Hilary Knight moves up record book; U.S. rolls into final with Canada

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For the 18th time in 18 world women’s hockey championships, the U.S. and Canada will meet in the gold-medal game.

The two rivals kept the streak alive with semifinal wins in Plymouth, Mich., on Thursday, setting up Friday’s showdown (7:30 p.m. ET, NHL Network and NHL.com).

First, Canada blanked Finland 4-0, making up for a shocking group-play loss to the Finns, their first-ever defeat to a nation other than the U.S. at an Olympics or worlds after 81 straight wins.

Later Thursday, the U.S. laid down the biggest rout of the tournament, an 11-0 thrashing of Germany, clearly overmatched in its first worlds semifinal.

Plenty is at stake in Friday’s final.

The U.S. goes for its first world title on home ice and its first streak of four straight world titles. It has never won every world championship in a single Olympic cycle.

Of course, the winner also becomes the PyeongChang Olympic favorite, though Canada lost the world final in 2005, 2009 and 2013 and came back to win Olympic gold each of the following years.

And then there is Hilary Knight.

The MVP of the last two world championships has tallied seven points in four games, including a goal and two assists against Germany. Knight is up to 61 career points at the world championships, tying for second among Americans with four-time Olympian Jenny Potter. Only the legendary Cammi Granato has more (78 points).

In this tournament, Knight has passed former U.S. captains Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell on the career worlds points list.

Knight is also up to 35 career goals at the world championships, which is second on the U.S. list, also behind Granato (44 goals).

At 27 years old, Knight could realistically break Granato’s records in the next Olympic cycle, should she keep playing.

Knight reportedly considered retirement after taking a second straight silver in Sochi, but with the new labor deal, she has more incentive to keep playing than ever.

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Iran banned from judo for instructing athlete to withdraw rather than face Israel opponent

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Iran has been banned from international judo for instructing one of its athletes to withdraw from August’s world championships rather than face an Israeli judoka.

The International Judo Federation said Iran authorities instructing Saeid Mollaei to withdraw rather than face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki was “a serious breach and gross violation” of its code of ethics and the Olympic Charter.

IJF spokesman Vlad Marinescu said any ban won’t apply to the Tokyo Olympics. That’s because it’s the Iranian Olympic Committee, not the Iranian Judo Federation, which formally enters the Olympic team.

“We have been informed by IJF that they will launch a proper procedure giving all concerned parties the right to be heard,” an International Olympic Committee spokesperson said. “Should the issue become an Olympic issue we will take the result of this procedure into consideration.”

An IJF disciplinary commission said it “has a strong reason to believe that the Iran Judo Federation will continue or repeatedly engage in misconduct” given its history of similar actions with its athletes potentially facing Israelis.

Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, said he was afraid to return to Iran after disobeying those orders at worlds. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with Muki.

“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF. “I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.

“I need help. Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid.”

The IJF said it would help Mollaei prepare for next year’s Olympics, also in Tokyo. If Iran refuses to enter him, one option could be the International Olympic Committee-backed team of refugee athletes.

Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis, which the country does not recognize. The IJF has said Iranians have thrown matches and used “questionable injuries” to avoid competing against Israelis.

Mollaei’s case came four months after judo officials hailed a breakthrough in relations with Iran, publishing a letter signed by Salehi Amiri pledging to “fully respect the Olympic charter and its non-discrimination principle.”

Back in August, Iranian Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar accused the IJF of trying to “create problems” with Mollaei, the IRNA news agency reported. He said Iran will send a protest letter to the IOC.

Iranian team manager Majid Zareian also criticized the IJF, saying “everything was set in advance to put Mollaei against a participant from (Israel).”

“They did not allow me to be present next to my athlete in exercise salon,” Zareian said. “After the competitions they changed hotel of Mollaei without my permission, against the regulations.”

He denied reports Iranian authorities had put pressure on Mollaei.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Jacarra Winchester, after foe bites her, wins first wrestling world title

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Jacarra Winchester missed the Rio Olympic wrestling trials after tearing her knee playing soccer. She missed a medal at the 2018 World Championships after a semifinal-winning takedown was reversed.

There was no denying her on Wednesday.

Winchester, who picked up wrestling a decade ago as a high school junior, became the first American to earn a medal at the worlds in Kazakhstan this week. And it was gold.

She came back to beat Japanese Nanami Irie 5-3 in the final of the 55kg division, a weight class that is not on the Olympic program. Winchester must move to 53kg or 57kg next year.

But for now she can celebrate quite a journey. At 26, she’s one of the older wrestlers to become a first-time world champion. She believed she had what it took last year, when a reversed call kept her from the final and she subsequently lost a bronze-medal match.

Winchester, who has problems sleeping, said she replayed the end of that semifinal in her head ever since.

“There’s no reason why I should have gotten beat,” she said Wednesday. “Clearly I have what I need on the mat. I just need to change my mindset. … Just knowing you’re the best, pushing yourself and not letting anything get to me.”

That helped in Tuesday’s semifinals, where Winchester said her Turkish opponent bit her, pulled her hair and twisted her fingers. Winchester, who grew up in the Oakland, Calif., area, said that when she started wrestling she had no Olympic goals.

“I had a mindset of I’m not a quitter,” she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Adeline Gray reached Thursday’s 76kg final, where she will try to become the first American to earn five world titles.

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