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USA Hockey has unique Olympic men’s roster ready for announcement

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USA Hockey has its 25-man Olympic roster. All that’s left is the announcement on Monday at the NHL’s Winter Classic.

“I guess I’ll reiterate what we felt all along is that we’re going to have 25 great stories and great paths to be an Olympian,” U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said Thursday. “I think that’s going to hold true on Jan. 1.”

The final roster decisions were made Wednesday, Johannson said.

It ended a three-part evaluation and selection process that began in earnest at the U.S.’ only pre-Olympic tournament in November.

A team made up primarily of veterans in European leagues went 0-3 at the Deutschland Cup in Germany but outshot Slovakia, Russia and Germany by a combined 95 to 60.

After the Deutschland Cup, U.S. coaches and officials spent much of the next four weeks scouting Olympic-eligible players in the American Hockey League and the NCAA. AHL players on NHL contracts aren’t eligible for the Olympics.

The last two weeks were about putting the puzzle together, writing names on paper and seeing where everybody fits.

Johannson, a 1988 and 1992 Olympian, has been with USA Hockey since 2000.

In some ways, picking this year’s team was more difficult without NHL players available for the first time since 1994. In other ways, it was easier.

“When you really start to break down our team, the personnel parts of it, it gives you a much more clear definition in your discussions and arguments,” he said. “It seems like we were talking more specific as opposed to building the quote-unquote ‘team.'”

Such as who would mesh well in the penalty-kill unit and power-play lines.

Johannson would not get into specifics but did confirm that the roster will have players from the Russia-based KHL, billed as the world’s second-best league behind the NHL.

The KHL has not said whether it will release players for the Olympics, but Johannson was confident that those named to the team Monday will suit up in February.

The KHL said last year it would release players for PyeongChang and even scheduled an Olympic break in its regular season. Then came the Olympic sanctions on Russia this fall.

Olympic men’s and women’s hockey teams of Russian athletes are expected to be allowed into the Winter Games, but it’s unknown which players an IOC panel will invite.

No Russian male hockey players have been implicated in the nation’s 2014 Olympic doping scandal that has led to bans for more than 40 Olympians, including several Russian female hockey players.

“We’ll understand who’s going and who’s not going and then the league will respond accordingly,” KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko said Dec. 13, according to The Associated Press.

Johannson said there was no importance on getting a specific mix of players based in Europe, the NCAA and the AHL. He didn’t rule out the possibility that a junior player made the team.

“We definitely think the college guys are going to help us from an energy and enthusiasm standpoint,” Johannson said. “The European [league] guys are going to feed off these guys.”

The notable names at the Deutschland Cup were 2006 U.S. Olympic leading goal-scorer Brian Gionta, 2010 Olympic silver medalist Ryan Malone and Ryan Zapolski, who was then the top goalie in the KHL.

Chris Bourque, a son of Boston Bruins legend and Canadian Olympian Ray Bourque, leads the AHL in points and is eligible for Olympic selection.

From the NCAA, forwards Troy Terry (Denver) and Jordan Greenway (Boston University) were the two players chosen by USA Hockey to appear at a September USOC media summit with Olympic hopefuls from all sports.

Without naming a single player, Johannson stressed that versatility is the team’s strength.

“There’s a lot of guys that can play up and down our lineup that also can play if we need them to help shut down a top line,” he said. “A spark where we hope we get scoring from, I think there are guys that can do that as well. No matter what, I can say this for all of the [Olympic] teams [without NHL players], to really find your scoring is going to be a group effort. We’re going to really put an emphasis on special teams.”

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Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

Skylar Diggins
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Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

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USA Track and Field to honor 1968 Olympic team on 50th anniversary

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USA Track and Field begins a campaign this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic team.

Members of the Mexico City Games team, one of the greatest track and field teams in history, will be honored at high-profile events the remainder of the year.

The campaign, “1968-2018: Celebrating Athletic Achievement and Courage,” culminates with a “Night of Legends” reunion in December at the USATF Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, also attended by current U.S. stars.

The 1968 Olympic team is most remembered for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who took gold and bronze in the 200m and were sent home after raising their black-gloved fists in a human rights salute during the national anthem.

The team also included gold medalists Bob Beamon (long jump), Dick Fosbury (high jump), Al Oerter (discus), Wyomia Tyus and Jim Hines (100m), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m.

“The legacy of the greatest track & field team to ever be assembled is still felt 50 years later,” USATF CEO Max Siegel said in a press release. “These Olympians persevered through athletic challenges and social injustices, maintaining their composure and dignity when others may have fallen. It is USATF’s honor to pay homage to their achievements and bring the team together for an epic celebration at our Annual Meeting.”

U.S. track and field athletes will compete at two meets on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold this weekend — the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

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WATCH: NBC Olympics documentary on 1968 Olympics