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Daily Olympic Briefing: U.S. women's hockey begins title defense Thursday morning

Daily Olympic Briefing: U.S. women's hockey begins title defense Thursday morning
Posted at 11:24 AM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-02 12:34:37-05

Each day of the 2022 Winter Games, NBC Olympics will run down every sport in action, highlighting the biggest athletes and marquee events. Every single event streams live on NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock, and many are also on the TV networks of NBC. Visit the Olympic schedule page for listings sorted by sport and TV network.

On the day before the Opening Ceremony, the U.S. women’s hockey team opens group play, curling’s mixed doubles tournament continues and moguls qualifying begins on the first full day of competition.

All times listed below are Eastern Time on the night of Wednesday, February 2 or the morning of Thursday, February 3.

Hockey

Women's Hockey: Preliminary Round
All events also stream live on Peacock
Matchup Time (ET) How to Watch
Switzerland vs Canada 11:00 p.m. NBCOlympics.com, USA
China vs Czech Republic 11:00 p.m. NBCOlympics.com
Japan vs Sweden 3:30 a.m. NBCOlympics.com
Finland vs USA 8:00 a.m. NBCOlympics.com, USA

As the U.S. women’s hockey team begins its Olympic gold-medal defense, it may want to remember what legend Cammi Granato warned the 2018 team before it won.

Granato, then in her first in-person address to this U.S. women’s national team generation, noted how she and her teammates erred in 2002, when they tried and failed to repeat as champions.

“If you want something too badly, sometimes you squeeze it too tight, and you can’t perform,” Granato recalled in an interview during the U.S.’ 2018 Olympic final shootout win over Canada. “We were so dominant in 2002, but we pretty much wanted it so badly that we were choking it.”

In 2002, the Granato-captained U.S. women went 31-0 on a pre-Olympic tour (including eight wins over Canada). It created mounting pressure at a home Olympics. The locker room vibe wasn’t ideal, with some returning Olympians unhappy with reduced roles. They lost the Olympic final 5-2 to the Canadians.

This U.S. women’s team lost to Canada in a major final for the first time in seven years at the world championship in August. Then Canada won four of the six games in a pre-Olympic exhibition series.

The U.S. leader is Hilary Knight, who wears No. 21 in honor of Granato and has it tattooed on her arm. Knight, who once tore a patellar tendon running into a marble bench while blindfolded, will tie the record of four U.S. Olympic hockey appearances.

I asked Granato, for so long a face of the sport, whom she would pick as the women’s hockey GOAT in America. I stipulated that Granato could not pick herself.

Knight, she answered. “Not even a hesitation.”

Then I asked the logical follow-up: What if you could choose yourself?

“I’d pick Hilary,” said Granato, who recently wrote a children’s book, “I Can Play Too,” available here. “She’s the player you want on the ice when you need a goal.”

Last August, Knight broke Granato’s U.S. records for career points and goals in world championship play.

There are others in the GOAT conversation.

Another legend, 1998 gold medalist and four-time Olympian Jenny Potter, holds the U.S. Olympic record of 32 points. Knight has 17.

Potter played her last three Olympics as a mom, plus a world championship less than three months after childbirth.

“No one ever outworked her,” said Angela Ruggiero, who like Knight and Potter made four Olympic teams and won a gold medal. “I could never have done training and competing and being a mom.”

Potter didn’t pick a GOAT, but gushed over Knight. In 2010, Potter was the team’s oldest player (age 30). Knight was the youngest (20). They were linemates and roommates.

Ruggiero noted that Granato didn’t get a chance to play in four Olympics because women’s hockey wasn’t added until 1998, eight years after Granato played in the first women’s world championship.

Ruggiero, the greatest defender in U.S. history, has a unique perspective to compare Granato and Knight as somebody who tried to stop both in practice.

“Cammi is more of a natural-born hockey player,” she said. “Every time she had the puck, you had to be aware. Was she going to shoot it? Was she going to change speeds on you? Was she going to do a drop pass or find someone else? She was unpredictable and found the back of the net, always.”

Knight, who at 5 feet, 11 inches, is four inches taller than Granato, is known for her skill, yes, but also her size and speed.

“Different ways they went about putting the puck in the net,” Ruggiero said. “Hilary, that snap shot. Cammi, in front of the net, just with that touch.”

Curling

Mixed Doubles Curling: Round Robin
All events also stream live on Peacock
Matchup Time (ET) How to Watch
USA vs Italy 8:00 p.m. NBCOlympics.com, USA
Great Britain vs Canada 8:00 p.m. NBCOlympics.com
USA vs Norway 1:00 a.m. NBCOlympics.com, USA
Norway vs Canada 7:00 a.m. NBCOlympics.com

We’ll learn a lot about Americans Vicky Persinger and Chris Plys, and the world's top mixed doubles teams on the first full day of curling competition at the Ice Cube.

Persinger and Plys, who opened with a win over Australia, get Italy, which is not a medal favorite. Then comes a showdown with Norway, the highest-ranked team at the Olympics. It’s hard to gauge the U.S. medal chances given Persinger and Plys have never played together at an Olympics or world championship.

Meanwhile, defending gold medalist John Morris of Canada and his new partner, Rachel Homan, take on the reigning world champions from Great Britain and then Norway.

Alpine Skiing

Alpine Skiing: Men's Downhill
All events also stream live on Peacock
Event Time (ET) How to Watch
Training 10:00 p.m. NBCOlympics.com, USA

In Yanqing, the world’s top speed racers prepare for one of the crown jewel events of the Winter Games – Sunday morning’s men’s downhill. It’s the first of three scheduled days of training runs, which have no bearing on the medal race.

Favorites include Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (Mikaela Shiffrin's boyfriend), Swiss veteran Beat Feuz and Austrians Matthias Mayer (2014 Olympic champion) and Vincent Kriechmayr (2021 world champion).

Don’t put too much stock into training results. Unlike past Olympics, no previous World Cup races have been held at this venue, so there’s a lot to learn. Often, skiers will miss a gate or slow down before the finish to mask their time.

Freestyle Skiing

Moguls: Qualifying Round 1
All events also stream live on Peacock
Event Time (ET) How to Watch
Women's Qualifying 5:00 a.m. NBCOlympics.com, USA
Men's Qualifying 6:45 a.m. NBCOlympics.com, USA

Though Olympic competition starts before the Opening Ceremony, nobody gets eliminated before the cauldron is lit.

For both women’s and men’s moguls, the top 10 advance from Thursday’s first round of qualifying directly to the finals this weekend. The other 20 face another round of qualifying just before the finals (Saturday for the men, Sunday for the women). Scores do not carry over.

Look for defending gold medalists Perrine Laffont of France and Mikael Kingsbury of Canada to be among the top qualifiers. All four U.S. women showed medal-contending ability over the last two seasons.