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Ovechkin: ‘It sucks’ NHL players won’t be allowed to compete in 2018 Olympics

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Alex Ovechkin has been defiant at times that he will compete for Russia in the 2018 Olympic hockey competition.

Even into early August, there were reports the Washington Capitals star was still hopeful he was going to South Korea to play for his country.

It’s possible NHL players go to the 2022 Winter Olympics in China. But, if there was still even an ounce of hope remaining for a miracle decision to be made for this upcoming February, it was terminated earlier this week with IIHF president Rene Fasel telling Reuters that, for 2018, “That train has left the station.”

On Thursday, Ovechkin released a statement through the Capitals. It appears he’s come to grips with the reality that he will not be playing in the upcoming Olympics, although his statement expressed a heartfelt disappointment that the NHL wouldn’t allow its players to participate.

“I see the news this week and I am very disappointed that IOC, IIHF and NHL put me and all NHL players in this position when some of the best players in world do not have chance to play in the Olympic Games,” Ovechkin wrote in the statement.

“This is not just about me but all the NHL players who want to play and have a chance to win Gold for their country. Our countries are now not allowed to ask us to play in the Olympics. Me, my teammates and all players who want to go all lose. So do all the fans of hockey with this decision that we are not allowed to be invited. NHL players in the Olympics is good for hockey and good for Olympics. It sucks that will we not be there to play!!

“There is nothing like Olympic Games. It is still my dream to win an Olympic Gold medal for my country. I hope things will change and all of us will have a chance to go again in 2022. What’s most important to remember is kids have lots of dreams. My focus as it always is this time of year is on my other dream as a kid, to try to win the Stanley Cup. I am excited training camp has started in Washington and the time for talking is done.  We just have to go out and do it and I will try my hardest to help my teammates win like I do every year since I came to the NHL.”

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has offered his support for Ovechkin when it comes to going to the Olympics, and Ovechkin thanked him for that in his statement.

Housley back in Buffalo, eager to put up-tempo stamp on Sabres

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) The Sabres’ new-look blue-line is already making a good impression on rookie coach Phil Housley even before Buffalo opens training camp.

“I thought I hit a long drive on the long-drive hole, and I was 10 yards behind Ryan O'Reilly,” Housley said Thursday, a day after the team’s annual golf tournament. “But I found out that Marco Scandella blew one past him. That was good to see a D-man hit a long drive.”

No offense to O’Reilly, a forward. Housley retains a soft spot for defensemen.

The Hall of Famer spent 21 NHL seasons playing the position in a career that began in Buffalo in 1982. And it was his work overseeing last season’s Stanley Cup finalist Nashville Predators’ play-making group of defenders that helped clinch Housley’s return to Buffalo after being hired in June.

“It just gives me chills,” Housley said, of wearing the familiar Sabres’ blue-and-gold logo a day before the team’s first practice.

“I’m really excited to get on the ice finally and do something meaningful,” he said. “We’re hopefully going to write a new chapter in the Buffalo Sabres organization.”

The Sabres are leaning on their past in a bid to usher in a more promising future for a franchise that has veered off course. Buffalo hasn’t made the playoffs in six years and hasn’t won a playoff round since reaching the 2007 Eastern Conference finals.

Replacing Dan Bylsma, who was fired after just two seasons, Housley becomes the Sabres’ fourth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired during the 2012-13 season. And Housley was hired by another ex-Sabres player, general manager Jason Botterill, who took over after Tim Murray was also fired in April.

While Botterill spent the offseason reshaping the roster through a series of trades, it’s now on Housley bring focus to a group that under-achieved last season.

Buffalo was within three points of a playoff spot entering its bye week in mid-February before spiraling out of contention by going 2-7-2 over its next nine games. Instead being a team on the rise, Buffalo went 33-37-12 in finishing with two fewer wins and three fewer points than the previous season.

“I understand that this team last year was close before the mid-break,” Housley said. “I just tend to try to move forward. Whatever happened last year, we’re coming in with a clean slate, a fresh start for these players.”

Spending the past four seasons working under Peter Laviolette in Nashville, Housley was credited for helping devise an up-tempo, attacking-style approach that relied on defensemen joining the rush. It’s a system that had the Predators finishing among the NHL’s top-two teams in goals by defensemen in each of Housley’s four seasons.

It helped that the Predators featured a talented core of blue-liners, including last year’s addition of P.K. Subban.

It’s no coincidence that Buffalo’s back-end is transformed under Housley with Scandella (acquired in a trade with Minnesota ) Nathan Beaulieu, (acquired in a trade with Montreal) and the free-agent signing of Victor Antipin, who previously played in Russia. They join a group that includes youngsters Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe, and veterans Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges.

Buffalo also has speed at forward, starting with center Jack Eichel.

“The way that Phil wants to play is right up my alley,” Eichel said. “I’m excited for it, you know, D down the walls, D in the rush. That’s me. That all sounds good.”

The Sabres last year had difficulty clearing their own zone and sustaining pressure in the opponent’s end. Though Buffalo finished tied for fourth in scoring 57 power-play goals, the team ranked 28th with 126 goals in five-on-five situations.

Housley can only do so much to transform a team which Sabres owner Terry Pegula criticized for lacking discipline and structure.

The returning players also bear responsibility after many acknowledged there was a lack of accountability inside the locker room.

“We definitely need to mature as a team,” forward Kyle Okposo said. “We have a lot of young players, but they have the ability to play older, to play a more mature game. And I think that was something that was just lacking a little bit.”

 

Predators eager to return after team’s shortest offseason

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators couldn’t be happier to return to work after their painful loss in the Stanley Cup Final , a deep playoff run that made for the shortest offseason in franchise history.

“I feel like it’s been enough time,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said Thursday. “I had a good few months in Finland, close to my family, my friends. Enough time to get ready, enough time to work, train and be off the ice and get your body recovered and also ready. So I think it was enough time.”

Many of the Predators have been skating together for the past three weeks, and 20 of them helped the NFL’s Tennessee Titans kick off their season last weekend as the honorary 12th Titan.

They reported Thursday to Bridgestone Arena for the start of training camp, and they spoke in a hallway outside the visitors’ locker room with renovations to their own dressing room not finished yet for the Western Conference champs. They hit the ice Friday for testing followed by the first practice Saturday.

Center Ryan Johansen said it feels awesome to get back to work and see teammates again with the offseason over after a painful loss to Pittsburgh in six games in June .

“Everyone’s always looking forward to a fresh start, new season,” Johansen said. “Looking forward to get things going.”

FULLY RECOVERED: Johansen, knocked out of the Western Conference finals with acute compartment syndrome in his left thigh, said he’s completely healthy. Same with forward Kevin Fiala, who broke his left femur in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against St. Louis. Johansen signed an eight-year, $64 million deal in late July, perhaps the biggest sign of confidence from the Predators that their first-line center recovered nicely.

But center Nick Bonino, a free agent addition from the Pittsburgh Penguins, is recovering from surgery in July to add a couple screws in the foot he broke during the Stanley Cup Final. He said he remains on track for his goal of playing in the season opener Oct. 5 in Boston.

CAPTAIN, WHO’S CAPTAIN: Mike Fisher announced his retirement in August after 17 NHL seasons , leaving the Predators looking for his replacement. Not that Nashville is in a big hurry to name the eighth captain in franchise history. Defensemen Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are among the options, and it was Josi who had the honors among the Predators of plunging a sword into the field before the Titans’ season opener last weekend. Johansen said the Predators all know who their leaders are. “That’s just something coaches will announce I’m sure when they’re ready,” Johansen said.

WAITING ON ELLIS: The Predators announced last week that Ellis, who was at his best in the playoffs with 13 points, will be out until late December or maybe even January as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Ellis played with Josi down the stretch before being hurt during the Stanley Cup Final.

Nashville traded for Alexei Emelin, a move general manager David Poile said was made knowing they would need help while Ellis recovered. Now Predators coach Peter Laviolette has to decide whether to play Emelin with Josi or break up the pairing of All-Star P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm. Subban played with Emelin in Montreal and said obviously he developed great chemistry with Ekholm. “It’s going to come down to what’s best for the team, and if it’s best for us to play together still,” Subban said. “If not, we’re going to have to be positive about the situation we’re in.”

NOT SO NEW FACE: A year ago, the Predators had to work Subban into their mix. Now there’s Bonino, Emelin and Scott Hartnell. The 35-year-old-veteran isn’t a stranger to Nashville, drafted by the Predators sixth overall in 2000. He signed a one-year contract for $1 million in July.

Neal out for start of Golden Knights camp with hand injury

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The Vegas Golden Knights’ first-ever training camp will begin with an unfortunate development.

James Neal, who the Golden Knights picked up from Nashville in the expansion draft, is out two-to-four weeks with a hand injury, said general manager George McPhee on Thursday, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“He may be a little bit behind everybody else — two, three, four weeks. It’s hard to say at this point,” said McPhee. “The hand is taking some more time to recover than anticipated.”

Neal suffered the injury at the beginning of the Western Conference Final but remained in the Predators’ lineup for the remainder of the post-season, including the Stanley Cup Final against Pittsburgh.

This is a big year for Neal.

At 30 years of age, he’s playing in a brand new market for the NHL and he’s in the final year of his six-year, $30 million contract. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent next summer.

Former NHLer Jeff Parker dies at 53, family will donate brain for CTE research

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Former NHL forward Jeff Parker has passed away, according to numerous reports. He was 53 years old.

More from the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

A former NHL hockey player from the Twin Cities, whose career was cut short by head injuries and is part of the concussion lawsuit against the league, has died and will have his brain donated for examination.

Jeff Parker, who turned 53 a week ago and played in parts of five seasons in the NHL in the late 1980s and early 1990s, died Monday, the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office said Thursday.

His longtime partner, Melina Miller, of Minneapolis, told the Star Tribune that Parker died at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis from cardiopulmonary hypertension that brought on heart and lung infections.

Miller said Parker’s brain will be donated to Boston University to determine whether he suffered from the debilitating disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

According to TSN.ca, Parker joined the lawsuit against the NHL in February 2015.

Parker played 141 games in the NHL, mostly for the Buffalo Sabres, before a brief four-game stint with the Hartford Whalers during the 1990-91 season.

During his time in the league, Parker scored 16 goals and 35 points, and recorded 163 penalty minutes.