NHL pioneer O’Ree says having Bruins retire jersey an honor

BOSTON (AP) — Willie O’Ree has experienced many honors during his lifetime, from becoming the NHL’s first Black player in 1958 with the Boston Bruins to being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

But the 86-year-old says having his No. 22 jersey retired in Boston on Tuesday will rank right up there near the top.

“It was something that I’ve never dreamed of,” O’Ree said in a phone interview Monday. “I was very fortunate to be called up to the Bruins in 1958 and played with them ’60 and ’61. And then all of a sudden, to find out that my jersey is going to be retired and to hang in the rafters there with the local icons and legends that are up there at the present time — it’s just simply amazing.”

O’Ree had his pioneering moment on Jan. 18, 1958, when he suited up against the Montreal Canadiens. He’ll be the 12th player in Bruins history to have his number raised to the rafters.

He had planned to be in attendance for Boston’s game against Carolina on Tuesday, but persisting concerns about the pandemic changed those plans. He will now participate virtually from his home in San Diego.

“I was disappointed,” he said. “I have a lot of friends in the Boston area and fans that I’ve known over the years. … With the virus are going on, we just felt that for our own safety that we were not going to make the trip.”

O’Ree, who is originally from Fredericton, New Brunswick, played two games for the Bruins during the 1957-58 season, spent the next two seasons in the minors, and came back to Boston for 43 more during the 1960-61 season, notching four goals and 10 assists over his 45 total games. He was traded to the Canadiens in 1961, but never made it back to the NHL level.

Coinciding with Tuesday’s ceremony, the NHL’s Black Hockey History museum is in Boston this week. It’ll make its way to 28 cities in the U.S. and O’Ree’s native Canada this season — the most cities it’s visited yet. It was at the Bruins’ training facility Sunday and will stop at TD Garden prior to Tuesday night’s game.

The 525-square-foot museum highlights trailblazers and history makers like O’Ree, along with the league’s founders and Stanley Cup champions. It also looks ahead to the next generation of young stars, NHL officials, broadcasters and women in the game.

O’Ree has focused on the future of the NHL since his retirement from the sport. And since 1998, he has worked for the NHL as a diversity ambassador, working to foster more inclusion and combat the racism that still exists in league.

O’Ree previously said that while he felt embraced by his teammates in Boston, his short time in the NHL wasn’t untouched by the racism that permeated the Jim Crow era in the U.S. at that time.

“When I broke in with the Bruins in 1958, I heard the racial remarks and the racial slurs from fans in the stands and players on the opposition,” O’Ree said. “But it didn’t really bother me. And I have to thank my older brother, who was not only my brother and my friend, but he was my mentor and taught me a lot that I would need to know. He says, ’Willie. If people can accept you for the individual that you are, this is. That’s their problem. Just go out and work hard and stay focused on what you what you want to do.′ And basically, that’s what I did.”

O’Ree said he’s proud of the work he’s done speaking with young people at hockey clinics in the hopes of diversifying the sport he loves.

“I just want to be remembered as not only as the first Black player to play in the NHL, but just an individual that wanted to be involved with boys and girls and help them set goals for themselves and help them work toward their goals and feel good about themselves and like themselves,” he said. “I think that’s very important.”

Premier Hockey Federation to increase salary cap, add 2 teams

The Premier Hockey Federation is more than doubling each teams’ salary cap to $750,000 and adding two expansion franchises next season in a bid to capitalize on the wave of attention women’s hockey traditionally enjoys following the Winter Olympics.

The PHF’s announcement on Tuesday of its board of governors’ commitment to invest more than $25 million over the next three years is also considered a major step in attempting to thaw its relationship with United States and Canadian national team players, who have balked at joining North America’s lone professional women’s hockey league.

“It’s an amazing investment by the ownership, and it really reaffirms the strength of their commitment to being a difference-maker in women’s hockey,” PHF Commissioner Ty Tumminia told The Associated Press.

“It’s important for us to advance to our next season and be crystal clear about the direction we’re headed, and what framework will be so that all athletes can make an informed decision about their careers,” Tumminia added, noting the timing of the announcement comes two weeks before the Winter Games open in Beijing.

The six-team PHF is moving forward with plans to establish a team in Montreal and, without disclosing where, adding another expansion franchise in the United States.

The boost in the cap from $300,000 this season will lead to an average salary of $37,500 based on a 20-player minimum roster or $30,000 for a league-maximum 25-player roster. There will be no limits placed on a player’s salary as long as the team’s overall payroll remains under the cap.

The cash influx will also lead to the PHF providing full health-care benefits to its players, improving facilities and increasing the number of practices. Players will also gain a 10% equity in their respective team and have control over their likeness for marketing opportunities.

“This is the time to double-down,” PHF board of governors chairman John Boynton said. “We think this is a giant step forward of making it possible for the best women’s hockey players to earn a living playing the game they love.”

The league doubled its salary cap already from $150,000 a year ago, while also adding an expansion team in Toronto.

The PHF has made numerous sponsorship and broadcasting inroads over the past year, including having games aired on ESPN-Plus in the U.S. and Canada’s TSN.

Tumminia noted the league was able to generate those agreements based on this being an Olympic year.

“This is a very pivotal time in women’s hockey. There’s no denying the impact the Olympics have on the interest in the women’s game and how the the landscape can change after Beijing,” she said.

The PHF currently has teams based in Boston, Toronto, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, St. Paul, Minnesota, Danbury, Connecticut, and Buffalo, New York.

The fast-tracked approach follows two years in which the PHF overhauled its business and ownership model, and underwent a rebranding by changing its name from the National Women’s Hockey League last summer.

PHF teams are now privately owned, though some ownership groups control more than one franchise.

Upon being founded as a start-up four-team venture in 2015 by Dani Rylan Kearny, the league previously controlled all its franchises and relied on outside investors to make up the revenue gap from ticket and merchandise sales to pay for salary, travel and administrative costs.

The instability of the business model led to the NWHL slashing players salaries by more than half in its second season. The move led to a distrust among players, some of whom bolted to play for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which folded in May 2019.

The CWHL’s demise led to the world’s top players forming the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association in a united bid to establish a single North American professional league — ideally backed by the NHL — with a long-term sustainable economic model.

The PWHPA has spent the past two years holding a series of barnstorming weekend events called the “Dream Gap Tour” across North America.

Tumminia believes the PHF’s latest investment, and the inclusion of health-care benefits, meets the PWHPA’s vision.

“We can’t speak for them, but our position has always been that a single professional women’s hockey league in North America provides the best opportunities for growth and sustainability of the game,” she said. “This investment supports everything we all want to see, and that’s enhance opportunities for athletes and take the sport to the next level.”

Boynton said the PHF’s growth is sustainable based on the resources at hand, and hinted there’s more to come.

“I think we’re moving as fast as we possibly can, and it’s never fast enough,” Boynton said. “Our top priority is to increase compensation as quickly as we possibly can. So are we moving it up quickly? Yes. Are we finished moving it up? No.”

Hockey Canada names Julien coach, Doan GM of men’s Olympic team

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — Claude Julien was named coach of Canada’s men’s hockey team for the Beijing Olympics on Friday, and Shane Doan was named general manager.

Doan and Julien replace St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong and Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper, who vacated their positions on the national team when the NHL pulled out of an agreement to send its players to the Olympics last month.

“We are excited to announce our experienced management group and coaching staff that will lead Canada’s men’s Olympic team at the 2022 Olympics,” Tom Renney, chief executive officer of Hockey Canada, said in a statement.

Julien has a 667-445-162 coaching record in 1,274 regular-season NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins. He won a Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011.

Julien was fired last February from his second stint coaching the Canadiens.

Doan, the Arizona Coyotes’ hockey development officer, was assistant GM of the Canadian team that won gold at least year’s world championships. As a player, he represented Canada at six world championships — winning gold three times — and competed at the Turin Olympics in 2006.

Kings trainer becomes first female staffer on bench in NHL

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Aisha Visram is believed to have become the first woman to work on the bench of an NHL regular-season game in any capacity when she served as athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Kings in their 6-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

According to the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society and Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers, Visram likely made history when she stepped in because three Kings support staffers were unavailable because of COVID-19 protocols.

“That’s incredible. That’s great. We need more of that in our game,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said.

Visram is the head trainer for the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate in Ontario, California. She previously worked with Adirondack of the ECHL and at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.

McLellan said having Visram on the bench was a reminder that it takes more than players and coaches for a professional hockey team to function and succeed.

“I can tell you that Aisha is a big part of our organization,” McLellan said. “And we don’t talk about these people. We don’t talk about the trainers or the equipment people, but she’s mentoring with (Kings head athletic trainer) Chris Kingsley and the rest of the staff, and accepted a huge role there and does a tremendous job, so unreal reward for her. And everybody’s a big part of it, so include her in it.”

U.S., Canada women eager to resume fierce hockey rivalry

Forward Brianna Decker was unable to contain her enthusiasm in being selected to represent the United States in hockey for a third Olympics. She then bluntly declared the team’s one and only objective heading to the Beijing Games next month.

“Our business isn’t finished until we come back with a gold medal,” Decker said.

Though she didn’t have to say it, Canada — who else? — is standing in their way.

“I don’t know if it’s unfinished business, we’ve got business,” Canada coach Troy Ryan said when informed of Decker’s comments. “We’re going there as business as usual and we’re trying to win the gold.”

One of sports’ fiercest rivalries is set to resume when the 10-nation tournament opens on Feb. 3.

The United States is the defending Olympic champion after beating Canada in a nail-biting 3-2 shootout win in South Korea in 2018 to end Canada’s run of four Olympic titles. And yet, Canada is the reigning world champion after punching back with a 3-2 overtime win in August to end USA’s run of five consecutive titles.

“Yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve lost to them,” Decker said. “It’s really a sad thing, but you know, sometimes you’ve got to lose to get a little bit more out of your team and out of yourself.”

“To be honest,” countered Canada’s captain Marie-Philip Poulin, “it’s going to be fun.”

And intense.

It was no surprise to anyone when the pushing, shoving and cross-checking resumed almost immediately at Allentown, Pennsylvania, in October in their first meeting after the world championships.

“Yeah, and you know what the best part is? We have them eight more times,” American forward Kendall Coyne Schofield said with a laugh, referring to what was supposed to be a nine-game Rivalry Series. It was cut to six games after the Canadians experienced a COVID-19 breakout.

Canada finished the shortened series going 4-1-1 against the Americans, with four games decided by one goal, and three in overtime.

Encouraging as the results were, they meant little to Ryan, who noted: “If you look at the history of these events and the results at the Olympics, there’s no positive correlation often.”

At first glance, Canada appears to have the advantage with speed and experience, playing an up-tempo, transition attack Ryan introduced upon taking over in August 2019. His system places an emphasis on play-making defenders turning up ice and finding open players in the neutral zone to set up odd-man breaks.

The U.S. relies more on a puck-control offensive style to set up in-close chances from Hilary Knight and Alex Carpenter, who returns after being left off the 2018 roster.

Barring what would be considered a major upset, the rest of the field continues playing catchup at the women’s level, with Finland, Switzerland, Russia and potentially the up-and-coming Czech Republic vying for bronze.

The Finns beat Switzerland to win bronze at the world championships. At the 2019 world championships on home soil, Finland upset Canada in the semifinals and came a disallowed goal in overtime away from beating the Americans before settling for the silver.

“If we play 10 games in a row, we’re not going to be the winning candidate in all of them,” Puputti said. “But then we showed two years ago, when the right game comes in the right moment it can happen. So I think it was really a confidence booster.”

DECADES OF DOMINANCE

The U.S. and Canada have met in the final of 19 of 20 world championships, with Canada winning 11 titles to America’s eight. Twelve gold-medal games have been decided by one goal, with nine in overtime or shootouts.

The two nations have met in the final of five of six Olympic tournaments, with the exception of the 2006 Torino Games, when Canada defeated Sweden, and the U.S. won bronze.

OLYMPIC DEBUTS

Denmark and the Czech Republic will make their first Winter Games’ appearances after winning qualifying tournaments in November. The Czechs, who went 3-0, are considered strong contenders with a youth-laden roster that includes six players currently at U.S. colleges.

Sweden is making its sixth Olympic appearance. It defeated France 1-0 to clinch its pool after facing relegation following a ninth-place finish at the 2019 world championships.

MULLER BOOST

An ankle injury that sidelined Swiss star forward Alina Muller at the world championships in August could be the boost the team needed. The Swiss rallied for a 3-2 overtime win over Russia in the quarterfinal before a 4-0 loss to Canada in the semis.

Swiss coach Colin Muller (no relation) was encouraged by how his players learned how to compete without Muller.

Alina Muller, who was 15 at the 2014 Sochi Games became the youngest women’s hockey player to win a medal, is fully healed and eager to make her third Olympic appearance. She is completing her senior year at Northeastern.

RATY RETURN?

Finland goalie Noora Raty could be a late addition after rejoining the team for two wins against the Czech Republic in December. Raty had been sidelined by a back injury in February. The 32-year-old has represented Finland at four Winter Games and holds the Olympic record among goalies with 20 games played. The Finns are set to announce their roster on Jan. 20.

No NHL boosts Russian hopes for Olympic gold in men’s hockey

When the National Hockey League and its players agreed to pause the season and participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics, it came with the caveat of pandemic conditions not making it impractical to go to China.

Seven weeks before puck drop at what was supposed to be the first Olympics with NHL players since 2014, the league pulled the plug amid a rash of postponements for coronavirus-related reasons. Instead of getting the world’s best on Olympic ice for the sixth time since 1998, the tournament will now feature players from the college ranks in the U.S., professional leagues across Europe and the minors in North America.

The Russians are again favored to win gold after beating Germany in the 2018 final, thanks to the talent coming from the home-based Kontinental Hockey League that will shut down for the Olympics. The lack of NHL players throws even more uncertainty into the competition and the U.S., Canada, Finland and Sweden are all thinking they have a realistic chance of winning.

“You look at the 2018 Olympics, it was just very competitive — there was a lot of parity,” U.S. coach David Quinn said. “The Russians are perceived to be the team with a leg up on everybody just because of the KHL, but they had a hard time (four years ago) with Germany in the gold-medal game. I just think it’s going to be a very, very competitive tournament.”

Four years since the Russians — known as the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — emerged with gold, Germany silver and Canada bronze, things look wide open.

CANADIAN MIGHT

Canada will not have Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon on the same team for the first time as it attemps to win its third gold in the last four Olympics. But the hockey-crazed nation does have a legitimate shot to win thanks to some players with recent NHL experience.

Eric Staal is by far the most experienced and accomplished player expected to take part in the tournament: a veteran of almost 1,400 NHL games who played for Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final last summer. He is already one of just 29 players in the Triple Gold Club as winners of the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and world championship gold medal.

Staal could wear the “C” as Canada’s captain 12 years after the home ice triumph at the Vancouver Olympics that was capped off by Crosby’s famous golden goal to beat the U.S. in overtime.

Other recent NHL players expected to play for Canada include goaltender Devan Dubnyk, defenseman Jason Demers and forward Eric Fehr. Former Canadiens coach Claude Julien is expected to be behind the bench.

MIX-AND-MATCH U.S.

The U.S. is hoping a balance of young college stars and experienced pros in the American Hockey League and Europe adds up to its first Olympic men’s hockey medal since 2010.

That means the likes of North Dakota’s Jake Sanderson and Michigan’s Matty Beniers playing alongside recent former NHL players Kenny Agostino, Steven Kampfer and Aaron Ness. That’s a far cry from Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane and Seth Jones sharing the ice in what the Olympics were supposed to look like, but the expectations are still high internally.

“We’ve got good players all over, whether in the NHL or college hockey: I think we’re going to have a good team,” Sanderson said. “We just got to go there, give our best and expect the best.”

RUSSIAN REDUX

The Russians in 2018 were an All-Star team compared to the rest of the tournament, with soon-to-be Hockey Hall of Famer Pavel Datsyuk and longtime NHL sniper Ilya Kovalchuk skating with two-time Cup champion Slava Voynov and now-Minnesota Wild star Kirill Kaprizov.

The 2022 team isn’t as star-studded, but Voynov is back, along with KHL leading scorer Vadim Shipachyov and former NHL forward Mikhail Grigorenko.

After getting shut out of medals in the five Olympics with NHL players — despite Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and the tournament on home ice in 2014 — no country benefits more from the NHL not showing up than Russia. The team is looking to win consecutive gold medals for the first time since three in a row from 1984-1992. It will compete as the “Russian Olympic Committee,” part of sanctions for various doping-related issues across multiple sports.

CHINA’S SHOT

China will take part in men’s hockey at the Olympics for the first time as the host country. The team is made up of some homegrown talent and “heritage” players from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere who signed up years ago to represent China in this tournament.

Goalie Jeremy Smith and defenseman Jake Chelios are American. Captain Brandon Yip, defenseman Ryan Sproul and forward Spencer Foo are Canadian. They’ve formed a bond they think will help once play begins.

“One of the advantages that we’ve had is the core group of us have been together for five years, so we have pretty good chemistry,” Yip said. “We think that’s going to be a big advantage over the other teams.”

WHO ELSE?

Finland probably stands the best chance of pulling off an upset, thanks to a team-first style that relies on good goaltending and structure. Recent NHL players Sami Vatanen, Leo Komarov, Markus Granlund and Valtteri Filppula also give Finland a major boost of talent.

Sweden’s team could have ex-NHL goalie Anders Lindback, San Jose Sharks prospect William Eklund, who started the season in North America, along with names familiar to hockey fans such as Jacob de La Rose, Oscar Lindberg and Christian Folin.

Germany is defending a silver medal, but not having 2020 NHL MVP Leon Draisaitl and Seattle Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer will hurt. Switzerland will also miss Nashville captain Roman Josi.

Jack Eichel back on ice for first time since neck surgery

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jack Eichel finally skated with the Vegas Golden Knights for the first time since being acquired from Buffalo and becoming the first NHL player to undergo artificial disk replacement surgery on his neck in November.

“A bit of an emotional moment for me,” Eichel said Tuesday after Vegas’ morning skate. “Just another step in the process. This was like a kid at Christmas getting out there with the guys.”

Eichel said it didn’t matter his new teammates were preparing for their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs while he wore a non-contact jersey as he skated around the team’s practice facility. He felt like he was part of a hockey team again.

“With everything I’ve been through, it’s like things are getting back to normal for me, which is what I’ve wanted all along,” said Eichel, who rehabbed in Charlotte, North Carolina, before rejoining the Golden Knights on Tuesday. “You really feel like you’re part of the group.”

That is an important part of his process, both mentally and physically, as he can learn from a group that has long been known for its locker room camaraderie.

Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said it’ll take some time — “a while” — before the 25-year-old All-Star center will be able to endure contact. Eichel said he has no target date.

“I think it’s see how you feel, see how you progress, how confident and comfortable you are,” Eichel said. “I think I’ll know physically, mentally, emotionally when I’ll be ready to go. The team and the organization has been so supportive not putting a hard date of when I need to be back or when they expect me to be back.

“Just very low pressure. You have different milestones you want to meet during this process.”

Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said after the trade he expected the recovery process to last three to five months. He had the surgery on Nov. 12.

Eichel wasn’t the only one elated about his presence at City National Arena, as team captain Mark Stone said it was exciting to add “a top-10 player in the league into our lineup at some point.”

“Obviously we’re not sure when that’s going to be,” Stone added. “We’re excited to have him just around the team. It’ll be exciting to see his skill set for the next little bit of practice here and building up to his first game.”

Vegas, the fifth-highest scoring team in the league with 3.47 goals per game, is in first place in the Pacific Division, two points in front of Anaheim with 47 points.

KHL to suspend season for a week because of COVID-19 cases

MOSCOW — The Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League, a key source of players for Olympic teams, decided Wednesday to suspend its season for a week because of coronavirus outbreaks at many clubs.

The KHL said it will stop play from Saturday and resume on Jan. 22. The league said it knew of positive tests for 124 players around the league as of Tuesday morning, with 27 of those cases reported within the previous 24 hours.

The KHL website already listed 16 games rescheduled or canceled.

After the NHL withdrew from the Olympics last month, the KHL became crucial to assembling national teams for next month’s Beijing Games.

Gold-medal favorite Russia and host nation China are both expected to send squads of KHL players. Most of the other nations in the 12-team Olympic men’s tournament are expected to call on at least some players from the KHL.

Jake Sanderson to play for U.S.; college stars eye Olympic chance

Jake Sanderson felt bad that he would be missing a handful of games at North Dakota to play at the Olympics.

When he expressed that sentiment to his college teammates and coaches, the star defenseman was greeted with support. It was already an easy choice for Sanderson to suit up for the United States in Beijing, and that made it even simpler.

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s kind of something you can’t really pass up. It’s the Olympics. You don’t know if you’ll ever be able to play in the Olympics in your lifetime.”

After the NHL decided to withdraw from the 2022 Games, an opportunity of a lifetime was suddenly available for Sanderson, Michigan’s Owen Power and Matty Beniers, and other players in the U.S. college ranks with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada eyeing the NCAA for top talent to fill their rosters. College players deciding whether to leave school for a few weeks to go to Beijing can look no further than the 2018 Olympics for some strong evidence in the yes column.

Anaheim’s Troy Terry, Minnesota’s Jordan Greenway and Seattle’s Ryan Donato all skated for the U.S. in Pyeongchang on a team made up of mostly older professionals playing in Europe. They’ve since combined to play in 611 NHL games.

“I would tell those guys if they got the chance to cherish it, enjoy and make the most of it,” Donato said. “Coming from college, it was obviously a little nerve-wracking because you have all these guys that have played in the NHL and I think it does do a lot for your confidence realizing that you could hang around with these guys.”

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Sanderson, a Whitefish, Montana, native taken by Ottawa with the fifth pick in the 2020 draft, has already accepted his invitation. The top two NHL picks in 2021 —- Power, who went first to Buffalo, and Beniers, who went to Seattle — have each been invited to play for Canada and the U.S., respectively. Michigan teammates Brendan Brisson (U.S.) and Kent Johnson (Canada) are also Olympic candidates.

Greenway and Terry were U.S. candidates when it looked like the NHL was halting its season for almost three weeks to let the world’s best hockey players play in the Olympics for the first time since 2018.

Greenway said he probably would have gone if chosen, especially if virus testing and quarantine restrictions were modified because, like many would-be participants, those were his biggest concerns. That’s the major difference from 2018.

“There’s also other factors that go into it now because of the circumstances and the situation, which I understand,” Greenway said. “I think it is maybe a little bit more of a question. It’s not a no-brainer, let’s say, maybe now. It could be a little bit different for those guys. You take the hockey part alone and the experience and everything that goes into that, it’s a special, special experience.”

U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck and coach David Quinn believed the Olympic experience was a strong selling point, even taking pandemic and college duties into account. One additional motivation is that the world junior championship was canceled last month over fears of a virus outbreak, and the Olympics could serve as something of a do-over for that tournament for several players under the age of 20.

Still, Quinn realized trying to convince active college players to go to Beijing is not the same as his days recruiting at Boston University.

“These circumstances are a lot different,” Quinn said. “Leaving the team in the middle of the season and with the COVID situation, there’s a lot of hurdles, a lot of obstacles. But I think everyone wants to play in the Olympics.”

[Pass or Fail: USA, Canada unveil 2022 Olympic hockey jerseys]

Mel Pearson, who is coaching Michigan with a powerhouse roster and a legitimate shot at a national championship, has told players he’s supportive of them going to the Olympics.

“Opportunities like that, they don’t come along that often,” Pearson told reporters last weekend. “We’ll fully support them and look forward to getting them back once they get home with a medal.”

Seeing he’d only miss four games at North Dakota and that quarantine requirements were not nearly as lengthy as had been rumored eased Sanderson’s concerns. He also hopes to be in the NHL soon, and watching Terry, Greenway and Donato play there now is additional incentive.

“You look at those guys and they’re doing very well in the NHL,” Sanderson said. “I think being with the guys and living in the moment there and taking it all in, having fun in the Olympic village, I think the whole experience will be breathtaking, will be fun.”

Olympic men’s tournament groups

Group A: Canada, U.S., Germany, China
Group BROC, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

Men’s and women’s schedules can be found here.

The 2022 Olympic Games from Beijing, China will air on the networks of NBC beginning Friday, Feb. 4.

Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin nearing return from knee injury

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin could make his season debut on Tuesday night when the Penguins face the Anaheim Ducks.

Coach Mike Sullivan said Monday that he anticipates the four-time All-Star and 2012 Hart Trophy winner will be a “game-time” decision as Pittsburgh continues its West Coast swing.

The 35-year-old Malkin hasn’t played since undergoing right knee surgery in June. Malkin has been skating with his teammates for several weeks and was cleared to start taking contact recently. He was a full participant in practice on Monday and worked with the top power-play unit and centered the second line between Jeff Carter and Kasperi Kapanen.

“We try to check all the boxes as far as the preparation process,” Sullivan said. “He’s worked extremely hard to get to this point.”

Malkin had surgery in June, with the team saying he would miss “at least” the first two months of the season. Sullivan stressed Malkin is still in the middle of the team’s recovery time frame even with the season now three months old.

The Penguins have thrived even with Malkin out. Pittsburgh currently sits in fourth in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division and had a 10-game winning streak snapped over the weekend in Dallas.

Malkin’s presence, however, could give the NHL’s 22nd-ranked power-play a boost.

“I just think he adds a whole other dimension to it,” Sullivan said. “His play-making ability, his one-timer. He’s just such an elite offensive player, just the way he thinks the game and his ability to execute, I think it brings another dimension to our power play that makes us that much harder to defend against.”

Malkin is in the final season of an eight-year, $76-million contract and is coming off an injury-marred season in which he managed a career-low 28 points in 33 games.