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Olympians put hockey seasons on hold as teams play back home

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

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Ryan Donato would love to clone himself so he could play at the Olympics and Harvard at the same time.

He has to be content will trying to win a medal for the United States. Donato is one of a handful of players and coaches in the Olympic men’s hockey tournament who are playing in South Korea while their teams back home continue with their schedule.

European leagues and the KHL took an Olympic break. Like the NHL, the American Hockey League and the NCAA are still going. Donato and others are keeping in touch with members of their team primarily by text, but are immersing themselves in this tournament.

”You put so much time and effort into your team,” said Donato, who will miss at least four Harvard games depending on how far the U.S. advances. ”Those are the guys who are all my brothers. … (But) this team here deserves everything I’ve got, and I’m going to put everything I’ve got into it.”

Beyond Donato, the U.S. has head coach Tony Granato (University of Wisconsin) and assistants Keith Allain (Yale) and Scott Young (Pittsburgh Penguins) and the majority of players putting their seasons on hold: Troy Terry (Denver University), Jordan Greenway (Boston University), Will Borgen (Notre Dame), Chris Bourque (AHL Hershey), John McCarthy (AHL San Jose) and Bobby Butler (AHL Milwaukee). Canada has two: Cody Goloubef (AHL Stockton) and Christian Thomas (AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton).

It’s taking some getting used to.

”It is strange,” Allain said. ”Luckily for me, I’ve got two assistant coaches that I trust completely. We’re on the same page all the time whether I’m there or not there and we talk on a daily basis. Our team swept (last weekend) so things are good back in New Haven.”

When Milwaukee swept a weekend series without him, Butler joked, ”I think they dropped the dead weight.” He said he had heard from a few veteran players via text that some teammates were stepping up in his absence.

Admirals coaches and executives told Butler they hoped he’d make the Olympic team, and now his teammates are motivated by trying to win for him.

”We have a great group back home and I wouldn’t be here without them,” said Butler, who could miss as many as nine games. ”When I left, all the guys gave me big hugs. … They’re a great group of guys and I wouldn’t be here without them. I’ll miss them for the duration.”

Bourque texts with teammates back home, but the 32-year-old veteran is compartmentalizing and not worrying about the Bears for these two weeks.

”I’ve got a huge opportunity to play at the Olympics and I’ve got to give 100 percent of my attention to this team because everyone’s all in,” said Bourque, who could miss seven to nine AHL games. ”I’m invested 100 percent with this team. Obviously I hope my team does well back home, but that’s not my priority right now.”

It was Granato’s priority, too, though he knew going in he would only miss two to four Wisconsin games. While splitting his attention between his college team and preparations for the Olympics, he made sure associate coach Mark Osiecki and the rest of the Badgers’ staff and team were set up to be OK without him.

”Everything that we did leading up to that was preparations knowing that I’d be gone for a few weeks,” Granato said. ”If there’s a hard decision or something happened or there’s an injury back there and they need to talk to me (they can call). I think everything’s under control there and taken care of.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville cuts hockey program

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Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another team’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville was one of the only southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

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Canada’s NHL teams have offered season-ticket holders rebate or refund options in acknowledgment that no more 2019-20 regular-season games will be played in front of fans in their respective buildings.

In a four-day span May 13-16, all seven teams contacted their season-ticket bases with options and, in some cases, deadlines to make a decision, according to The Canadian Press.

“It has become increasingly apparent, that any possibility will not include any further games being played this season in front of fans at Bell MTS Place,” the Winnipeg Jets said in an email.

That admission may seem anticlimactic given leagues and teams around the world are either playing in empty stadiums, or trying to figure out a way to just resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But season-ticket money is a key element of NHL business. Clubs are loathe to part with it.

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money.

Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holders had to declare they wanted their money back by Victoria Day or a credit would be applied to their accounts.

Their Montreal Canadiens counterparts had to make a decision by Friday, while the Vancouver Canucks’ deadline is June 3.

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

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We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

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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.