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Kane, Matthews, Jones first picks for U.S. hockey

Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane and defenseman Seth Jones and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews were the first three players named to the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team Thursday.

“It’s no secret we’re excited about the prospects of our team for the 2022 Games,” said USA Hockey general manager Stan Bowman, who also runs the Blackhawks. “Patrick, Auston and Seth reflect the high level of talent that will make up our final roster as we strive to bring gold back home to the U.S.”

The U.S. has not won Olympic gold since 1980. NHL players began participating in the Olympics in 1998 and went five times before the league skipped the Pyeongchang Games in 2018.

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The league, players’ association and International Ice Hockey Federation asked each country to pick three players before the start of the NHL season. Each country’s list of 55 players is due in mid-October, with final rosters — 3 goalies and 22 skaters — unveiled in January.

Canada, which won gold in in 2010 and 2014, announced Edmonton‘s reigning NHL MVP Connor McDavid, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby and Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo as its first three players.

“We’ve got it pretty well nailed down,” Canada general manager Doug Armstrong told The Associated Press this week. “There’s a couple of tweaks that we’re going to have to make here before it has to go in, but I would say we’re one of the countries that you wish it didn’t exist because your remaining guys are going to have a great October, November, Decembers, but so be it. That’s just the way it has to be. Just because of the depth of the Canadian hockey program, you want to try and make that list as accurate as possible.”

Sweden selected back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Victor Hedman, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog and New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad. Finland started with Florida captain Aleksander Barkov, Carolina forward Sebastian Aho and Colorado winger Mikko Rantanen. The Czech Republic selected Boston winger David Pastrnak, Tampa Bay winger Ondrej Palat and Columbus winger Jakub Voracek.

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association have until January to pull out of the Olympics if the coronavirus pandemic worsens. The tournament begins Feb. 9 in Beijing.

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