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Canada in control of hockey rivalry going into Olympics

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Four years ago, the U.S. women’s hockey team rode a four-game winning streak over rival Canada into the Olympics, then lost both games in Sochi, including a gut-wrenching overtime final.

This time, Canada goes into the Winter Games having won four straight.

The Canadians beat the Americans 2-1 in overtime in Edmonton on Sunday night, taking their pre-Olympic series 5-3 overall.

“I don’t think it was our best performance,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “There’s still more work to do.”

The Canadians were led by their stalwarts — captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored in regulation, Sochi gold medalist Jennifer Wakefield scored 26 seconds into overtime and longtime goalie Shannon Szabados stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Hilary Knight netted the U.S. goal, with Maddie Rooney making 24 saves.

“The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.

The U.S. appeared to be in that kind of form until about two weeks ago.

Before this losing streak, the U.S. had a 12-4 record against Canada since the start of 2015, including taking the last three world championship finals.

At one point, the U.S. won six straight games over a 12-month stretch, its longest streak over Canada since it famously won eight straight going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics then lost the gold-medal game.

Canada also beat the U.S. in their last four meetings before the 2006 Olympics and five straight going into the 2010 Olympics.

The U.S. Olympic team will be announced Jan. 1. The national-team roster is at 25 players (22 skaters, three goalies), but the Olympic roster is 23 (20 skaters, three goalies).

“Can’t live in the past, can’t live in the future, so tonight we were worried about this game,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said, according to the Canadian Press. “We weren’t looking ahead to February.”

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Marcel Hirscher ties Hermann Maier; Henrik Kristoffersen slams snowballs (video)

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Marcel Hirscher matched a legend. His biggest rival criticized snowballs thrown near him during his slalom run.

The Austrian Hirscher tied countryman Hermann Maier for second on the career men’s Alpine skiing World Cup wins list with his 54th on Tuesday.

Austria became the first nation to notch 500 men’s World Cup wins.

Hirscher, the six-time reigning World Cup overall champion, captured a night slalom in Schladming, Austria.

Norwegian rival Henrik Kristoffersen was second, .39 of a second behind and complaining that snowballs were thrown around him in his second run. Swiss Daniel Yule took third.

Full results are here.

Kristoffersen said three snowballs were thrown in his eyesight in his second run, just before Hirscher took the last run of the night.

“They didn’t hit me, but still it’s quite annoying when you can, like, see something flying in towards you,” Kristoffersen said. “There were probably 50,000 spectators in Schladming and 49,997 are really good people. I love Austria. It’s like a home race for me. Then it’s kind of a little bit sad that three people can ruin it a little bit.

“This had nothing to do with Marcel beating me. He skied better. I wouldn’t have beaten him if nobody would have thrown snowballs.”

Kristoffersen appeared to tell Hirscher in the finish area about the snowballs.

“Really? I’m sorry,” Hirscher told Kristoffersen.

“I feel very sorry for Henrik,” Hirscher said later. “99.9 percent of the spectators are great, but this 0.1 people, it’s a little bit of a shame that we have these spectators.”

Maier made 268 World Cup starts in the 1990s and 2000s. Hirscher reached the same 54 wins in more than 50 fewer starts.

Only Swede Ingemar Stenmark has more men’s World Cup wins than the 28-year-old Hirscher, who has nine victories this season, matching his best for one campaign.

Stenmark won 86 races in the 1970s and 1980s, a mark that Lindsey Vonn is chasing. Vonn is at 79 victories.

Hirscher prevailed in six of the last seven World Cup slaloms, dominating going into his third Winter Games, where he hopes to add the only major prize missing from his trophy case — an Olympic gold medal.

Hirscher was upset in the Sochi Olympic slalom, taking silver behind countryman Mario Matt. He was fourth, fourth and fifth in three other Olympic races between 2010 and 2014.

The men’s Alpine World Cup continues with a downhill and giant slalom in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Saturday and Sunday, streaming live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app and airing on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBCSN.

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Norway Olympic curling team unveils this year’s crazy pants

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Just in case the sweeping and the shouting and the chess-like strategy isn’t enough to draw in the fans at the Olympics, the Norwegian curling team is again calling on its secret weapon.

Crazy pants!

For the third straight Winter Games, the men’s team from Norway will be shaking up the staid, 600-year-old sport by wearing brightly colored trousers in competition.

Among the uniforms for PyeongChang unveiled on Tuesday is one that makes them look like they were the losing team in a patriotic paintball outing.

“Curling is kind of similar to golf, very traditional,” Norwegian second Christoffer Svae said in a telephone interview from New York, where the team — well, mostly the pants — was doing a media blitz. “When we started playing in colored pants, it was breaking tradition. It was turning heads, for sure.”

The pants first attracted attention at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where they debuted as a red, white and blue argyle in a field filled with black or other dark trousers.

They — the pants, not the curlers — soon had a Facebook page that now has nearly 500,000 followers and its own email address to field media inquiries.

Back then, the team just ordered and paid for the pants off the rack, but it soon became a sponsorship opportunity.

Loudmouth, which had mostly marketed toward golfers, signed on for the Sochi Games and designed pants just for the team, including a pattern featuring the Norwegian flag and another outfit with high socks and knickers.

The company, which declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the value of the deal, has also backed an American beach volleyball team at the London Olympics, golfer John Daly and Peter “Snakebite” Wright, the No. 2 darts player in the world.

But its biggest splash has come with the Norwegian curlers, and it is backing them again in PyeongChang.

Svae said they will have 12 different outfits — enough to get them through the medal round — and some cash to pay for travel and other expenses.

In a niche, largely self-funded sport like curling, that comes in handy.

“It’s huge,” Svae said. “We get funding from Loudmouth to cover travel expenses, and also the fame we get from the Loudmouth clothes get us other sponsors in Norway, because they want to be associated with the brand we’ve made.”

In addition to Svae, the team includes lead Haavard Vad Petersson, vice-skip Torger Nergaard and skip Thomas Ulsrud.

They will be attending their third straight Olympics, having won a silver medal in Vancouver. (Nergaard won gold as part of a different foursome in 2002).

As the idea man behind the pants phenomenon, Svae said there is more to it than just free publicity.

Curlers understand that the gimmicks might call attention to their sport, but they hope that people who tune in for the pants will take a liking to it.

“I think all curlers are eager to promote the sport,” he said.

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VIDEO: Minnesota Vikings celebrate TD by curling

Members of the Norwegian men’s Olympic curling team, from left Christoffer Svae, Thomas Ulsrud, Haavard Peterson and Torger Nergaard pose in their unique uniforms, Tuesday Jan. 23, 2018, in New York. The team is expected to be a fan favorite for a third straight Olympics, thanks to the brightly colored pants that stand out. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

 

Members of the Norwegian men’s Olympic curling team, from left, Christoffer Svae, Thomas Ulsrud, Haavard Peterson and Torger Nergaard pose in their unique uniforms, Tuesday Jan. 23, 2018, in New York. The team is expected to be a fan favorite for a third straight Olympics, thanks to the brightly colored pants that stand out. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)