de France.

However, this man in a red hooded sweatshirt was decked while chasing German Tony Martin from two or three strides behind near the summit finish of a 19-mile time trial.

Martin, eyeing his record fifth world title in the time trial, was ninth on a course not suited to his strengths.

A full recap of the race is here.

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