Olympic updates, the hockey world is at Wayne Fleming’s side and which teams have been hit hardest by injury

 

Austria faces off against Latvia during the 2002 Olympics. (Dave O/Wikimedia Commons)

Austria faces off against Latvia during the 2002 Olympics. (Dave O/Wikimedia Commons)

Qualification for men’s hockey at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia has completed with Austria, Latvia and Slovenia earning the final spots, according to Sean Leahy of Yahoo! Sports. This is Austria’s first trip to the Olympics since 2002 in Salt Lake City and Slovenia qualified for the first time. This will be the first time since 1952 Germany has not qualified for the Olympics.

The groups for the Olympics are as follows:

Group A: Russia, Slovakia, United States, Slovenia

Group B: Finland, Canada, Norway, Austria

Group C: Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Latvia

The schedule is set to be released in May.

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The qualifying tournament, held in Riga, Latvia, was a great way for the Kontinental League to expand its fanbase to Western Europe according to the KHL’s official english website. Ted Nolan, the former Jack Adams Award winner and coach for Team Latvia, feels Latvia’s qualification serves as an indicator of how well hockey is doing in the Baltic nation as well as how much the fans enjoy the sport.

“It’s great any time you have the chance to have a league like the KHL in your own country,” he said after seeing his team edge out Kazakhstan 3-2 in front of a rocking Riga Arena. “Players don’t have to leave home, go overseas to get better. It’s like the set-up in North America – I’ve got two sons who play and they can stay and play back home, or just over the border in the US.

“And the fans here are wonderful – never mind the players they have, the KHL should be proud of having fans like these.”

Even though Great Britain and France failed to qualify, few of their players play in elite leagues outside of their own borders, the qualifying tournament could be a gateway for the KHL to move further west.

With the KHL hoping to move into Western Europe – starting with a team in Milan due to appear next season – the prospect of franchises playing out of France or GB could be on the horizon in future years.

While (Team France coach Dave) Henderson felt that this was something for the French hockey authorities to assess in due course, (Team Great Britain coach Tony) Hand was more encouraged by the prospect of expansion into the UK – if the travel and logistics could be resolved.

“If it was feasible I’d be interested in seeing a GB franchise in the KHL, but we’re a long way away,” he said. “The KHL has a great concept and some quality clubs and players.”

And even the travel problems might not prove impossible, at least as far as the 200-or-so British fans who came to Latvia are concerned. Beating a well-trodden path between the arena and the KHL sports bar, spirits were high despite the team’s on-ice struggles (GB lost all three games, conceding 16 goals in the process).

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Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun writes about former coach Wayne Fleming’s battle against cancer and how the hockey world has been supporting him through his ordeal.

Fleming spent 11 years as an assistant coach in the NHL with the New York Islanders, Phoenix Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning and helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2002 Olympics. Earlier this month, a dozen close family members and friends gathered at his home in Calgary for an early induction into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. Though he hasn’t been able to respond to much, the ceremony did appear to catch his attention. From Francis:

Under palliative care and confined to his bed since June, the 62-year-old Snowflake, Man., native was largely unresponsive during the gathering until heartfelt words from a Hall official prompted Fleming’s eyes to open.

“Wayne has not responded to a whole lot of things the last little while, but he opened his eyes and listened to every word (Manitoba Hockey Hall selection committee chair) Don Kuryk said — it was pretty remarkable,” said Lanny McDonald of the ceremony that included Charlie Simmer, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, Fleming’s father, wife Carolyn and two of their children, amongst others.

He still receives countless text messages and phone calls that his wife Carolyn makes sure he hears and coaches often visit his home when they travel to Calgary. And although he has been getting worse, his ability to fight and prolong his life is something that amazes and inspires others. More from Francis:

It’s been more than half a year since Fleming was able to sit in his study, watching games on TV while strapped into the specialized recliner given to him by the Lightning players he coached in 2010-11. In that room, he still has commemorative pucks, a plaque describing what makes an Olympian and a photo of him with fellow Olympic coaches Jacques Martin, Hitchcock and head coach Pat Quinn.

While his condition has been in steady decline since the summer, Carolyn is convinced memories of such moments and the friendships spawned from them help keep Fleming going and few disagree.

“His fighting spirit never ceases to amaze me,” McDonald said, citing the 16 hours of surgery Fleming had years back to prolong his life.

“I’m shocked he is still with us. Everyone else would have given up but he has this fighter mentality in him. He’s going to play this one right to the end.”

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Patrick Hoffman of Sportsnet.ca takes a look at which teams have been impacted by injuries the most this season. Check out the link for details on the injury woes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames.

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