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Matt Gilroy eager to embrace Olympic opportunity for the U.S.

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The promise was a simple one: Wherever his athletic career took him, Matt Gilroy would wear No. 97 to honor his brother Timmy. That’s what a 9-year-old Gilroy told his mother after Timmy, who was 8, died following a bicycle accident.

The No. 97 for Timmy and Gilroy’s No. 98 was the result of a compromise after both brothers wanted to wear Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99 while playing youth hockey.

Since Timmy’s death in August 1993, that promise has seen No. 97 worn at Boston University, where Gilroy won the Hobey Baker Award and captained the Terriers to a national championship in 2009. It was on his back during a 225-game NHL career that took him from New York to Ottawa to Florida. It’s been there since he signed to play in the KHL beginning with the 2014-15 season, and it will be there when he represents the United States at the Winter Olympics next month.

“It’s the first thing I do when I go into locker rooms,” Gilroy told Pro Hockey Talk this week. “I always look at the number and my name and it just reminds me of Timmy and how special he was. Now to see it on an Olympic jersey on the Olympic ice will be pretty crazy.”

PyeongChang won’t be the first time Gilroy, who plays in Finland with Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League, has represented the U.S. He played at the 2010 World Championship and the 2015 and 2017 Deutschland Cups. Now he’ll get to live out an Olympic dream that he didn’t think was possible until last spring.

“It’s still very exciting,” he said. “I really just can’t wait to get over there and start playing.”

[USA Hockey announces 2018 Olympic men’s roster]

In the two weeks since the U.S. Olympic roster was announced, Gilroy’s phone hasn’t been blowing up like you’d think with well-wishers. It’s been his family who have received most of the congratulations from people in and around their North Bellmore, N.Y. home. He has a theory why that’s been.

“People don’t realize that my phone works over here,” he joked.

Gilroy began talking to USA Hockey in May after the NHL announced it wouldn’t be sending its players to the Olympics for the first time since 1994. While he believes NHL players should be in PyeongChang, he’s embracing the chance to wear the red, white and blue.

“I think everyone who plays hockey, all the guys in the NHL, love where they come from and everyone wants to represent their country at the Olympics,” he said. “I think they should have been allowed to go. Unfortunately, they [aren’t], but fortunately for me I’ve got the opportunity.”

Gilroy will be joined by two Jokerit teammates — Ryan Zapolski and Brian O’Neill — as well as John McCarthy, who is currently playing for the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. The two have been best friends since rooming together during their freshman year at BU. Their final collegiate season was 2008-09 when they co-captained the team to a national title. Reunited on the U.S. roster will make the Olympic experience even more special for the two.

Right now, the U.S. team has moved from an email chain to a WhatsApp text message thread to keep in touch. Everyone on the roster has some connection to at least one other player, so it won’t be like 25 strangers coming together with a couple of days of practice before game their first game on Feb. 14 against Slovenia.

Ten months ago, none of the players on the U.S. squad were thinking about PyeongChang, but thanks to the NHL, the door swung open for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s also a chance for many of them, Gilroy included, to showcase their talents for an even bigger opportunity in the future — an NHL return.

“That’s always in the back of your head,” said Gilroy. “The NHL is the best league in the world. I would do anything to get back there. But then you have to embrace the opportunity of where I am now, the life experience I’ve been able to [have], experiencing playing hockey, playing a game that I’ve played since I was a young kid, which is pretty special.

“The biggest experience is definitely going to the Olympics. If we can put our stamp on the Games as a team and come away with a medal, that would be pretty special for all of us.”

MORE: Full Olympic hockey schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

USA Hockey: Five goalies in mix to fill two Olympic roster spots

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — USA Hockey’s Jim Johansson is going to keep everyone guessing for at least another week before filling the two remaining goalie spots on the Olympic men’s national team roster.

The U.S. team’s general manager on Tuesday revealed there are five goalies being considered, but wouldn’t name any of them specifically, a day after the Americans announced 23 of 25 roster spots . The players selected included one goalie, Ryan Zapolski, who is playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

Johansson said all five goalie candidates have been informed they are being considered, and he expects to make the final two selections by the end of next week.

He said team officials didn’t want to rush into making the selections so to give the goalies extra time to distinguish themselves. Johansson then offered a hint in saying he also didn’t want to disrupt the U.S. team’s bid to defend its world junior hockey championship title.

”Basically, we told the guys, ‘Just go play hockey,”’ said Johansson, who is attending the 10-nation tournament, which runs through Friday and being held in Buffalo.

The junior team features two possible candidates in Boston College’s Joseph Woll and Boston University’s Jake Oettinger. Woll is 2-1 and made his fourth start of the tournament in the United States’ quarterfinal game against Russia on Thursday night. Oettinger stopped 19 shots through overtime and all four he faced during a shootout in a 4-3 win over Canada in a preliminary round game Friday.

Three other possible candidates are David Leggio and Brandon Maxwell, who are currently playing professionally in Europe. Then there’s 18-year-old Joey Lamoreaux, who is playing in the U.S. Hockey League.

The pool of players is limited because Pyeongchang Olympics will be the first Winter Games since 1994 without NHL players.

The rest of the team heading to South Korea in February will be mostly made up of veteran journeyman currently competing in Europe. The U.S. will be captained by 38-year-old Brian Gionta, who elected to take a year off from the NHL to represent his country.

The team also features four college skaters, three of whom returned to school rather than sign an NHL contract, which would have made them ineligible for Olympic competition.

”The guys that stayed, it worked out for them, but it worked out because they played their way onto the team,” Johansson said, referring to Denver’s Troy Terry, Harvard’s Ryan Donato and Boston University’s Jordan Greenway.

Parity catching up to Canada at World Junior Championship

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Canada has more than one score to settle. The United States has a title to defend. And don’t discount Sweden.

The 10-nation World Junior hockey championship tournament opens in Buffalo on Tuesday with numerous subplots. The most notable involves the question of whether parity is finally catching up to the Canadians.

Bring it on, says Canada manager and two-time world junior gold medalist Joel Bouchard.

”I played in ’93 and ’94, and it was not even close to what it is right now,” Bouchard said.

”Every country is pushing it. And it’s our job to keep bringing the bar higher and higher,” he added. ”We know everybody is looking at us. And that’s good. That’s what you want.”

The landscape has dramatically shifted since 2009, when the Canadians set a world junior record by winning their fifth straight title.

In the eight years since, Canada has won just one gold medal – in 2015 with a team featuring Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid.

By contrast, the U.S. has won three times, including a 5-4 shootout win over Canada – and in Canada no less – in the championship game in January. Finland has won twice and the Swedes and Russians once each.

No one is discounting Canada’s chances of winning its 17th gold medal this time, especially with a roster stocked with eight first-round NHL draft picks.

And yet, as Russian defenseman and New Jersey Devils prospect Yegor Zaitsev said through an interpreter: ”Canada is not more favored than Russia.”

It’s a trend even Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who coached Canada to win the 1997 world junior title, couldn’t help but acknowledge.

”On population base alone, the U.S. should take over one day eventually,” Babcock told The Associated Press. ”But I’m going to get my passport and flag out and I’ll be cheering for Canada to get back on track.”

One drawback is Canada’s inability to draw upon the nation’s entire pool of players 20 and younger because the top talent is already competing in the NHL. McDavid, for example, could have represented Canada for two more years, but was instead busy producing at more than a point-a-game pace while winning last season’s NHL MVP honor during his first two years in Edmonton.

USA Hockey is enjoying a golden era by doubling its medal count from five to 10 (four gold, one silver and five bronze) since 2010. The surge reflects a rise of nationwide registration, and attributed to the NHL’s expansion into nontraditional markets such as Arizona, where 2016 No. 1 draft pick Auston Matthews grew up rooting for the Coyotes.

The test for the Americans is becoming the first U.S. team to win consecutive titles, and first nation since Canada’s five-year run to repeat as champions.

”Honestly, I would never say pressure,” U.S. coach Bob Motzko said. ”I would be foolish to waste energy having those feelings. I love the process. I’m more nervous about what we’re going to do at practice tomorrow.”

The Americans’ 23-player roster features seven returnees, and nine first-round picks.

The U.S. is in the same pool as Canada, and the two will meet in international hockey’s first outdoor game, which will be played at the NFL Buffalo Bills’ New Era Field on Friday.

Sweden might finally be in line to medal after finishing fourth in each of the past three years.

The Swedes’ roster is particularly strong in the back end with three goalies already drafted by NHL teams. The defense features Rasmus Dahlin, a potential No. 1 pick in next year’s draft.

”He’s good, but he’s going to have a tough tournament,” coach Tomas Monten said. ”Everyone’s going to be on him. But I think that’s going to create more space for others.”

Sweden got a boost last week when the Buffalo Sabres assigned prospect Alexander Nylander to represent his country for a third consecutive tournament. Nylander finished tied for the world junior lead last year with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in seven games.

The Russians are considered somewhat of an unknown, despite having won medals for seven straight years. That included the 2011 title when the tournament was also held in Buffalo. Russia rallied from a 3-0 third-period deficit to beat Canada 5-3 in the final.

”The comeback was crazy. And I just felt so proud,” said Russian defenseman Nikolai Knyzhov, who watched the victory on TV. ”And now we’re back here trying to do the same thing.”

The loss marked the third time Canada has settled for silver since 2010, with its other two title-game defeats against the U.S.

This past year’s shootout loss to the Americans still stings for Canada’s returning players.

”There’s no point in trying to avoid it. It’s obviously there,” defenseman Jake Bean said. ”It kind of fills you every day to be on the ice, just make sure you do everything just that much more intensely, that much more focused and just try not to leave it down to a question or a chance.”

Canada beats US 3-1 in women’s hockey Olympic tuneup

AP
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Haley Irwin and Sarah Nurse scored in the second period, sending Canada to a 3-1 victory over the United States on Friday night in the latest Olympic tuneup between the world’s top powers in women’s hockey.

Marie-Philip Poulin also scored for Canada, and Ann-Renee Desbiens made 25 saves.

Brianna Decker opened the scoring for the U.S. with a power-play goal early in the second. Alex Rigsby stopped 33 shots in defeat.

Poulin made it 3-1 with her goal 55 seconds into the third.

It was the fifth of six meetings between the rivals as they prepare for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. They play again Sunday night in Edmonton, Alberta.

Canada has won four of the five recent matchups, after the Americans took the series opener Oct. 22 in Quebec City.

”We just have to be better in the red zones – that’s the difference between winning and losing,” United States coach Robb Stauber said. ”We’ll give some focus and energy to some things we think we can do better, and we’re going to go into Edmonton and see what that end result looks like.”

The last four Olympic gold medals in women’s hockey have gone to Canada, but the U.S. has won seven of the past eight world championships.

U.S. beats Canada 5-1 to win 3rd straight Four Nations Cup

AP
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Hannah Brandt scored twice in the second period and the United States women beat Canada 5-1 on Sunday to win their third straight Four Nations Cup championship.

Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel each added a goal and an assist. Kendall Coyne had a goal, and Dani Cameranesi added four assists.

Maddie Rooney made 18 saves and improved to 3-0 in the Americans’ four games at this tournament. The goalie now is 4-0-0 this fall with three of her victories against Canada.

The United States won the event for the eighth time overall. Better yet, the Americans now have beaten their biggest rivals for the third time in four games over the past month as they tune up for the Pyeongchang Games in February. The two women’s hockey powers will meet again as part of their pre-Olympic exhibition tour on Dec. 3 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

”We are progressing toward February,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said. ”That is our main objective: to be the best that we can be before February, and this is a stepping stone.”

Since Canada won the gold medal in 2014 at Sochi with a 3-2 overtime win, the United States now has won six of seven titles and 10 of 13 games overall against the only other country to win Olympic gold in women’s hockey.

Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin said every loss is frustrating.

”That’s not the result we wanted, but we will go back to Calgary and work hard as a team,” Poulin said. ”It’s a long year, and we will keeping working to get better so we can get there.”

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Brandt broke open a scoreless game with her goal at 15:06 of the second period, beating Genevieve Lacasse with a wrist er from just inside the left circle. Brandt quickly gave the Americans a 2-0 lead less than 2 minutes later.

Meghan Agosta scored just past the midway point of the third period pulling Canada within 2-1. Knight scored on a power play with 3:41 remaining, and Kessel scored on a 5-on-3 with 67 seconds left as the Americans made Canada pay for too many late penalties. They went 3 of 7 with the advantage, and Coyne finished off the win with her goal with 17 seconds left.

”Unfortunately, it was really the last five minutes of the third where we weren’t disciplined that ended up costing us,” Canadian coach Laura Schuler said. ”The final score wasn’t indicative of how the game was played.”