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Russia trounces U.S. in hockey rematch at World Championships (video)

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The rosters, the venue and the stage were very different. So was the result.

Unlike in Sochi, Russia had no problem dispatching the U.S. men’s hockey team at the World Championships, crushing the Americans 6-1 in a group-play game in Minsk, Belarus, on Monday.

Alex Ovechkin scored in the first period and added two second-period assists. Viktor Tikhonov, the grandson of the legendary Soviet Union coach, tallied two in a four-goal second period. U.S. goalie Tim Thomas, the only American player with Olympic experience, was pulled after the Russians went up 5-1 in the second.

Russia cruised despite being outshot 39-20.

Russia has now rolled over the U.S., Finland and Switzerland in group play. The U.S. beat Switzerland and Belarus before running into the Russians. Each nation has four more group-play games left before the playoff round, which takes the four best teams from each of the two groups.

The U.S. is coming off a fourth-place finish at the Sochi Olympics, where it memorably beat Russia in group play thanks to T.J. Oshie‘s shootout heroics. Russia disappointed, was eliminated in the quarterfinals and changed national team coaches.

The U.S. roster in Minsk, with zero 2014 Olympians, is not nearly as star-studded as it was in Sochi with the NHL playoffs still going on. Its top skaters include Predators defenseman Seth Jones and Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader, the latter scoring the lone U.S. goal Monday.

The Russian team with many players from the KHL, whose season is finished, also has two NHL goalies, including Sochi Olympian Sergei Bobrovsky. But it was KHL goalie Andrei Vasilevski, 19, who stymied a young U.S. team (average age about 24) with 37 saves.

The U.S. beat Russia 8-3 in last year’s World Championships quarterfinals en route to bronze.

Video: Putin scores 6 goals in hockey game in Sochi

France’s Alexis Pinturault rallies to win World Cup slalom in Wengen

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It’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts.

That was certainly the story of the day in Wengen, Switzerland where France’s Alexis Pinturault used a spectacular second run to overtake first-run leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria to win his first World Cup men’s slalom victory of the season on Sunday.

Germany’s Felix Neureuther, who was bidding to join his father Christian (1973-74) as a winner of this race, finished second while Hirscher slid into third but maintained his hold on the season standings lead in the discipline.

It was a rough day for the American tech team as rising slalom specialist David Chodounsky had a gate crash down on his skis, causing his tips to cross and him to fall.. He had finished eighth in the last World Cup slalom in Adelboden on Jan 12, and had finishes of 15th in Bormio on Jan. 6 and seventh in Val d’Isere on Dec. 15.

Ted Ligety, who won the super-combined in Wengen on Friday, lost his race line and needed to hike back up the hill to avoid missing a gate and being disqualified. The lost time plummeted him to 35th place, which did not qualify him for a second run. The day’s results saw Ligety overtaken by Pinturault for third place in the World Cup slalom standings.

“There wasn’t much I could do there,” Ligety told the Associated Press. “I got a little stuck on my skis.”

The top American in the race was old-faithful himself, 36-year-old Bode Miller who finished the first run in 21st place, 2.62 seconds behind Hirscher, and placed 26th overall, earning his first World Cup points in the discipline since 2011. His performance also gave the U.S. another quota spot in the discipline for Olympic selection.

There were positives to be taken from that performance as it relates to the super-combined, an event Miller will defend his gold medal in at the Sochi Olympics. The hill got the better of him in Friday’s super-combined slalom run, but difficult gate placement in this race served as an excellent opportunity for Miller to hone his slalom and he got in two solid runs.

With just one World Cup slalom race scheduled before the start of the Olympics, Pinturault could not have picked a better time to breakout of a season-long slump that has seen him crash out of races in Levi and Val d’Isere, get disqualified for straddling a gate in Bormio and then finishing 23rd in Adelboden. Pinturault’s last slalom victory came on Dec. 8, 2012 in Val d’Isere.

“It was especially a reward and satisfaction after a difficult time that I’ve had at the beginning of the season,” Pinturault told AP. “That can happen to anyone. I knew what I was capable of. I knew that I could go faster.”

Some mistakes in the first run left him in seventh place, .92 seconds behind Hirscher, who somehow managed to pick up speed where his competitors bled time in deteriorating conditions on the lower portion of the course.

The same course conditions manifested themselves in Run 2, but Pinturault threw down a flawless run, managing to stay on top of his skis with his knees driving forward despite all of the ruts in the soft snow. When the 22-year-old crossed with a .76 second advantage and pumped his fists in the air, it sent a clear message to the remaining skiers: come get me.

Manfred Moelgg of Italy, Fritz Dopfer of Germany, Mario Matt of Austria, Neureuther, and Andre Myhrer of Sweden were unable to usurp the lead from the Frenchman.

That left Hirscher, who was on course to take his 14th career slalom victory, which would have tied an Austrian record. But the 24-year-old made a huge mistake on the last pitch. In taking a too-ambitious approach coming onto the roll, he lost his line and threw away victory within sight of the finish.

“It was a stupid mistake,” Hirscher told AP.

World Cup racing will move to Kitzbuehel, Austria with a super-combined on Friday, the Hahnenkamm classic downhill on Saturday, and a slalom on Sunday.

Wengen Men’s Slalom

1. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 1:42.87

2. Felix Neureuther (GER) 1:43.21

3. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 1:43.50

4. Mario Matt (AUT) 1:43.62

5. Patrick Thaler (ITA) 1:43.63

6. Andre Myhrer (SWE) 1:43.68

7. Fritz Dopfer (GER) 1:43.71

8. Jean-Baptiste Grange (FRA) 1:43.80

9. Steve Missillier (FRA) 1:44.00

10. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 1:44.01

26. Bode Miller (USA) 1:45.85

DNQ Ted Ligety (USA)

DNQ Will Brandenburg (USA)

DNF David Chodounsky (USA)

DNF Tim Kelly (USA)

Bode Miller equals season best with fifth in Wengen downhill

Julia Mancuso improves but U.S. women lag behind favorites in Altenmarkt downhill (video)

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The women wearing the label of Olympic medal favorites definitely looked the part.

A challenge to that supremacy from the Americans is looking less like a sure thing.

Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl and Anna Fenninger thrilled the opening crowd with a 1-2 finish ahead of overall points leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany and rising star Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein in the fifth downhill race of the World Cup season Saturday in Altenmarkt, Austria.

Meanwhile, the struggles continued for the U.S. women on the whole as they failed once again to reach the podium as the clock ticked to 27 days until the start of the Winter Olympics. There was a bright spot however, as Julia Mancuso put down some of her best skiing of the season and finished 13th.

The American women came into the season as the top-ranked speed unit in the world but have collectively looked lost throughout the first half of the World Cup and have fallen well short of lofty expectations.

Six U.S. women reached a World Cup podium in at least one speed event last season. None have done so this season, and two, Lindsey Vonn and Alice McKennis, are now out of Olympic consideration with knee and leg injuries.

The closest anyone has come to a podium was on Dec. 8 when Leanne Smith finished sixth in the super-G at Lake Louise on Dec. 8. Stacey Cook’s best result is a 12th-place finish in the downhill in Lake Louise on Dec. 7. Mancuso’s best effort in a speed event was her 17th-place finish in the super-G at Lake. Since the opening race of the season, the Beaver Creek downhill on Nov. 29, Laurenne Ross hadn’t finished inside the Top 22.

At the outset, it didn’t appear like things were going to be any better here. Smith and Cook, the first two Americans out of the gate, brought little speed off the steep opening pitch, scrubbed time on the first right hand turn, got no air off the hot-air jump and carried little speed into the gliding flat sections. Cook finished 21st and Smith finished tied for 24th.

That brought up Mancuso, who might have seemed least likely to have a solid performance, especially after she spent Friday in the hospital tending to her younger sister Sara, who was injured powder skiing in Altenmarkt.

But Mancuso lived up to her reputation as a big-race performer and she raised her game. Showing no ill effects or distractions from her family ordeal, she flew through the top third and took speed into the technical mid-section. That enabled her to attack the critical lower half and cross with her best finish of the season.

“It was a good run,” Mancuso told AP. “You can’t expect to change everything in one run. Now I really believe I can win a race. I feel a lot better on my equipment. I skied positive the whole run and was trying to be confident.”

Ross skied the super-G-like turns cleanly but the rest of her run was less-than aggressive. In paying the course such respect, she sacrificed time, finishing 22nd, which equaled her season’s best.

For those looking for more-drastic improvement from the U.S. and not just baby steps, the reasons this performance could be taken as disheartening are two-fold. Firstly, there are only two downhill and two super-G races left until the U.S. Olympic team is selected on Jan. 26 and to quote Yogi Berra, “It gets late early out there.”

Secondly, today’s Kalberloch represented perhaps the closest replica to the Rosa Khutor Olympic course in Sochi that women will ski on the World Cup. It opened with a full 37-degree plunge out of the start, which gets skiers up over 70 miles per hour in four seconds, and featured big jumps and huge technical turns.

In places where the Americans had difficulties, their international counterparts thrived.

Goergl, the Vancouver downhill bronze medalist, was seen by Austrian media as being in danger of not being selected for the Sochi team. She erased those doubts in spectacular fashion today. While she wasn’t clean at the top, she had beautiful turns through the shaded forest section and attacked the key lower half to take a victory which guarantees her Olympic selection by FIS criteria.

“I know I had a super run. That gives me satisfaction,” Goergl told AP. “I am glad that I had a smooth run. Winning isn’t the most important to me. What really counts is skiing well. I wasn’t able to show that last year.”

Fenninger, who had the fastest time in Thursday’s lone training run, faced near disaster on the upper level when she hit a bump that nearly dumped her on her inside shoulder. But she recovered quickly, opened a half-second lead at the midway point and attacked the late turns en route to a lead she would later relinquish to Goergl.

The story was similar for Hoefl-Riesch, who didn’t panic after making a couple mistakes in the early turns and continued to attack. She carried enough speed off the top to glide through the flats, making up time along the way. She nailed those final technical turns in the Panorama section and rocketed into the lead.

Weirather skied the first two thirds of the course even better than Hoefl-Riesch. She had the green light through the first three time intervals but took a bad line into the final long left-footed turn and lost all of her advantage, crossing .28 behind the German.

With the runner-up finish, Fenninger picked up 80 points to take the lead in the World Cup overall standings with 677 points, six more than Hoefl-Riesch and 18 more than Weirather. Hoefl-Riesch continues to lead the downhill standings with 325 points.

Racing will continue here on Sunday with the first super-combined competition of the season.

Altenmarkt-Zauchensee Women’s Downhill

1-Elisabeth Goergl (AUT) 1:47.45

2-Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:48.01

3-Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:48.08

4-Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:48.36

5-Nicole Hosp (AUT) 1:48.47

6-Larisa Yurkiw (CAN) 1:48.58

7-Carolina Ruiz Castillo (ESP) 1:48.59

8-Marianne Kaurmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:48.62

9-Lotte Smiseth Sejersted (NOR) 1:48.72

10-Regina Sterz (AUT) 1:48.73

13-Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:48.84

22-Stacey Cook (USA) 1:49.92

23-Laurenne Ross (USA) 1:49.93

T25-Leanne Smith (USA) 1:50.06

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