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Olympic hockey: Men’s semifinals preview

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Throughout the entire 2018 Winter Games, NBC Olympics staff will preview the upcoming slate of hockey games.

Olympic Athletes from Russia vs. Czech Republic, 2:40 a.m. ET, NBCSN | LIVE STREAM

After an opening loss to Slovakia caused many to declare the men’s tournament “wide open,” the Olympic Athletes from Russia have firmly reestablished themselves as gold-medal favorites. OAR rebounded with three dominant victories over Slovenia, the United States and Norway to cruise into the semifinals. Well-rested and featuring three of the top 10 point-scorers in the Games—Nikita Gusev, Ilya Kovalchuk and Kirill Kaprizov—the team undoubtedly expects to be playing for gold this weekend.

However, OAR has something the Czech Republic doesn’t: a loss. The undefeated Czechs may not have the star power of their opponents, but they have played as well as any side in the tournament and will not consider themselves underdogs heading into the semifinal showdown.

Canada vs. Germany, 7:10 a.m. ET, NBCSN | LIVE STREAM

Canada may be looking for its third consecutive Olympic gold, but without the services of countless NHL All-Stars that led the roster in Vancouver and Sochi, the team has not looked like a juggernaut by any stretch. Having said that, the Canadians have only lost one game in PyeongChang—a 3-2 overtime defeat against the Czech Republic—and their defense impressively contained Finnish superstar Eeli Tolvanen in Canada’s 1-0 quarterfinal win.

Meanwhile, Germany is the Cinderella story of these Olympics. The team is guaranteed at least a shot at a medal, which would be the country’s first in ice hockey since 1976. The Germans were far from impressive in the preliminary round, barely eking out a single victory in overtime against winless Norway in their final group game. But they made it a habit in the knockout stages, beating Switzerland in overtime and doing the same to Sweden in the quarterfinals. Germany will skate with confidence, and it will feel even better if the game isn’t decided in 60 minutes.

Back to school, work looms for Olympic hockey players

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Brian Gionta could go from facing Martin Erat in the Olympics to facing Filip Forsberg in the NHL.

Tony Granato will go back to coaching JD Greenway at Wisconsin after having brother Jordan play for him on the U.S. men’s team. Jordan Greenway and Ryan Donato will go back to their college teams in and around Boston after celebrating goals together on Olympic ice.

The end of the Olympics means players, coaches and everyone around the tournament return to their day jobs, some more glamorous than others. After putting their seasons on hold to focus on the Olympics, what’s next for players varies drastically from the bright lights of the NHL to bus life in the minors to plane trips across Siberia.

For players who thrived on the big stage, the no-NHL Olympics was a blessing and one that will boost them moving forward.

“It definitely helped me as a player, my confidence, and knowing how I can play at this level,” said forward Troy Terry, the youngest player on the U.S. team who is an Anaheim Ducks prospect playing at the University of Denver, last season’s NCAA champion. “I’m just trying to keep this going, and I feel good as a player. I’m coming out of here with confidence and I’m just trying to bring that back to Denver and hopefully try and make another run at a national championship.”

Granato’s Wisconsin Badgers, Greenway’s Boston University Terriers and Donato’s Harvard Crimson will try to prevent that as the attention turns from South Korea to getting to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Frozen Four.

Seventeen years removed from winning his national title at Boston College, Gionta said of an NHL return “we’ll see what happens.” He said he thinks he played well in South Korea and created scoring chances even though he had zero points and a minus-4 rating. The 39-year-old winger led the United States with 16 shots on goal.

Fellow captain Chris Kelly is in a similar role for Canada, and he and agent Pat Morris each said the 37-year-old forward is focused on the Olympics and not potentially signing a contract. Kelly, Gionta and U.S. defenseman James Wisniewski would have to sign before 3 p.m. Eastern on Monday to be playoff-eligible.

Kelly and Canada defenseman Maxim Noreau said they’re in an Olympic bubble and trying not to worry about their NHL chances. Kelly has gotten the silent treatment from Morris on that topic — in a good way.

“I think he knows,” Kelly said. “We’ve been together since I was I think 19 and he knows to leave me alone.”

Some players have no interest in playing in the NHL — at least right now. Greenway, a Minnesota Wild prospect, said he’s going back to college, and Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen is focused on the Kontinental Hockey League playoffs with Jokerit.

The KHL has the most players in this tournament with 92 and resumes play Monday, a day after the closing ceremony in South Korea. Canada forward Wojtek Wolski, who has 99 career regular-season NHL goals, has a KHL contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk and doesn’t mind going back to that life.

“I had a couple good years in Magnitogorsk,” Wolski said. “I’m comfortable there. I’m happy there.”

Donato is happy at Harvard, so much that his father, Ted, said it’s hard to say when his son might make the leap to play for the Boston Bruins. Donato led the U.S. with five goals and certainly looks ready.

“There’s so many factors involved with being NHL-ready,” said Ted Donato, who played 12 NHL seasons and coaches Ryan at Harvard. “One certainly would be the opportunity presented yourself and the right timing.”

The 21-year-old Donato credits Gionta and older players for his play and figures he’ll take some more confidence back to school. The NHL is on his mind, but he doesn’t know when.

“Obviously it’s a dream,” Donato said. “I grew up as a kid wanting to play in the NHL and especially for the Bruins, but at the end of the day I want to graduate as well. We’ll see what the future holds.”

 

Olympic men’s hockey: Quarterfinals preview

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United States vs. Czech Republic, 10:10 p.m. ET, CNBCLIVE STREAM

The U.S. came into the tournament with several speedy forwards in order to play an up-tempo style, while the Czechs look to clog up the neutral zone and slow things down. Whichever team can dictate the pace will likely come out on top and advance to the semifinals. The U.S. finally got some offense from someone other than Ryan Donato in its game vs. Slovakia — although he did pitch in two goals of his own — as Mark Arcobello, James Wisniewski and Garret Roe were able to find twine. The Czech Republic enjoyed a day off to rest: a luxury earned with a perfect record in the preliminary round.

Depth will be critical, as both teams will need the entire roster in order to force the opponent out of its comfort zone. The winner will be rewarded with two opportunities to compete for a medal.

Olympic Athletes from Russia vs. Norway, 2:40 a.m. ET, NBCSNLIVE STREAM

Norway won for the first time since the 1994 Games to advance to the quarterfinals but now have the “privilege” of playing against the Olympic Athletes from Russia. While Norway had to play a tightly-contested, physical game against Slovenia, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and the rest of the OAR squad enjoyed an off day to rest up. If Norway has plans on an enormous upset, it will need a herculean effort and then some to keep this competitive.

Canada vs. Finland, 7:10 a.m. ET, NBCSNLIVE STREAM

Finland fell just short of earning a bye to the quarterfinals, but after a 5-2 win vs. South Korea, it eventually got there. Eeli Tolvanen has been a dynamic offensive player, showing the Nashville Predators that they made the right selection with the 30th overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft. Canada will be looking to slow the Finns down and play a physical style but might not have the right combination of size and speed like years past. The winner will get the chance to compete for a medal.

Sweden vs. Germany, 7:10 a.m. ET, USA NetworkLIVE STREAM

Sweden can truly appreciate the value of its bye: While the Swedes rested up in preparation for their quarterfinal matchup, Germany needed overtime to beat Switzerland 2-1 and will have less than 24 hours to recover for its next game. These two sides met in the preliminary round, and though Sweden escaped with a 1-0 victory, the contest was decided by a matter of inches as the Germans rang the pipe multiple times throughout. Tired but with momentum on its side, Germany will feel good about getting a second bite at the cherry, while Sweden will hope its fresh legs make the difference to earn a semifinal berth.