Category: Olympics (page 1 of 6)

KHL backtracks after initially condoning Olympic participation

By The Associated Press 

The president of the Kontinental Hockey League said Wednesday he is waiting to find out how many Russians will be banned from the Pyeongchang Olympics before deciding if he will allow his players to compete in South Korea.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of the organizing committee for the 2014 Sochi Olympics but now president of the KHL, said ”we’ll understand who’s going and who’s not going and then the league will respond accordingly.”

The Moscow-based KHL, widely considered the strongest league outside the NHL, previously expressed outrage at bans for Russian athletes in other sports tainted by doping at the Sochi Olympics.

No allegations have been made of wrongdoing in Sochi by the Russian men’s hockey team.

With the NHL already out of the Pyeongchang Olympics, any KHL withdrawal would affect more than just the Russian team, whose current roster is entirely KHL-based. Teams like Canada, the United States and Finland are also counting on KHL players for Pyeongchang.

Russians in Pyeongchang must compete as ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” under a neutral flag as IOC punishment for doping offenses at the 2014 Olympics.

The KHL also published a statement on its website Wednesday supporting Russian players competing under the IOC conditions, but then removed it. The league’s media department said it was taken down because it was posted by mistake and that Chernyshenko’s comments took precedence.

Last week’s IOC ruling didn’t accuse Chernyshenko of any wrongdoing in Sochi, but did order him removed from an IOC body overseeing preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Also Wednesday, the Russian Hockey Federation – which accepts Russians competing as neutral athletes in Pyeongchang – looked set for a dispute with the IOC over uniforms.

Russians in Pyeongchang are required to compete in IOC-approved uniforms without Russian national colors or symbols. However, the RHF believes it can still use its existing Nike-manufactured jerseys, which are red with a large Russian double-headed eagle emblem across the chest.

”There’s a discussion around the uniform,” said Roman Rotenberg, the federation’s senior vice president. ”It’s been produced already and there are certain technical questions.”

Rotenberg predicted there was a ”90 percent chance” the Russian hockey team could wear the red Nike uniforms when competing in Pyeongchang.

Naturalized hockey forward thrives under weight of expectations

By Yonhap

In an effort to boost its competitiveness in its Winter Olympic hockey debut in 2018, South Korea has fast-tracked a few Canadian-born players to Korean citizenship. Michael Swift, a skilled forward hailing from Peterborough, Ontario, is one of them.

The 30-year-old understands the naturalization comes with the weight of expectations — after all, the government wouldn’t have issued these players new passports unless it felt they could help the national team at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

And it’s just the way Swift likes it.

“It puts pressure on me to play well, and it’s good,” Swift told Yonhap News Agency in a recent interview at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, 90 kilometers south of Seoul.

“Hopefully, I can perform. And if I do, it helps the team win,” Swift said.

South Korea, coached by former National Hockey League defenseman Jim Paek, faces a daunting task in the group stage at the PyeongChang Olympics. The 21st-ranked team has been paired with Canada, the undisputed world No. 1 and two-time reigning Olympic champion, plus No. 6 Czech Republic and No. 7 Switzerland.

The NHL won’t send its stars to South Korea for the Olympic tournament, but the absence of those players won’t make the work any easier for South Korea.

The team will need every bit of offense that Swift and his teammates can provide, if they were to have even a fighting chance.

And Swift said he embraces the challenge.

“Every time I put on the Korean jersey, I want to do well,” he said. “Every time I am on ice, every shift, I want to score. But I have to play defense first and then offense comes easier for me.”

And scoring hasn’t been a problem for Swift. Though he never did play in the NHL, he was a solid producer in both the Ontario Hockey League, a major junior circuit in Canada, and the American Hockey League, the primary development league for the NHL. Then he brought his scoring talent to South Korea, joining

High1 in the Asia League Ice Hockey for the 2011-2012 season.

Swift was the league’s points leader that season with 44 goals and 46 assists in just 36 games. He went on to lead the ALIH in points in three more seasons, most recently in 2015-2016 when he had 70 points in 48 games.

In the current season, Swift is the scoring leader through 26 games, thanks to 14 goals and 28 assists.

Having played in South Korea for so many years, Swift, who last year said he felt like he was half-Korean, now says he is “three-quarters” Korean.

Listed at 175 centimeters and 79 kilograms, Swift has been known to play bigger than his size, a player who can give hits as well as he takes them.

And he doesn’t suffer from any lack of confidence, even though South Korea struggled in recent tune-up games in its build-up to the Olympics.

Swift said there have always been doomsayers who showed little faith in Korean hockey. He pointed to 2015, when South Korea was playing in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division I Group B, the third-highest level of competition. The country had been relegated from Division I Group A from the previous season, but with Swift leading the tournament with nine points in five games, South Korea won the Division I Group B tournament.

It set the stage for an even larger leap earlier this year, as South Korea finished second at the Division I Group A tournament in Ukraine to book a spot in the top-flight World Championship for the first time.

“Every year, people always talk about how Korean hockey is not good. But every year, we’ve done well,” he said. “I am sure they were worried when we were in Division I Group B and we won that division. Every year, we’ve done well. We’re getting better and better each year.”

KHL closer to preventing players from Olympic participation

Canadian goalie Ben Scrivens, left, would be unable to play at the Olympics if the KHL bans its players from competing in Pyeongchang.

By Benjamin Blum –  CBC Sports

The Kontinental Hockey League is getting closer to preventing its players, including potential members of Team Canada, from playing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, according to reports.

Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, is reportedly assisting the KHL in preparing a bill to allow the league to withhold its domestic and foreign-born players from playing at the upcoming Games.

“Should [the KHL] have the right not to let Americans, Canadians and other hockey players [go] to the Olympic Games … the same rights as the NHL?” said Mikhail Degtyarev, head of the Duma’s Sports, Tourism and Youth Committee, according to Russian newspaper Kommersant. “We are simply working on this bill.”

Earlier this month, KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko referenced the NHL’s absence from Pyeongchang this February after failing to reach a deal with the International Olympic Committee, adding in a statement that “the KHL is ready to respond accordingly.”

Chernyshenko also said the IOC “is destroying the existing world order in sports” by pursuing doping cases against Russians in other sports who are suspected of using banned substances around the time of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

International impact

If enacted, the KHL ban would be detrimental to many of Canada’s Olympic hockey hopefuls — 16 members of Canada’s 25-man-roster at the recent Karjala Cup in Finland play in the KHL, including goalie Ben Scrivens and forwards Wojtek Wolski and Teddy Purcell.

Countries like Finland and Sweden would be impacted as well, especially given the fact that Helsinki’s Jokerit is a prominent team within the predominantly Russian league.

The efficacy of a KHL ban is still up in limbo, given that Canada and the United States believe their KHL players are eligible for the Olympics, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

“KHL, being a member of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, has to follow the statutes and bylaws of the IIHF and they have to release foreign players and the national team players from other countries to play in the Olympics,” International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel told Russian news agency TASS.

The ban would presumably excluded prominent Russian players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Andrei Markov from representing their country at the Games. Russia’s participation in the upcoming Olympics is still to be determined by the IOC, which will decide the country’s fate on Dec. 5, according to The Associated Press.

“We hope that the IOC will decide in favor of the Russian team going to Pyeongchang. In ice hockey we do not have really big problems in doping and regarding the McLaren report we do not have any of the men hockey players being in concern,” Fasel says.

DREAMING OF THE OLYMPICS

By Dhiren Mahiban – IIHF.com

On 25th October Wolski received a call from Hockey Canada to be a part of Team Canada at the Karjala Tournament – an opportunity for the 31-year-old to showcase his game with the hopes of making the Canadian roster for PyeongChang.

“I thought if I do come back, this is one of the things that’s going to be a goal of mine to try to make Team Canada and play in the Olympics so at this point to be named to the team for this upcoming tournament it’s just another opportunity to try and solidify a spot so I’m really excited about it,” said Wolski. “It’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about and something that’s been keeping me motivated.”

Wolski, who was born in Poland but moved to Toronto at the age of four, has never played in an IIHF-sanctioned event before.

“For many years it’s something that eluded me that I couldn’t seem to grasp,” he said. “It was always just something I wanted to do, but couldn’t and wasn’t good enough or wasn’t invited to (participate). 

“To be playing well now and to be given the chance is special.”

Wolski is one of 26 players on Canada’s roster for the Karjala Tournament, which begins today with a match-up against Switzerland. Representing the Canadians are 11 players who didn’t participate in either the Sochi Hockey Open or the Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in Russia over the summer. 

With NHL players not being available for the Olympics, Hockey Canada is using events such as the Karjala Tournament to audition eligible players in an effort to put together a strong roster for the February Olympics. 

“If you had asked me even last year, I wouldn’t think I would be in this position, all the players would be in this position,” said Wolski. “We have a really tremendous opportunity to play in the Olympics and that’s very special for any player, any athlete. Anyone playing a sport, to be able to be given a chance to play in the Olympics is an incredible thing.”

Wolski’s hockey career nearly ended last October during a KHL game. While playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Wolski was chasing down a loose puck and decided to dive in an attempt to knock the puck away from Barys Astana’s Vladimir Markelov, but caused Markelov to fall on top of him.

The impact of Markelov falling on Wolski, who collided headfirst into the boards on the play, caused him to break his neck.

Wolski was stretchered off the ice thinking he was paralyzed. He spent 10 weeks in a neck brace and required surgery for one of the damaged vertebrae wiping out any chance of a return for the 2016/17 season. 

In June, Wolski signed a two-year contract with Chinese KHL team Kunlun Red Star, despite doctors recommending that he perhaps put an end to his hockey career. 

“I wasn’t sure after the surgery how things would go,” he said. “Also, if I should play. Some of the doctors I’m close with and friends with, that I really rely on and have really relied on over the years, suggested that it was maybe better to retire. 

“It was tough to hear that from them knowing that they were coming from a place of wanting to help me and give me the best advice possible. They’ve been there for many, many years and they’ve always helped me so hearing from them that I should probably retire is pretty tough.” 

Wolski not only returned to the ice, but is playing some of the best hockey of his career. The six-foot-three (190 cm), 220-pound (100 kg) forward has a team-leading 25 points in 25 games. 

It’s been a nice change for Wolski, a veteran of 451 NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix Coyotes, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals. Originally a first-round pick (21st overall) by Colorado in 2004, Wolski netted 99 goals and 267 points over eight NHL seasons, but admitted the inconsistency issues on the ice caused him to deal with depression – something he saw a therapist for while playing in New York. 

To be producing at a point a game pace in the KHL this season has helped put the fun back into hockey for Wolski. 

“The last couple years I kind of found my game again, I won a (KHL) championship,” he said. “It’s definitely been a lot more fun and knowing that I’m in my 30s now and I have kids, at this point I’m just trying to enjoy the game as long as I can, as much as I can, knowing that I’m closer to the end now than to the beginning. It gives you perspective and things like last year really give me perspective on life and hockey and the significance of what I’m doing.” 

After spending the first four years of his KHL career in Russia, Wolski is also enjoying the change of scenery off the ice in China. 

“Shanghai is an incredible city. It really reminds me of New York a lot,” Wolski said. “There’s so many cool pockets in the city that you can go see and they’re so different from each other.

“One of the reasons that I signed here is to be able to live in a bigger city, have my family here and experience a little bit of normalcy away from the rink. That’s been pretty incredible.”

Beijing will play host to the 2022 Olympics. The NHL also scheduled a couple pres-eason games in China earlier this season in an effort to grow the game there, but hockey is still in its infancy in terms of popularity, according to Wolski. 

“It’s definitely not one of the big sports,” said Wolski. “It’s breaking ground and we’re trying to attract as many people as we can to the sport, especially young kids. Trying to get them involved so they can further the program and advance it on the international level. It’s at the beginning, but for sure in a couple years it’ll catch on.” 

Wolski has no plans for an NHL return. His focus now is on producing for Kunlun and having his kids watch him play a high level of hockey. 

“I’ve got a family, I’ve got kids, I’m happy with where I’m at,” he said. “I enjoy the responsibilities I have within the team playing big minutes and to be able to live in Shanghai and experience what we have here is pretty outstanding so I think (the NHL is) something, at this point, I really don’t think about anymore.

“My son is almost three. I’d like to play 3-4 more years. I’d like to have him around the rink, I’d like to see him watch me play and the excitement on his face. I think I’m still playing well. I just battled back from a big injury so I want to enjoy it as much as I can.”

KHL could pull out of Olympics over doping investigation

Players playing for KHL teams, like Metallurg Magnitogorsk the 2016 champions, might not be allowed to take part in the Olympics.

By Associated Press

The Kontinental Hockey League may withdraw its players from the Pyeongchang Olympics in protest at doping investigations into Russian athletes, the league president suggested on Saturday.

The Moscow-based KHL, widely considered the strongest league outside the NHL, contains leading Russians but also many players who could represent the United States, Canada, and various European nations.

Canada’s current Olympic roster includes 15 players from the KHL including goalie Ben Scrivens (Salavat Yulaev Ufa) as well as forwards Wojtek Wolski (Kunlun Red Star), Brandon Kozun (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl), Eric O’Dell (HC Sochi), and Matt Frattin (Barys Astana). That team begins play in the Karjala Cup in Helsinki, Finland, starting Wednesday.

In a statement, KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko said the International Olympic Committee “is destroying the existing world order in sports” by pursuing doping cases against Russians in other sports who are suspected of using banned substances around the time of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Chernyshenko referenced the NHL’s absence from Pyeongchang this February after failing to reach a deal with the IOC, and said “the KHL is ready to respond accordingly.”

IOC commissions “suspend athletes without a basis of real facts confirming doping,” Chernyshenko said. A Russian gold medallist in cross-country skiing was stripped of his title by an IOC panel on Wednesday using evidence of Russian doping coverups and tampering with sample bottles.

Chernyshenko previously headed Russia’s organizing committee for the Sochi Olympics, where Russia has since been accused of operating a state-sponsored program of drug use and cover-ups.

Russians were being unfairly targeted by the IOC, Chernyshenko said. He referred to a recent speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Putin accused the U.S. of lobbying the IOC for Russia’s exclusion from the Pyeongchang Olympics or trying to force IOC officials to make Russians compete under a neutral flag.

Olympic ambitions for winter sports

By China Daily

If it were not for the spectators chanting in Chinese, the intense scene at the skating rink at Beijing’s Joy City shopping mall on Oct 28 could easily have been at an ice hockey game in North America.

The yelling of the junior players coupled with the sounds of skates cutting hard on the ice and the shoulder pads colliding easily attracted passers-by at the world-standard rink, where the opening game of the Beijing Minor Hockey Leagues 2017-18 season took place.

The junior league, initiated by the parents of around 60 hockey-loving children in 2008, has developed into the biggest of its kind in Asia with 2,554 players from 162 teams registered with the Beijing Hockey Association to compete in five age groups, from under-6 to under-14, this season.

The rise of junior ice hockey in the Chinese capital has underlined the surging popularity of winter sports as a whole, driven by the country’s commitment to involve 300 million people in winter sports activities in the lead up to the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

As urged by General Secretary Xi Jinping at the opening session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last month, preparing for the 2022 Olympics while raising the profile of winter sports is a top priority for the country’s sports governing body.

Gou Zhongwen, minister of the General Administration of Sport of China, called for full support from the country’s sports sector in order to further promote winter sports.

“The winter sports sector remains underdeveloped in our country. We shall invest in building more facilities and conduct better promotion to boost winter sports participation to new heights,” he said.

Despite a late start compared to winter sports powers in the West, infrastructure upgrading in recent years has turned winter sports from a niche interest isolated to northeastern China into a mass sporting activity widely embraced across the country.

When Song Andong, the first Chinese player drafted in the North America-based National Hockey League, started to learn the sport in early 2000s, he had to share a small rink with children practicing figure skating, as it was the only facility available in downtown Beijing.

Now there are around 30 indoor rinks in Beijing and 66 more will be built by 2022, according to the Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau’s winter sports development plan.

“The change has been dramatic in recent years, especially since Beijing’s successful bid for the 2022 Olympics. Skating is now an accessible exercise for kids in Beijing,” said Song, who was selected by the New York Islanders in the 2015 NHL Draft.

At the elite level, international competition is now part of the life of urban winter sports fans across China, even in the south.

After staging the NHL’s first ever China game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Vancouver Canucks in September, Shanghai is now hosting a stretch of home games of the Kunlun Red Star men’s team in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.

Meanwhile, the club’s female squad will kick off a four-game home run in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.

Kevin Westgarth, NHL vice-president of business development and international affairs, said the consistent exposure to high-level competition will help increase the appetite for winter sports.

“It’s an exciting time to see the pace that things happen in China… I think the potential is endless,” said Westgarth. “Most importantly, 2022 won’t be the end. It will still be part of the beginning.”

Meanwhile, skiing has become a major outdoor leisure activity in China.

As one of the most-visited skiing destinations in China, Wanlong Ski Resort in Chongli, a county in Beijing’s 2022 co-host city of Zhangjiakou in Hebei province, was busy preparing ski slopes and testing cablecars over the weekend to prepare for the 2017-18 snow season.

Featuring 22 slopes, the resort received 450,000 skiers in the 2016-17 season and is expected to serve more than 600,000 this year, according to Wang Lin, manager of its service department.

“It’s a challenge for us to upgrade our facilities and services to meet the growing demand from skiers,” said Wang.

Since winning the joint bid with Beijing to become the host of all snow events of the 2022 Winter Olympics, major resorts, including Wanlong, have been built in Chongli, bringing the total there to seven. More than 2.6 million skiers visited the county last winter, generating total revenue of 1.89 billion yuan ($285 million).

Still, the country has set its sights on bigger gains by rolling out an ambitious winter sports development plan.

China aims to build a total of 650 skating rinks and 800 ski resorts by 2022, laying the foundation for the winter sports sector to generate industry value of 1 trillion yuan from spending at venues, equipment production and training fees by 2025, according to the plan unveiled at the end of 2016.

China had 646 ski resorts in operation and 11.3 million skiers, who ski at least once a year, by the end of 2016, according to the annual report on the development of the ski industry in China.

The plan also called for expanding winter sports education to 2,000 schools as part of their PE curriculum by 2022, while Beijing alone has selected 52 schools for a pilot program to offer such training at local rinks and resorts.

Despite the government push, observers warn that promotions should be cautiously implemented with integrated thinking and planning in staff training, construction design and environmental protection.

“To avoid a waste of resources after the Olympics, local governments should take tourism, infrastructure and education plans into consideration,” said Yang Hua, a sports sociology expert from Beijing Sport University.

Tretiak says it’s impossible to imagine 2018 Olympic Ice Hockey competition without Russia

By Tass Russian New Agency

Russia’s participation in the Winter Olympics is still in question?

The Russian national ice hockey team is doping-clean and will have no problems whatsoever getting the permission to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea’s PyeongChang, President of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation (RHF) Vladislav Tretiak told TASS on Wednesday.

“I do not think that Russian ice hockey players will have problems,” Tretiak said in an interview with TASS. “Being a member of the IIHF [the International Ice Hockey Federation] I can say that the federation cannot imagine the Olympics without Russia’s participation.”

“The IIHF is not playing politics and is guided by the real state of facts,” Tretiak said.

“It is clear as of today that the national ice hockey team of Russia is not into the doping abuse issue.”

 The next Olympics, which are XXIII Winter Olympic Games, will take place in South Korea’s PyeongChang on February 9-25, 2018 and Russia’s participation in the event is still in question.

In July 2016, the IOC set up two separate commissions to probe doping abuse allegations in Russian sports as well as alleged involvement of state officials in manipulations with performance enhancing drugs, particularly at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia’s Sochi.

The first of the two commissions is an Inquiry Commission, chaired by the former President of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid. The commission is looking into accusations set out in the McLaren report that alleges the existence of a supposed institutional conspiracy in Russia’s summer and winter sports, in which the country’s state officials were allegedly engaged in.

The second investigative body at the issue is a Disciplinary Commission, chaired by IOC Member Denis Oswald. This commission is tasked to address alleged doping uses and manipulation of samples concerning the Russian athletes, who participated in the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.

Starting from last year, Russian athletes were constantly under the gun due to numerous doping abuse accusations. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Independent Commission, chaired by Canadian sports law professor Richard McLaren, conducted an investigation into doping allegations in Russian sports and eventually came up in 2016 with two parts to the report, the first delivered in July and the second in early December.

Olympic men’s hockey teams starting to take shape

By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports

With the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea now just a few months away, rosters for the men’s hockey event will begin to take shape over four upcoming international tournaments.

With the exception of a few U.S. college players, the odd Canadian junior teenager and some AHLers, most of the top Olympic teams will be made up of players who compete professionally in Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.

The top talents from these European leagues will come together to compete for their national teams in the following tournaments in November and December.

The top talents from these European leagues will come together to compete for their national teams in the following tournaments in November and December:

  • Karjala Cup (Zurich and Helsinki), Nov. 8-12 — Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland.
  • Deutschland Cup (Augsburg, Germany), Nov. 10-12 — Germany, Russia, Slovakia, United States.
  • Channel One Cup (Moscow), Dec. 13-17 — Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, South Korea.
  • Spengler Cup (Davos, Switzerland), Dec. 26-31 — Canada, Switzerland and four club teams.

Here’s a quick glance at the top eight medal contenders for the 2018 Winter Games.

Odds courtesy of Bodog

Canada

World ranking: 1

Odds to win gold: 3-1

General manager: Sean Burke

Coach: Willie Desjardins

Player to watch: Andrew Ebbett. A veteran of 243 NHL regular-season and playoff games, the 34-year-old forward from Vernon, B.C., plays for Bern in the Swiss league. He was a standout for Canada at the 2016 Spengler Cup and sits second in his league’s scoring race with 19 points (five goals) in 12 games.

The skinny: Canada has plenty of depth playing in Russia and Switzerland. Burke and his scouts also will keep an eye on the junior loops at home.

Russia

World ranking: 2

Odds to win gold: 7-4

General manager: Vacant

Coach: Oleg Znarok

​Player to watch: Ilya Kovalchuk. The 34-year-old left wing decided to forego a return to the NHL and stay in Russia for one more season in order to play in Pyeongchang. He has 17 goals and 28 points in 23 games for KHL-leading SKA St. Petersburg.

The skinny: Since the Russians were upended by Dominik Hasek and the Czechs in the 1998 gold-medal final, they have just one Olympic men’s hockey medal — a bronze in 2002. But because of Russia’s depth, they will go to Pyeongchang as the favourites. Znarok coaches Kovalchuk’s St. Petersburg team, which set a KHL record with 20 wins in a row to start the season and also features Pavel Datsyuk.

Sweden

World ranking: 3

Odds to win gold: 7-2

GM: Vacant

Coach: Rikard Gronborg

​Player to watch: Robert Nilsson. The 32-year-old Calgary-born forward leads the Swiss league in scoring with 20 points in 14 games with Zurich SC. The son of former NHLer Kent Nilsson has formed quite an on-ice partnership with fellow Swede Fredrik Pettersson in Zurich.

The skinny: Sweden won its 10th world championship last spring, defeating Canada in a shootout in the gold-medal final. Of course, in the last non-NHL Olympic Games, in 1994, Sweden also beat Canada for gold in a shootout. Former NHLer Johan Garpenlov is Gronborg’s trusted assistant coach.

Finland

World ranking: 4

Odds to win gold: 8-1

General manager: Jere Lehtinen

Coach: Lauri Marjamaki

Player to watch: Eeli Tolvanen. The Nashville Predators selected the 18-year-old right wing 30th overall in the NHL draft last June. He has started his KHL season with Jokerit with an eye-popping 11 goals and 21 points in 18 games.

The skinny: The Lehtinen-Marjamaki combination didn’t produce good results for the Finnish team in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, where the Finns failed to win a game and finished a disappointing eighth out of eight teams.

United States

World ranking: 5

Odds to win gold: 10-1

GM: Jim Johannson

Coach: Tony Granato

Player to watch: Brian Gionta. At 38, the 2003 Stanley Cup champion and 2006 Olympian signed a practice-only contract to play with his hometown Rochester Americans of the AHL to keep sharp for the Pyeongchang Games.

The skinny: Granato played for the United States in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary and was an assistant coach in Sochi four years ago. He coaches at the University of Wisconsin and will use the Deutschland Cup next month as the U.S. Olympic team’s main tryout opportunity.

Czech Republic

World ranking: 6

Odds to win gold: 9-1

General manager: Milan Hnilicka

​Coach: Josef Jandak

​Player to watch: Jan Kovar. The 27-year-old forward will be asked to provide offence for the Czechs. He has strung together four consecutive 20-goal seasons in the KHL with Magnitogorsk Metallurg and is on his way to a fifth with six goals in his first 22 outings.

The skinny: The Czechs have put together an impressive coaching staff with assistants Vaclav Prospal and Jaroslav Spacek (both former NHLers) as well as Jiri Kalous, the head coach of Sparta Prague.

Switzerland

World ranking: 7

Odds to win gold: 33-1

GM: Raeto Raffainer

Coach: Patrick Fischer

Player to watch: Gregory Hofmann. The Carolina Hurricanes selected the 24-year-old forward in the fourth round (103rd overall) of the 2013 draft. He has scored 10 goals in his first nine games with Lugano HC.

The skinny: The Swiss are only four years removed from when coach Sean Simpson of Brampton, Ont., steered them to a silver medal at the 2013 worlds. They have an ability to stifle the opposition with a strong defensive system and outstanding goaltending.

Slovakia

World ranking: 11

Odds to win gold: 80-1

GM: Miroslav Satan

Coach: Craig Ramsay

Player to watch: The Slovaks are hamstrung by the fact most of their top players — like Zdeno Chara (Boston), Christian Jaros (Ottawa-Belleville) and Martin Reway (Montreal-Laval) — are in the NHL or AHL, and thus not allowed in the Olympics. Left wing Libor Hudacek, 27, had a strong 2012 worlds, when the Slovaks settled for silver. He plays for Orebro HK in Sweden. His brother Julius could be one of the Slovakia goalies.

The skinny: Satan hired Ramsay on a two-year deal that takes him through Pyeongchang and the 2019 worlds, which Slovakia will host. The Slovaks surprised some with their trip to the bronze-medal game at  the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but they lost 5-3 to Finland.

OLYMPIC WATCH: WHO’S ON THE RADAR FOR CANADA, USA?

By Jared Clinton – The Hockey News

Without NHL participation, the focus for Hockey Canada and USA Hockey is on players who are performing well overseas and in the minors. So, who is standing out as pre-Olympic tournaments approach?

If this were a normal Olympic year, or an Olympic year the likes of which we’ve come to know over the past two decades, much of the conversation surrounding the rosters for the Canadian and American squads would focus on the early season play by some of each respective nation’s top stars.

For instance, there’d have to be some talk about Dustin Brown, who is having a somewhat remarkable resurgence through the early part of the year with the Los Angeles Kings. Will Butcher would certainly be garnering some attention from USA Hockey, as well. And with eight points through six games, not to mention good chemistry with Patrick Kane, the American team might consider sending Ryan Hartman to the Olympics. The Canadians, meanwhile, might be looking at Brayden Point, Brayden Schenn and James Neal as players whose early play has thrust them into the spotlight.

Unfortunately, though, we all know that’s not the case. There will be no NHL participation in the 2018 Winter Games, so these early season performances, while impressive, do nothing for what Olympic squads will look like come February. What will, mind you, is the play of those who are spending this campaign overseas, and through the early part of the respective seasons in Sweden, Finland, Russia and beyond, there are a fair number of players who are starting to make their case.

For those players, the hot start is coming at the right time, too, as tournaments for both national teams are around the corner. Canada will be sending a team to yet another tournament, the Karjala Cup, beginning on Nov. 8. It will be the third tournament for the Canadians in the lead-up to the Olympics. As for USA Hockey, the new-look, non-NHL men’s national team will get its first taste of international action on Nov. 10 when the Deutschland Cup opens. But who will be there? Here are the players who have been turning heads:

KHL

Standouts:
CAN: Linden Vey, Wojtek Wolski and Justin Azevedo appear to be well on their way to locking down spots on the Canadian squad. Vey is currently third in league scoring, seven points off the lead, with five goals and 25 points through 21 games, and Wolski (19 points) and Azevdeo (18 points) aren’t too far off. And while he sits third among Canadian scorers, it might actually be Azevedo who’s having the most impressive early season, but there’s good news and bad news. The good? In 19 games, the former Kings draft pick has 12 goals. The bad? He’s out two months with injury.

USA: Matt Gilroy might be the name to watch for the American side. Like any team, production from the back end could be a difference-maker, and Gilroy is certainly managing that in the KHL right now. Through 18 games, his five goals and 15 points are the second-most among American skaters. Dan Sexton is the top American scorer, however, with four goals and 18 points through 21 games.

Keep An Eye On:
CAN: Defenseman Mat Robinson will be an option on the back end. In goal, Ben Scrivens is pacing all Canadian netminders with a .919 save percentage and 2.20 goals-against average in 16 outings. Brandon Kozun, a standout scorer last season, has struggled to find the scoresheet.

USA: Nick Ebert is another defender who is putting up points at a steady pace, but keep an eye on goaltender Ryan Zapolski. He won top goaltender honors this past week and is rocking a stellar 1.11 GAA and .955 SP through 17 appearances.

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SHL

Standouts:
CAN: Derek Roy’s veteran presence, not to mention two-point performance at the Puchkov, makes him someone in heavy consideration for the Canadian squad, and his three-goal, 11-point start to the Swedish League season isn’t going to hurt his chances of donning the maple leaf. Rene Bourque has made himself a player to watch, too. One year removed from a 12-goal NHL campaign, Bourque already has half of that total in nine games in Sweden. 

USA: Making the jump to the NHL hasn’t happened, but 2011 Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele has been nothing short of phenomenal everywhere he’s played since turning pro. It’s no shocker that has carried over to Sweden, where he’s already put up three goals and seven points in eight outings. He’s not the top American scorer, however. That honor goes to Ryan Lasch, who is building off of last season’s solid performance in the Swiss League.

Keep An Eye On:
CAN: Mike Kostka bounced between the NHL and AHL over the past few seasons, but he seems ready-made for the Canadian blueline. Daniel Paille may also be an option if looking to add a veteran presence up front.

USA: Aaron Palushaj has had a tough time catching on full-time overseas, but his hot start in Sweden gives him hope of sticking around and of landing a spot with Team USA. He has a history, previously representing his country at the 2009 World Junior Championship.

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NLA

Standouts:
CAN: Andrew Ebbett has carved himself out a nice spot with SC Bern in the Swiss League, but he’s seemingly taken his play to the next level this season. After seasons of 13 and 25 points, Ebbett has blown the doors off the competition early on with five goals and 19 points in 12 games. He had two assists at the Sochi Hockey Open, so he’s only making his case stronger with his current performance. Don’t sleep defenseman Maxim Noreau, either. His four goals and 11 points put him third in scoring by defensemen.

USA: Two of the league’s top eight scorers, Garret Roe and Mark Arcobello, are American-born. Some will be familiar with Arcobello, who has 139 NHL games under his belt, but Roe is a player who could make himself known at the Olympics. He has been a consistent contributor in European leagues since turning pro and his first season in the Swiss League, which has seen him score seven goals and 18 points in 13 games, is getting him noticed.

Keep An Eye On:
CAN: A fixture of the European leagues, Barry Brust could be a backup or third-string option in goal. Mason Raymond has only suited up in seven games thus far, but he impressed when Hockey Canada called on him for the tournament in Sochi.

USA: Nathan Gerbe was a point-per-game player in Switzerland last year and, with nearly 400 NHL contests to his name, his experience could be a valuable asset for the American side at the Olympics.

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DEL

Standouts:
CAN: Trevor Parkes is hardly a household name, but Hockey Canada saw enough there to invite him to the Puchkov. He didn’t manage to find the scoresheet at the tournament, but he’s gone back to the German League and put up six goals and 13 points in 13 games. Not a bad start. Dane Fox is also showing he still has his scoring touch. In 13 games, he has six goals and 11 points and could be a power play triggerman for the Canadians.

USA: You know one great thing about the Olympics sans NHLers? A guy like Keith Aucoin might get his due. He’s one of the most prolific players in AHL history and he continues to produce as a 38-year-old overseas. He has three goals and 21 points in 13 German League games this season. Put him on the American power play and let him go to work. Goaltender David Leggio has also turned some heads with a .931 SP and 2.14 GAA through six games.

Keep An Eye On:
CAN: He’s nowhere near the top of the scoring list, but Devin Setoguchi’s four goals and seven points might be enough to create some conversation. He played half a season with the Los Angeles Kings in 2016-17 and he chipped in four goals and 12 points.

USA: After 655 games in the NHL, Tom Gilbert found himself out of a job this summer and headed to Germany. He hasn’t put many points up — five assists in 13 games — but he might be hard to pass over for Team USA.

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LIIGA

Standouts:
CAN: Ryan O’Connor hasn’t pulled on a national team jersey since his U18 days back in 2009-10. In fact, the last time he skated on the same ice as Team Canada, he was the opponent at the Spengler Cup. But the rearguard’s two-goal, nine-point start to his season in the Finnish League could open some eyes.

USA: Former U18 and U19 rearguard Teemu Kivihalme — despite what his name suggests, he was born in Minnesota — is off to a good start in his first pro campaign. He won’t be a top-pairing guy, but as a depth option, he could have an outside shot.

Keep An Eye On:
CAN: Shaun Heshka’s solid performance last season earned him an invite to the Spengler Cup. He’s not at the top of the list, but he could be in line for an invite to camp.

USA: Ben Blood is big, strong and tough as nails. The game will be played on the big ice, but if Team USA wants to add a blueliner who can punish players, Blood might be their guy.

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AHL

Standouts:
CAN: Players on two-way deals aren’t eligible, but that does leave some options for the Canadian team, the clear standout being Colin Campbell. He re-upped on a two-year deal with the Grand Rapids Griffins and has started off with one goal and six points in four games for the defending Calder Cup champions.

USA: No Olympic squad may draw more talent from the AHL than Team USA. Chris Conner, Chris Bourque, Steve Moses and Travis Morin are all capable scorers who could add offensive depth to the team, while Ryan Malone’s comeback seems to be going according to plan. He has two points in four games in the AHL.

Keep An Eye On:
CAN: Patrice Cormier is a former World Junior Championship captain who could be a sneaky addition to bulk up the bottom-six. He’s a role player and a lead-by-example type.

USA: T.J. Hensick hasn’t found the scoresheet yet, but it’s only a matter of time. He put up 16 goals and 52 points with the Kings’ farm team, the Ontario Reign, last season.

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UNSIGNED

CAN: Andreas Athanasiou is set to make a decision regarding his future this week, and, if he’s available, Canada may as well prepare his jersey early. He’s a lock for the team if he wants to play. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman also reported that Jarome Iginla will get an invite to camp. Another name to keep an eye on is Chris Lee. Cut from Kings training camp, Lee was a stud blueliner in the KHL last season and earned a spot on the World Championship club. He could be an offensive addition. Also watch for P-A Parenteau if he’s available.

USA: Brian Gionta is skating with the Rochester Americans and wants a shot at playing for Team USA. He’s a no-brainer for camp and probably a lock for the roster. After getting cut from a PTO, Drew Miller remains without a job. Chris Vandevelde also is seeking work and could have his eye on the Olympics. After a good season in the DEL, Rob Schremp could also be an option.

Canadian hockey teams open Olympic gold medal defences versus Switzerland, Russia

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The International Ice Hockey Federation released the ice hockey schedules and matchups Monday for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea — the first Winter Games that will not feature NHL players since 1994.

Canada opens defence of its Olympic men’s hockey gold Feb. 15 versus Switzerland and women’s gold Feb. 11 against Russia.

The International Ice Hockey Federation released the ice hockey schedules and matchups Monday for the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Canada’s women, who are currently training full-time in Calgary, will try to extend the country’s run of gold to five in a row.

Canada will ice a team of non-NHL players in the men’s tournament for the first time since 1994. The league chose to skip next year’s Games.

The Canadian men take on the Czech Republic on Feb. 17 and conclude the preliminary round in Pool A the following day against host South Korea.

Quarter-final games are Feb. 21 followed by the semifinals Feb. 23. The bronze-medal game is Feb. 24 and the gold-medal game Feb. 25 prior to the closing ceremonies.

Russia, the United States, Slovakia and Slovenia are in Pool B. Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany make up Pool C.

Canada’s women face Finland on Feb. 13 and the archrival Americans on Feb. 15 in Pool A games.

The quarter-final matches are Feb. 17 followed by the semifinals Feb. 19. The bronze-medal game is Feb. 21 and the championship game is Feb. 22.

Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and host South Korea round out the women’s field.

Games will be played at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, which has a capacity of 10,000 spectators, and the 6,000-seat Kwangdong Hockey Centre.

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