As youngsters lead way, U.S. not intimidated by Russians

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk were dominating the NHL before Ryan Donato, Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway even started playing organized hockey.

”I think I dreamed about playing against those guys one day,” Donato said.

Dream becomes reality Saturday when Donato, Terry, Greenway and the United States face Kovalchuk, Datsyuk and the Russians in a much-anticipated game that could determine who wins the group and advances directly the Olympic quarterfinals. With three players in their early 20s leading the way, the Americans are young and inexperienced but say they aren’t intimidated by the team of Russian athletes that blew out the same Slovenia team the Americans lost to in overtime.

”It’s exciting as opposed to the fear of, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re on the ice with these guys,”’ coach Tony Granato said after the U.S. beat Slovakia. ”They’ve been in the big situations before.”

Terry, 20, conceded he has to get over the fact that he’s facing Datysuk, who at 39 is old enough to be his father. Terry has already figured out how he can succeed at the Olympics – using his young legs to generate the speed that not a lot of older players possess – to gain an upper hand.

Facing the favored Russians is another mental obstacle.

”Just realize that I belong here and I can make a difference,” Terry said. ”I think the more that we just kind of settle in and not make too big a deal out of the game and just know it’s another hockey game is the biggest thing for us.”

It is kind of a big deal. The U.S. leads Group B with four points, followed by the Russians and Slovakia with three each and Slovenia with two, and would avoid the qualification round with a regulation victory.

Granato and captain Brian Gionta, the only U.S. player with previous Olympic experience, told players they have an opportunity in front of them. The Russians’ opening loss to Slovakia created as many questions as the U.S. losing to Slovenia, but there’s no way anyone underestimates them after winning a game 8-2.

”We know they’ll be at their best,” Granato said. ”But I think there’s also things that we know amongst ourselves that we think we can compete with and play with them.”

Chief among those things is young skill, something the U.S. hoped it had in its four college players: Donato (Harvard), Terry (Denver), Greenway (Boston University) and defenseman Will Borgen (Notre Dame). Borgen could make his Olympic debut against Russia, though his NCAA colleagues are already making an impact having scored three of the Americans’ four goals so far.

”The college guys that we have on our team have been doing really well, have been pulling their weight,” Greenway said. ”We’re just trying to have every impact we can for the team.”

They could continue to have a big impact against the Russians, four years after these two countries met in an epic showdown that culminated in an eight-round shootout won by T.J. Oshie. As if Terry doesn’t have enough pressure on him already as the youngest U.S. player, he was the shootout hero en route to gold at the 2017 world junior championship and has been getting tweets about reprising that performance at the Olympics.

”I really hope that we don’t have to go to that,” Terry said. ”I’m ready if it comes.”

The ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” put themselves in contention to be one of the top four teams going into the medal round by crushing Slovakia behind three goals from Minnesota Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov and two from Kovalchuk.

”The whole team played great,” Kaprizov said. ”Everyone was excellent. But there is room to grow.”

The same is true for the young Americans, who are not just building for this game but the road ahead.

”It’s a long tournament, and every little shift and every little game matters,” Donato said. ”We’re going to have to stay focused and not worry about that, but I think we’ve just got to worry about our own game and hopefully it’ll turn out in our favor.”

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More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced Wednesday.

The Knights termed the procedure Tuesday as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested early Wednesday morning in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released later Wednesday on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.