Round 1 of Canada-U.S. hockey done, but women know ‘war is still to be played’

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SOCHI, Russia — How to find meaning in a so-called meaningless game – that was the challenge after Canada’s 3-2 victory over the United States Wednesday at Shayba Arena.

Because here’s the thing: barring a tremendous upset in Monday’s semifinals, to which both sides have advanced, the two women’s hockey powerhouses are still expected to meet in the gold-medal game on Feb. 20.

“Ultimately it’s a battle and the war is still to be played,” said Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser,  who finished with a goal and an assist.

And that looming war is ultimately why none of the American players, nor coach Katey Stone, put up much of a fuss over Canada’s second goal, by Wickenheiser, that seemed to cross the line after the referee’s whistle blew.

“I did hear the whistle blow before the puck went in,” said Stone.

“But what are you going to do? That’s what happens. We had a lot of time left in that game. I’m not going to hang my hat on that one.”

The final score did mean one thing for sure. Canada has now won 18 straight games in the Olympics, its last loss coming to the United States in the gold-medal final of the 1998 Nagano Games.

Canadian coach Kevin Dineen was pleased with today’s victory, but was hesitant to attach much significance to the final score, given all the ways the result could have been different.

VIDEO: Watch the controversial goals

“We won tonight,” said Dineen. “I’d love to say we could win two in a row. A lot of bounces go in there, those things happen. I’m just hoping we can keep moving forward.”

Wickenheiser echoed her coach’s message about getting, or sometimes not getting, the breaks.

“We know it’s always going to come down to one or two bounces when we face [the U.S.],” she said.

Stone, meanwhile, was “indifferent” to the performance of her side, suggesting a couple of areas for improvement.

“Our defensive support today in our own end was not what it’s typically been in the last two months, and that’s an area that we can continue to work on,” she said.

“And then we’ve got to establish our forecheck. It wasn’t until we got a little bit more comfortable in the game that we really started to play on our toes versus on our heels.”

At the end of the day, perhaps there’s no need to unearth some key underlying factor, some predictive element from today’s game. Perhaps it’s enough that it was another typical U.S.-Canada clash that left the fans entertained and looking forward to the teams’ next meeting.

“Both teams would like to play each other,” said Canadian goalie Charline Labonte. “It would be a bonus playing them – there would be a lot of emotion on the ice.”

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”