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Q: What is hockey?

A: Hockey – ice hockey, in Olympic parlance – is an Olympic staple. The sport has been played at every Winter Olympic Games, and even one Summer Olympics (1920 in Antwerp, Belgium). For most of its history, Olympic hockey was restricted to amateurs and men. No professionals or women allowed.

The dispute over amateur players became especially contentious in the 1970s, with Canada and Sweden accusing Russia of hiring players into easy jobs so they could be de facto full-time athletes. As a result, Canada’s hockey team skipped the 1972 Games. Both the Swedish and Canadian teams boycotted the 1976 Games.

By 1988, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and IOC agreed to allow professionals into the Olympics. It took another decade, however, for the NHL to accept the offer. Then, in 1998, a full slate of NHL players participated at the Games for the first time. That was also the year that women’s hockey was added to the Olympic program. This year, after two decades of participation, the NHL once again pulled out of the Olympics, taking the world’s best players with it.

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Historically, Canada has been the dominant force in men’s hockey, and more recently, women’s hockey as well. Canada’s men’s teams have more hockey medals (20) than any other country (the United States is second with 16). The Canadian women have dominated the women’s Olympic tournament with four golds and a silver. The U.S. women have been tantalizingly close behind them (one gold, three silver, one bronze).

Q: Where will hockey be played in PyeongChang?

A: Two venues: the 10,000-seat Gangneung Hockey Centre, and the 6,000-seat Kwandong Hockey Centre, both in Gangneung.

Q: What are the events?

A: The men’s tournament includes 12 teams in three groups, who play a round-robin phase – each team plays the other teams in its group – followed by a knockout phase. Eight women’s teams are divided into two groups and also play round robin.

In group play, teams receive three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win, one point for an overtime loss, and no points for a regulation loss.

– Men’s tournament:

Group A: Canada, Czech Republic, South Korea, Switzerland.

Group B: Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, United States.

Group C: Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden.

– Women’s tournament:

Group A: United States, Canada, Finland, Russia. Group A has the four top-ranked countries in the world.

Group B: Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Korea.

After the men’s round robin, the teams are ranked 1 to 12 based on five criteria (group position, number of points, goal differential, goals scored and International Ice Hockey Federation world ranking). The top four teams receive automatic berths in the quarterfinals. The remaining eight teams play one another for the other four quarterfinal spots. The quarterfinal winners move to the semifinals. After that, the semifinal winners play for the gold medal (the semifinal losers play for bronze).

After the women’s round robin, the top two finishers in Group A (the best teams) automatically advance to the semifinals. The bottom two teams then play the top two teams in Group B for the remaining two knockout spots. After that, the semifinal winners play for the gold medal and the semifinal losers play for bronze.

Q: How does overtime work?

A: If a team hasn’t won in regulation, the game goes to sudden-death overtime (format and number of players depend on the round). If there’s no winner after that, the game goes to a shootout.

Q: What are the differences between NHL and Olympic play?

A: The game should look more or less the same: three periods of 20 minutes each, the most goals wins. There are, however, differences. A few worth noting:

– The Olympic rink is wider than in the NHL (100 feet vs. 85).

– Icing is automatically called in the Olympics, and goalies are allowed the handle the puck behind the net.

– An Olympic team also can have 20 players on their roster (as opposed to 18 in the NHL).

– Additionally, players are ejected for fighting in the Olympics (as opposed to just penalized), and the clock runs up to (instead of down from) 20 minutes.

One of the most significant changes comes in shootouts. In the NHL, each player can only take one shot. In the Olympics, only the first three shooters need to be different. After that, any player can take the puck. That’s how the Washington Capitals’ T.J. Oshie stole American hearts in Sochi, taking six of the eight shots in the dramatic shootout win over Russia .

Oh, and another difference: For the first time in 20 years, NHL players will not be at the Olympics.

Q: Wait, what? No NHL players?

A: The NHL decided not to let players participate, arguing that the league ” has never seen any objective evidence of a positive impact on the business or sport. In many ways, it has seen a negative impact.”

Many NHL players were upset by the decision but, with little leverage, are staying home. Players not under an NHL contract, including retirees or those in other leagues, are still eligible to compete. That’s why the Russians – aka the Olympics Athletes from Russia, or OAR – will be led by former NHL stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk.

Q: Are any women missing the Olympics too?

A: The U.S. women’s national team threatened to boycott the 2017 world championships over wage discrepancies and what players saw as unfair treatment compared to their male counterparts. The sides ultimately reached an 11th-hour deal , and Olympic team selection was unaffected.

Q: Can the U.S. women end their gold-medal drought?

A: The United States is looking to avenge a gut-wrenching overtime loss to Canada in Sochi, and finally take back the gold (they won the inaugural event in Nagano). The U.S. roster includes 10 players with Olympic experience – including captain Meghan Duggan and stars such as Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight – and will have some new faces as well, most notably Alex Rigsby in goal.

The Canadians, however, will be difficult to beat. Canada comes in on a 20-game Olympic winning streak – their last loss was the gold medal game in Nagano. This would be their fifth gold in a row. Star forward Marie-Philip Poulin and goalie Shannon Szabados are in the hunt for their third individual golds.

Q: Who to watch in the men’s tournament?

A: Without NHL players, the men’s tournament is unpredictable. The Russians, though, are generally thought to be the team to beat. Their squad includes former NHL players Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk. The Swedes, who don’t usually field as many NHL players anyway, also could see their odds improve in PyeongChang.

Team USA will gather for the first time as a group in PyeongChang. They haven’t won gold since the 1980 “Miracle on Ice.” Aside from ex-NHL player Brian Gionta , this year’s squad is as unknown and untested as back then. See a full roster here .

Canada, the defending gold medalist, also fields an obscure team, but one that’s a bit more experienced. Twenty-one of their players have played in at least one NHL game (for a total 5,544 NHL games ) and one ( Chris Kelly ) has a Stanley Cup championship. Expect Canada to be in the mix for a podium spot.

Q: Will the Koreans have a team?

A: As the host nation, Korea gets an automatic berth in both hockey tournaments, and it is taking full advantage of the opportunity.

The women’s team features North and South Koreans playing together in the peninsula’s first joint Olympic team. While a diplomatic marvel, the team will face a litany of other challenges – from public backlash to their almost guaranteed last-place finish.

South Korea is also fielding a men’s team. With a Stanley Cup winning coach (Jim Paek), and seven North American players (including Americans such as Mike Testwuide, who plays for the Seoul-based Anyang Halla in the Asian Hockey League), the men may fair better than the women in competition – but only slightly.

Q: When to watch?

A: The United States’ six round-robin games will be televised live, so it’s safe to assume the rest of their games (if any) will be as well. (The schedule won’t be known until midway through the Games.) Here is a schedule of the U.S. men and women in group play, with television coverage in parentheses (all times Eastern), and the medal games. All broacasts are live. Games are also available by live-streaming at NBCOlympics.com or on the NBC Sports app.

– U.S. women’s group play:

Feb. 11: vs. Finland (NBCSN, 2:40-5 a.m.)

Feb. 13: vs. OAR (NBCSN, 7:10-9:30 a.m.)

Feb. 14: vs. Canada (NBCSN, 10:10 p.m.-12:30 a.m.)

– U.S. men’s group play:

Feb. 14: vs. Slovenia (NBCSN, 6:30-9:30 a.m.)

Feb. 15: vs. Slovakia (CNBC, 10 p.m.-12:30 a.m.)

Feb. 17: vs. OAR (NBCSN, 7:10-10:30 a.m.)

– Finals:

Feb. 21: Women’s bronze, 2:40 a.m. (USA, 2:30-5 a.m.)

Feb. 21: Women’s gold, 11:10 p.m. (NBCSN, 10:45 p.m.-2 a.m.)

Feb. 24: Men’s bronze, 7:10 a.m. (NBCSN, 6:30-9:30 a.m.)

Feb. 24: Men’s gold, 11:10 p.m. (NBCSN, 10:30 p.m.-2 a.m.)

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