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Eruzione believes diversity is Team USA’s greatest strength

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The United States men’s hockey team will begin their quest for the Gold Medal on Feb. 14th with non-NHL players. The Olympic Athletes from Russia are the favorites. Sound familiar?

In 1980, Herb Brooks, Mike Eruzione and others completed the impossible, defeating the mighty Soviet Union to bring the men’s hockey Gold Medal back to the U.S. for the first time since 1960.

With active NHL players not participating for the first time since 1994, another unique group of Americans will try to win the ultimate prize.

Brian Gionta, 39, will captain this year’s team filled with players of varied experience ranging from collegiate athletes to former NHL players.

“With Brian as an older leader, I guarantee he’s got that team in place and everybody hanging together and being together,” Eruzione said in a recent interview with NBC Olympics.  ”The sport of hockey brings people together right away. You learn that at a young age, how important your teammates are and how important it is to become a team right away. They’ve played against each other; they’ve played with each other. There are four players from Boston University there that know each other.”

Eruzione is a BU Alumnus and is still involved with the University today, working in the development office. Jordan Greenway, a current junior at BU, will become the first African-American to play on the men’s side.

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“Jordan’s a great player, and he doesn’t need my advice,” Eruzione said. “My opinion was just, ‘Embrace it. Enjoy it. It’s a great opportunity.’ He has represented the United States before at the World Junior Championships so he knows what it’s about. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Before the 1980 Winter Games, Herb Brooks ran a grueling six-month training to find the right players for his system and develop a familial environment. Additionally, his coaching staff had plenty of opportunities to experiment with different line combinations and cultivate team chemistry.

The team played a 61-game pre-Olympic schedule against foreign, college and professional teams, ultimately finishing with a 42-16-3 record.

Tony Granato, the current head coach, did not have the same luxury.

The team was announced on Jan. 1st, at the NHL Winter Classic at Citi Field. Just 40 days before the Opening Ceremony in PyeongChang.

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The Winter Games get underway swiftly and each game counts just as much as the next. There is little room for error, especially at the beginning. Remember, the 1980 squad almost had a dream-crushing loss in their opening game against Team Sweden.

“You can’t be too patient because it’s a quick tournament,” Eruzione explained. “You’re playing a lot of games in a short period of time. It’s not like you have two months to put a line together. I think it’s just going to go based on Tony’s knowledge and the coaches that are involved. They’re pretty quick to figure out who should play with who.”

Despite the difference in length of preparation, the 2018 squad’s makeup has a similar feel to the 1980 Miracle team.

“All American athletes, we come from different backgrounds, we all have different heritage and we’re very diverse,” Eruzione said. “We know we’re diverse as a country, but our team was very diverse.”

As part of the AncestryDNA campaign from Ancestory.com, several members of the 1980 team wanted to check into their past. Robbie McClanahan, John Harrington, Buzz Schneider and Davey Christian got involved.

“When the campaign was designed to celebrate America’s greatness, I thought this would be a lot of fun for us to see the diversity of our hockey team, and it was amazing,” Eruzione said. “What was funny was that Buzzy had some Russian heritage. “Now I know why Buzzy always scored against Vladislav Tretiak (Soviet Union goalie), because of the Russian roots.”

This time around, it’s a new group of diverse players heading to foreign soil. The seasoned veteran Gionta alongside young guns such as Greenway look to complete the impossible once again.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

MORE: World’s top skater leaves famed coach

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Respectfully, Donavan Brazier believes he has a chance at legendary record

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On the night of the biggest race of his life, Donavan Brazier met the man whom he is trying to succeed and, perhaps, supplant.

David Rudisha, the two-time Olympic 800m champion and world-record holder, told Brazier before the Oct. 1 world championships 800m final that he believed in the 22-year-old American more than any other man in that night’s event.

Later that evening in Doha, Brazier proved the sidelined Kenyan prophetic, winning in a national record 1:42.34 and becoming the first American to win a world title in the event.

Brazier, in his first global championship final, also ran the fastest time by somebody that young since Rudisha’s 2012 Olympic title and world-record epic pulled that field to personal bests.

Rudisha’s mark of 1:40.91 — from a race Brazier has watched dozens of times — is still significantly faster. That hasn’t stopped followers from wondering if Rudisha’s days as world-record holder may be numbered.

Sounds like Brazier may be wondering, too.

“I think I definitely have the opportunity,” Brazier told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in a watchback of his 2019 Diamond League and world titles. “If we’re looking at guys that are currently racing right now, I think I might have the best opportunity to do it.”

Brazier exercised caution. He was by no means predicting such a feat.

“David Rudisha, when he first broke it, he was a once-in-a-century athlete,” Brazier said. “For someone to break it so quick and just to say it so nonchalantly, I think it’s not really giving David Rudisha the respect that he deserves. A 1:40.91 is a really dangerous record to break.”

Brazier, who took up running in middle school in Michigan rather than football because he was “terribly skinny,” quickly became a dangerous prospect. In 2016, he went into the Olympic Trials ranked third in the world as a Texas A&M freshman.

Then came the obstacles. Brazier was eliminated in the first round of trials, three weeks after winning the NCAA title on the same Oregon track. In 2017, he won the U.S. title but failed to make the world final. He didn’t race at all outdoors in 2018 due to a foot injury.

Brazier looked at 2019 as a redemption year. He hit a series of successes: an American indoor 800m record, the world’s fastest indoor 600m in history, his first Diamond League win, a repeat national title and the Diamond League Final title.

Brazier said that last victory in Zurich took him from “not a well known guy, maybe a medal contender, maybe not,” to the world championships favorite. Rudisha hasn’t raced since 2017 due to injuries.

Brazier, after meeting Rudisha and former world-record holder Seb Coe, capped the season with his biggest title yet in Doha. The feeling was more relief than happiness. Brazier, after getting knocked down repeatedly in his first two seasons as a pro, noted that Muhammad Ali also won his first world title at age 22.

Brazier mouthed “thank you” after crossing the finish line, a salute to everybody who helped him reach that point.

“I’m thanking myself, too, because I’m the one who put in all the hard work to do it,” Brazier said. “I’m not saying that this is the end of my career, but it was definitely the peak of my career and the pinnacle of it. I never accomplished anything on a stage like that.”

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