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Two Olympic hockey sisters playing for different nations


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.”

Which trade deadline acquisition has made the biggest impact so far?

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It has been nearly one month since the NHL trade deadline came and went, so let’s check in with how some of the key acquisitions are doing for their new teams.

Obviously this is a pretty ridiculously small sampling of games, and a lot can still happen over the next few weeks and months (and over the next several years!) but we can still get an idea as to which moves have made an immediate impact and which ones have not.

First, a bunch of numbers involving all of the key players traded between Feb. 20 and the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

So … how about Ryan Spooner?

Included as part of the trade that sent Rick Nash to Boston, Spooner has taken full advantage of his increased role with the rebuilding Rangers and made a pretty significant impact with his new team and has already recorded five multiple point games. He only had four with the Bruins before the trade.

It is going to create an interesting dilemma for the Rangers heading into the offseason as Spooner will be a restricted free agent and eligible for a new contract. Do they re-sign him for what will probably be at least $3 million per season (keep in mind he already makes $2.85 million this season) or try to capitalize on what is a pretty obvious hot streak and see if they can flip him for more assets around the draft?

The biggest concern at this point is that his possession numbers have plummeted with the Rangers (some of that has to be the result of going from Boston, one of the best teams in the league, to whatever is left of the Rangers) and there is no way he is going to maintain that sort of assist pace. But he has a track record of at least being a 40-50 point player the past few years without getting huge minutes, so there might be something there the Rangers can work with if they choose to.

Just below him is one of the players the Rangers shipped out of town as part of their roster purge, forward J.T. Miller.

With injury limiting defenseman Ryan McDonagh to just two games with the Lightning, the other player acquired in that trade has already made quite an impact recording at least one point in five of his first seven games with the team, including his first career hat trick.

Meanwhile, in San Jose, Evander Kane has been a shots on goal machine for the Sharks and finally had a breakout game on Friday night when he scored four goals in a huge 7-4 win over the Calgary Flames. It is doubtful that he will be anymore more than a rental for the Sharks, but he has made a pretty significant impact so far and is probably going to get them into the playoffs, and they really didn’t give up all that much in terms of future assets to acquire him.

Probably the biggest surprise trade of the season came when the St. Louis Blues, still very  much in the playoff race, traded Paul Stastny to Winnipeg to help make an already powerful Jets offense even better. That trade has not disappointed for the Jets. Stastny has recorded at least one point in all but one game he has played with his new team while the Jets are 5-2-1 with him in the lineup.

At the other end of the spectrum the Devils have not really received much production from Michael Grabner. He went eight games without a point before recording a goal and an assist in their big win over Vegas. Still, he brings an element of speed to a lineup that is suddenly one of the faster ones in the league. He can still be a dangerous, impactful player even if he is not scoring goals.

Vegas gave up a lot of draft assets to get Tomas Tatar and he has not really produced a ton yet, but he has proven to be a pretty consistent 25-goal winger in the NHL and is signed through next season, something that could be important if the Golden Knights are not able to re-sign James Neal or David Perron after this season.

Tomas Plekanec, going from Montreal to Toronto, is the only key player moved during deadline week that is still pointless with his new team. He has played less than 10 minutes in each of the Maple Leafs’ past three games.


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


NHL Playoff Push: Lightning, Bruins fight for top spot in Atlantic

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Friday turned out to be a big night in the NHL playoff race with Dallas and Calgary dropping key games, the Sharks and Ducks getting huge wins and the Nashville Predators becoming the first team to clinch a spot in the postseason.

The Flames loss might prove to be a devastating loss as it drops them four points back of the competition, while the Stars are clinging to that second wild card spot by the slimmest of margins.

Saturday is going to be another pivotal day in the race, and not just for teams that are on the playoff bubble, but also for teams that are playing for seeding.

The Eastern Conference playoff race has some huge games on Saturday. The Panthers, entering the day three points back of the New Jersey Devils for the second spot and coming off of a huge win against Boston, are hosting Edmonton for an afternoon game while the Devils are in Los Angeles. The Panthers still have the games in hand edge working in their favor against both Columbus and New Jersey but we are at a point here where if they drop a game or two, and the others pick up an additional win, it is going to make that gap really difficult to overcome. The Devils have slowed down in recent weeks (5-5-0 in their past 10) while the Blue Jackets and Panthers keep stacking wins.

The Blue Jackets are at home against Ottawa today looking to run their winning streak to seven games and potentially jump back into the top-three spot in the Metropolitan Division depending on what happens with the Philadelphia Flyers game against Carolina. The Flyers are trending in the wrong direction lately with losses in seven of their past eight.

The most intriguing game of the day though is probably in Tampa Bay where the top two teams in the East meet in a crucial game in the Atlantic Division race. The Lightning enter the day four points ahead of the Bruins and a win (especially one in regulation) could go a long way toward securing the division title and the top spot in the Eastern Conference. A regulation win moves them six points up with 11 games to play (12 for Boston). A Boston win, however, would close the gap to two points while the Bruins would still have a game in hand and two head-to-head games remaining after Saturday.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The schedule in the Western Conference for Saturday is not quite as intriguing as a lot of the key players in the playoff race have the day off.

The Blues are still trying to cling to a playoff spot but have five points to make up on a bunch of teams ahead of them. They are playing the New York Rangers on Saturday night. This is pretty much a must-win for the Blues.

Meanwhile, the Sharks, coming off of a huge win against Calgary on Friday, are in Vancouver to play a Canucks team that has lost six in a row, nine out of 10, and have not scored a goal in more than three games. They have only scored three goals in their past five games. A Sharks win on Saturday would go a long way toward deciding their playoff fate and would put them five points clear of the teams on the outside of the playoff picture.

If The Playoffs Started Today

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Saturday’s Key Games

Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers
New Jersey Devils vs. Los Angeles Kings
Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Ottawa Senators vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Rangers vs. St. Louis Blues
San Jose Sharks vs. Vancouver Canucks


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

Ilya Kovalchuk aiming for NHL return after 5 years away

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MOSCOW (AP) Former NHL forward Ilya Kovalchuk says he wants to return to the league this summer and play there for “several more years.”

Kovalchuk tells Russian state sports channel Match TV that if he doesn’t try again to win a Stanley Cup, “I won’t forgive myself for it when I get older.”

Kovalchuk, who won the Olympic gold medal last month, says he’s focused on winning the Kontinental Hockey League with SKA St. Petersburg, “but in the summer I’m going to examine offers” from the NHL.

He adds that he wants to match Russian teammate Pavel Datsyuk as a member of the so-called triple gold club of players who have won the Olympic gold medal, world championship, and Stanley Cup.

Kovalchuk walked out on the New Jersey Devils in 2013 to return to Russia, where he has since won two KHL titles.

The Buzzer: Kane nets four; Preds first to clinch

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Players of the Night:

Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks: It took him 565 NHL games and three teams, but Kane now has his first NHL hat trick. Then he made sure to grab his first four-goal NHL game for the hell of it. Kane has five goals and 10 points in eight games since the trade deadline, the most of any player dealt this year on deadline day.

Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators: Hoffman had an assist in regulation and then one-timed his fifth game-winning goal of the season in overtime to help the Senators past the Dallas Stars.

Nashville Predators: For no other reason than they claimed first blood in a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche, becoming the first team this season to clinch a playoff spot.

Highlights of the Night:

Bravo, Johnny:

Kane’s hat trick goal:



Factoids of the Night:


Senators 3, Stars 2 (OT)

Capitals 6, Islanders 3

Predators 4, Avalanche 2

Sharks 7, Flames 4

Ducks 4, Red Wings 2

Wild 4, Golden Knights 2

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck