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Winter Olympics preview, TV information and fans’ guide

What to watch for at the 2018 Winter Olympics, as well as when and where to watch the Games.

Soohorang, a white tiger, is the official mascot

Soohorang, a white tiger, is the official mascot of the 2018 Winter Olympics. A visitor takes his picture in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on Jan. 4, 2018. Photo Credit: AP / Lee Jin-man

THE ELEPHANT IN THE RINK

For many traditional sports fans, men’s ice hockey long has been the prime attraction of the Winter Olympics.

That was especially true in the two decades that NHL players took part. But this time NBC must cover a tournament absent players from the best league on Earth after the NHL and IOC were unable to come up with a plan to make the mid-season break worth the NHL’s while.

This has put the NHL’s primary United States media partner, NBC, in an awkward position as it prepares to carry the tournament.

“I think hockey fans are hockey fans, and it’s the Olympics and hockey,” Jim Bell, president of production for NBC Olympics, said. “So while a year ago it felt like a bit of a disappointment I think that now when that puck drops people are going to be ready to go and fired up to watch it.”

Said NBC executive producer Sam Flood, “Would we like the NHL players to be there? Of course. But this is a pretty exciting opportunity for some neat stories.”

It would help if a U.S. team consisting mostly of European league pros and partly of current college players is able to advance deeply.

“Particularly given the history, we know that with Team USA, yeah, that would be nice if we caught lightning in a bottle there,” Bell said.

That was a reference to 1980, the last time the United States won gold in the Olympics, when college players filled the roster.

“I think there will be more curiosity if the USA wins a few games early, because is it 1980 revisited,” Flood said.

If the U.S. men falter, there always are the women. The United States and Canada are the heavy favorites to meet for the gold medal.

THE TIME WARP

There is a 14-hour difference between Pyeongchang and Patchogue. So at 10 p.m. here, it will be noon the next day in South Korea. That means that events such as alpine skiing, figure skating and snowboarding will be live in prime time every night, other than the night of the Opening Ceremony. That event will be streamed live at 6 a.m. Friday from the world feed, without announcers, then shown in a curated, TV-friendly form that night.

TICKETS COST HOW MUCH?

One of the most closely watched events at the Winter Olympics will not be on the snow or ice but rather at the box office: Just how empty will some stadiums be?

There have been numerous reports of sluggish ticket sales for the Pyeongchang Games, and recently Seoul’s municipal government said it would give up 42,000 free tickets to low-income households. Hmm.

Events such as biathlon and cross-country skiing, for which there is relatively low demand, could be particular problems.

But none of that means that demand is low on the resale market for some of the Games’ main events. As of Wednesday afternoon, StubHub was showing a low asking price of $747.82 for the Opening Ceremony and $363.67 for the Closing Ceremony.

The least expensive ticket for the men’s figure skating free skate was $459.09, and it was $687.99 for the men’s ice hockey final.

And if you want to check out Sweden against the combined North and South Korean team in women’s ice hockey? As of Wednesday, the least expensive ticket for that showdown was $717.91.

ICE TIME

The American women are not among the favorites for gold in figure skating, which could put a dent in that event’s appeal, but David Chen of the U.S. is among the top male skaters and the sport still is a centerpiece of NBC’s coverage.

That includes additional programming, such as “Olympic Ice,” a nightly, live program that will be hosted by Liam McHugh and feature Tanith White and Scott Hamilton.

The concept originated in Turin in 2006, when Mary Carillo hosted and was joined by Dick Button, Hamilton, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier for one of that Olympics’ most popular shows.

ON THE CULINARY FRONT

David Chang does not impress easily, given his status as founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, and a star in the culinary world.

But at a recent event to promote NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics, he said, “This is still very surreal for me to even speak to you (reporters) . . . To be able share this through food, talking about food and culture, I still have to pinch myself.”

Chang, who grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., is of Korean descent and will report on food and culture. He said one his goals is to expand how Americans think about Korean food.

“I think that when you talk about Korean food most people think that it’s Korean barbecue or kimchi,” he said. “The reality is there’s so much more.

“People don’t realize Korea has been heavily influenced by China, by Korea, by Japan, and you can see it in its cuisine. It’s not monolithic. It’s a hodgepodge of many different things. You have Buddhist cuisines. And it’s so rich. I think if you understand Korean food you can really understand the Korean people.”

HERE, KITTY

Meet Soohorang, the official mascot of the 2018 Winter Olympics. The white tiger has been long considered Korea’s guardian animal. The 1988 Seoul Games also featured a tiger mascot but Hodori, was of the orange variety. Mascots first appeared Mascots have been a regular feature of the Olympic Games since Waldi, the dachshund who ruled over the 1972 Munich Games.

TIRICO: HEY, THIS IS A BIG DEAL

Mike Tirico has an extensive announcing resume, including a decade at “Monday Night Football.” But he said nothing to this point matches hosting NBC’s prime time coverage of the Winter Olympics.

“Oh, this is the biggest thing; it’s not even close,” he said. “’This is the Olympic Games. Just look at (recent) news: The Olympic Games are bringing North and South Korea together in public in front of the world to walk together in the Opening Ceremony, if that ends up playing out.

“That’s the power of the Olympics. There’s nothing that comes close to that in any of the sports we cover within our country. It’s the world. So for me, it doesn’t compare to anything I’ve covered before.”

Tirico will host that Opening Ceremony, alongside Katie Couric. Not in attendance: Bob Costas, who hosted NBC’s prime time coverage from 1992 through 2016.

Tirico, 50, who grew up in Queens, said Costas has been an invaluable resource.

“It’s an amazing, unique opportunity in this business, because usually when you have these transitions they’re not smooth,” Tirico said. “This has been done with the great kindness of Bob and a true, genuine feeling of: What can I do? How can I help you?

“I’d be foolish not to ask questions of somebody who better than anybody else understands what that seat is like.”

Tirico said his new role hit home recently when he found himself watching men’s skeleton on the Olympic Channel. “I said, ‘What has happened to my life?’” he said, laughing. “But I loved it, and I was excited to watch it.”

LIVE, FROM PYEONGCHANG . . .

“Saturday Night Live” will take a break during the Olympics, but cast member Leslie Jones, will be in South Korea as a contributor, as she was for the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Jones got the previous assignment after Jim Bell, NBC Olympics’ president of production, saw a Twitter video she posted herself in an American flag, draped with fake gold medals, and cheering for Team USA.

Now she will do it again, meeting athletes and generally “spreading her enthusiasm,” as NBC said in a news release.

“Experiencing the Olympics through the lens of Leslie is unlike anything else,” Bell said.

FAMILIAR NAMES IN THE BROADCAST BOOTH

Commack’s own Bob Costas will not make the trip. Neither will hockey maven Doc Emrick. But despite the absence of such familiar NBC Olympics voices, the network will have no shortage of prominent announcers to describe the action from South Korea.

There will be 89 overall, a record for a Winter Olympics, led by first-time prime-time host Mike Tirico, who at least will keep the job in the Syracuse alumni family.

Even Katie Couric, the former longtime host of the “Today” show, is coming back, to co-host the Opening Ceremony with Tirico.

Among others who will be heard on NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA Network, Olympic Channel, the NBC Sports app and NBCOlympics.com are Olympians who have won a combined 46 medals – 14 of them gold.

Decorated jocks on the roster include Joey Cheek, Tara Lipinski, Ato Boldon, Scott Hamilton, Julia Mancuso, Bode Miller, Jonny Moseley, Apolo Ohno and Kristi Yamaguchi. Lipinski and Johnny Weir again will team up on figure skating.

Kenny Albert and Gord Miller will do men’s hockey play-by-play, with Mike Milbury as lead analyst.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is on NBC’s team as a contributor, No, there is not an Olympic event in stock car racing, yet. Even though there should have been one in Atlanta in ’96.

Rebecca Lowe will host NBC’s daytime coverage. Former Newsday sports part-timer Liam McHugh will host prime time and late night on NBCSN.

More than 20 members of NBC-owned Golf Channel will be on hand, too, including David Feherty, because, um . . . good question.

THE LI CONNECTION IN PYEONCHANG

John Daly, Skeleton

Hometown: Smithtown

High school: Smithtown

Olympian in 2010, ’14, ’18

Matt Gilroy, Hockey

Hometown: North Bellmore

High school: St. Mary’s

His first Olympics

Justin Krewson, Luge

Hometown: Eastport

High school: Eastport-South Manor

His first Olympics

Devin Logan, Slopestyle skiing, halfpipe

Hometowns: Baldwin, Oceanside

Attended high school in Vermont

She won the silver medal in slopestyle skiing at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

Matt Mortensen, Luge

Hometown: Huntington Station

High school: St. Dominic

Olympian in 2014, ’18

KEEP AN EYE ON . . .

Mikeala Shiffrin, USA, Alpine skiing

The reigning World Cup overall champion and reigning Olympic and world champion in slalom could win three golds.

Nathan Chen, USA, Figure skating

At the 2017 U.S. Championships, he became the first man to land five quadruple jumps in a single performance.

Maame Biney, USA, Speedskating

First African-American woman to qualify in short-track speedskating. At last year’s World Junior Championships she won bronze at 500 meters.

Russians hockey team

Though Russia has been banned from these Olympics, a band of Russian athletes, led by former NHL players Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, will field a team.

Joint Korean team

Athletes from North and South Korea will march together under one “unification” flag at the Opening Ceremony, and will field a joint women’s ice hockey team.

OPENING CEREMONIES

Friday, Feb. 9

Ch. 4, 8 p.m.

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