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

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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

Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal rekindle record bids at French Open

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Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will play on the same day at the French Open through the quarterfinals, assuming each advances that far and the weather doesn’t wreak havoc. Each time they walk on the crushed red clay, the legends move closer to tying all-time records.

Williams, in her 10th bid since returning from childbirth to tie Margaret Court‘s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, battled and then rolled past 102nd-ranked countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena,” she said of the difference between a 74-minute first set and a 27-minute second set. “I love the clay, and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Nadal, in his second major since moving within one of Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Slam titles, swept 83rd-ranked Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

“Six months without playing a single tennis match is not easy,” said Nadal, who skipped the U.S. Open and then lost his third match at his comeback tournament in Rome. “I had to stop playing tennis for more than two months, so situation is difficult.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Their pursuits are very different.

Williams is already the greatest player in history by many measures, especially considering most of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and some at the Australian Open without the world’s best players.

Williams has lost all four of her major finals since her life-threatening childbirth. But she is not the favorite in Paris, despite the absence of 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia and recent U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka. Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in four years and just went 16 months between competitive matches on clay.

She’s also battling an Achilles injury that affected her during a U.S. Open semifinal run three weeks ago. She’s spent most of her preparation time in France rehabbing.

“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”

None of Williams’ potential first three opponents have ever beaten her. Next up: Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Like Williams, Nadal next plays on Wednesday. He gets Mackenzie McDonald, one of six American men to so far reach round two, the most since 1998.

For more than a decade, followers have debated the greatest male player in history between Nadal and Federer (and now Novak Djokovic). But not until winning the 2019 U.S. Open did Nadal move within one Slam of Federer’s total.

Now, Nadal can tie Federer and pass the Swiss if he wins the next two French Opens (and Federer doesn’t win the next Australian Open).

Nadal is going for his 13th crown in Paris, as usual downplaying his favorite status. This time, he’s noting the cool, slow, autumnal conditions and a new brand of tennis ball that is disadvantageous.

“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros,” Nadal said last week. “The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.”

Federer is not playing after two knee operations. Nadal, who at 34 is five years younger than Federer, has the opportunity in the coming matches and months to tip the scales in his favor. And help deny Djokovic, who is 33 with 17 Slams.

Nadal is not one to engage in that GOAT debate. Turns out, neither is Williams.

“You can’t compare two people that are equally great,” she said of Nadal and Federer. “I don’t understand why people want to pit who’s this, who’s that? They both have spectacular careers that 99 percent of people can only dream of and they both deserve.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310.

Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

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