Gold? Glory? U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter just focused on rebounding from 3-2 loss

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SOCHI, Russia – Goalies are quirky. Goalies are in the spotlight. Goalies get the glory and the grief.

Even in the less publicized women’s game.

If an Olympic viewer can name one player on 2010 bronze medalist Finland’s team, it’s fortress Noora Raty. Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados has earned headlines for denying men’s shooters in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference as a five-year player for Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Then there’s U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter.

She is not the biggest star of her team and, though she has played against men, it hasn’t been regular. She is from cozy Cottage Grove, Wis., the type of village that’s asking for substitute crossing guards for the school year on the front of its website.

That’s not to say the average U.S. sports fan is oblivious to Vetter. In fact, looking at her might give one that “I know her from somewhere” feeling.

Vetter is the daughter of an American Family Insurance agent and manager. (A goalie with insurance genes seems fitting.)

American Family Insurance bought ad space for Super Bowl XLVII, which featured a spot with Wisconsin sports stars Russell Wilson and Steve Stricker. Vetter, a former University of Wisconsin standout, was also shown for about three seconds. It wasn’t her first commercial for the company.

MORE: Canada win just start in US rivalry for these Games

In 2010, Vetter played every minute of the final four games of the Olympic hockey tournament. In the most crucial three minutes, she was beaten twice by 18-year-old Canadian Marie Philip-Poulin while Szabados blanked the U.S. as Canada won its third straight gold medal.

After the Olympics, Vetter, a 2009 Wisconsin graduate, could have joined the professional women’s league, called the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with four Canadian teams and a Boston club.

She elected instead to stay in the Madison area and cede game time for more training with a goalie coach, Larry Clemens.

“She’s kind of a hometown person,” Clemens said Wednesday by phone from Sun Prairie, Wis., during the second intermission of a 3-2 loss to Canada in a preliminary game. “She doesn’t leave very much.”

They worked together for three years before Vetter and the national team began living and training together in the lead up to Sochi. The lynchpins of their routine were hand-eye coordination and muscle memory drills.

“It’s something that I think has worked well for me,” said Vetter, an avid golfer. “I have an opportunity to have a job [working with area kids as a trainer after school] and kind of a normal life while I’m training and working hard towards this Olympics.”

Clemens admitted the drawback of not playing on a club team between Vancouver and Sochi.

VIDEO: Controversy clouds Canada win

“The biggest thing is game management,” he said after stepping out of the Sun Prairie Ice Arena for better phone reception. “You can’t recreate that in drills.”

Vetter managed random game action when area ex-college players gathered for games, most of them in their mid-20s to early 30s. But the Olympics were always the goal, even if it wasn’t a spoken one.

“We normally don’t talk about it too much,” Clemens said. “It’s obviously driving her. She doesn’t talk much about what she’s trying to accomplish.”

Vetter became the all-time minutes played leader for U.S. Olympic goalies on Wednesday. In 2012, it looked like that might not have been possible.

Molly Schaus was the No. 1 goalie for the World Championships in Burlington, Vt., two years ago. The U.S. pounced Canada 10-0 in preliminary play and then lost 5-4 in the gold-medal game. Vetter watched from the bench. She returned to the net at the 2013 World Championships, where the U.S. exacted revenge in Ottawa. Schaus was not on the roster because of a personal matter. Vetter and Schaus split the first two games in Sochi before Vetter played the third against Canada.

Canada, meanwhile, sat Szabados in the preliminary game against the U.S., a matchup that meant very little since both nations were assured opposite semifinal berths.

On Wednesday, Vetter was largely credited by players and U.S. coach Katey Stone with keeping her team in the game. She stopped 28 of 31 shots. (perhaps 29 of 31 given a controversial review to uphold one of Canada’s goals that may have crossed the line after a whistle)

The starting goalie for the next game, a Monday semifinal, hasn’t been decided yet.

“We’ve got some time to think about that,” Stone said. “I’m sure if [Vetter] gets another opportunity, she’s a very competitive kid, she’ll show up.”

Clemens believes that if the U.S. does reach the gold-medal game, and Vetter does start again, the result will determine her future with the national team.

Olympic gold would be a great way to complete a career. She could then return to Wisconsin with her sociology degree and myriad opportunities, not just substitute crossing guard.

Vetter wouldn’t commit though.

“Any athlete probably wants to go out on top,” she said, “but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens TV, streaming schedule

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The Rugby World Cup Sevens, held in the U.S. for the first time, airs live on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

NBC Sports’ TV coverage totals more than 30 live hours. NBC Sports Gold will also stream live, commercial-free coverage of every match with its “Rugby Pass.”

NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will stream all NBC Sports and Olympic Channel TV coverage.

The Rugby World Cup Sevens is the biggest standalone competition outside of the Olympics for an event that debuted at the Rio Games. Traditional 15-a-side rugby was played at the Olympics in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924.

Like the Olympics, the World Cup takes place every four years, now in the middle of every Olympic cycle, with men’s and women’s competitions at the same site.

New Zealand is the defending World Cup champion for men and women, though Fiji took the men’s Olympic title and Australia the women’s gold in Rio.

The U.S. finished fifth (women) and sixth (men) in this season’s World Series standings, though the U.S. men won the only World Series leg played in the U.S. in Las Vegas in March.

The U.S. men are led by Perry Baker, the 2017 World Player of the Year, and Carlin Isles, the 2018 World Series leader in tries. The U.S. women feature Naya Tapper and Rio Olympian Alev Kelter, two of the top scorers from the World Series.

The NBC Sports broadcast team includes U.S. Olympian and Super Bowl champion Nate Ebner as a studio analyst. Leigh Diffey and Bill Seward are on play-by-play, and Ahmed Fareed hosts on-site studio coverage.

Former USA Sevens captain Brian Hightower, U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame member Dan Lyle, former Premiership Rugby and English international prop Alex Corbisiero and World Rugby Hall of Famer Phaidra Knight will provide game and studio commentary.

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MORE: Fiji puts Olympic champion rugby team on dollars, coins

Day Time (ET) Network Coverage Highlights
Friday 1 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Men’s Qualifiers
4-7 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Qualifiers
7 p.m.-1 a.m. NBCSN Women’s Quarters/Men’s Round of 16
Saturday 12:25-3 p.m. Olympic Channel Women’s Semifinal 1
3-5 p.m. NBC Women’s Semifinal 2
5-6 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Challenge Quarters
6:30-11:30 p.m. NBCSN Men’s Quarters/Women’s Finals
Sunday 11:55 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Bowl/Challenge Semifinals
2:30-5 p.m. NBC Men’s Semifinals
5-7 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Bowl Finals
7-10 p.m. NBCSN Men’s Finals

Denis Ten, Olympic medalist figure skater, dies

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Denis Ten, the 2014 Olympic figure skating bronze medalist from Kazakhstan, died after he reportedly was stabbed in Almaty on Thursday.

The International Skating Union and the Kazah Olympic Committee confirmed Ten’s death.

Ten, 25, competed in three Olympics and earned world championships silver and bronze medals in 2013 and 2015.

At 16, Ten was the youngest men’s competitor at Vancouver 2010 and finished 11th in his Olympic debut; he was also only the second singles skater Kazakhstan had ever sent to the Olympics.

Ten made unexpected history in 2013, becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to win a world championships medal. After experiencing health setbacks at the start of his 2014 Olympic season, he was the biggest question mark among the top men in Sochi, but he surprised by becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to earn an Olympic medal.

Ten struggled through health issues leading into his last Olympics in PyeongChang, where he placed 27th. Those Winter Games were nonetheless special to Ten, who was of South Korean descent; his great-grandfather was a famous general who fought for Korean independence, and there is a statue and memorial dedicated to him in Wonju, a town 35 miles southwest of PyeongChang.

Ten also played a significant role as an ambassador for his hometown Almaty’s bid for the 2022 Winter Games. Beijing got the Games over Almaty in an IOC members vote in 2015.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.