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Two Olympic hockey sisters playing for different nations

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VADNAIS HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) — Marissa Brandt was wrapping up her prosperous small-college hockey career, she believed, when the life-changing phone call came during her senior year.

South Korea’s fledgling national team was building a roster for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and the host nation was inviting her to the country of her birth to try out. Two weeks later, she was departing Minnesota on a journey of reconnection with the place she left when she was 4 1/2 months old.

”I’m happy I took that leap of faith,” she said.

Three years later, she is a South Korean citizen who is slowly learning the language and realizing she is a bit of a celebrity. There is another twist to the tale, too, with an even more rewarding result: Her sister, Hannah Brandt, is playing for Team USA , giving their parents, Greg and Robin, the unexpected chance to cheer for both daughters in Pyeongchang in February.

”It would be fun to play her in the Olympics,” Marissa said. ”Not awkward at all.”

The awkward part of the story actually came years ago, when kindergarten-age Marissa and Hannah were signed up for Korean culture camp.

”I absolutely did not like going,” Marissa said, ”but Hannah loved it, so we kept going back. It was funny, actually. She loved the Korean food and the taekwondo, and I didn’t like anything about it.”

Hannah was old enough to know Marissa was adopted from South Korea. She just thought her sister was born at 30,000 feet somewhere above the Pacific.

”Hannah used to tell me that she wished she was born on the plane instead of Marissa,” Robin recalled, reflecting on her American-born child’s early interest in this foreign land 6,000 miles away that repelled her other daughter despite her roots.

The Brandts were two weeks away from completing Marissa’s adoption in 1993 when they were surprised to learn Robin was pregnant with Hannah. They brought Marissa home in May, and Hannah was born in November. Suddenly, there were two babies in their home in Vadnais Heights, a woodsy suburb about 10 miles north of St. Paul.

The girls did just about everything together: dance, gymnastics, soccer, and like typical Minnesota kids, they quickly took to the ice.

”We were best friends,” Hannah said.

Figure skating was first, but Hannah found hockey more exciting, so Marissa soon followed the puck.

”Even though she’s younger than me,” Marissa said, ”I look up to her in so many ways.”

They were almost always on the same team, even helping lead Hill-Murray High School in 2011 to its first girls state tournament appearance. Marissa, a smooth-skating defender, went on to Gustavus Adolphus, an NCAA Division III school in St. Peter, Minnesota. One grade behind her sister, Hannah, a heavily recruited forward, stayed closed to home with the powerhouse University of Minnesota program .

Sometimes the game schedules allowed one to watch the other. The Gophers won three national championships during Hannah’s career, and Marissa was in attendance each time. When they lost the 2014 title game at the end of Hannah’s sophomore season, Marissa couldn’t make it.

Hannah had missed the cut that year for the U.S. team that went to the Sochi Olympics, a defeat off the ice that contributed to her tense wait after tryouts were done last spring to be summoned into a room for a meeting with the coaches as the training camp roster was being assembled. Marissa’s phone rang.

”I was so nervous so I needed to talk to someone. I called her before I headed in. I think woke her up,” Hannah said.

The next ring a few minutes later revealed the news that she was on the team.

”She’s worked so hard to get where she is now,” Marissa said. ”I don’t know anyone else more deserving. I’m so excited to be able to share this Olympic experience and journey with her.”

The feeling is mutual, of course.

South Korea’s goalie coach, Rebecca Baker, has strong ties to Minnesota and was the one who learned of Marissa’s heritage, which made her a candidate for the roster. There are four other ”imports” on the team, two each from the U.S. and Canada. Chemistry on and off the ice has transcended the cultural and language barriers.

”They’re like my new family,” Marissa said.

Sarah Murray is the head coach of the team; her father, Andy Murray, was an NHL head coach for 10 seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues. She and her assistants have tirelessly helped guide their eager but raw group through a three-year development process that began for some players with a basic understanding of how to properly jump over the boards. There are only 319 registered women’s players among South Korea’s 50 million people, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation’s 2017 survey .

”Our North American-raised players have been doing a great job integrating themselves into our team,” Murray said. ”We try to do as many team-building activities as our budget will allow. But I think the biggest thing that has helped them integrate is living with the Korean players.”

The South Koreans came to Minnesota for training camp and exhibition games, and the visit included a team dinner at the Brandt home preceded by a mayoral declaration and firetruck escort. It concluded with a dance party in the basement.

”Marissa has been a wonderful addition to our team,” Murray said. ”She is a great player and an even better person.”

Marissa will wear the ”A” on her jersey as an alternate captain. She’ll also carry the name Yoon Jung Park, given to her at birth. The powerhouse Americans and the South Koreans are in opposite pools, so the sister matchup will be a long shot.

”If it did I think Greg would probably root for Korea because they’re such an underdog,” Robin said. ”I’d just cheer for both girls and hope they do well.”

The Buzzer: Spezza bounces back after healthy scratch; another injury for Predators

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Player Of The Night: Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars

On Monday night the Dallas Star made veteran forward Jason Spezza a healthy scratch as he was mired in a lengthy goal-scoring drought. The Stars wanted to see more from him, and they knew he could provide more.

When he stepped back into the lineup on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings he did exactly that by scoring a pair of goals in the Stars’ 4-2 win.

Even though Spezza had been struggling to put points on the board he was still doing an excellent job when it came to driving possession and generating shots, as well as the fact the team was outscoring its opponents when he was on the ice. His ice-time has been cut significantly this season, but he was doing enough to suggest that it was only a matter of time until he got back into the goal column.

He snapped out of it in a big way on Tuesday.

Another big injury for Nashville

The Nashville Predators are already playing without two of their top forwards with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson sidelined.

They lost another one on Tuesday night in their 1-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights when Ryan Johanson had to leave the game after taking a high hit from William Carrier.

Johanson left the game and did not return. There was no penalty called on the play.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette had no update on Johansen after the game and said they were given an explanation that it was a clean hit.

The Predators ended up winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kevin Fiala and 43 saves from Jusse Saros.

Highlight Of The Night

Not much in the way of highlight reel plays tonight, but here is a big goal from Vince Dunn to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Factoid Of The Night

A big milestone for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as he picks up his 20th win of the season.

Scores

New Jersey Devils 4, New York Islanders 1

New York Rangers 5, Philadelphia Flyers 1

Dallas Stars 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

St. Louis Blues 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Nashville Predators 1, Vegas Golden Knights 0

San Jose Sharks 3, Arizona Coyotes 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Report: Blackhawks concerned Crawford could miss remainder of season

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Here is some less than encouraging news for the Chicago Blackhawks.

According to a report from Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times on Tuesday night, there is some growing concern within the Blackhawks organization that starting goaltender Corey Crawford could miss the remainder of the season due to experiencing vertigo-like symptoms for the second time in his career.

Crawford has been sidelined since before Christmas due to an upper-body injury, but the team has been quiet on specifics other than to say publicly that they expect him to return this season.

Over the past few years Crawford has become one of the NHL’s top goalies and when he has been on the ice this season has been absolutely stellar for the Blackhawks. Given the current state of their defense and the rate that they give up shots he has become one of the team’s most important players and the one that seems to drive their success more than any other.

[Related: Corey Crawford has become the Blackhawks’ most important player]

In his absence the team has leaned on Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. Both have played about as well as could have been expected, but they aren’t Crawford and there is a noticeable drop in play at the position when he is not in there.

In 26 games this season Crawford is 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage.

As of Tuesday night the Blackhawks are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, sitting three points back of the Minnesota Wild. They also have the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche sitting between them.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rick Nash snaps out of slump, powers Rangers to huge win

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The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are two of the teams in the middle of the free-for-all that is the Eastern Conference playoff race that had five teams separated by just three points heading into Tuesday night.

Both teams had been rolling in opposite directions over the past week with the Flyers having won four in a row and five of their past six, while the Rangers were riding a three-game losing skid and had lost four out of five.

Their past two losses coming out of the bye week were especially ugly, losing to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins (two other teams they are competing with) by a combined score of 12-4.

Both the Rangers’ and Flyers’ streaks came to an end in their game on Tuesday with the Rangers picking up a huge 5-1 win.

Rick Nash was the big star for the Rangers on Tuesday with a pair of goals, including a breakaway goal in the first period to tie the game at one after the Rangers gave up an early goal. It was a big performance for Nash because he had been mired in a brutal slump that had seen him go 12 consecutive games without a goal. He also had just one assist during that stretch. That slump has contributed to a down year offensively that has him on track for one of the least productive seasons of his career.

But he came through in a big way on Tuesday to help give the Rangers two huge points and move them three points ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers still have one game in hand while the two teams will still play three more games the rest of the season.

The Rangers’ win on Tuesday, combined with the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, moves the Rangers back into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference for the time being.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey