Preview: U.S. women’s hockey hopes to dethrone Canada

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EVENT SCHEDULE

All games can be seen live online or on NBCSN, USA Network and MSNBC. TV listings can be found here.

Feb. 8 – USA vs. Finland – 3 a.m. ET; Canada vs. Switzerland – 8 a.m. ET

Feb. 9 – Sweden vs. Japan – 3 a.m. ET; Russia vs. Germany – 8 a.m. ET

Feb. 10 – USA vs. Switzerland – 3 a.m. ET; Finland vs. Canada – 8 a.m. ET

Feb. 11 – Germany vs. Sweden – 5 a.m. ET; Russia vs. Japan – 10 a.m. ET

Feb. 12 – Switzerland vs. Finland – 3 a.m. ET; Canada vs. USA 7:30 a.m. ET

Feb. 13 – Japan vs. Germany 3 a.m. ET; Sweden vs. Russia noon ET

Feb. 15 – Quarterfinals at 3 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. ET

Feb. 16 – Classification games at 3 a.m. and noon ET

Feb. 17 – Semifinals at 7:30 a.m. ET and noon ET

Feb. 18 – Classification games at 3 a.m. and noon ET

Feb. 20 – Bronze medal game at 7 a.m.; gold at noon ET

CHECK VS. CONTACT

One crucial difference between men’s and women’s hockey is that body checks aren’t totally permitted in women’s hockey. This table explains the differences between body checks and body contact, though it must be noted that there’s potential for gray area:

source:

In a similar vein, women are forced to wear full face masks while doing so is voluntary for men’s hockey players.

FORMAT CHANGE

The women’s tournament will be broken up into two groups, this time with the top teams in Group A:

Group A

Canada, U.S., Finland and Switzerland

Group B

Sweden, Russia, Germany and Japan

The logic behind putting the most powerful teams in Group A is to reduce the amount of blowouts, which was an unfortunate byproduct of the previous format. It also opens up the possibility for two United States – Canada games.

The top two teams from Group A after the round robin advance straight to the semifinals while the bottom two from Group A and top two from Group B begin the quarterfinals. From there, seeding is pretty standard.

For a more detailed breakdown of the format, click here.

MORE: Off the cuff with Canadian flag bearer Hayley Wickenheiser

US OUTLOOK

The Americans hope that Amanda Kessel truly his 100 percent heading into the 2014 Olympics. Phil Kessel’s sister insists that she’s good to go despite rehabbing an injury. Silver medal-winning goalie Jessie Vetter will start the first U.S. game against Finland.

It’s pretty difficult to separate the United States from Canada, as the two nations have dominated ice hockey since it was added to the Olympics in Nagano. Canada is seeking its fourth consecutive gold medal in women’s ice hockey, yet the Americans carry momentum against their neighbors with four consecutive exhibition wins.

This is a bitter rivalry with an opportunity for two confrontations in Sochi.

INTERNATIONAL OUTLOOK

Beyond Canada (who, by the way, have a bit of a captain controversy going), Finland is believed to be the greatest threat to upset the dominant North American teams, as the country’s penchant for developing impressive netminders transcends genders, at least if it Noora Raty’s potential is any indication. She’s already in her third Olympics at 24 and recently frustrated the U.S. with 58-save performance in a 3-1 win in November.

Switzerland and Sweden are likely to be the top underdogs behind the Finns.

In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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