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Pat LaFontaine uniting hockey at every level

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The sport of hockey has always elicited great pride in the culture surrounding the game, but Hockey Hall-of-Famer Pat LaFontaine wanted to enhance the experience for players at all ages.

Named one of the 100 Greatest Players during the NHL’s Centennial anniversary, LaFontaine sought a document that could unite all levels of hockey and serve as a written guideline for the sport moving forward.

“Hockey’s greatest values are the principles and life skills it teaches you,” LaFontaine said in a recent phone interview with NBC Olympics. “The real value of the game is the leadership, teamwork, discipline, sacrifice and the hard work that the game instills. Whatever you do in life, you can look back and say hockey was a vehicle that taught you those life skills and values.”

In recent years, LaFontaine worked tirelessly to gather representatives from all levels of hockey to discuss the state of the game and collaborate on cultural and structural changes to positively impact the sport.

NBCOlympics.com: Full men’s and women’s hockey schedules

The first step was defining their objective.

In early September, the committee revealed the Declaration of Principles – a set of commonly shared beliefs that articulate a vision of delivering the best possible hockey experience for participants and their families.

The Principles are meant to serve as an internal compass to help guide decisions and shift behaviors of hockey organizations, as well as players, parents, coaches, fans, partners and all those who represent and care for the sport of hockey.

“One of the proudest days for me was when the Declaration of Principles was signed,” LaFontaine said. “Because it’s the entire global hockey community coming together to aspire to be better and live to a higher standard. The real value of what the game gives and try to focus on what’s really important.”

As for LaFontaine, there are few former players, especially Americans, who have the background and resume to carry out such an initiative.

LaFontaine represented the United States on the Olympic stage twice (1984, 1998). He is one of a handful of American players to participate in the tournament as both an amateur and an NHLer.

“You couldn’t put a price tag on wearing a USA hockey jersey in a foreign country,” LaFontaine said. “To this day, it is still one of the most memorable experiences in my career.”

The NHL has elected to not participate in the Olympics after playing in the previous five tournaments dating back to the 1998 Nagano games.

NBCOlympics.com: No NHL players promises wild hockey tournament

“It is still this great game of hockey,” LaFontaine said. “It is still this great competition. There is still this pride in where you’re from, representing your culture, your country, your ideals. It is going to be a very unique and special experience.”

The Olympics present an opportunity for players of varied ages with different experience to come together to achieve one common goal.

The Declaration of Principles can play a meaningful role in the 2018 Olympics if any team decides to follow the parameters and use it as a resource to help form a unique connection and bond with a single goal in mind.

John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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