Kane, Matthews, Jones first three hockey players named to U.S. Olympic team

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In an unexpected move, USA Hockey named three men to the 2022 U.S. Olympic team on Thursday — approximately three months earlier than is typical.

Patrick Kane (right wing), Auston Matthews (center) and Seth Jones (defense) were the first players named to the team that will compete in Beijing in four months. The 22 athletes who will join them at the Winter Olympics will be announced in January.

The three All-Stars are able to be selected for the Olympic team thanks to the agreement the NHL, NHL Players’ Association, International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation reached in early September, building a three-week break into the NHL schedule and allowing the sport’s top players to return to the Olympic stage.

At the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, active NHL players were forbidden from competing for their country for the first time since 1994.

Without those players, the U.S. finished seventh.

“It’s no secret we’re excited about the prospects of our team for the 2022 Games,” Stan Bowman, general manager of the Olympic team, said in the USA Hockey release. “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 team will be led by head coach Mike Sullivan, a two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who is joined by assistant coaches John Hynes, David Quinn, Todd Reirden and Ryan Miller.

As the Americans set out to win their first gold medal in 42 years — since the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, Kane will be at the helm of the squad as one of, if not, the only three-time Olympians.

The Chicago Blackhawks veteran and nine-time All-Star was on the 2010 team, when the U.S. lost the gold medal to Canada in overtime, and the 2014 team, which was fourth after a 5-0 shutout at the hands of bronze medalist Finland. Miller, now in an international coaching role for the first time, was on both teams as well.

Kane, who turns 33 next month, has won the Stanley Cup three times and world championship bronze once in his three times playing on world teams; he was named tournament MVP that year (2018).

Matthews, 24, and Jones, 27, will both make their Olympic debut in China but have plenty of experience representing the U.S.

Matthews was on the team that placed fourth at the 2016 World Championships, plus four junior or under-18 world teams.

Jones, meanwhile, was on the 2014 and 2015 (bronze) world teams plus three junior/U18 world teams.

Both were named to the last four NHL All-Star Games.

The U.S., ranked sixth, opens Olympic play in Group B against host China on Thursday, Feb. 10, before playing 2021 world champion Canada on Feb. 12 and 2018 Olympic silver medalist Germany the following day.

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Kane, Matthews, Jones first three hockey players named to U.S. Olympic team originally appeared on NBCSports.com