The U.S. men’s hockey team is grouped with Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia for a second straight Olympics.
Norway, Slovenia and Germany claimed the last spots in the 2018 Olympic men’s hockey field of 12 nations Sunday, while France heartbreakingly failed in its bid to qualify for the first time since 2002 with a goalie who played under Herb Brooks at the 1998 Olympics.
Norway came from behind to beat France 2-1 in their final qualifying game Sunday at an Oslo arena that hosted 1952 Olympic hockey games. France would have qualified for Pyeongchang over Norway with a win. Instead, Norway scored the decider with 2:29 left.
In other winner-take-all games, Slovenia ousted Belarus 3-2 in a shootout in Minsk. Germany edged Latvia 3-2 in Riga.
Two nations from Sochi failed to qualify for Pyeongchang — Austria and Latvia.
Latvia inspired at the 2014 Olympics, where it was tied with Canada in the third period of the quarterfinals but ultimately fell 2-1, a close affair despite a 57-16 shots-on-goal advantage for Canada.
Austria and Latvia are replaced in the 2018 Olympic field by host South Korea, in its first Olympics, and Germany, which had made every Olympics since the fall of the Berlin Wall before being upset by Austria in 2014 Olympic qualifying.
In Sochi, the U.S. crushed Slovakia 7-1, edged Russia 3-2 in the T.J. Oshie shootout and beat Slovenia 5-1. The Americans would lose 1-0 to Canada in the semifinals and 5-0 to Finland in the bronze-medal game.
The 2018 Olympic format will be the same as 2014, with all 12 nations advancing to a playoff bracket, but only group winners and the best second-place team receiving byes into the quarterfinals.
The 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups (world ranking in parentheses):
|Group A||Group B||Group C|
|Canada (1)||Russia (2)||Finland (3)|
|Czech Republic (6)||USA (4)||Sweden (5)|
|Switzerland (7)||Slovakia (8)||Germany (10)|
|South Korea (23 — host)||Slovenia (15)||Norway (11)|
France’s elimination Sunday quashed what could have been one of the great stories of the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Cristobal Huet, 41, was France’s goalie in all three qualification games this weekend.
Huet, best known for playing in the NHL from 2003 through 2010 and winning a Stanley Cup that last year, was in line to become the oldest playing goalie at the Olympics in 90 years, according to Olympic historians.
Huet played for France in its last two Olympic appearances, in 1998 and 2002. In the former, his coach was Herb Brooks, best known as the man who guided the U.S. team in the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.
In November 1997, Brooks took the French Olympic coaching job as a favor to a friend who happened to be the French team’s general manager, according to reports back then. It was his first Olympic coaching job since Lake Placid, and Brooks reportedly spoke little French.
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before the Nagano 1998 Olympics:
Earlier this week, a French reporter asked Brooks if France could pull off a Lake Placid-style miracle.
Brooks gave the man an icy stare.
“You are way off base,” Brooks said. “I mean no disrespect to you, but you have to understand that there will never be another Lake Placid. Never.”
The 1998 Olympic hockey tournament included a preliminary round for lower-ranked nations that first weekend.
France went 1-2, beating Japan but losing to Belarus and Germany, and failed to advance to face medal-contending nations such as the U.S. or Canada. Huet played in two of those preliminary-round games.
Brooks would lead France to an upset of the U.S. at the world championship three months after the Olympics. The American team at those worlds included few NHL players.
The 1998 Winter Games were the first Olympics with NHL participation, which continued for the next four editions. Whether the NHL will send its players to Pyeongchang is to be decided.
Here’s what Brooks said about NHL participation in the 1998 Olympics, according to the Post-Dispatch:
“It will be a tremendous tournament with the NHL players here,” Brooks said. “And this will be great marketing for the NHL. But I’m more of a traditionalist. I’m not a big fan of professionals in the Olympic Games. Maybe I’m sort of a dinosaur along those lines. I still hold out hope that the young players in the United States do not have to be an NHL All-Star to play in the Olympics. I think we’re taking a lot of the hopes and dreams and aspirations out of our young people.”Follow @nzaccardi