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Goalie Jessie Vetter tries out for third Olympic team, two months after childbirth

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Jessie Vetter, holder of most U.S. women’s hockey career goalie records, is making one more Olympic run at next week’s national-team selection camp.

She’s doing so two months after giving birth to son Brady. Vetter, the No. 1 U.S. goalie at the last two Olympics, married Scott McConnell last May.

“What’s going on in my life is kind of a motivation,” Vetter said by phone last week while walking Brady. “Brady, if he ever wants to do something or have a passion for something, to see it through and give himself the best opportunity to make that happen. There’s still a good chunk of the girls I know from 2010 and 2014. It’s just seeing them being out there and knowing I can come in and be a positive teammate and a good influence to the younger girls and a good veteran on the team.”

Vetter was cleared to skate two weeks ago. She returned to the ice for the first time in nearly one year, since the 2016 World Championships.

And now she’s headed to Tampa with 41 other players for the five-day national-team selection camp that starts Sunday.

The camp is being viewed by players as an Olympic team tryout. The national team named on May 5 is expected to include 23 players, equaling the Olympic roster size.

Changes could be made before the Olympics, since the Winter Games are still nine months away, but national-team players clearly have the inside track to PyeongChang.

Vetter, 31, started eight of the 10 U.S. games between the last two Olympics, including both gold-medal game defeats to Canada. No U.S. women’s goalie has made three Olympic teams.

One men’s goalie has played in three Olympics — former New York Rangers All-Star Mike Richter, who happens to be the U.S. women’s goalie coach and Vetter’s idol growing up in Wisconsin.

Vetter is one of six goalies going to next week’s camp competing for what will be three Olympic team roster spots. She is six years older than anybody else, and even coached two of them at past USA Hockey camps.

Vetter admits she will be above her normal playing weight. She’s most concerned about her leg strength. But she’s mentally prepared and banking on her experience.

“I don’t think she’d put herself in a position to try out for the Olympic team if she wasn’t ready,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said.

Vetter has played 486 minutes at the Olympics, more than any woman in U.S. history. The other five goalies at camp have never been to an Olympics.

“Physically, I won’t be close to my expectations for myself,” she said. “But I can come in with a good mental game and a good mindset and still put myself in a position to do well. Maybe not be as successful as I would be if I had a few more months to get my legs bent underneath me, but I’m going to do the best I can, be a good teammate and have some fun.”

Vetter was unseated as the U.S. No. 1 at her last tournament, the 2016 Worlds. She didn’t start a gold-medal game for the first time since 2012, watching training partner Alex Rigsby stop all 32 Canadian shots for 72 minutes, 30 seconds in a 1-0 overtime win.

Vetter knew she would take an extended break after worlds.

She got married a month later but told U.S. women’s team director Reagan Carey she wasn’t committed to retiring just yet, despite reports to the contrary in August.

It seemed when Vetter announced her pregnancy that retirement was inevitable. But one week before she was due in February, she told Rigsby she had not ruled out a return. Brady arrived one week late, but Vetter still decided to come back.

Rigsby said she and their shared goalie coach, Larry Clemens, received text messages from Vetter five weeks after she gave birth. Something along the lines of, “It’s time for this old lady to skate.”

“I was like, literally, you’re goals,” Rigsby joked. “She got cleared at week six to skate, and we’ve been skating together for a couple of weeks.”

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Gary Bettman: No going back on NHL Olympic decision

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reportedly left no doubt Friday.

Bettman said the NHL will not participate in the PyeongChang Olympics, even if a new, sweetened deal is offered by the International Olympic Committee, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“We’re not going,” Bettman told media Friday in New York, according to the newspaper. “That decision has been made.”

The NHL has taken a break in its season to send the world’s best players to the Olympics at every Winter Games since 1998.

The NHL said in an April 3 statement that streak is over and considered the Olympic matter “officially closed.”

The following day, Bettman didn’t rule out the possibility that the NHL could change its mind, if concessions were made, in his first public comments on the decision.

The NHL wanted a concession from the IOC, International Ice Hockey Federation or the NHL Players’ Association to entice owners and officials to take a break in its season to accommodate the Olympics for a sixth straight time.

The NHL made clear for months its stance — it would not break for the Olympics if the status quo didn’t change. The NHL said no meaningful dialogue materialized over a number of months.

Russian star Alex Ovechkin said two weeks ago that he planned to defy the NHL (and his contract) and go to PyeongChang anyway. Other Russian NHL stars also hope they can join Ovechkin.

Bettman challenged Ovechkin’s comments, saying Friday it was unlikely any NHL players will be in PyeongChang, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“We’re confident our players will remain with their teams,” Bettman said, according to the newspaper.

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Hilary Knight’s trip to historic Olympic ice rekindled love for hockey

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Hilary Knight, in the conversation the last few years for world’s best female hockey player, considered stepping away from the sport during the prime of her career.

Knight was “crushed and heartbroken” after losing a second straight Olympic final to Canada in 2014. This one was in heart-wrenching fashion. The U.S. led 2-0 with four minutes left and ended up losing in overtime.

She spent about six months after Sochi “trying to figure out what the next step would look like.”

“I never was committed to retiring, per se, but there was definitely an I don’t know if I can go another four years kind of feeling,” Knight said last week. “I never stopped training, but I think my heart might not have been there for a few months.”

Understand that Knight was 24 years old at the time and already very decorated.

She was the leading goal-scorer at the 2009 World Championship (age 19, youngest player on the U.S. team), recorded eight points at the 2010 Olympics (youngest on that team, too) and led the 2011 Worlds in goals and assists (and scored the golden goal in overtime of the final against Canada).

In Sochi, Knight was one of two Americans voted to the media all-star team.

Another silver medal stung. Knight needed those months after Sochi to determine if she was still in love with the game she found at age 6 in Chicago.

Come August, Knight trekked to Lake Placid, N.Y., to coach 12- and 13-year-olds. The U.S. under-18 and under-22 teams were training at the same arena, on the very rink where the Miracle on Ice took place.

Knight remembers those potential future Olympians putting on USA jerseys. It reignited her passion.

“I remember what that felt like,” Knight said. “It’s something that I’m not ready to give up yet. That amazing feeling of being that little kid again in that jersey.”

Two months later, Knight practiced with the Anaheim Ducks. If any female skater could make it a men’s pro league, it’s Knight. She is women’s hockey’s consummate power forward, listed at 5 feet, 10 inches, and 172 pounds.

She considered playing in a men’s league in Sweden after Sochi. Knight learned Swedish at the University of Wisconsin and fell in love with the culture.

The timing wasn’t right to leave the U.S., where women’s post-grad teams were in development stages (they still are).

“I couldn’t just leave, even though I really wanted to go and play men’s pro,” Knight said. “It just wasn’t the right move for the sport.”

No U.S. minor-league team reached out to her. (Female goalies are generally better candidates to play in men’s leagues. and Canadian Shannon Szabados did so for two full seasons with the Columbus (Ga.) Cottonmouths.)

Knight continued to thrive for the national team, earning world championship tournament MVP honors in 2015 and 2016. Then she scored another world championship overtime winner against Canada on April 7.

She hopes with the new labor deal with USA Hockey that she can play through 2022. Knight stated before Sochi that she wanted to become the best player in the world.

Has she met that goal?

“Never,” Knight said. “I think when I feel that way it’s time to retire.”

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