Rachel Lutz

AP

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

Morgan Hurd adds silver medal to resume at World Gymnastics Championships

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Surprise women’s all-around world champion Morgan Hurd heard congratulations from many admirers since accepting her gold medal. But a tweet from J. K. Rowling – author of the bespectacled boy wizard series Harry Potter – surprised her the most.

Rowling called her a “real life hero in glasses.”

On Sunday, she added another medal to her Montreal haul; she captured a silver on beam despite being penalized a tenth of a point for a time violation. Regardless, it would not have been enough to overtake German gold medalist Pauline Schaefer’s score. Her gold medal was the first gymnastics world title for Germany since 1981. Her countrywoman Tabea Alt earned the bronze.

The three women from the Rio podium – the Netherlands’ Sanne Wevers, Laurie Hernandez, and Simone Biles – were not in the field.

Mai Murakami finished fourth in the beam final and the all-around final. She finally broke through in Montreal winning floor gold on Sunday. Previously, Japan’s only women’s floor world medal was a bronze, earned back in 1954.

The U.S.’ Jade Carey earned her second world silver medal in as many days behind Murakami, separated by 0.033 points. Carey, whose father is her coach, performed the best routine 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist and commentator Nastia Liukin had ever seen from her to earn the medal. Great Britain’s Claudia Fragapane was third.

Ragan Smith had also qualified into the floor final, but her right ankle ligament injury sustained just before the all-around final took her out of apparatus finals as well. Benefiting from Smith’s withdrawal was Canada’s home favorite, and all-around silver medalist, Ellie Black. She couldn’t capitalize on it – Black was eighth in the vault final and seventh in floor finals on Sunday.

Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari, the 2006 all-around champion, crashed and grabbed her ankle at the end of her second floor pass. She did not complete her routine after being carried off the floor by medical staff.

Similarly, the Rio floor medalists – Biles, Aly Raisman, and Amy Tinkler – were not in the field.

On the men’s side, Japan’s Kenzo Shirai brought his medal tally to two golds and a bronze, after winning the fault final over Ukraine’s Igor Radivilov by 0.001.

“In my book, that’s basically a tie,” Liukin commented on the broadcast.

Hansol Kim of South Korea earned the bronze medal.

Shirai took home the vault bronze from Rio, though the gold and silver medalists from the Olympics were not in the field in Montreal.

Rio parallel bars gold medalist Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine answered Zou Jingyuan’s score of 15.900 with a “money” routine of his own.

“That is the most perfect I have ever seen Oleg look, right there,” gold medalist and commentator Tim Daggett said after Verniaiev’s routine. But it wasn’t enough. Verniaiev earned the silver behind China’s Zou by 0.67 points.

David Belyavskiy, who earlier this week won all-around silver, captured the bronze with a score of 15.266 points.

Croatia’s Tin Srbic captured high bar gold on Sunday with a score of 14.433 points. Srbic’s clean routine was rewarded after an apparatus finals filled with several falls from athletes with more difficulty in their routines. Croatia had never before won a high bar gold at worlds; their previous best finish was a bronze from 2014.

The Netherlands’ Epke Zonderland won high bar gold at the London 2012 Olympics, but a disastrous fall in Rio landed him in seventh place. In Montreal, he nearly repeated the mistake on the same skill, but held on with one hand to avoid the fall. His score of 14.233 earned him the silver, while countryman Bart Deurloo earned the bronze.

MORE: Saturday’s apparatus finals sees 2 more U.S. medals

Galen Rupp wins Chicago Marathon, ends U.S. drought

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Galen Rupp won the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, ending a 12-year U.S. men’s victory drought. Rupp clocked a personal best 2:09.20 and was greeted at the finish by his wife and kids. Deena Kastor won in 2005, but the last men’s winner was Khalid Khannouchi in 2002.

“To have a race like this where it all comes together, and to win in a city that means so much to me… it’s just a great day,” Rupp said, according to USA Track and Field. Rupp has a personal connection to Chicago: his father grew up in the city.

The Chicago Marathon was Rupp’s fourth marathon attempt, though his career trajectory so far has started off with a bang. He won Olympic Trials in 2016 and then picked up a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. He also spent time in between training for track events. His third attempt was in April in Boston.

Kenya’s Abel Kirui and Bernard Kipyego finished second and third, respectively. Kirui, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, came to Chicago as the defending champion.

Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba took the women’s marathon title in a time of 2:18.30, followed by Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei 1.53 seconds later. Rupp’s training partner, Jordan Hasay, was third in 2:20.57. Chicago was Hasay’s second-ever marathon attempt.

Back at the Boston Marathon, Rupp and Hasay were second and third, which marked the best U.S. combined male and female finishes at the world’s oldest annual 26.2-mile race since 1985.

But now, with Rupp’s victory and Hasay matching her third-place finish, a new benchmark has been set. This year’s edition of the Chicago Marathon is also notable because it’s the first time the U.S. has put male and female runners inside the top three since 1996.