U.S. women’s hockey evens series with Canada in shootout

Jessie Vetter
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Make it three straight for the U.S. over Canada.

Goalie Jessie Vetter stopped all three Canadian shootout attempts after the U.S. squandered a 2-0 lead in the third period for a 3-2 victory in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday. There were no fights after last week’s line brawl (video here).

“[The shootout] puts our kids on the hot seat, it puts their kids on the hot seat and it’s time to execute and deliver,” U.S. coach Katey Stone said, according to The Associated Press. “At the end of the day, that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

The U.S. drew even with Canada, 3-3, in its series of games leading into the Sochi Olympics in February. They’ll play one more game, Monday in Toronto, before the U.S. Olympic Team is named on New Year’s Day at the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Americans have won all three games between the rivals since Canadian coach Dan Church‘s shock resignation Dec. 12. Longtime NHL player and former Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen took over Dec. 17.

“I don’t think there was any less intensity tonight, but it was directed towards the game instead of anything else,” Dineen said, according to the AP.

In the shootout, Vetter stopped Canadian veterans Jayna HeffordCaroline Ouellette and Meghan Agosta-MarcianoHilary Knight potted a shootout goal for the U.S.

“We’re an extremely talented team, but we still have a long way to go and we’re going to get there,” Knight said, according to the AP. “We’re confident with our game plan. … You got to find a way to win, dig deep, and we did that tonight.”

Kelli Stack and Alex Carpenter scored in the first and second periods, respectively, for the U.S. Agosta-Marciano and Marie-Philip Poulin answered midway through the third.

Canada already named its Olympic team, led by six-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser, who returned following a one-game absence due to a lower-body injury Saturday.

Top U.S. forward Amanda Kessel, the reigning NCAA Player of the Year, did not play. She has not played at all against Canada this fall or winter due to a lower-body injury, but U.S. coach Katey Stone said Kessel will be ready for the Olympics.

Canadian forward racks up penalty minutes, doles out concussions

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, beach volleyball’s new sensation, win World Tour Finals

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes
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In just a few months since reuniting, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have become not just the best women’s beach volleyball team in the U.S., but also, arguably, the world.

Cheng and Hughes, former partners who got back together for a 2024 Olympic run, won the World Tour Finals for the biggest title for a U.S. pair since April Ross and Alix Klineman took gold in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old Californians swept reigning world champions Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil 21-18, 21-16 in Sunday’s final in Doha.

Cheng and Hughes have entered four tournaments since reuniting last fall and won all of them — once on the domestic AVP tour and now three international events.

They are rolling into the start of the 2024 Olympic qualifying window next week. It’s likely that the top two U.S. women’s pairs across international events over the course of the next 18 months qualify for the Paris Games.

Cheng and Hughes were previously NCAA champion teammates at USC, then the most promising, young U.S. pro team before splitting in 2018. Cheng made the Tokyo Olympics with Sarah Sponcil (lost in the round of 16), while Hughes’ Tokyo bid flamed out when partner Summer Ross suffered a back injury in 2019.

“It was a lot of the unknown and being young and kind of immature and listening to maybe outside forces and not really knowing how to deal with things as well,” Hughes said in October of their past breakup. “We’ve pretty much moved past that in our relationship. Moving forward with one another, we’re completely different players, and we’re a lot more mature. It feels like the right time. The past is past. We’re just moving forward.”

Cheng and Hughes have taken over from April Ross and Klineman as the top U.S. team. After winning Olympic gold, Klineman underwent shoulder surgery in January 2022 and last week announced she is pregnant and may return from childbirth for a “last-second” 2024 Olympic qualifying bid.

April Ross, a 40-year-old with an Olympic medal of every color, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

The U.S. earned at least one beach volleyball medal at every Olympics that the sport has been on the program (since 1996), and a men’s or women’s gold at all but one Olympics. Eighteen months out from the Paris Games, Cheng and Hughes are the best hope to keep the podium streak going.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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