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U.S. Olympic men’s hockey coaches include Olympians, Hall of Famer

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The U.S. men’s hockey team will have more Olympic experience behind the bench than on the ice in PyeongChang.

Tony Granato, a 1988 Olympian, was named head coach on Friday.

His staff will include a big-name assistant — Chris Chelios, a four-time Olympian and Hockey Hall of Famer. Other assistants are three-time Olympian Scott Young and Keith Allain, a U.S. assistant coach in 1992 and 2006, and Ron Rolston.

Granato, currently the University of Wisconsin head coach, will become the first non-NHL head coach of a U.S. Olympic team since Miracle on Ice leader Herb Brooks‘ second stint in 2002.

“When the first call came in, lots of things come racing through your mind,” Granato said at a press conference.

The NHL is not sending players to the Olympics for the first time since the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games. U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said there will be no consideration for individual NHL players seeking to defy the league’s no-Olympics stance.

“No, we’re obviously going to honor our NHL partnership,” Johannson said. “We don’t anticipate any changes in that.”

Johannson said he recently spoke with at least 80 American players in European leagues, the AHL and the NCAA about possibly being in the player pool for the final 25-man roster. Recent NHL players could also be chosen.

Johannson said a “long list” of potential players must be submitted in September. A U.S. team of primarily European-based players will take part in a tournament in November in Germany.

“We’ll use that as kind of the basis to start to build out where we think we’re headed, roster-wise,” Johannson said. “Then we start to factor in the NCAA players available to us and the American Hockey League (AHL) players available to us.”

Granato, 53, scored one goal with seven assists at the 1988 Olympics, where the U.S. finished seventh without NHL participation. His younger sister, Cammi, captained the first U.S. Olympic women’s team to gold in 1998.

He went on to a 13-year NHL playing career, then coached the Colorado Avalanche on two occasions before returning to USA Hockey as an assistant under Dan Bylsma at the Sochi Olympics. The U.S. lost the bronze-medal game in Sochi.

Chelios, 55, is one of two U.S. men to play at four Olympics (Keith Tkachuk). The Hockey Hall of Famer and longtime Chicago Blackhawks defenseman suited up at the Winter Games in 1984, 1998, 2002 and 2006.

In 2006, a 44-year-old Chelios became the oldest Olympic ice hockey player since 1928. Since retiring in 2010, he has worked in the Detroit Red Wings front office and was a U.S. assistant coach at the 2016 World Junior Championships.

“[Chelios] is probably skating somewhere thinking we’re asking him to play as well,” Granato joked Friday. “He’s probably going to apply for the player/assistant coaching position.”

Chelios will not be the only 1990s superstar in PyeongChang.

Mike Richter and Martin Brodeur, each three-time Olympic goalies who were in opposing nets in the 2002 Olympic final, have roles with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, respectively.

Richter is an assistant with the U.S. women’s team, while Brodeur is part of the Canadian men’s team’s management group. Canada’s head coach is former Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins.

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MORE: Canada could turn to past Olympians in PyeongChang

Rewind: Australia’s Steven Bradbury gains gold and lasting fame after pileup takes out Apolo Ohno

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Heading into the 2002 Winter Olympics, young American Apolo Ohno was a phenom with a legitimate shot at multiple medals in short-track speedskating.

The 1999 world junior champion and future “Dancing with the Stars” champion had finished first in the World Cup season standings in all three individual disciplines in the 2000-01 season. In the 2001 world championships, he took gold in the relay and the 3,000m (a non-Olympic event), silver in the 1,000m and fourth in the 1,500m.

Australia’s Steven Bradbury was at the other end of his career, enduring all sorts of misfortune in the years that followed — a 1995 accident in which he needed more than 100 stitches after a skate blade sliced his thigh, then a 2000 accident in which he broke two vertebra in his neck. 

The highlights of Bradbury’s career were relay world championships medals — gold in 1991, bronze in 1993, silver in 1994. He and his relay teammates also took Olympic bronze in 1994.

Bradbury barely advanced to one individual final, the 1,000m in 2002. He advanced from the quarterfinal when Canadian favorite Marc Gagnon was disqualified. He advanced from the semifinal when multiple skaters fell.

In the final, Bradbury was matched up against three outstanding skaters, including Ohno and Li Jiajun of China, who won this event and the overall title at the 2001 world championships. Ohno and Li had finished 1-2 in the 1,000m World Cup standings in 2001.

Bradbury couldn’t keep up. The other four skaters were in a pack, making dangerous passes among each other, while Bradbury fell further and further behind.

Those dangerous passes finally caught up to the rest of the field in the final turn. Li bumped into Ohno, which would lead to Li’s disqualification. After the lead pack jockeyed for position through the entire race, all four tumbled to the ice.

Bradbury, the last man standing, crossed the finish line first.

 

From the tangled pile-up, Ohno managed to fling himself, skate-first, across the finish line to take silver. Canada’s Mathieu Turcotte made it across for bronze.

Ohno wasn’t done in Salt Lake City. He won the 1,500m gold after the disqualification of Kim Dong-Sung, a controversial decision that made Ohno the object of South Korean derision.

Less controversially, Ohno won three more individual world championship events from 2005 to 2009, plus two relay golds, and the overall world title in 2008. In the Olympics, he took six more medals, including gold in the 500m in 2006 and silver in the 1,500m in 2010.

Bradbury missed the finals in the other two events in Salt Lake City, but his name lives on in the Urban Dictionary and elsewhere as a synonym for an improbable and even accidental victory. He embraced his unique place in history to carve out a career as a motivational speaker delivering more than 1,000 speeches in 19 countries, according to the International Skating Union and has even seen his win commemorated in Legos.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier form new figure skating pair

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A few weeks after her husband and skating partner, Chris Knierim, stepped away from competitive figure skating, Alexa Scimeca Knierim has a new partner.

Brandon Frazier, who was also looking for someone to form a new pair after longtime partner Haven Denney stepped away from competition, at least temporarily, will join Scimeca Knierim on the ice whenever they’re able to train and compete again.

Frazier is a longtime friend of Chris Knierem. Scimeca Knierim told U.S. Figure Skating’s FanZone that Frazier had played a pivotal role in kindling the Knierem’s off-ice romance.

Denney and Frazier won the U.S. championship in 2017 and finished 20th in the world championships that year. They finished third in their two Grand Prix assignments last fall — Skate America and the Internationaux de France. They were runners-up in the 2019 U.S. championships and fifth this year, when they revived their “Lion King” free skate.

The Denney-Frazier pair took an unusual path to figure skating, starting as roller skaters.

The Knierims won their third U.S. championship in January but handed their slot in the world championships to Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson when Chris Knierim, struggling with his form and depression, decided he was unable to continue beyond the Four Continents Championship. The world championships were later canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus.

READ: Resilient Knierims withdraw from world championships

The couple had earned attention for their romance and for their inspirational returns from illness and injury. Their U.S. championship win earlier this year was their third.

Skate America, the first event on the Grand Prix circuit, is scheduled to start Oct. 23 in Las Vegas.

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