Lee Stecklein’s return to U.S. hockey began with a fortunate phone call

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 4
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Over the last 14 months, the U.S. women’s hockey program lost five players to retirement who won a combined 15 Olympic medals: captain Meghan Duggan, 2018 Olympic final scoring heroes Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, longtime blueliner Kacey Bellamy and Gigi Marvin, who played forward and defense.

All the turnover amplified the value of the woman who led American skaters in ice time at the 2018 Olympics.

That’s Lee Stecklein, the lone defender on the current national team — which happens to be 23 players, the exact number of the Olympic roster that will be named Jan. 1 — who has played at multiple Olympics.

The 6-foot Minnesotan is the tallest and one of the hardest-to-replace U.S. players. The team continues its pre-Olympic exhibition series with Canada on Monday night (8 ET, NBCSN, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app).

WATCH LIVE: U.S.-Canada women’s hockey, Monday, 8 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

One might think Stecklein was always a shoo-in for another Winter Games, but that was far from the case three years ago.

She declined an invite to the team’s first evaluation camp of this Olympic cycle in September 2018. Stecklein had taken a job with Clif Bar in her native Minnesota after PyeongChang and wanted to see where it went.

Fate intervened in October 2018 when the U.S. coaching staff was named to start the new Olympic cycle.

One of the assistants: Joel Johnson, who recruited Stecklein to the University of Minnesota and coached her both on a U18 U.S. team and to three NCAA titles with the Gophers.

After Stecklein passed on that first camp, and missed an international tournament, Johnson recalled seeing a list of possible invitees to a December 2018 camp. That list “was kind of a little bit TBD,” he said, but it did not include Stecklein. He had heard rumors that she retired.

“I just said, ‘Has anybody reached out to Lee?’ And the answer was no,” said Johnson, a U.S. coach at the U18 and U22 levels dating to 2012, while also being part of the Gophers staff the whole time. “And I said, well, I’ll give her a call.”

Stecklein joked that Johnson, who in April was elevated to U.S. head coach, still reminds her of the phone conversation.

“Because, apparently, my answer was, ‘I don’t know,'” she said.

What Stecklein was sure of was that she missed playing hockey at that level. She was still getting on the ice with the Minnesota Whitecaps club team. Hannah Brandt and Kendall Coyne Schofield, teammates at the Olympics and then with the Whitecaps, had been asking if she would consider a return to the national team.

Johnson recalled his pitch in an interview last week.

“I think I said something like, you’ve got the rest of your life to figure that [career] out,” he said. “Want to give it one more shot with the hockey side of things?”

Stecklein accepted the invitation. Four months after that first camp back, she again led U.S. skaters in ice time at the 2019 World Championship (while also continuing her day job with Clif Bar).

“If there was any chance I can make the team, I wanted to give it a shot,” she said. “Once you go back to that camp, and you’re around everybody, you just want to continue to be a part of it.”

Stecklein describes herself as a stay-at-home defender, in contrast to the name “Lethal” that some call her, which is in reference to her middle name of Ethel.

She’s humble. Stecklein said that replacing Bellamy, the previous leader of the defense, is a group effort that also includes Olympic veterans Cayla BarnesMegan Bozek and Megan Keller.

She will let others play up her singular value. Johnson has no problem doing that.

“She’s incredibly important, but it’s not because she’s been on two Olympic teams, it’s because of who she is on the ice and off the ice,” Johnson said. “She’s an absolute shut-down defender. She manages the game well from having the puck on her stick, or if the other team has it, she still manages to control the entire zone and the situation.”

Stecklein connects with everybody on the team, he said. That was apparent in the 2018 Olympic final shootout.

Stecklein, who wasn’t called on as a shooter, was scared to watch it unfold from the bench. So was Bellamy. So Stecklein braved it, gave Bellamy the play-by-play, then when the final save was made stayed there crying and hugging teammates.

Stecklein is 27 years old. No defender older than 30 has ever made an Olympic team, but she is not ruling out continuing to 2026. For now, Johnson feels lucky that she changed her mind in 2018.

“I’m just glad I picked up the phone,” he said.

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Ukraine Olympic champion auctions gold medals to support his country

Yuriy Cheban
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Sprint canoeist Yuriy Cheban, Ukraine’s most decorated male Olympian, is auctioning his two gold medals and one bronze medal to support his country’s defense and recovery efforts amid the war with Russia.

“It was one of the best moments of my life that can be compared only with the birth of my child,” Cheban posted specifically about his repeat 200m gold at his last Olympics in Rio in 2016. “This Olympic finish left a great memory forever in the world history and in the hearts of Ukraine.

“Time to move on, I would like these medals to benefit Ukrainians once again.”

Cheban, a 36-year-old who coached Ukraine canoeists at the Tokyo Games, took 500m bronze in 2008 before his 200m golds in 2012 and 2016, all in individual races.

He and boxer Vasiliy Lomachenko are the only men to win two Olympic gold medals for Ukraine, which began competing independently in 1994. Cheban is the only man to win three total Olympic medals for Ukraine, according to Olympedia.org.

Swimmer Yana Klochkova won the most medals for Ukraine — four golds and five total.

All proceeds from the sales will go to Ukraine’s Olympic Circle charity, according to SCP Auctions.

Olympic Circle was created by sportsmen to help Mykolaiv, a city in southern Ukraine, fight Russian occupants, according to SCP.

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Alpine skiing TV, live stream schedule for 2022-23 World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin, Marco Odermatt
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NBC Sports and Peacock combine to air live coverage of the 2022-23 Alpine skiing season, including races on the World Cup, which starts this weekend.

Coverage begins with the traditional season-opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria, this Saturday and Sunday, streaming live on Peacock.

The first of four stops in the U.S. — the most in 26 years — is Thanksgiving weekend with a women’s giant slalom and slalom in Killington, Vermont. The men’s tour visits Beaver Creek, Colorado the following week, as well as Palisades Tahoe, California, and Aspen, Colorado after worlds in Courchevel and Meribel, France.

NBC Sports platforms will broadcast all four U.S. stops in the Alpine World Cup season, plus four more World Cups in other ski and snowboard disciplines. All Alpine World Cups in Austria will stream live on Peacock.

Mikaela Shiffrin, who last year won her fourth World Cup overall title, is the headliner. Shiffrin, who has 74 career World Cup race victories, will try to close the gap on the only Alpine skiers with more: Lindsey Vonn (82) and Ingemar Stenmark (86). Shiffrin won an average of five times per season the last three years and is hopeful of racing more often this season.

On the men’s side, 25-year-old Swiss Marco Odermatt returns after becoming the youngest man to win the overall, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, since Marcel Hirscher won the second of his record eight in a row in 2013.

2022-23 Alpine Skiing World Cup Broadcast Schedule
Schedule will be added to as the season progresses. All NBC Sports TV coverage also streams live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Date Coverage Network/Platform Time (ET)
Sat., Oct. 22 Women’s GS (Run 1) – Soelden (PPD) Peacock 4 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Soelden (PPD) Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Sun., Oct. 23 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Soelden Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) – Soelden Peacock 7 a.m.
Sat., Nov. 12 Women’s Parallel (Qualifying) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 6 a.m.
Women’s Parallel (Finals) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 12 p.m.
Sun., Nov. 13 Men’s Parallel (Qualifying) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s Parallel (Finals) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 10 a.m.
Sat., Nov. 19 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 7 a.m.
Sun., Nov. 20 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 7:15 a.m.
Fri., Nov. 25 Men’s DH — Lake Louise (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 26 Women’s GS (Run 2) — Killington NBC, Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Men’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Sun., Nov. 27 Women’s SL (Run 2) — Killington NBC, Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Men’s SG — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:15 p.m.
Fri., Dec. 2 Women’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 3 Women’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Men’s DH — Beaver Creek CNBC, Peacock 4 p.m.*
Men’s DH — Beaver Creek NBC, Peacock 5 p.m.*
Sun., Dec. 4 Women’s SG — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 1 p.m.
Men’s SG — Beaver Creek NBC, Peacock 5 p.m.*

*Delayed broadcast.

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