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Korea Olympic hockey coach: No pressure to play North Koreans

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Sarah Murray, the Minnesota-native coach of the unified Korea Olympic women’s hockey team, reportedly said she has been assured she has “ultimate control” over playing-time decisions regarding South and North Korean players.

“We’re not going to make a line just to make a line of North Korean players just so they can get ice time,” Murray said Monday, according to Yonhap News Agency. “We’re going to put in players that are going to be successful, and we’re going to play to win with the roster we have.

“As far as I know, I have complete control, and I am going to play the players I want.”

When the IOC approved adding 12 North Koreans to the South Korean Olympic women’s hockey team on Saturday, it created a unique situation.

Olympic women’s hockey teams can dress 22 players per game. Murray now must choose 22 players out of 35 — rather than 23 — for each game in PyeongChang.

And at least three of those players must be North Korean, meaning at least four South Korean team members must be deactivated for each game. Normally, Olympic head coaches must deactivate one player per game, the third-string goalie.

“We didn’t really have a lot of say in it,” Murray said, according to Reuters. “We’re just happy that we don’t have to play six [North Korean] players, and this was the best case scenario for the options that were given to us.”

Murray, 29, won two NCAA titles as a player at Minnesota-Duluth. Her father, Andy Murray, spent 10 seasons coaching the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues in the 2000s.

A Murray-led South Korean team beat North Korea 3-0 in a lower-level world championship tournament game in South Korea in April.

Now, players from both of those teams will seemingly be vying for ice time in PyeongChang in three weeks on the first unified Korean team in any sport at the Olympics.

“It’s exciting to be a part of something that’s so historic, to have two countries so divided come together through sports,” Murray said, according to Yonhap. “I think the story is great, and to be a part of it is important. But at the same time, it’s mixed feelings because it’s at the expense of, ‘We don’t get to play our full roster.'”

Before the unified team announcement, Murray reportedly said it would be a distraction and present challenges.

“I think there is damage to our [players],” Murray said last Tuesday, according to Yonhap. “It’s hard because the players have earned their spots, and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics. Then you have people being added later. It definitely affects our players.

“Adding somebody so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous just for team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long. Teaching systems and different things … I’d have about a month to teach these (new) players the way our team plays. That makes me a little nervous.”

Actually, less than a month. Murray said Monday that she doesn’t know which 12 North Koreans are joining her team or when they’re arriving, according to Yonhap.

“We don’t have a lot of days leading up to the Olympics, and we can’t waste any extra energy being angry,” she said, according to the report.

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Top curling video and social media moments

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For nearly three straight weeks, curling dominated the Olympic airwaves, and while the U.S., Sweden and Canada all came away with gold medals, there were still plenty of highlights away from the ice.

In the mixed doubles tournament, fans were introduced to Team USA’s #HamFam, Matt and Becca Hamilton, who became instant sensations. Matt was even confused for some other celebrities, as people tried to nail down exactly who he looked like.

And he got to “meet” his hero, Aaron Rodgers… of course only through Twitter (for now!)

 In the women’s tournament, fans were introduced to Japan’s “sunshine team,” who were all all smiles on the way to their bronze medal win.

Three Stars from men’s hockey at the Olympics

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NBC Olympics staff selected three special performers from the enitre men’s tournament at the Olympics.

FIRST STAR
Eeli Tolvanen, Finland: The 18-year-old winger was the undisputed breakout star of the men’s tournament. Even though Finland was eliminated in the quarterfinals, Tolvanen’s tally of nine points still ranked second overall as he averaged nearly two points per game. He scored in his Olympic debut and also tallied two assists against eventual silver medalist Germany. He followed that up with two scores against Norway. Tolvanen paced his team past an energized South Korean team in the qualification playoffs, assisting in Finland’s opening three goals. After a sizzling Olympic performance, Tolvanen could be on his way to the NHL to help the Nashville Predators chase the Stanley Cup once again.

NBCOlympics.com: OAR defeat Germany to win hockey gold 

SECOND STAR
Nikita Gusev, Olympic Athletes from Russia: The Vegas Golden Knights prospect tallied four goals and eight assists in just six games throughout the 2018 Winter Games. He also struck twice when it mattered most, helping OAR force OT in the gold-medal game. Trailing 3-2 in the final frame and playing shorthanded, Gusev was able to sneak a backhanded shot into the back of the net to knot the score with less than a minute remaining. Then, in the extra session, it was Gusev who made a beautiful cross-ice pass to set up the golden goal by Kirill Kaprizov.

NBCOlymipcs.com: Canada claim bronze with 6-4 over Czech Republic

THIRD STAR
Ryan Donato, United States: The 21-year-old Boston Bruins prospect was bright spot for Team USA despite the disappointing finish. The sniper lifted his team to a crucial preliminary-round victory over Slovakia, grabbing both goals in a 2-1 victory. He came back to haunt Slovakia again with two more scores in the qualification playoffs, and though the United States’ tournament came to an end in the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic, Donato notched one last goal in the 3-2 loss to finish with a team-leading five goals and six points. Donato, along with fellow collegiate athletes Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, surprised many with their contributions on the ice. If management had known of their game-changing impact in advance, the American roster might have included more NCAA players.