After 2 years off, NHL veteran returns with Olympic goal

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The U.S. Olympic hockey team in PyeongChang — the first without NHL players since 1994 — should include an array of collegians and veterans in minor leagues and Europe.

It could also include a previous Olympian who hasn’t played professional hockey in more than two years.

Ryan Malone, a 37-year-old forward who earned a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, will try out for the Minnesota Wild during a preseason training camp starting next week.

Malone is setting realistic expectations — not to return to the NHL (though it would be incredible), but to make a minor-league team so he can be eligible for PyeongChang. He would love for his two boys — Will, 9, and Cooper, 7 — to watch him in South Korea.

“Either way I’m looking at it as a win-win for me to get back into the game on borrowed time and enjoy it,” Malone said in a phone interview Wednesday. “That was something I never even dreamed about or thought was possible [to play in the Olympics]. To have that experience and put on those colors, you get goosebumps talking about it. To have the slightest chance to do that again is well worth taking for me.”

He is older than all but one previous U.S. Olympic hockey player (Chris Chelios, who played at age 40 in 2002 and 44 in 2006 and is an assistant on the PyeongChang team).

The comeback began earlier this summer, when Malone was coaching in Minnesota’s “Da Beauty League.”

Despite the farcical name, the summer league is competitive. NHL.com called it “a glorified pickup game” for NHL and college players.

One night, Malone’s team was short on players. He laced up and felt pretty good for a retiree.

Earlier this summer, Malone had called USA Hockey GM Jim Johannson about a possible scouting gig. USA Hockey must scour the NCAA, Europe and U.S. minor leagues for talent to fill its 25-man Olympic roster.

So Malone decided to call Johannson again, but this time to ask about playing for the U.S. Malone was told that he would be eligible for Olympic consideration as long as he was playing in a non-NHL league (and not in the top minor league, the AHL, on an NHL contract).

“They’re in my corner,” Malone said of USA Hockey. “They have a good sense of my character and the player I am. It’s up to me to go out there and prove it.”

Malone made more calls that led to a tryout with the Wild, whose general manager, Chuck Fletcher, worked in the front office for the Pittsburgh Penguins when Malone was on that team a decade ago.

Malone debuted in the NHL with the Pens in 2003 and tallied 51 points for them in 2007-08, highlighting an 11-season NHL career. He opened 2009-10 with 19 goals in the first 38 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning and was named to the Vancouver Olympic team.

Malone can’t forget being on the bench when Zach Parise tied the gold-medal game with 25 seconds left, and for when Sidney Crosby won it with a golden goal. His silver medal has been in storage for a month or two as he has been between houses.

In April 2014, Malone was arrested for cocaine possession and driving under the influence and later sentenced to 12 months’ probation. His contract was bought out by the Lightning, and by the next year he was out of pro hockey.

Malone confirmed that his retirement wasn’t brought on by the arrest, but rather from leg injuries.

“I literally had legs like a 70-year-old lady,” Malone said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and confirmed that he underwent surgeries for varicose veins. “I feel better now than I did probably my last two years in the league.”

Malone might not be the only player with Olympic experience eyeing the 25-man U.S. team for PyeongChang.

“There are some guys that have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster,” Johannson said last month, without naming names.

A pair of 2006 Olympians — John-Michael Liles, a 36-year-old defenseman, and Brian Gionta, a 38-year-old forward — played in the NHL last season but are currently free agents.

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MORE: USA Hockey reaches out to aging NHL players

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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