USA Hockey has unique Olympic men’s roster ready for announcement

AP
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USA Hockey has its 25-man Olympic roster. All that’s left is the announcement on Monday at the NHL’s Winter Classic.

“I guess I’ll reiterate what we felt all along is that we’re going to have 25 great stories and great paths to be an Olympian,” U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said Thursday. “I think that’s going to hold true on Jan. 1.”

The final roster decisions were made Wednesday, Johannson said.

It ended a three-part evaluation and selection process that began in earnest at the U.S.’ only pre-Olympic tournament in November.

A team made up primarily of veterans in European leagues went 0-3 at the Deutschland Cup in Germany but outshot Slovakia, Russia and Germany by a combined 95 to 60.

After the Deutschland Cup, U.S. coaches and officials spent much of the next four weeks scouting Olympic-eligible players in the American Hockey League and the NCAA. AHL players on NHL contracts aren’t eligible for the Olympics.

The last two weeks were about putting the puzzle together, writing names on paper and seeing where everybody fits.

Johannson, a 1988 and 1992 Olympian, has been with USA Hockey since 2000.

In some ways, picking this year’s team was more difficult without NHL players available for the first time since 1994. In other ways, it was easier.

“When you really start to break down our team, the personnel parts of it, it gives you a much more clear definition in your discussions and arguments,” he said. “It seems like we were talking more specific as opposed to building the quote-unquote ‘team.'”

Such as who would mesh well in the penalty-kill unit and power-play lines.

Johannson would not get into specifics but did confirm that the roster will have players from the Russia-based KHL, billed as the world’s second-best league behind the NHL.

The KHL has not said whether it will release players for the Olympics, but Johannson was confident that those named to the team Monday will suit up in February.

The KHL said last year it would release players for PyeongChang and even scheduled an Olympic break in its regular season. Then came the Olympic sanctions on Russia this fall.

Olympic men’s and women’s hockey teams of Russian athletes are expected to be allowed into the Winter Games, but it’s unknown which players an IOC panel will invite.

No Russian male hockey players have been implicated in the nation’s 2014 Olympic doping scandal that has led to bans for more than 40 Olympians, including several Russian female hockey players.

“We’ll understand who’s going and who’s not going and then the league will respond accordingly,” KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko said Dec. 13, according to The Associated Press.

Johannson said there was no importance on getting a specific mix of players based in Europe, the NCAA and the AHL. He didn’t rule out the possibility that a junior player made the team.

“We definitely think the college guys are going to help us from an energy and enthusiasm standpoint,” Johannson said. “The European [league] guys are going to feed off these guys.”

The notable names at the Deutschland Cup were 2006 U.S. Olympic leading goal-scorer Brian Gionta, 2010 Olympic silver medalist Ryan Malone and Ryan Zapolski, who was then the top goalie in the KHL.

Chris Bourque, a son of Boston Bruins legend and Canadian Olympian Ray Bourque, leads the AHL in points and is eligible for Olympic selection.

From the NCAA, forwards Troy Terry (Denver) and Jordan Greenway (Boston University) were the two players chosen by USA Hockey to appear at a September USOC media summit with Olympic hopefuls from all sports.

Without naming a single player, Johannson stressed that versatility is the team’s strength.

“There’s a lot of guys that can play up and down our lineup that also can play if we need them to help shut down a top line,” he said. “A spark where we hope we get scoring from, I think there are guys that can do that as well. No matter what, I can say this for all of the [Olympic] teams [without NHL players], to really find your scoring is going to be a group effort. We’re going to really put an emphasis on special teams.”

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MORE: Full Olympic hockey schedule

Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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