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Back to school, work looms for Olympic hockey players

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Brian Gionta could go from facing Martin Erat in the Olympics to facing Filip Forsberg in the NHL.

Tony Granato will go back to coaching JD Greenway at Wisconsin after having brother Jordan play for him on the U.S. men’s team. Jordan Greenway and Ryan Donato will go back to their college teams in and around Boston after celebrating goals together on Olympic ice.

The end of the Olympics means players, coaches and everyone around the tournament return to their day jobs, some more glamorous than others. After putting their seasons on hold to focus on the Olympics, what’s next for players varies drastically from the bright lights of the NHL to bus life in the minors to plane trips across Siberia.

For players who thrived on the big stage, the no-NHL Olympics was a blessing and one that will boost them moving forward.

“It definitely helped me as a player, my confidence, and knowing how I can play at this level,” said forward Troy Terry, the youngest player on the U.S. team who is an Anaheim Ducks prospect playing at the University of Denver, last season’s NCAA champion. “I’m just trying to keep this going, and I feel good as a player. I’m coming out of here with confidence and I’m just trying to bring that back to Denver and hopefully try and make another run at a national championship.”

Granato’s Wisconsin Badgers, Greenway’s Boston University Terriers and Donato’s Harvard Crimson will try to prevent that as the attention turns from South Korea to getting to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Frozen Four.

Seventeen years removed from winning his national title at Boston College, Gionta said of an NHL return “we’ll see what happens.” He said he thinks he played well in South Korea and created scoring chances even though he had zero points and a minus-4 rating. The 39-year-old winger led the United States with 16 shots on goal.

Fellow captain Chris Kelly is in a similar role for Canada, and he and agent Pat Morris each said the 37-year-old forward is focused on the Olympics and not potentially signing a contract. Kelly, Gionta and U.S. defenseman James Wisniewski would have to sign before 3 p.m. Eastern on Monday to be playoff-eligible.

Kelly and Canada defenseman Maxim Noreau said they’re in an Olympic bubble and trying not to worry about their NHL chances. Kelly has gotten the silent treatment from Morris on that topic — in a good way.

“I think he knows,” Kelly said. “We’ve been together since I was I think 19 and he knows to leave me alone.”

Some players have no interest in playing in the NHL — at least right now. Greenway, a Minnesota Wild prospect, said he’s going back to college, and Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen is focused on the Kontinental Hockey League playoffs with Jokerit.

The KHL has the most players in this tournament with 92 and resumes play Monday, a day after the closing ceremony in South Korea. Canada forward Wojtek Wolski, who has 99 career regular-season NHL goals, has a KHL contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk and doesn’t mind going back to that life.

“I had a couple good years in Magnitogorsk,” Wolski said. “I’m comfortable there. I’m happy there.”

Donato is happy at Harvard, so much that his father, Ted, said it’s hard to say when his son might make the leap to play for the Boston Bruins. Donato led the U.S. with five goals and certainly looks ready.

“There’s so many factors involved with being NHL-ready,” said Ted Donato, who played 12 NHL seasons and coaches Ryan at Harvard. “One certainly would be the opportunity presented yourself and the right timing.”

The 21-year-old Donato credits Gionta and older players for his play and figures he’ll take some more confidence back to school. The NHL is on his mind, but he doesn’t know when.

“Obviously it’s a dream,” Donato said. “I grew up as a kid wanting to play in the NHL and especially for the Bruins, but at the end of the day I want to graduate as well. We’ll see what the future holds.”

 

Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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