Canada’s potential Olympic starting goalie half a world away

Leave a comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Full PyeongChang Olympic hockey schedule

Sprinters age 100, 102 break records at USATF Masters Indoors (video)

Leave a comment

100-year-old sprinter Orville Rogers broke five world records in the 100-plus age group at the USATF Masters Indoors Championships over the weekend.

The retired pilot did so in the 60m (19.13 seconds), 200m (1:40.94), 400m (4:16.90), 800m (9:56.44) and 1500m (20:00.91), according to USA Track and Field.

Not to be outdone, 102-year-old Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins broke 100-plus age group records in the 60m and the shot put as the oldest female competitor in meet history.

In the 60m, Hawkins clocked 24.79 seconds, smashing Ida Keeling‘s record of 58.34 from February. Hawkins also threw the shot put 2.77 meters (or 9 feet, 1.25 inches).

Full meet results are here.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Beat a record? Win an island at track and field meet

Charles Hamelin finally claims short track world overall title

Leave a comment

Charles Hamelin won Canada’s first overall title at a world short track speed skating championships in 20 years, bagging the biggest missing prize from his extensive collection this past weekend.

The 33-year-old and four-time Olympian won the 1000m and 1500m at worlds in Montreal en route to the overall crown tallying results from those two events, a 500m and a 3000m.

Hamelin came into the meet as the only male skater in history to win individual gold medals at multiple Olympics yet never claim an overall world title. From 2007 through 2016, Hamelin finished second in the overall three times and third another three times at the annual worlds.

“I was missing two medals [before this year]: Olympic champion in the 1000m and first in overall standings at a world championship,” Hamelin said, according to the International Skating Union. “To win it here in Montreal in front of my family and friends, I’m at a loss for words.”

Hamelin was originally going to retire after worlds but decided in the last month — after failing to finish in the top five in any individual race for the first time at an Olympics and announcing a split with fiancée and triple Olympic medalist Marianne St-Gelais — that he would continue at least through the 2018-19 season.

He won the overall at worlds with 81 points, nearly double the points of silver medalist Liu Shaolin Sándor, who was part of Hungary’s Olympic 5000m relay champion team. South Korean Hwang Dae-Heon took overall bronze with 44 points, one point behind Liu.

The last Canadian to win the world overall title was Marc Gagnon in 1998, the last of his four crowns.

On the women’s side, South Korean Choi Min-Jeong won her third world overall title in four years by claiming 500m, 1500m and 3000m wins. Olympic teammate Shim Suk-Hee was second, followed by Chinese Li Jinyu. South Korean won every female gold medal.

The U.S. went medal-less at a fourth straight worlds and didn’t advance any skaters past the semifinals. Its roster included individual Olympic medalists John-Henry Krueger and J.R. Celski and recently crowned world junior 500m champion Maame Biney.

Viktor Ahn, the six-time Olympic champion left off the list of Russians invited to PyeongChang by the International Olympic Committee, failed to advance past any individual semifinals.

Italian Arianna Fontana, the most decorated short track skater in PyeongChang with a medal of every color, competed only in the relay in Montreal due to emotional exhaustion, according to her social media.

Brit Elise Christie, the 2017 World overall champion, missed the championships altogether after suffering ankle ligament damage in a crash at the Olympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Best short track moments from PyeongChang