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U.S., Canada prepare NHL-less Olympic rosters differently

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Former Vancouver Canucks coach Willie Desjardins turned down offers to work in the NHL this season so he could be behind the bench for Canada at the Winter Olympics. Tony Granato gets to keep his day job at the University of Wisconsin and still coach the United States.

Six months from the start of the Olympics in South Korea, picking coaches is just one of the many contrasts between Hockey Canada and USA Hockey. Their rosters will be more similar to each other’s than Russia’s star-studded group, but the two North American countries are embarking on drastically different approaches ahead of the February tournament that will be the first without NHL players since 1994.

Canada is taking no risks with its thorough preparation as it tries to win a third consecutive gold medal, while the United States sees a benefit in a less-is-more approach in trying to return to the podium.

“There’s no guarantee, so that’s why you get yourself prepared as well as you can,” Canada assistant general manager Martin Brodeur said.

The best way to prepare is a matter of opinion.

The U.S. and Canada will each rely heavily on professionals playing in European leagues and mix in minor leaguers on American Hockey League contracts. While Russia will likely have a team with former NHL stars like Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Andrei Markov, who went home to join the Kontinental Hockey League, Canada has former NHL players like Derek Roy, Max Talbot, Mason Raymond, Kevin Klein and Ben Scrivens to look to in Europe. The U.S. has Nathan Gerbe, Keith Aucoin and former AHL goalies David Leggio and Jean-Philippe Lamoureux.

Because there are fewer experienced American players in Europe, the U.S. is far more likely to call on recent world junior and current college players, skewing younger at skill positions. Boston University’s Jordan Greenway and Denver’s Troy Terry, who led the U.S. to gold at the world juniors last year, could be among the selections.

Canada GM Sean Burke began preparing a year ago for a no-NHL Olympics, scouting to find potential fits to fill the positions previously held by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty and Carey Price. U.S. GM Jim Johannson began touching base with players on a serious level in June, after roster rules were set . He doesn’t plan to put a lot of mileage into in-person scouting over the next couple of months.

“In many cases we know what those players are,” said Johannson, who has been in charge of recent U.S. world junior and world championship teams. “I don’t think our goal is prior to December go running all across the world to see what do these guys got. Let their season get going.”

Canada has already gotten started as a group on the ice, playing this week in the Sochi Hockey Open and taking another group of prospective Olympians to St. Petersburg, Russia, next week for the Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov. Those are the first two of five tournaments in which Canada will participate before the final 25-man team goes to Pyeongchang, along with the Karjala Cup in Finland in November, the Channel One Cup in Russia in mid-December and the Spengler Cup in Switzerland at the end of December.

Vice president of hockey operations Scott Salmond said Hockey Canada is “not starting at ground zero” and plans to fine-tune its Olympic roster over the next several months. That’s not all that will come together in those five tournaments.

“We will have a better understanding of the players we have, what system we can put in and adjustments we need before it starts,” said Brodeur, who serves as assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues.

Burke believes he’ll have a good idea of what Canada’s Olympic team will look like by the Moscow-based Channel Cup, which also includes teams from Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden and South Korea.

“That’ll be the majority of our team that we’ll head into February with,” Burke said. “That’ll depend on guys, the way they play early in the season. Some guys may emerge. Other guys may drop off. But I do feel that when we get to December, we’ll have put enough work and enough effort into this to have narrowed what we think will be most of our Olympic team down.”

The U.S. has all its focus on November’s Deutschland Cup, which will be full of Europe-based pros and include teams from Russia, Slovakia and host Germany, as its only pre-Olympic tournament. Despite playing almost 50 pre-Olympic games for the U.S. in 1988 before the Calgary Olympics, Granato believes it’s a positive that the coaches and players will be able to continue with their regular teams with limited interruption.

Johannson considered a more comprehensive pre-Olympic schedule but ruled against extra evaluation time to balance out possible fatigue.

“The NCAA programs, to me, just do an unbelievable job of developing players,” Johannson said. “I don’t need to fly the guy across the world for an event when he’s going to get great competition that weekend at school and we know him as a player.”

Developing familiarity is a challenge for the U.S. and Canada, and Burke said team-building will get going right away. It’ll be easier for Canada than the U.S., so Granato expects he and his assistants will have to “get creative” to establish relationships with players — whoever they may be.

“We don’t want to leave any stones unturned,” Burke said. “We’re going to use all our resources. And we’re going to make sure that when we head to South Korea, we haven’t left anything to chance and we’re going to be as prepared as we can possibly be.”

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Olympic high jump champion to miss worlds; another blow for Canada

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Canadian Derek Drouin, the reigning Olympic and world high jump champion, will not defend his world title in London this weekend due to an Achilles tendon injury.

Drouin, a 27-year-old from the University of Indiana, has not competed since June 15, according to Tilastopaja.org, due in part to the injury.

“I knew I was dealing with an injury that would make my chances of competing come down to the wire,” Drouin said in an Athletics Canada press release. “My support team did everything they could to give my Achilles time to heal, we didn’t want to rush back. We just ran out of time. I’ve been progressing, but wasn’t able to get into championship level shape that I expect of myself.”

Drouin had a top high jump clearance this year of 2.33 meters, which ties for fourth in the world for 2017. Drouin won in Rio with a 2.38-meter clearance and at the 2015 Worlds with a 2.34-meter clearance.

Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim was the overwhelming favorite in London even before Drouin’s withdrawal. Barshim owns Olympic silver and bronze and a 2013 World silver medal but has no global outdoor titles. He has cleared 2.36 meters or better at three different meets this year. Nobody else has cleared higher than 2.35 meters.

Before the Achilles injury, Drouin had been training for the decathlon with an eye on multi-eventing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Drouin’s absence is the latest blow for Canada, which claimed six medals in Rio (its most since 1932) and a national recod eight at the 2015 Worlds.

Andre De Grasse, a triple Rio sprint medalist, withdrew before worlds with a strained hamstring.

Andre De Grasse to miss world championships

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Canadian Andre De Grasse, arguably the top rival to Usain Bolt, will miss the world track and field championships due to a strained right hamstring suffered Monday.

“Andre had his final starting blocks session in preparation for Friday’s 100m heats,” De Grasse’s agent said in a text message. “On his final run of the day, Andre pulled up with what he described as ‘a grab’ in his right hamstring.”

De Grasse, who earned Rio Olympic 100m bronze and 200m silver medals behind Bolt, saw Bolt’s German doctor on Tuesday. The doctor ruled De Grasse out of worlds with a grade II strain.

“The entire year this 100m race in London was my focus,” De Grasse said, according to his agent. “I am really in the best shape of my life and was looking forward to competing against the best in the world. To not have this opportunity is unimaginable to me, but it is the reality I am faced with. I am sad to miss this chance, but I am young and will be back and better than ever in the near future.”

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De Grasse ran the fastest 100m time of 2017, 9.69 seconds, but it didn’t count for ranking purposes because he had twice the legal tailwind.

De Grasse was due to run the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at worlds in London and was a medal hope in all three events.

Without him, Bolt faces an easier path to gold medals at his final career meet in the 100m (Saturday on NBC) and 4x100m (Aug. 12 on NBC).

The 200m favorite is South African Wayde van Niekerk, seeking to become the second man to win both the 200m and 400m at a single worlds. Bolt is not racing the 200m.

Two weeks ago, De Grasse’s coach reportedly claimed Bolt had meet organizers exclude De Grasse from a 100m race in Monaco to make it easier for Bolt to win. The following day, Bolt’s team, a meet official and De Grasse denied it.

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