Fillier, Harvey among women’s hockey’s next generation

There was so much buzz revolving around Sarah Fillier’s arrival at Princeton in 2018, women’s hockey coach Cara Morey took a tough-love approach.

Difficult as it was, Morey chose to initially pay little attention to Fillier. Her thinking was to ease the expectations already placed on her star recruit’s shoulders, while also allowing the forward a chance to organically find her place on the team.

“So I almost ignored her. That was hard on Sarah,” Morey recalled with a laugh. “But in a way, then the players did accept her for who she was. And they loved her. And that’s when I could start coaching her.”

There’s no ignoring Fillier now in preparing to make her Olympic debut for Canada at the Beijing Olympics.

The 21-year-old made a dazzling world championships debut with her dynamic play-making ability and deft scoring touch leading to three goals and three assists as Canada went 7-0 to win gold and end a five-title run by the U.S. Fillier’s prowess carried over into the pre-Olympic rivalry series against the Americans by scoring a team-leading five goals in six games in which Canada went 4-1-1.

This is the type of production Fillier has been known for since growing up just outside of Toronto, where she was a multi-sport athlete and spent most of her youth playing on hockey teams well above her age group.

“I think she’s going to be the best player in the world, and I think she’s very close to it already,” Morey said of the nation’s 2019 rookie of the year.

Fillier is playing on Canada’s second line alongside veterans Melodie Daoust and Natalie Spooner. The trio complements each other with Spooner’s big-bodied ability to retrieve pucks, Daoust’s passing skills and Fillier’s finish.

“From that first time getting to play with her, I knew she was going to be a great player,” Spooner said. “And once she gets used to playing at this level even more, it’s going to be crazy.”

Captain Marie-Philip Poulin cites Fillier for her commitment to improve.

“She wants more every day, and at a young age, you can’t be satisfied where you’re at. And I don’t think she is,” Poulin said. “That’s something that struck me a lot, inspired me.”

Canada coach Troy Ryan also coached Fillier on Canada’s under-18 team, with whom she had 15 points, including eight goals, in 19 games. He calls her special.

“It’s not easy being touted as one of the next great ones, and at first, she was a little bit shy,” Ryan said. “But as she gained some confidence this year, and I think the pandemic and spending a lot of time together allowed her to settle in a bit more, she’s just now thriving.”

Fillier credits her veteran teammates for accepting her, and allowing her room to grow and gain confidence.

“It’s exciting to compete with and against your idols and people you’ve looked up to for years, and know you’re in the same level as people you aspire to be is definitely cool,” she said. “They want us to be a piece of the puzzle and to make a difference.”

Fillier is the team’s youngest player, and one of seven skaters making their Olympic debuts for Canada, which opens preliminary round play against Switzerland on Feb. 3.

The United States, which opens its Olympic gold-medal winning defense facing Finland on the same day, features eight newcomers. It’s a group led by 19-year-old Caroline Harvey, a smooth-skating defender with a heavy shot.

In pushing back her freshman season at Wisconsin to next year, Harvey has made a quick ascension after scoring a goal and adding two assists in six games at the world championships in her national team debut.

“One of my favorite stories is we had a scrimmage, and she was in the penalty box talking to one of our staff members, and said, `Well, watch this. I’m going to go out there and score a goal,’” said U.S. women’s GM Katie Million. “And doesn’t she two seconds later score that goal. Says she’s going to do it and goes out and does it.”

Harvey doesn’t recall the moment, while acknowledging her drive to succeed.

“If something happens, it’s like a switch flips,” said Harvey, one of the last players invited to the national camp. “I love the challenge and I was like I want to be a part of this.”

Veteran forward Brianna Decker isn’t surprised after coaching Harvey on the U.S. Under-18 team.

“She’s one of the most mobile defensemen we have. Phenomenal skater,” Decker said. “If you watch her games, you’re not going to think that she’s 19 years old and a rookie defenseman for us.”

Other newcomers to the U.S. roster include forwards Grace Zumwinkle and Abbey Murphey, and defender Jincy Dunne.

Canada’s other Olympic first-timers include do-it-all sparkplug forward Jamie Lee Rattray, 29, who has appeared in four world championships, and 22-year-old defender Claire Thompson, who spent two seasons playing with Fillier at Princeton.

Thompson recalled how shy Fillier was upon arriving on campus before making an immediate impact on a team which won its second Ivy League title in 12 years, and earned its third NCAA Tournament berth in school history.

Little has changed since, except for Fillier displaying a playful personality, a reflection of how much her confidence has grown.

“What she was able to do at the college level translated to still be able to do that at the senior level has been incredible to watch,” Thompson said.

2022 women’s Olympic hockey tournament groups

Group A: United States, Canada, Finland, Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), Switzerland
Group B: People’s Republic of China, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Czech Republic

Men’s and women’s schedules can be found here
Day-by-day guide to the 2022 Winter Olympics
How to watch the 2022 Winter Olympics

NBCUniversal will present a Winter Olympics-record 2,800+ hours of coverage across NBC, Peacock, USA Network, CNBC, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app when the XXIV Olympic Winter Games from Beijing, China, begin this February.

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    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.