After a quiet Friday that had just men's and women's curling on the schedule for native Minnesotans, a bigger day comes Saturday, with two events considered massive for those from the Land of 10,000 Lakes kicking off the weekend.
The U.S. men's hockey team returns to the ice after their 7-1 domination of Slovakia Thursday for a huge match against host-country Russia. The Russians won their first game of the competition 5-2 over Slovenia Thursday, but the game was closer than the score indicated, Russia needing two third-period goals to put away their opponent. The hosts boast many familiar names including perennial All-Star and the NHL's leading goal-scorer Alexander Ovechkin, a top-10 point-getter in the league Evgeni Malkin, and team-captain Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings. The U.S. though, has their fair share of talent as well, headlined by Wild stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, along with eight other Minnesota connections. This is expected to be the U.S.' toughest test in Group A play, with Russia having medaled in the event two of the past four Olympics. Group B saw gold medal favorite and rival Canada win again today, a 6-0 beating of former Gopher Thomas Vanek and Austria. The U.S.-Russia tilt can be seen on NBC Sports Network live at 6:30 a.m.
Jessie Diggins of Afton has her best chance at a medal Saturday, anchoring the women's 4-by-5-kilometer relay in cross-country skiing. Diggins is joined by Kikkan Randall, who was a favorite in the women's individual sprint free Tuesday but failed to advance past the quarterfinals, Elizabeth Stephen, and Sadie Bjornsen to form the relay unit. The team finished fourth at the World Championships in 2013, and claimed two bronze medals over the past two World Cup seasons, the first two medals the U.S. women's team has ever earned on the World Cup circuit. Some around the state know how big this is for Diggins, and Stillwater establishment Chilkoot Cafe is going to extreme lengths to support her, opening at 3:30 a.m. to live-stream the race on big-screen TVs while serving coffee to ensure Diggins' supporters stay awake. The race takes place at 4 a.m. and can be seen on a slight delay on NBC Sports Network at 4:30 a.m.
Women's curling pushes on Saturday as well, and having given Denmark their first win of the tournament, they are now tied for last of the 10 competing teams. Minneapolis' Jessica Schultz and Eden Prairie's Allison Pottinger have just three matches to go in the preliminary round, and some drastic changes need to happen for the U.S. to be one of the four teams to advance to the semifinals, as they currently sit two games out of fourth place, currently occupied by Russia and Switzerland with a record of 3-3. The first thing the U.S. need to do to try and make up ground is beat their opponent Sweden on Saturday, though that will be no easy task, as they are currently second in the standings at 4-1. The match takes place at 9 a.m. central time, and can be seen on CNBC seven hours later.
Results of these events can be found on our sports page Saturday afternoon.