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Canada’s potential Olympic starting goalie half a world away

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UFA, Russia (AP) — As the NHL opened its season, Canada’s potential Olympic starting goaltender was half a world away.

On the edge of Russia’s Ural mountains, Ben Scrivens suited up for Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the Kontinental Hockey League, taking on Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk‘s SKA St. Petersburg.

Scrivens was pulled after giving up four goals to SKA, which started its season 18-0. It was an off night for Scrivens, who has otherwise been solid in the KHL, posting a .918 save percentage last season with Dinamo Minsk of Belarus.

With the NHL skipping the PyeongChang Olympics in February, he could star for Canada.

Scrivens has been in contact with Hockey Canada, and he played preseason games on a roster assembled from KHL players.

The Canadians played six games across two tournaments, with three goaltenders each playing two games. Of those three, Scrivens has the most NHL experience (144 NHL games for four teams between 2011 and 2016).

“As a Canadian you just want Canada to win,” he said. “Obviously you want to be part of it.”

Without the NHL, the United States and reigning Olympic champion Canada will have to make do with scratch squads of minor leaguers, college players and the many ex-NHL players looking for new opportunities abroad – particularly in the Russia-based KHL, widely considered the best league outside the NHL.

The KHL is taking a massive 33-day break for the Feb. 9-25 Olympics while the NHL soldiers on.

Scrivens was mostly a backup goaltender in the NHL, where he took the league record for saves in a regular-season shutout with 59 for the Edmonton Oilers against the San Jose Sharks in 2014.

After being bounced between the NHL and farm teams in 2015-16 and admittedly outspoken with coaches, he looked abroad. Now 31, a KHL salary offers Scrivens the chance to “give my family a foundation for the rest of our lives.”

Located just west of the Urals that divide Europe from Asia, Ufa is a city of 1 million known for its oil industry and traditionally liberal brand of Islam.

Hockey games in the city’s 8,000-capacity arena feature a passionate section of hardcore fans who roar their way through the game, plus a heavy emphasis on scantily clad cheerleaders as entertainment.

Scrivens admits adapting to Russia hasn’t been easy.

It’s meant a “significant decrease” in his social life, and he speaks mostly in a kind of simplified English with his Russian and Scandinavian teammates – so much so that friends and family sometimes tease him for bizarre or ungrammatical speech on calls home.

“We don’t have time to do (Russian) lessons, so it’s more what you pick up from the rink. Guys teach you how to swear, that’s about it,” Scrivens said.

Scrivens’ wife, Jen, is in North America after spending time with him in Belarus last year.

His wife and family are holding off visiting him in Europe because they don’t want to burn vacation time and miss him at the Olympics – if he goes.

“The elephant in the room is what’s going to happen with the Olympics,” Scrivens said. “They’re tentatively holding that window open.”

USA Hockey has been tracking Europe-based players like former Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin, one of four Americans at Finnish KHL club Jokerit, and making sure they’re Olympic-eligible.

Two U.S. Olympic veterans with more than 1,500 combined games of NHL experience are also in the running.

“They’ve been prepared, getting the ball rolling and letting us to know be available for dates, setting us up with the drug testing,” Lundin said.

The team to beat in PyeongChang will likely be Russia, thanks to its many ex-NHL players now playing back home.

KHL players can hit the ground running in PyeongChang with experience on international-size ice and the experience of facing players of Kovalchuk and Datsyuk’s caliber.

The KHL’s vast geographic reach, from Slovakia in Central Europe to Vladivostok and Beijing on the Pacific coast, imposes a brutal travel schedule on its players, who can cross up to eight time zones between games.

“If you can’t get used to the travel, you’re going to have to stop playing in this league,” said Brian O’Neill, a former New Jersey Devils wing who plays with Lundin at Jokerit and has also been contacted by USA Hockey. “When you come home, you get a 12-hour flight back, your body feels the negative side-effects for a week or two.”

Still, the first Olympic tournament without the NHL since 1994 feels different somehow.

“It’s kind of a strange situation, obviously, knowing if you do make it you’re kind of replacements,” Lundin said. “At the same time, the Olympics, it’s an honor to play for your country on such a big stage. It’ll be exciting to try and make the team and see how it unfolds.”

Even though the NHL says its decision is final, Scrivens refuses to believe it’s a done deal.

“I’m still anticipating that something’s going to happen with the NHL, that they’re going to be able to come,” he said. “Nothing is certain until it’s already going on. Until they announce final rosters, or until it really is done, all I can do is try and play my game here and make sure that if I do get the opportunity to go, that I’m ready.”

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MORE: Full PyeongChang Olympic hockey schedule

Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson makes another Olympics

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Jamie Anderson will be headed to the 2018 Olympics to defend her gold medal, and she’s hoping to bring some big tricks with her.

By finishing in second place, best among U.S. slopestyle riders, at Dew Tour Breckenridge, Anderson has confirmed her nomination to the U.S. Olympic snowboard team for both slopestyle and big air.

The Breckenridge event served as the third of five selection events for the slopestyle and big air team.

On her second and third runs, Anderson attempted to up the ante by adding a cab double underflip — one of the most progressive tricks in women’s slopestyle snowboarding right now.

She washed out on both attempts but was able to finish on the podium based on the strength of her first run.

The cab double underflip is a new trick for Anderson this season. She learned it earlier this year and then landed it in a contest for the first time back in August.

It’s also a trick that U.S. teammate Julia Marino and Austria’s Anna Gasser had dialed in last season when they beat Anderson at several contests.

“When I was asked about double corks three years ago, I think I said there was no way in hell I ever want to do double corks,” Anderson said. “And then, with a lot of the other girls slowly getting their double corks together, I started to shift my mindset and realize that we also are capable of doing these tricks.”

MORE: Breckenridge women’s slopestyle results

So far, she’s only landed the trick a handful of times. And in the process of learning it, she’s endured some rough crashes that have upped the fear factor of the trick for her.

“I still feel pretty not-that-comfortable going upside-down twice, but it’s fun and it’s starting to click a little bit more,” she said.

Defending her slopestyle gold medal in PyeongChang will be no easy task for Anderson.

Gasser has been dominant over the last year thanks in part to her mastery of the cab double underflip, and Canada’s Spencer O’Brien has put her name in the mix as well after taking the victory in Breckenridge.

Anderson will also have a chance to compete in big air in PyeongChang, though her strongest results have historically come in slopestyle.

Hailey Langland (fourth place) and Marino (sixth place) finished second and third among Americans in Breckenridge.

Both will be expected to secure spots on the team at one of the next two selection events. A fourth spot on the team could be awarded at the discretion of the coaches.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Big Air/Slopestyle 
(through three of five events)
1. Red Gerard — 1,400*
2. Chris Corning — 1,200*
3. Chandler Hunt — 1,160*
4. Kyle Mack — 1,000*
5. Judd Henkes — 1000

1. Jamie Anderson — 2,000* QUALIFIED
2. Julia Marino — 1,600*
2. Hailey Langland — 1,600*
4. Jessika Jenson — 1,050
5. Ty Walker — 1,000
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

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Breckenridge Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday
Men’s Ski Halfpipe — 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Women’s Ski Halfpipe — 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 4:15-5 p.m.

Saturday
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 11-11:45 a.m.
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 12:15-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Ski Slopestyle — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Ski Slopestyle — 4:15-5 p.m.

Lindsey Vonn wins 78th World Cup race (video)

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Lindsey Vonn‘s latest comeback victory, one that reinvigorated her Olympic medal hopes, came at the venue where her Olympic bid died four years ago.

Vonn overcame early season back and knee troubles to win her 78th World Cup race — and first in nearly 11 months — a super-G in Val d’Isere, France on Saturday. NBCSN will air coverage at 5 p.m. ET.

“I guess I’m not a washed-up old hag,” Vonn said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “I think I proved myself, and karma definitely comes back around. I’ve got some good karma coming my way.”

She prevailed by .31 of a second over Italian Sofia Goggia and .39 over Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel. Vonn has won World Cups here six times before, earning cows as prizes.

Vonn put in a scare, nearly skiing out at the bottom of the course, but let out her usual victory screams in the finish area and grabbed a TV camera, repeating, “Yes!”

Full Results

Vonn is now eight victories shy of the record she covets — retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s 86 career World Cup wins. She has said she hopes to break the record by the end of next season, after which she may retire.

First, her Olympic return in PyeongChang, four years after missing Sochi. The final straw came at this French resort in December 2013, where Vonn skied out with MCL and joint damage on top of a previous ACL tear.

Vonn’s PyeongChang medal hopes rode a roller coaster the last year.

A broken arm in a Nov. 10, 2016 crash. A win in her second race back in January, plus podiums at the world championships and at the Olympic venue in February and March.

Then a crash and a fall in two of her first three speed races this season. And last Saturday’s back injury and the images of being helped to walk with supporting poles in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

She withdrew from Sunday’s race — which was eventually canceled due to weather — flew to Austria and received therapy.

“It was mentally challenging to overcome that and be able to trust myself and push myself, even though I’m maybe not moving as well as I normally do,” Vonn said, adding that her back loosened up Saturday after the first few gates. “That’s been the biggest thing the last few weeks is just keep going, keep fighting, keep trying, keep picking yourself back up.

“I knew that the results would come eventually, but the important thing was just to continue to be tough.”

Vonn’s dad was waiting for her in his first visit to Val d’Isere.

“It was really cute when he was crying in the finish,” she said.

There was reason to doubt Vonn at age 33, given her extensive injury history. Only one woman has won a World Cup race at a more advanced age — Austrian Elisabeth Goergl in 2014.

Now, she has two months to stay healthy before the Olympic speed races, where she is a medal favorite in the downhill and super-G.

“I’m back on track,” she said. “[This win] proves what I already knew, that my skiing is good.”

First up is another World Cup super-G in Val d’Isere on Sunday (4:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

World Cup overall leader Mikaela Shiffrin is skipping this weekend’s races to prepare for upcoming slaloms and giant slaloms.

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MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Val d’Isere Super-G
1. Lindsey Vonn (USA) — 1:04.86
2. Sofia Goggia (ITA) — +.31
3. Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR) — +.39
8. Laurenne Ross (USA) — +.97
22. Alice McKennis (USA) — +1.62
24. Alice Merryweather (USA) — +2.03
34. Stacey Cook (USA) — +2.63
38. Breezy Johnson (USA) — +2.86
45. Julia Mancuso (USA) — +5.56
DNF. Jackie Wiles (USA)