Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thoughts on the return of the NHL to Manitoba

by Bob Herpen
The Phanatic Magazine

It's 61 degrees, windy and drizzly right now in Winnipeg. Hardly Summer-like weather for a region known for its extremes.

But when the National Hockey League's capricious Wheel of Morality turned, turned, turned in the Manitoba capital's favor on Tuesday morning, it must have been a shock to see the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine come blazing down from the heavens, thanks to the hockey gods.

The NHL is back in a Canadian city for the first time in 15 years.

Atlanta, now a two-time loser, sees its Thrashers depart for greener and flatter pastures.

Black is white, night is day, teaching is dead. An American team in a regional, populated hub has been uprooted in favor of a smaller but infinitely more passionate regional and hub in a country with one-tenth the population.

In Atlanta, there's barely a ripple of protest. If you've looked at the comment sections of the Journal Constitution over the past month, you get the usual assortment of milquetoast casual fans who wish the departed team well with thanks for time served, wedged in between the mulletheads who believe it is a vast conspiracy among the major market teams.

In simple terms, it's the economy, stupid. That's the reason the Jets left in 1996, and why the Thrashers will take flight in 2011. A suitable owner in either city, to keep the franchise in that city, could not be found and another owner in another town provided what the NHL needed.

It also doesn't hurt that the Canadian dollar is the strongest it's been in decades. Recently worth more than American greenbacks, the Loonie is still close to a 1-to-1 rate, that brilliant balance, which makes international business proceed in the best of all possible worlds.

That, and the fact that tepid interest in Georgia's capital stood in stark contrast to the avalanche of support in the biggest city of the Canadian Plains.

When word leaked out that Atlanta's latest NHL entry was about to be hijacked to the Great White North, upwards of 200 people turned out.

In the Spring of 1995, when the Jets were about to be sold to a group in Minneapolis, 30,000 fans rallied to the cause in downtown Winnipeg. They ponied up the money to keep a season-ticket base of well over 10,000. Government and civic leaders joined the fight, one group willing to take up the mantle of saviors and purchase the club while building a brand-new arena. The Jets stayed -- but only for one more year -- before heading down to Phoenix.

Just today, at the iconic corner of Portage and Main, hundreds converged, decked out in old-school Jets paraphernalia at the big news. Rumor had it that mayor Sam Katz led fans in a conga line.

There is no name. There is no face, no uniforms. But there is hope and enthusiasm the likes of which most NHL-eligible cities in the United States can't possibly understand.

For fans of the Thrashers who invested time, money and loyalty, I can only say I'm sorry. Your fathers and grandfathers got over the loss of the Flames in 1980 if they cared at all, and that pretty much says it all about hockey's pull in the Deep South.

For fans of the Jets, who patiently waited for the NHL to return, I can only say that your loyalty and blind faith was rewarded. Many, many strange events had to occur for the stars to align properly, and you get your second shot to show the world why you deserve to get a team back. Don't blow it by being conceited or showing up as empty seats if the team sucks.

The Prospects

According to the Free Press, a non-league-mandated minimum of 13,000 season tickets have to be sold in order for things to get off the ground at the MTS Centre, which holds 15,015 spectators.
Winnipeg is inheriting one of the dozen or so mediocre clubs in today's 30-team NHL, but it is not one without players who show promise.

Dustin Byfuglien and captain Andrew Ladd are Stanley Cup winners. Evander Kane continues to grow into his young body and game-by-game, is finding his niche in the big time. Nik Antropov, Bryan Little, Rob Schremp, Blake Wheeler and Jim Slater are all solid if unspectacular players.

Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec are a serviceable duo in net. They're bound to be busy, because the Thrashers have sacrificed defensive posture for an up-tempo offensive mindset since their early days.

It's a far cry from what the league did to the Jets when they came over from the WHA in 1979.

Back then, rules stipulated that the four incoming clubs could only protect three players and leave the rest in a dispersal draft. That pretty much gutted the last Avco Cup champions, who suffered through the worst winless streak in NHL history at 30 games in 1980-81 before the fruits of that failure -- Number One pick Dale Hawerchuk -- helped to rebuild the franchise.

In addition, with the exception of the Washington Capitals, the Southeast Division is still up for grabs.

Atlanta used a kick of veteran talent to win the division in 2007, and has largely remained competitive as the Caps, Bolts and Hurricanes work up and down the ladder to gain supremacy. Who knows how the 2011-12 team will react to nightly sold-out crowds?

It again will be a far cry from the Jets' sojourn a generation ago. First placed in the Norris Division, Winnipeg had to contend with ascending clubs Minnesota and Chicago. Then, after taking up residence in the Smythe Division, the red white and blue were third-class citizens behind the mighty Oilers (five Stanley Cups) and Flames (one Cup), and later took a back seat to the Vancouver Canucks in the early 1990s.

In 1986, when you asked who was the second-best center in the NHL behind Wayne Gretzky, how many fans could come up with Hawerchuk as the answer?

Twenty-five years later, when you ask who is the best offensively-oriented defenseman in the division after Washington's Mike Green, it's not going to cause the gray matter much strain to guess Byfuglien.

The History

Winnipeg is not a city accustomed to NHL success. In the Jets' 17-year-stay, they won exactly two playoff series -- both over the Calgary Flames -- in 1985 and 1987. Both times Hawerchuk was injured and both years they were blitzed out of the postseason by Edmonton in the second round.

The Jets only recorded above .500 seasons in 1984-85, 1986-87, 1989-90, 1991-92 and 1992-93.

Shane Doan is the last active player in the league who suited up for the franchise's last days in Winnipeg. Teemu Selanne, who played for the Jets from 1992-96, is still currently active with Anaheim. Mark Recchi, Paul Kariya and Nikolai Khabibulin are also current NHLers who played in 1996 before the Jets left.

Among the notable players to pass through Manitoba are Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen (father of the Blues' Alex Steen), Ducks broadcaster and former goaltender Brian Hayward, current Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle, U.S. Hall of Fame defenseman Phil Housley, Keith Tkachuk, Tie Domi, Dave Manson, NBC/VS analyst Ed Olczyk, current Canucks assistant Dave Babych and ESPN NHL analyst Barry Melrose.

The Specs

While the Coyotes franchise and the NHL own the intellectual rights to the nickname and colors of the old Jets, there's nothing that can't be fixed by throwing a little bit of money around. After all, that's how the sausage is made in relocation deals.

In the entire history of the league, only the Flames retained their full name and color scheme when moving from one city to another.

Speculation from TSN of Canada and other quarters puts the nickname at anything from Thrashers to the Manitoba Gold, to the Falcons and back to the Jets again. The league will have to weigh the prospects of franchise continuity against a powerful brand that has a special hold in the entire Jets-cheering region.

Whatever the new Winnipeg club is called, the finances on the ground will be a key factor in long-term viability.

The Free Press reported that individual tickets will range from $39 and $129 with season-ticket packages spreading out from a total of $1,755 to $5,805 per 45-game season.

With a seating capacity already the lowest in the NHL, it may behoove MTS to keep the actual number of seats low, while expanding the boxes and luxury suites. That plan stands a good chance of keeping both season-ticket interest and corporate sponsorship opportunities at a maximum.

The Upcoming Season

Barring any last-minute shenanigans, or the disapproval from the NHL's Board of Governors, Winnipeg will play in the Southeast Division for just the 2011-12 season.

It's no weirder than when the Whalers moved to Carolina in 1997 and played in the Northeast, or when the Flames moved to Calgary in 1980 and still played in the Patrick Division. Or when the NHL saw fit to stick Montreal and Los Angeles in the Norris Division for seven years.

The travel involved on a temporary basis will most likely have an adverse effect on the uprooted franchise. Winnipeg is 1,564 miles from Washington, DC; 1,728 miles from Raleigh, NC; just over 2,000 miles from Tampa and well over 2,200 to Sunrise, FL.

That means realignment is badly needed, to get Winnipeg back into the Western Conference where it belongs.

A most-likely scenario involves moving Dallas back where they should be in the Central, pushing Nashville into the Southeast, sending Vancouver into the Pacific and having Winnipeg take Vancouver's spot in the Northwest.

But with the NHL's pipe dream of expanding the playoffs, a return to a four-division system may be right around the corner. 

NHL coming back to Winnipeg

Courtesy of the Sports Network

Winnipeg is again getting an NHL team as the Atlanta Thrashers are on their way to Manitoba for the 2011-12 season.

True North Sports and Entertainment held a press conference on Tuesday to announce that the Thrashers, who began play in Atlanta in 1999, are heading to the city that hosted the Jets until their departure to Phoenix in 1996.

"I would like to welcome the NHL back to Winnipeg," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who got a round of applause after the announcement. "As is obvious by the fact that we are here today, True North reached an agreement to bring the Atlanta franchise back to this city."

The deal is still not official yet as it still needs approval from the NHL's Board of Governors, which is scheduled to meet on June 21 in New York.

"This transaction is still contingent upon the approval of the NHL's Board of Governors," said Bettman. "We don't like to move franchises, but sometimes we have no choice. We are not happy about leaving Atlanta, but it was never about whether Winnipeg was better than Atlanta."

True North Sports and Entertainment owns and operates the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and the MTS Centre, which is expected to house the NHL team.

"This venue will be a fine home for the NHL club," said Bettman. "And we get to be back in a place we wish we never had to leave in 1996."

The Manitoba Moose are the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, who will open up the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday against the Boston Bruins.

It is not yet known if the Moose will remain the Canucks' minor league team, or if the AHL will restructure in light of the new situation.

"Our Manitoba Moose have been the benchmark in the AHL since they came into the league," said True North president Jim Ludlow. "They have helped us establish a confident base to move forward. We knew if we saw the right opportunity we would take the next logical step and we are thrilled with our purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers."

Winnipeg was previously home to the Jets, who began life in the World Hockey Association in 1972 before joining the NHL in 1979. The franchise moved to Phoenix for the 1996-97 season and has not hosted an NHL regular-season game since.

"We are just thrilled to have the NHL back in Winnipeg," said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger. "True North and Jim Ludlow have shown perseverance in getting a team back here and this team is a symbol of the faith we have in this province. The NHL is going to be here and it's going to be here for good."

This is the second time an expansion team has failed in Atlanta. The city first hosted the Flames from 1972 until their departure to Calgary in 1980. The Thrashers made the playoffs just once during 11 seasons in Atlanta, suffering a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Rangers in 2007.

During their time in the city, the team posted a mark of 342-437-123 along with winning the Southeast Division in the 2006-07 season.

"Our objective was always to find a solution to keep the team in Atlanta, and we spent a considerable amount of time, effort and resources trying to do so," said Atlanta co-owner Bruce Levenson. "This is not the outcome we wanted and it's extremely disappointing that a buyer or significant investor did not come forward that would enable us to keep the team in Atlanta."

Earlier this month, Thrashers ownership began serious negotiations with the Winnipeg group and the Winnipeg Free Press reported that the league was working on two separate schedule drafts for next season -- one with Atlanta and one with Winnipeg.

On the NBA: Terry's ink tells a story

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - Once upon a time tattoos used to be cool, an anti-social activity in the 1960s that grew to be a trendy fashion statement by the '90s.

A taboo confined to sailors and Samoans, these days tattoos are routinely seen on everything from rock stars to movie stars but NBA players take the cake. To quote Liz Lemon on NBC's brilliant comedy 30 Rock: "The tattoo situation in the NBA is out of control."

Whether it's Chris "Birdman" Andersen's garish "Free Bird" neck tat, Jason Williams' humorous "Whiteboy" knuckle ink or Brad Miller's "Scrappy Doo" mistake, tattoos are a bigger part of The Association than Blake Griffin posterizations and Ray Allen threes.

One of the most compelling storylines to watch in these NBA Finals will be if DeShawn Stevenson, a solid perimeter defender, can at least slow down LeBron James a bit. Perhaps that is unlikely but his "Abraham Lincoln Five-Dollar Bill" neck ink can certainly rival The King's "Chosen 1" back tat in the buyer's remorse category.

Of all the tattoos you will be seeing at the NBA Finals, one seems apropos, however.

Mavericks guard Jason Terry got a tattoo of the NBA championship trophy on his right biceps before the start of the 2010-11 season.

"It symbolized the fact we had a realistic shot of getting there," Terry told the Dallas Morning News. "If I didn't think we had a chance, I definitely wouldn't have put that on there."

It also helps fuel "The Jet," the NBA's 2009 Sixth Man of the Year and the Mavs' second best scoring option behind superstar Dirk Nowitzki.

"For me, it's something I have to sleep with, something I wake up with."

Conventional wisdom says you need two superstars to win in the NBA these days. Miami brings three to the dance in James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh while Dirk is the only certified All-Star in Dallas these days.

Terry, however, headlines a veteran supporting cast long on leadership and former All-Stars, including 38-year-old point guard Jason Kidd, former Phoenix star Shawn Marion and sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic.

"For us, right now, the journey we're on, the mission we're on, it doesn't feel like anything more than what it is," Terry said on Monday. "I think it's important we continue to keep that mind frame and come out really focused in on Game 1. It's a very important game for us."

Terry also isn't concerned that Miami has some-court advantage in the set.

"We love being on the road," the Mavs' sixth man said. "To be able to start on the road in a situation of this magnitude, it's very fine for us. We have a veteran group here. Going in on the road, it's not new to us. We love the atmosphere, the environment."

The steady hand of Kidd, a 10-time All-Star that has been on this stage before with New Jersey, seems to give Terry and the rest of his teammates confidence to handle the energy of enemy buildings

"I think it comes from your veteran leadership," Terry said of his team's confidence. "Guys realizing that the opportunity is now, guys realizing that this opportunity doesn't come very often. The team we put together this season has been a special group. We felt that from day one."

Perhaps Terry felt it even before day one when he decided to use Stevenson's personal tattoo artist to put the Larry O'Brien Trophy on his arm, something he has vowed to remove if he and the Mavericks fail to reach their ultimate goal

"I definitely know it's going to hurt worse if I have to take this thing off," Terry said. "[But] it means it was bad luck [if the Mavs lose}. I'm very superstitious."

Superstitious enough to leave the trophy open so he could fill in the date of Dallas' first championship.

Union's Mapp named MLS Player of the Week

Veteran Philadelphia Union midfielder Justin Mapp was voted MLS Player of the Week by the North American Soccer Reporters (NASR) for his two-goal performance that helped the Union to a 6-2 win at Toronto in Week 11.

“It’s an absolute honor to accept this award and I’m very pleased about it,” said Mapp.  “However, the biggest accomplishment this weekend was for the team.  It was very important for us to have gotten the three points on the road and to have scored all those goals.  It was a key win for the team, and even though I’m pleased about the award, I’m just proud of the team’s performance this weekend.”

Entering the game having scored just eight goals in 10 games, the Union’s offense exploded at BMO Field. After Gabriel Farfan opened the scoring in the second minute, Mapp intercepted a pass about 35 yards out and headed straight at the center of Toronto’s defense. Mapp used Kyle Nakazawa’s wall pass to clear space for a low, left-footed drive from just outside the penalty arc that beat goalkeeper Stefan Frei inside the right post in the 11th minute.

Up 3-0 at halftime, Philadelphia looked in full control of the match, but Toronto tallied the next two goals. Mapp then struck again on a similar play, from a similar distance, to his first goal. After stealing a Toronto pass on the right flank, the midfielder dribbled to the top of the box, cut to his left and blasted a shot into far side netting. The goal – just three minutes after Toronto had closed within one – was nominated for AT&T Goal of the Week and proved pivotal as the Union piled on two more to seal their second road win of the season. Philadelphia remain atop the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of their chief rival, the New York Red Bulls.


Week 11: Justin Mapp (Philadelphia Union)
Week 10: Jeff Parke (Seattle Sounders FC)
Week 9: Justin Braun (Chivas USA)
Week 8: Joao Plata (Toronto FC)
Week 7: Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo)
Week 6: Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)
Week 5: Luke Rodgers (New York Red Bulls)
Week 4: David Ferreira (FC Dallas)
Week 3: Camilo (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Week 2: Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake)
Week 1: Omar Bravo (Sporting Kansas City)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Union explode in Toronto

The Philadelphia Union (6-3-2) were struggling offensively in 2011, but a week after scoring multiple goals for the first time all season, they broke out in a big way on Saturday at BMO Field, toppling Toronto FC (2-5-6) by a score of 6-2.

First half goals from Gabriel Farfan, Justin Mapp and Kyle Nakazawa gave the Union a comfortable cushion, but Maicon Santos struck back with two tallies early in the second half to put the pressure on Philadelphia.

The Union then scored another three goals to round out the rout, a second from Mapp and two from Danny Mwanga.

The six tallies were double the club’s previous franchise record for goals in a match, launching the Union from tied for 17th in MLS to tie for fourth in total goals scored this season.

Philadelphia’s first goal came in the second minute. Farfan gathered a cross from the left touchline sent in by Jordan Harvey, took a touch and directed a right-footed shot into the bottom left corner for his first career goal.

Nine minutes later, Mapp sliced through the midfield and made it 2-0 with a left-footed shot from outside the box into the bottom right corner.

Nakazawa added his first career goal in the 44th minute, striking a right-footed shot from the center of the box into the bottom left corner.

Toronto came out looking like a different side in the second half. Maicon Santos netted a brace of his own with goals in the 50th and 59th minute, pulling TFC to within a goal and taking all of the match’s momentum. 

But after Faryd Mondragon limited the damage with a couple terrific saves, Mapp’s second goal ended Toronto’s comeback in a hurry. After collecting a poor clearance from TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei, Mapp struck from distance into the upper left corner to put the Union up 4-2 in the 62nd minute.

Mwanga put the game out of reach in the 72nd minute when he redirected Sebastien Le Toux’s corner into the top of the net, and the second-year striker added another goal in the 89th minute, the first multi-goal output of his career. The tally was the 2010 number one overall pick’s 10th career strike.

The Union, now sitting all alone atop the Eastern Conference, will head to Colorado for another road match on Saturday, June 4, following a mid-week friendly against affiliate club Reading United AC.

Scoring Summary: 

PHI -- Gabriel Farfan 1 (Jordan Harvey 1) 3 
PHI -- Justin Mapp 1 (Kyle Nakazawa 2) 11 
PHI -- Kyle Nakazawa 1 (Danny Mwanga 2, Sebastien Le Toux 2) 45
TOR -- Maicon Santos 4 (Danleigh Borman 1) 51 
TOR -- Maicon Santos 5 (Danleigh Borman 2) 59 
PHI -- Justin Mapp 2 (unassisted) 61 
PHI -- Danny Mwanga 2 (Sebastien Le Toux 3) 71 
PHI -- Danny Mwanga 3 (unassisted) 89 

Philadelphia Union -- Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Jordan Harvey, Gabriel Farfan, Kyle Nakazawa (Keon Daniel 63), Brian Carroll, Justin Mapp, Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga.

Substitutes Not Used: Chris Agorsor, Juan Diego Gonzalez, Jack McInerney, Carlos Ruiz, Roger Torres, Zac MacMath.


Toronto FC -- Stefan Frei, Richard Eckersley, Dicoy Williams, Ty Harden (Alen Stevanovic 74), Dan Gargan (Danleigh Borman 46), Tony Tchani, Julian de Guzman (Javier Martina 46), Mikael Yourassowsky, Nick Soolsma, Maicon Santos, Joao Plata.

Substitutes Not Used: Nana Attakora, Adrian Cann, Nathan Sturgis, Milos Kocic. 


Misconduct Summary: 

PHI -- Jordan Harvey (caution; Reckless Tackle) 39 

Referee: Niko Bratsis 
Referee's Assistants: -Claudio Badea; Jason Cullum 
4th Official: Ricardo Salazar 
Time of Game: 1:48 
Weather: Flurries-and-54-degrees 

Attendance: 20,122

Friday, May 27, 2011

NBA Finals Preview - Miami vs. Dallas

By John McMullen

Miami Heat:            2nd Seed, East (58-24)
Dallas Mavericks:      3rd Seed, West (57-25)

Five years  after  Miami  won  its  first and  only  NBA championship  over  the Dallas Mavericks, the  two teams are set to meet again for the league's biggest prize starting Tuesday in south Florida.

The  Heat won the  championship back in 2006, roaring back from an 0-2 deficit
to win four straight, becoming just the third team to win a title after losing
the first two games in the NBA Finals.

That series marked both Dallas' and Miami's first appearance in the finals and
was  the coming  out party  for Heat  guard Dwyane  Wade, who  was named  Most
Valuable Player of the set.

Pat  Riley has moved from the bench in 2006 to the front office in South Beach
and  was the architect of one of the most successful offseasons in NBA history
coming  into  the  2010-11  season.  In addition  to  re-signing  Wade,  Riley
completed  trades  for perennial All-Stars  LeBron James and Chris Bosh, while
successfully  re-signing Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony and inking a number of
solid role players.

The  Heat  amassed  58 wins  and  garnered  the  second  seed in  the  Eastern
Conference before slicing through Philadelphia, Boston and top-seeded Chicago,
all in five games.

James  and Wade  rallied the Heat from  a late deficit on Thursday and carried
Miami  into the  NBA Finals with an 83-80  victory over the Bulls in Game 5 of
the East finals.

Trailing by 12 with a little over three minutes to play, Wade and James shared
the  load  during a game-altering 16-2  run, which included James putting in a
go-ahead jumper with 29.5 seconds remaining.

"We  honestly don't know  what happened. It went so fast," James said. "I want
to go back and watch the last four minutes."

The  dramatic come-from-behind win sets up a rematch of the '06 Finals, as the
Mavericks wrapped up the Western Conference on Wednesday.

"This  was  emblematic of everything we've  been through this year," Heat head
coach  Erik Spoelstra said. "We had to go through the fire again. The majority
of  the game was not going our way, but we've built up a lot of resiliency and
we made enough plays down the stretch."

A  game  after rallying  from 15  points down  with under  five minutes to go,
Dallas  rallied  from an  eight-point,  fourth-quarter  hole on  Wednesday  to
capture the West crown with a 100-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in
Game 5.

Dirk  Nowitzki  drained the go-ahead three  with just over one minute to play,
part  of  a 26-point, nine-rebound  night. Shawn  Marion also scored 26 points
with eight rebounds and J.J. Barea donated 14 points for Dallas.

"Our  goal now is to win four more games no matter who we play in the Finals,"
Mavs  guard  Jason Terry  said. "This time  around it's even  going to be more
special.  We're going to  leave it all out there on the floor and this is what
you play for."

Dallas,  which also  disposed of  Portland  and swept  the two-time  defending
champion  Lakers in  this year's  postseason, comes  into this  series with  a
more  defensive-minded club that the '06 team, a better coach in Rick Carlisle
and  a  matured Nowitzki, who  has a better understanding  of how to trust his
teammates in big situations.

The  Mavs  swept the home-and-home season  series with the Heat in the regular
season.  In fact, after their slow start Miami went on a 22-2 run with both of
those  losses to Dallas. The teams only previous meeting in the postseason was
the '06 Finals.


POINT  GUARD: Dallas  sports a ton of experience at quarterback in 38-year-old
Jason  Kidd,  a future  Hall of  Famer who owns  107 career triple-doubles and
moved  into third place on the all-time steals list this season behind Michael
Jordan  and John Stockton. Kidd is a 16-year veteran who thinks pass first and
excels  in  finding scorers  in the  spots they like.  He is, however, lacking
quickness  at this  stage, although his hands  at the defensive end may be the
best in the game.

"He's  one  of our superstars.  It's as simple  as that," Carlisle said. "When
he's  on the court, it elevates our overall confidence, and then he impacts so
many  areas.  You're talking  about a guy  that's one of  the greatest ever to

Miami has its own veteran in Mike Bibby, a playoff tested guy on his last legs
as  a player.  A  defensive  cardboard cutout  these  days,  Bibby does  still
provide  a  steady  hand  with  the  ball  and  can  hit  a  standstill  three
occasionally  but he is very limited and isn't on the floor when things count.
Spoelstra  has  been using  James and Wade  as the ball  handlers in late game


SHOOTING  GUARD:  Wade, the  NBA  Finals  MVP in  2006  and  a former  scoring
champion,  remains  an athletic marvel and  one of the league's best finishers
around  the  rim. He  can  also  handle  the  playmaking role,  something  his
transition   and   penetration  skills   are  tailor-made  for.  He  struggled
offensively in the Chicago series with a balky left shoulder but the Heat have
insisted  that the injury is not an issue. Wade shot just 40.5 percent against
the  Bulls  and seemed to defer  at times, but did  hit three key shots in the
final minutes of the clincher.

"There's  nothing  significant, other  than the normal  bumps and bruises from
this  really  combative series,"  Spoelstra  said  when talking  about  Wade's

For  Dallas, DeShawn Stevenson is a defensive-minded player with good size and
strength.  The  skill level is  just not  there offensively for major minutes,


CENTER:  Tyson Chandler has proven he can stay healthy in Dallas and is a big-
time  defensive presence who can alter shots, protect the rim and dominate the
boards  when motivated. In the regular season, the Heat shot 66 percent within
three-feet of the bucket. Against Chandler and the Mavs that plummeted to just
52 percent.

Throughout  the  playoffs the Heat  have played  much better when Joel Anthony
has  manned the pivot. Anthony, a defensive-minded, under-sized center that is
very  long  and a natural  shot-blocker relies on  length and energy to create


SMALL  FORWARD:  James has  reestablished his  spot as the  best player in the
game  during  these playoffs.  An unbelievable  athlete with freakish strength
and size, when the  jumper is falling he is virtually unstoppable offensively.
James  has also matured after a disastrous, selfish and narcissistic final few
months  in Cleveland. His "Decision" to publicly spurn the Cavs on ESPN turned
off the entire country and morphed him into the games' biggest villain.

While  most will swoon over his monster shots in tight situations, James' true
progression  in  these playoffs  came  on  the other  end  of  the floor.  His
willingness  to  check Derrick Rose  down the  stretch is something that never
happened  in Cleveland.  LeBron, who  is averaging  26.0 points  per game  and
pulling  down  8.9 rebounds per  game during the  playoffs, has always had the
lateral  movement  and length to  guard any perimeter  player in the NBA. With
a  championship  in sight,  he finally  took the  plunge and became everything
people thought he could be.

Shawn  Marion  is a tireless  defender and solid, albeit unorthodox, offensive
player but faces a tall task here. Marion averaged more than 10 points and six
rebounds  in his  second full  season with  Dallas and  upped that  a bit  the

"Shawn  is a  guy that has had  such an underrated career," Carlisle said. "If
you  look at his stats for his career, you know, he's top five in almost every
Phoenix Suns category. He's been a franchise type player for a lot of years.

"Our team was built differently than the run and gun Suns and he really had to
reinvent  his game to some degree to figure out the way he was going to fit in
with  us. I give  him a lot of credit. He's proven right now to everybody that
he's about one thing, and that's winning."


POWER  FORWARD: Never  a  top-tier on-ball  defender,  Nowitzki has  developed
into  a solid  help  defender and  is much  tougher  these days.  Offensively,
Nowitzki  has unquestionably  been  the  best player  in  this postseason  and
swiped   the  mantle  of  best  closer  from  Kobe  Bryant.  He  is  averaging
28.4  points per game on 51.7 percent shooting, snaring 7.5 boards and made an
amazing 59-of-61 free throws against OKC.

His  rainbow  fadeaway is unstoppable  at times  and made Charles Barkley gush
"Nobody  can guard  that guy."  Carlisle  recently called  him one  of the  10
greatest players ever.

Bosh  is one  of the best offensive  power forwards in the game after Nowitzki
and  a plus  rebounder. He can, however, wilt against nasty players that crave
contact  but that  doesn't exactly describe Dirk  . All in all, Bosh is by far
the  best third-option  in basketball but will have a very tough time handling


BENCH: The Heat have morphed their bench from series to series but with Udonis
Haslem  and Mike Miller playing well again after injuries, things are far more
predictable now. Those two along with point guard Mario Chalmers get the major
minutes for Spoelstra

Haslem, a a good rebounder  with a  solid mid-range jumper, missed most of the
season  after tearing a tendon in his left foot in November. He's back now and
brings a certain toughness and energy to the Heat that was missing.

The  sharp-shooting Miller  has struggled with injuries to both his thumbs but
showed  signs  against Chicago,  especially in  Game 4. When  Miller is on the
weakside  and hitting  threes, it  helps open  the floor  for the  Heat's "Big

Chalmers,  meanwhile,  offers  speed  and quickness  but  is  an  inconsistent
player  and streaky  shooter that  will turn  it over  and take  bad shots  on

James  Jones and Eddie House can also stretch the floor for Spoelstra at times
while  Juwan  Howard,  Zydrunas  Ilgauskas and  Jamaal  Magloire  can  provide
situational minutes  up front.

"Our bench is very important," Wade said. "It won't show up in the statistics.
What  those guys do for us ... is the reason that we are who we are and in the
position we are."

Jason  Terry, who is  netting 17.3 ppg in the playoffs, is Dallas' top scoring
option  after  Nowitzki and  can really  take over  a game  when the jumper is
falling.  "The Jet"  also gives  the Mavs  a second  big-time closer  in tight

J.J. Barea is a solid backup point guard that excels as a penetrater and kick-
out  guy,  while Peja Stojakovic's  run as a big-time  scorer is over but he's
still  a  very good pure  shooter that can station  himself on the weakside to
take advantage of any double teams Nowitzki might see.

Brendan  Haywood  also gives Carlisle a  third big body and impressive length.
Meanwhile,  depending on the game Carlisle could use Corey Brewer, likely as a
defensive option to throw at James or Wade.


COACHING:  Carlisle has a solid offensive and defensive pedigree and is one of
the  more underrated coaches  in the game. He has morphed the Mavs from a run-
and-gun  team that had  to outscore you to win into a more well-balanced bunch
that  can the job  done in a number of different ways. He also gets along with
volatile Mavs owner Mark Cuban.

"Dirk  I know  is excited. Look, this  is what our season has been about. It's
been  about advancing and getting an opportunity for a title, because it's the
one  thing that  he and Jason haven't  done, and Jason Terry and Shawn Marion,
and  Stojakovic," Carlisle said. "We've got some guys with some very decorated
careers  here  that have  taken on different  types of roles  on a team that's
building  a strength  in numbers  type team.  It's exciting,  but my  sense is
we're very grounded."

Spoelstra,  a Riley  disciple, first  joined the  Heat in  1995 as  the team's
video  coordinator  and  moved  up  from there.  He  helped  the  team  bounce
back   from  an  ugly   15-67  mark   in  2007-08  and,  like  Riley, preaches
defense and conditioning.

"We  had a team of nine new players. A lot of new components." Spoelstra said.
"We're  trying  to build a  team philosophy, build  up a defensive system. And
then  work  on building a half  court system where guys feel comfortable, even
though they have slightly different roles."


PREDICTION:  Dirk  and Dallas bested Oklahoma  City in five games while LeBron
and  his Heat did the same to Chicago. The series were almost mirror images as
both  the Thunder  and Bulls  would play  well at  times but  falter down  the
stretch as Nowitzki and James would take over.

So who executes better in this series?

The  Mavs will need  to exploit the point guard play of Bibby and Chalmers and
take  advantage of  Miami's lack of size  inside. The Heat will have to figure
out  a way to  deal with Dallas' length and understand, no matter how good the
defense is, Dirk is getting off his shot in late-game situations.

"I  think the Mavs  have a really good chance and I think they're going to win
the  [Finals] series,"  Barkley said. "Dirk Nowitzki is in the moment and they
are  in the Finals. I like this Mavs team. The stuff that the Heat did against
the  Bulls  won't work [against the  Mavericks]. They are going to score. They
aren't offensively-challenged like the Bulls are."

Conventional  wisdom, however,  says you need two superstars to win in the NBA
these says and James' "Robin" happens to be Wade while Nowitzki is left having
to  carry almost all the water for Dallas down the stretch of close games much
like Derrick Rose in Chicago.

Nowitzki  is certainly better-equipped to handle what's being asked of him and
does  have  better weakside options  but expecting  him to climb this mountain
might be a little too much to ask for.

"Defense  and staying  together,"  James  said of  the  Heat's fourth  quarter
success  in the  postseason. "We've been in these situations before when we've
been down late in the fourth [quarter] and we just buckle down defensively and
execute. It's no sense of relief right now. We still have work to do."

HEAT in 6.

On the NBA: A legacy is set to be stamped

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - Pro basketball is a little different than the other major sports.

Ask old time baseball guys to talk about the greatest hitter of all-time and they will almost universally shout out Ted Williams. This despite the fact that "Teddy Ballgame" never captured a World Series championship.

Ask the Baby Boomers who the greatest player is and more often than not you will hear the name Barry Bonds, warts and all. Steroids, a surly personality and the lack of a championship are just white noise in the background.

Over in the NFL when you talk about pure passers, Dan Marino will get tabbed again and again even though the Pittsburgh native possesses none of the Lombardi Trophies that have made "The Steel City" famous.

Basketball is a bit different. It's not that observers don't recognize the greatness of players like Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Patrick Ewing but the fact that they all lack hardware disqualifies them when people start handing out the mythical titles of greatest forward, point guard or center.

Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James are already members of that club and one is about to be elevated in the coming days by finally securing the game's biggest prize.

Dirk and Dallas bested Oklahoma City in five games while LeBron and his Heat did the same to Chicago. The series were almost mirror images as both the Thunder and Bulls would play well at times but falter down the stretch as Nowitzki and James would take over.

Dirk, of course, got to the NBA Finals in 2006 and he and his Mavericks won the first two games against Miami before falling apart and losing four straight. LeBron and the Cavaliers had their chance a year later but Tim Duncan and San Antonio had other ideas, unceremoniously sweeping them.

This time around, Nowitzki awaits the Heat with a more defensive-minded club behind him, a better coach and a better understanding of how to trust his teammates in big situations.

Never a top-tier on-ball defender, the German star has developed into a solid help defender and is much tougher. Offensively, Nowitzki has unquestionably been the best player in this postseason and swiped the mantle of best closer from Kobe Bryant

James has also matured after a disastrous, selfish and narcissistic final few months in Cleveland. His "Decision" to publicly spurn the Cavs on ESPN turned off the entire country and morphed him into the games' biggest villain.

Six months since getting off to a pedestrian 9-8 start, Miami now has home- court advantage on the game's biggest stage and James' best basketball has come during the biggest moments.

While most will swoon over his monster shots in tight situations, James' true progression in these playoffs came on the other end of the floor. His willingness to check Derrick Rose down the stretch is something that never happened in Cleveland. LeBron has always had the lateral movement and length to guard any perimeter player in the NBA. With a championship in sight, he finally took the plunge and became everything people thought he could be.

The brilliant Italian philosopher Galileo once said: "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them."

The "truth" is a funny thing. You can bend it and twist it but you can't change it. Nowitzki and James were already two of the best basketball players to ever lace them up.

Unfortunately only one is about to be "discovered."

Soul hoping to avoid VooDoo

PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Soul (3-7) will be looking to start a mid-season surge by getting back in the win column at home tonight against the New Orleans VooDoo (2-8).  The intraconference match-up begins at 7:05 p.m. (EST), with coverage of the game on NiftyTV.

It will be Heroes Night at the Wells Fargo Center.  The festivities include police and firefighter vehicles being present outside, while fallen heroes and representatives from local police and fire departments receive recognition throughout the game.

The Soul want to avenge their 59-41 road loss to the Eastern Division leading Gladiators while the VooDoo are hoping to break their two-game losing streak, as both teams look to climb back into the Wild Card race.  The Soul are 1-2 at home this season while the VooDoo have won both of their games outside of New Orleans with a 2-2 road record.

“It’s good to be home after a difficult bus trip to Cleveland. We still have a good taste in our mouths from our last home victory and want to start an eight-game winning streak going into the postseason,” said Soul head coach Mike Hohensee.  “The VooDoo are a much improved team. They were an on-side kick away from having an opportunity to knock off Arizona last week.  Our players have responded well on this short week of practice and appear ready to defend our turf at the Wells Fargo Center!”

The spark for each offense is lit at the wide receiver position, with Donovan Morgan of the Soul, and PJ Berry of the VooDoo.  After ten games, Morgan ranks No. 8 in the League with 79 receptions, No. 1 with 1,270 yards, and No. 10 with 23 touchdowns.  Morgan is averaging 127 receiving yards per game, ranked No. 3, as well as 16.1 yards per catch, ranked No. 2.

Berry has been a consistent threat for the VooDoo, despite the team’s average of 40 points per game, ranked last in the League.  This season, Berry ranks No. 1 with 97 receptions, No. 7 with 1,020 yards, and has added 16 touchdowns.  The man in charge of getting him the ball is quarterback D. Bryant, who started his first game for the VooDoo last week against the Rattlers.  Bryant completed 25-of-34 passes (73.5%) for 285 yards and six touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions.

The Soul defense will have to disrupt the timing of Bryant’s passes to slow the production of Berry and the VooDoo receiving corps.  Up front, the Soul will be led by linebacker, Jerome Hayes, who has fought his way into the starting line-up over recent weeks.  Against the Gladiators, he registered his first career AFL sack and added five tackles.  In the Soul secondary, Kent Richardson has begun to immerge as an impact player, recording 11.5 of his 25 total tackles in the last two weeks.

A pair of defensive backs that share the same last name will be looking to curse the Soul offense.  Alvin and Matt Jackson have collectively recorded 90 total tackles, five tackles for a loss, and four interceptions, pass break ups and forced fumbles.  The Jacksons will need some assistance from their defensive front, which has recorded a League low six sacks.

A vast difference between the two clubs is in the kick return game.  Berry has proven to be nothing short of magic for the VooDoo, ranked No. 1 with 57 kick returns for 1,130 yards.  The Soul also have a playmaker of their own in Keith Stokes, but a safety and a lost fumble against the Gladiators proved to be two costly mistakes last week.  Stokes will have to come close to matching Berry’s production while the Soul’s coverage team must not allow him to continually give the VooDoo offense a short field.

Two areas of concern for both teams are turnovers and the lack of third down conversions.  Turnovers have played an important role in the Soul’s losses this season as they will need to improve on their -6 turnover margin, tied for No. 14 in the League.  The Soul have also been unable to sustain drives, due to their third down conversion rate of 34%, ranked second to last.  Luckily for the Soul, the VooDoo rank last in both of these categories with a -14 turnover margin and a 32.4% conversion rate.

The team that is able to take advantage of their opponent’s mistakes and remain consistent offensively will come away with a victory Friday night

-courtesy of the Philadelphia Soul

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pronger answers burning questions in Thursday presser

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers

Q: How did the surgery go and how are you feeling?

”Well, as far as I was told it went very well. It relieved a lot of the weakness I was having in my leg and now it is just a matter of how the nerve regenerates itself and the range of motion and all the rest of that stuff. How it recovers and that stuff are probably another four to five weeks before we see where that is at.”

Q: Can you tell us about the decision to have the surgery, was that an option you were given or was it pretty clear you had to have it?

“It was an option, but in order for me to try and play hockey again it was pretty cut and dry. I could have went through the whole summer rehab and you know, get another steroid injection and see if that calms the nerve down, but it was a pretty bad herniated disc. The odds of it becoming an issue again were very high. In my estimation it wasn’t really that high of a chance of not having the surgery done if I wanted to play anymore.”

Q: Was this the first time you’ve had issue with your back? I didn’t notice any other problems that you have had in your career.

“No, this is the first time I have ever really had any real problems with my back, obviously you get sore and whatever, but any serious or medical issues, no this is the first time.”

Q: Did the doctors say you were going to be back at full strength or is this going to reduce your play at all?

“Well, like anything else, especially with the back, there’s no guarantee, and that was one of the things we wanted to find out when I went and met with the doctor and what his recommendations are and what he has seen. Everybody is different and everybody recovers differently and you hope that you’re able to recover a hundred percent, but that’s never a guarantee and you never know. It’s still very early to be able to tell that. I won’t know that until probably training camp or maybe even further on, who knows.”

Q: But you do expect to start the season, right?

“I don’t know, as I said today is day fourteen post surgery, so again I’m not going to know. I go back for another check up in three to four weeks and then you know ill begin to start rehab and I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I’m not Kreskin, I can’t look into the future and tell you what’s going to happen or not happen. Time is really all you can, time and patience, which I know you guys don’t have a lot of.”

Q: You’re a big Kreskin fan, huh? A couple times you’ve mentioned it.

“Yeah, you’re on the ball sir. I like it. I may throw it out there a few more times depending on the questions you guys give me”

Q: I know you’re not a doctor but for the laymen and all… from how I understand it there’s an extrapolation up against your nerve. What did they do to repair it? Did they remove it or shave it?

“Actually, I think they cut it, trim it, whatever terminology you want to use, shave it, I’m not sure of the exact term that you can use. Basically, they removed the impingement that is pushing against the nerve root in order to alleviate, we can call it vibrations, sensations, weakness that you have in your leg and you hope that that nerve. You know the reason you want to do it as quickly as possible from what I got from my meeting with the doctor was you don’t want the nerve exposed to that too long. It just creates more and more damage and you want that nerve to be able to regenerate so that you can get as much strength back as possible.”

Q: Is it similar to the surgery Michael Leighton had?

“I have no idea.”

Q: A couple guys on your team said that even though you guys were eliminated two rounds earlier this year they actually think that you are closer to a Stanley Cup  right now then you were last year. Do you agree with that assessment?

“Yeah, I think when you look at the strides that some of our younger guys have made. You look at how Claude Giroux improved immensely this year. You Look at James van Riemsdyk from the beginning of the year and how he finished the year, he made leaps and bounds in how he played. You know, you look at things like that, as we all know a lot of what happens for teams is the health factor and how guys are. Last year we were fairly healthy, especially on the back end we were real healthy. We obviously went through a ton of goalies through  injury and up front we had a number of guys hurt, but if we can stay healthy next year I certainly feel we definitely have a chance just like we did this year and  I thought we did last year as well.”

Q: Chris, do you think that it is important for this team to get a goalie and bridge that gap for [Sergei] Bobrovsky?

“Well as we all know, it’s never easy. When I was in St. Louis, it was always we need to get a goalie, we needed to get a goalie, we needed to do this, we needed to do that. They don’t grow on trees, even the ones you get you never know. You just don’t know. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. That’s the difficult part of it. What do you have to give up to get one? What are the ramifications for your team? Again, that’s above my pay grade, I don’t know what we’re going to do, who you’re going to get, or how you are going to get them. That’s for management and ownership to decide what they’re willing to do. You could go get whoever, you name a guy, you could go get him. It’s not a guarantee that you’re going to win. Which seems to me, you guys think you go get a goalie and all of a sudden you win; it’s not that easy.”

Q: Do you think it would have been a different series if you had played against the Bruins?

“I don’t know. You know what, I’d like to think so, but I don’t know. I am not going to look into the past and say could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. We lost plain and simple. I didn’t play, I was hurt. End of story. You guys have got to cut the cord and move on. No more arm-chair quarterbacking.”

Q: How much time do you feel like you have left in your body?

“Well again, I don’t know…I felt good when I played this year. That the funny thing, every time I started to feel better and started to get my feet underneath me and get back into the grove, I had another injury. You talk about the other season, I basically missed the whole season, I played five games and I had my wrist issue where I had reconstructive surgery on my wrist. Mentally I feel like I can play. When I was healthy, my play speaks for itself. It’s a matter of staying healthy. This year was very tough, every time I turned around I had another injury. It wasn’t like it was a bump and a bruise, it was something broken that needed surgery to fix. 

That can be a little disappointing and frustrating, when you know you can still play at a high level and your play speaks to that and you’re not able to go out and play. That’s tough, especially when you feel like you can add another element to the team when you’re out there. Mentally I’ve got a lot left, it’s how my back feels. Basically, if the surgery works and I am able to train properly and get healthy, I don’t see why I can’t continue to play as long as I want, as long as everything else holds up.”

Q: Did you feel an immediate impact from that surgery? Did you feel relief right away?

“I did, yeah. I no longer had the burning sensation and the shooting pain down my leg was gone. Obviously you can’t move all that much, they don’t want you bending, twisting, doing all the rest of that stuff. You’ve got to let the back heal up. Obviously it’s a very sensitive area with nerves and all the rest of it. So, you’ve got to be very careful. You want to make sure you don’t want to rush things like this. You want to make sure you have all summer, training camp, the start of the year. I don’t know when I will be healthy, when it will be back. I hope it comes back and it’s a hundred percent, but I want to make sure I take my time and rehab it properly and do all the things necessary to make sure that it is a hundred percent when I do come back and there’s no issues moving forward after that.”

Q: How is the rehab for the back going to affect the rehab you do for your hand? Can you do one while you’re waiting to start on the other?

“I am actually doing that right now, as we speak. I’ve got different things that I do on the days when I am not doing hand therapy with a hand specialist. Just continue to try to gain strength back and work on my hand to try to get it back to where it needs to be to play the game properly. It’s the same answer basically for my back, time heals most wounds. I am sure a long summer of rehab and what not will get that back to where it needs to be play at a high level, hold my stick, and do all the rest of those things that way I need to be a good hockey player.”

Q: It requires a lot of patience doesn’t it?

“It does, it does. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of patience in order to kind of go through the different steps to reach each hurdle. As you progress in the rehab protocol, you’ve got to hit a hurdle and then you go to the next one. It takes time, you can’t just jump back in to things you want to do. While you may want to do those things, you’ve got to just buy your time and be patient and just work through the various steps that have been put in place, kind of gauge yourself. You’re going to feel good but you just got to gauge it. A lot of times you’ve got to tap down a little bit and slow yourself down; you get antsy. It was a tough year, but I want to be able to use this time to make sure I’m healthy when I come back.”

Q: Has the doctor given you a time table for when you can start skating? I think he said in about four weeks you would be doing some things, but is that skating or do you know what’s next for that part of it?

“Again, Sam, I am going to say it one last time, patience. Time, we got lots of time. I don’t know when I am going to be able to skate. I didn’t even ask, that was the last thing on my mind. There are a lot of hurdles that I need to cross before I can begin skating and all the rest of that stuff. I can’t really do anything for six weeks, not four. So, once I go and get checked up, I will be able to get the Q and A on the progressing further along and begin my rehab.”

Q: Have you been watching the NHL Playoffs? Are you finding yourself rooting for anybody in particular, maybe a former teammate, anything like that?

“I have not watched, I have watched some highlights, but I haven’t been watching too intently. I have not been rooting for anyone, just rooting for long series. I want every series to go seven.”

Q: At the end of the season, Paul [Holmgren] said he couldn’t figure out why this team didn’t play as well as it did the first half of the season. Do you have any thoughts about that at all?

“I don’t. You know, I think everybody would have liked to get better as the season progressed and those are the teams that usually progress further into the playoffs. I think we’ve seen that with the four teams that are in the conference finals. All four of those teams got better as the season went along and that’s what you need to do be successful is playing your best hockey at the right times, and we weren’t. That is something for whatever reason we didn’t do. I don’t think I have an answer for why. I know you’ve got a lot of opinions on it. I couldn’t give you the answer as to why.  There’s going to be 29 other teams in the same boat as us. So, it sucks. You set out to have a goal and you don’t achieve that goal it’s very disappointing. 

There are always arm chair quarterbacks, there’s always people looking in, looking for excuses or answers as to why this happened, that happened. At the end of the day, we didn’t get the job done. We’ve got to use the summer properly and make sure we are ready to go for September, whatever the start of camp is 15th or 16th, make sure once we set foot on the ice, we’re focused and understand what we need to do to be successful and follow through on that.”

Q: Coming off that, a lot of fingers were pointed at Mike Richards, I am sure you have heard some of the things that were said about him…

“I have not. I have not. I have a simple answer for you. 

When a team wins, players get pats on the back or get all the credit. That’s usually your captain, your goalie, all the rest of that. When you lose, whether it’s fair or unfair, the people that get criticized are your captain, and your goalie, and all the way down the line. This is a team sport and for you to be successful you need everyone around you to play well. Whether it’s [Michael Richards], [Jeff Carter], myself, [Kimmo Timonen], [Brian Boucher], [Sergei Bobrovsky]; I mean it’s not just one guy. People can say whatever they want about Richie, but at the end of the day you have to realize it’s a team sport. Actually I did see one, is Sam Donnellon on the call? He’s not? I saw one headline ‘should Mike Richards step away for a year from the C.’ What good does that do? That is the most ridiculous thought I have heard yet. 

This is on the job training for Mike. I was brought in to help him be a captain and do all the rest of that and kind of help with my experiences. I think I got here, he was 24, he’s now 26. I think he’s made some strides. Everybody does things their own way. I wasn’t always this vocal with the media or this patient. It takes time, you have to have those experiences. I think when you go through tough times, maybe this is one of them for him, you learn an awful lot about yourself, you gain a lot of experience. This game and life is not easy.  Nothing in life worthwhile is easy.  If it was, everyone would be able to do it. You learn how to handle different situations and it only makes you better as a player and a person, because you can always look back on those tough times and [know] I was able to come through those with my head held high and better. So will Mike. I went through them as a young captain; I went through them as a player. Getting booed, getting mouthed off walking out of the rink and wanting to fight guys after games and all the rest of it. It’s not easy, especially on a team when the expectations are this high and the fans are this passionate. 

The media, you guys are bickering with one another trying to get the scoops. It’s not easy. I think as his career progresses, he is going to understand more and more what the media’s job is, and just to give you guys a little, just a little bit, just a little taste. Which is what I do, just give you a little taste. You don’t have to give it all, just enough so you guys can do your job and leave him alone. That’s all experience. I think it’s a little ridiculous to be blaming one person.  We win as a team and lose as a team – period, end of story.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Flyers to play another preseason game in Ontario

The Philadelphia Flyers will play their annual preseason game at their “home away from home” against the Detroit Red Wings at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario, on Thursday, September 22 at 7 p.m.

It will be the eighth straight season the Orange and Black have headed to one of Ontario's minor-league bellwether towns to play an exhibition contest. London has long been home to the Knights, who play in the Ontario Hockey League, one of Canada's major junior leagues.

"London truly is our home away from home. The fan support here in London for the Flyers is outstanding," said Comcast president and chief operating officer Peter Luukko in a statement that accompanied the announcement.

"The John Labatt Centre is a fantastic hockey arena that our players enjoy visiting. To be playing the Detroit Red Wings here in London is a dream match-up for hockey fans in Southwestern Ontario and Eastern Michigan. It’s going to be a terrific night of hockey in the City of London."

On the NBA: Every Rose has its thorn

By John McMullen

PHILADELPHIA - Talk to professional basketball scouts about Derrick Rose's game and the one criticism that often comes up is his lateral movement on defense.

Which is ironic since Rose just backpedaled with the deftness and dexterity of the best shutdown corner in the NFL.

It wasn't Charles Barkley claiming he was misquoted in his own autobiography but the reigning NBA MVP was reaching to explain his comments to ESPN The Magazine, where he claimed that the league has a steroid problem.

Rose said that the NBA has a "huge" problem and needs "a level playing field" in the magazine's May 16 issue.

Or did he?

Before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night in Miami, Rose issued a statement through the team saying he does not even recall being asked about the topic and said that if he was asked about performance-enhancing drug use, he "clearly misunderstood" the question.

"Regarding the quote attributed to me in ESPN The Magazine, I do not recall making the statement nor do I recall the question being asked," Rose said in the statement. "If that was my response to any question, I clearly misunderstood what was asked of me. But, let me be clear, I do not believe there is a performance enhancing drug problem in the NBA."

If this was the mafia, you might assume somebody got to Rose and forced him to distance himself from a controversy that shouldn't be all that controversial.

The NBA has largely gotten a free pass on the "steroids" issue. Memphis' O.J. Mayo was the last big name player to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs back in January and just the eighth since the league began testing in 1999.

Most assume the NBA is relatively clean and the league's waltz through the issue stems from lack of education.

After all, "steroids" are just a narrow part of the performance-enhancing drugs trade. When most people think steroids, they rightfully picture a thickly muscled bodybuilder or pro wrestler. But, understand that athletes use different performance-enhancers for different reasons.

In the predetermined world of professional wrestling, guys are training for a look. In cycling, perhaps the most tainted sport of them all, they are training for endurance. In Mixed Martial Arts, it's both. Heck, Human Growth Hormone, which is all the rage among Hollywood's elite and the sports world's highest-paid, isn't even a steroid.

I'm convinced the majority of fans no longer care about athletes and performance enhancers. Sports is entertainment to the casual fan, nothing more and nothing less.

So while most of the media feigns surprise and outrage when Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez or Lance Armstrong get caught up in the dragnet, the rest of the country yawns while dodging Raptures and tornados.

The mock surprise was back over the weekend when those in the know feigned their disbelief down on Rose for stating the obvious, essentially forcing him to switch positions.

It's almost like the kayfabe of professional sports.

Back in the day scribes would keep a lid on the drinking and womanizing of big stars. The vices may have changed today but the "deal" is still in place.

In an almost Comedy Central inspired twist of fate over the same weekend Rose outed his peers, one national NBA scribe did a puff piece on one of the game's biggest stars, making it seem like swimming, yoga and Pilates could make you look like Hercules while giving you the endurance of a long-distance runner.

Is that what we want as a society?

Thing about the phrase "enhancing performance." It's not necessarily a bad thing. If it were, we would have to ban all vitamins and supplements along with weightlifting, working out and eating right.

Instead of the current witch hunt, maybe moderation and education may be the better approach to the steroid problem.

"If they are used in a therapeutic fashion, they can be helpful," Matt Chaney, a former college football player and author of Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, told The Sports Network. "I am convinced we are in some sort of hysteria. It's the silver bullet theory that if you take it once something horrible will happen. It's ridiculous. People get in trouble when they abuse them."

"We are caught in a moral myth," Chaney added. "There is a thought that we can do something about it. We can't. We will never eradicate it. Sports should have a big disclaimer -- there are drugs here."

And Derrick Rose should be able to talk about it.

Video: WWE's tribute to Randy Savage

Union's Ruiz called up to Guatemalan National Team

PHILADELPHIA (The Phanatic Magazine) - Union striker Carlos Ruiz has been called up to join the Guatemalan National Team for the upcoming 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, which runs from June 5-25.

Ruiz, who scored his third goal for Philadelphia in a 2-1 victory over Chicago on Saturday, last played for Guatemala in an international friendly on March 28 against Bolivia. In the match, he scored his all-time leading 42nd goal for his national team. Prior to the match against Bolivia, Ruiz had been retired from international competition since 2009.

“It means a lot to me to come back to the national team after two years and play such an important tournament like Gold Cup”, said Ruiz.  “We have a very good team with young talent and some international players such as Guillermo Ramirez, Marco Pablo Pappa and me. We will have the big responsibility to set up a good example for the youngsters on and off the pitch, and I’m confident we will make a difference in this tournament and in the future World Cup Qualifier”.

Ruiz debuted with the Guatemalan National Team on November 11, 1998 in a friendly match against Mexico. He netted his first goal against El Salvador on March 19, 1999 and has since become his country’s all-time leading scorer with 42 goals in 87 caps. In 2001, Ruiz led Guatemala to a first place finish in the UNCAF Nations Cup after settling for second place the previous three years.

After a two-year hiatus with the National Team, Ruiz will return to the group led by Manager Ever Hugo Almeida at the conclusion of his MLS match with the Union in Toronto.  Los Chapines, who share Group B with Honduras, Jamaica and Grenada, will open up their Gold Cup trip against Honduras on June 6 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., followed by their matches versus Jamaica and Grenada in Miami on June 10 and at the Red Bull Arena of Harrison, NJ., on June 13, respectively.

Eight Temple players honored

CLEVELAND (5/23/11) – Phil Steele has honored eight Temple football players as members of his 2011 preseason All-Mid-American Conference teams.

Named to the All-MAC first team were junior RB Bernard Pierce (Ardmore, Pa.), senior DE Adrian Robinson (Harrisburg, Pa.), and senior TE Evan Rodriguez (North Bergen, N.J.).

Earning third team recognition were junior RB Matt Brown (Baltimore, Md.), junior PK Brandon McManus (Hatfield, Pa.), and senior OL John Palumbo (Lyndhurst, N.J.).

Fourth team All-MAC honorees included senior KOR James Nixon (New Haven, Conn.) and senior LB Tahir Whitehead (Newark, N.J.).

Under the guidance of first-year head coach Steve Addazio, this season’s squad returns 46 lettermen, including 13 starters.

Temple opens the 2011 season with cross-town rival Villanova in the third annual Mayor’s Cup, sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts, on Thursday, Sept. 1 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Temple football season tickets are on sale now for as low as $15 per game, and can be purchased by calling the Temple Ticket Sales Office at 215-204-8499 or visit www.OwlsTix.com.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hopkins becomes boxing's oldest champ

Philadelphia's Bernard Hopkins has supplanted George Foreman as boxing's oldest title holder.

Hopkins, 46, won the WBC light heavyweight title Saturday night with a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal in a 12-round rematch of their controversial fight five months ago.

Only getting stronger as the fight wore on against his much younger opponent, Hopkins won on scorecards that read 116-112, 115-113 and 115-114 to add another milestone to his long career.

Hopkins (52-5-2) has never been knocked out, so the 28-year-old Pascal (26-2-1) was fighting more than two decades of history as he tried in vain to hurt the elder boxer with a flurry near the middle of the 12th round. Standing up to the punches and ducking his way out of trouble again, Hopkins walked straight into history.

He wore his newest belt at 46 years, four months and six days old. Foreman was 45 years and 10 months old when he knocked out 26-year-old unbeaten Michael Moorer in the 10th round to become heavyweight champion again in 1994.

Soul stopped by Gladiators

After a fourth-down, goal-line stop by the Philadelphia Soul (3-7) in the third quarter, a late flag for a defensive penalty allowed the Cleveland Gladiators (6-3) to finish the drive with a touchdown, claim momentum, and win running away, 59-41, in front of 7,979 fans at the Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night.

“They baited us into a style of play, and we fell for it,” said Soul head coach Mike Hohensee.  “There were areas of our game that were very good – Donovan [Morgan] had a great game and Ryan [Vena] made some good decisions up until the last pass – but we just needed to keep our composure and we clearly didn’t.”

Soul quarterback Ryan Vena completed 20-of-31 passes (64.5%) for 249 yards, six touchdowns, and an interception.  Wide Receiver Donovan Morgan had another stellar performance despite the loss, contributing nine receptions for 132 yards and four touchdowns, earning him Cutter Catch of the Game and Spalding Highlight of the Game honors.  Receiver Syvelle Newton added seven receptions for 49 yards and two touchdowns, and Keith Stokes caught three passes for 39 yards.

The Gladiators attacked first, with defensive end Drew Berube forcing a Vena fumble, and quarterback Kurt Rocco connecting with receiver Robert Redd on an 18-yard pass at 8:46.  The Soul responded with a 10-yard catch and scramble by Newton, cutting the Gladiators lead to 7-6 at the end of the first.

Cleveland opened the second quarter with a surge that included a 15-yard touchdown reception by Redd, a safety by defensive end Anthony Hoke, and a 15-yard catch and run by 6-foot-8, 340-pound, tight end Adam Tadisch that increased the Gladiators lead to 23-6 with 11:40 remaining in the half.  The Soul answered back with a 10-yard touchdown reception by Morgan and a five-yard reception by Newton that sent the Soul into the locker room trailing, 23-20.

The tide turned for the Soul in the third quarter after the critical fourth down penalty.  Linebacker Brandon Perkins was called for being “out of the box” after it appeared the defense had halted the Gladiator drive.  Cleveland immediately capitalized and grabbed momentum when fullback Russell Monk ran in for a three-yard touchdown.  Cleveland sustained pressure with Berube tackling Stokes on the following kickoff for a safety, and wide receiver Thyron Lewis catching a 10-yard touchdown pass to put the Gladiators up 39-20 with 7:52 remaining.  Both teams added a touchdown that ended the third with the Gladiators leading 45-27.

Both teams each added 14 points in a fourth quarter that was marred by fights, causing a total of six players to be ejected from the game, three from each side.

The Gladiators’ Rocco completed 18-of-29 passes for 233 yards and seven touchdowns, earning him Russell Offensive Player of the Game honors.  Redd was named National Guard MVP and JLS Ironman of the Game with his eight receptions for 113 yards and four touchdown, adding five kick returns for 135 yards.

The next game for the Soul will be at home against the New Orleans VooDoo (2-6) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday, May 27 at 7:05 p.m. (EST), with coverage on NiftyTV.

Ruiz lifts Union over Chicago

Carlos Ruiz
CHESTER, Pa. – Carlos Ruiz's brilliant left-footed strike from distance lifted the Philadelphia Union to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire in front of over 18,000 at PPL Park.

The Union (5-3-2, 17 points) picked a perfect time to score multiple goals in a match for the first time this season. After Dominic Oduro equalized for the Chicago Fire (1-4-5) just four minutes after Michael Farfan’s first career goal in the 64th minute, Ruiz produced a highlight reel game-winner.

Philadelphia’s first chance of the match came in the 21st minute when Farfan, starting his first MLS match as a midfielder, ran onto a throw-in from Justin Mapp in Chicago’s defensive third. Farfan curled a one-timer far post, but the attempt was just wide of the target.

Four minutes later, Sebastien Le Toux’s cross from the right flank found defender Carlos Valdes in the middle of a crowded area, but the Colombian’s header grazed the top of the crossbar and went out for a goal kick.

After a first half that produced only one combined shot on goal, both sides came out firing in the second half.

The Union tallied first in the 64th minute. Off a dangerous free kick to the left of the area, Kyle Nakazawa opted to find Farfan at the top of the area instead of sending service into a crowded box. The decision paid off when Farfan struck a low blast from distance that appeared to take a deflection before finding its way past goalkeeper Jon Conway to give the Union a 1-0 lead.

Chicago didn’t take long to equalize. Four minutes later, Oduro collected a long cross on the right flank, beat his man in the area and slotted a close-range attempt inside the near post.

After a goal line save by Sheanon Williams kept the match level at 1-1, Ruiz and the Union found their go-ahead goal. After Ruiz’s free kick was initially blocked in the 74th minute, the Guatemalan forward reclaimed possession and volleyed a 35-yard strike with his left foot off the crossbar and in for a 2-1 lead.

With the win, Philadelphia reclaim first place in the Eastern Conference. The Union will head on the road for two consecutive matches, including a match at BMO Field against Toronto FC next Saturday. The 12:30 p.m. match will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet.

Scoring Summary:

PHI -- Michael Farfan 1 (Kyle Nakazawa 1) 64

CHI -- Dominic Oduro 2 (Gonzalo Segares 2) 68

PHI -- Carlos Ruiz 3 (unassisted) 74

Chicago Fire-- Jon Conway, Yamith Cuesta, Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares, Bratislav Ristic, Daniel Paladini, Corben Bone (Logan Pause 60), Baggio Husidic (Gaston Puerari 61), Marco Pappa, Dominic Oduro, Diego Chaves (Orr Barouch 46).

Substitutes Not Used:  Jalil Anibaba, Cristian Nazarit, Dasan Robinson, Sean Johnson.

Philadelphia Union -- Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Jordan Harvey (Roger Torres 58), Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, Amobi Okugo (Kyle Nakazawa 5), Justin Mapp, Sebastien Le Toux, Carlos Ruiz (Gabriel Farfan 80).

Substitutes Not Used:  Chris Agorsor, Keon Daniel, Jack McInerney, Zac MacMath.

Misconduct Summary:
CHI -- Bratislav Ristic (caution; Reckless Foul) 30
PHI -- Danny Califf (caution; Reckless Tackle) 41
PHI -- Jordan Harvey (caution; Dissent) 54
CHI -- Dominic Oduro (caution; Reckless Foul) 59
CHI -- Daniel Paladini (caution; Reckless Tackle) 72
CHI -- Gaston Puerari (caution; Reckless Foul) 92+

Referee: Hilario Grajeda
Referee's Assistants: Bill Dittmar, Paul Scott
4th Official:  Daniel Fitzgerald
Time of Game: 1:52
Weather:  Cloudy and 73 degrees

Saturday, May 21, 2011

On the NBA: Brooks may have won the battle and lost the war

Scott Brooks alongside Maurice Cheeks
By John McMullen

Give Scott Brooks credit, a very unconventional coaching decision helped his Oklahoma City Thunder even the Western Conference finals with Dallas on Thursday.

Well aware that his bench was having one of those nights, Brooks surrounded Kevin Durant with four reserves for most of the fourth quarter as the Thunder surged to a 106-100 win in north Texas.

Sitting Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins or Thabo Sefolosha isn't going to raise many eyebrows but ignoring emerging superstar Russell Westbrook for the entire final frame was as gusty as it gets for a coach in the NBA.

Westbrook, the Thunder's point guard who made the All-NBA Second Team this season, has been criticized at times in the playoffs for taking too many shots and being careless with the ball.

Despite scoring 18 points in the first three quarters on Thursday, the UCLA product was pulled after committing his fourth turnover and first foul in the final minute of the third quarter. He never returned as Brooks went with his reserves in crunch time.

Hindsight says it was a prudent decision, at least for one night, considering the Thunder's bench went off for 50 points in the contest, becoming the first NBA team to get at least 50 from its subs in a postseason road playoff win since 2006.
James Harden and Eric Maynor, who handled the backcourt duties for most of the fourth, were particularly effective offensively, scoring 36 points on 11-of-18 shooting with no turnovers.

"Coach made the right decisions down the stretch," Perkins said. "He rolled with guys when they were rolling."
With cameras watching his every move, Westbrook did not reveal any hostility after taking in the deciding quarter from the bench and said all the right things afterwards.

"[I'm not upset.] Not when we're winning. I'm good," Westbrook said. "I think as a team we did a good job of staying together."

Brooks said his decision to sit his All-Star had more to do with the steady play of Maynor than poor play from Westbrook.

"It had nothing to do with Russell. Eric was playing good basketball, solid basketball for us, and we were increasing the lead," the 2009-10 Coach of the Year said. "I've done it a few times during the year. It doesn't happen often. Russell is an incredible player. He's our starting point guard. But we weren't getting a lot of things done, and his time was to come out, and I stayed with Eric. I thought Eric was terrific handling the decisions on the court, and guys made big shots."

It was reminiscent of the 2003 San Antonio Spurs when Gregg Popovich often used Speedy Claxton to close games when Tony Parker struggled en route to the NBA title. Parker, however, was in his second season, didn't come to the NBA with Westbrook's pedigree and wasn't honored as an All-Star until 2006.

Publicly Brooks, a point guard himself, albeit a far less talented one in his playing days, has always been very complimentary of Westbrook, understanding that the Long Beach native was never a quarterback at the high school or college level and, West finals or not, is still in the midst of on-the-job training.

Thursday's hiccup was Westbrook's latest lesson and he handled it well on the bench, encouraging his teammates and putting the best face possible on what certainly had to be a tough time for him.

But the real test is how Westbrook reacts to his benching from here after the agents, friends and other assorted hangers-on get in his ear. You can bet words like embarrassing and disrespect will be thrown around.

How Westbrook handles that will go a long way in determining whether the Thunder have a real chance of reaching the NBA Finals. OKC may have won a game against Dallas without Westbrook in the waning moments but they can't win the series that way.

"If you tell me they leave Westbrook out in the whole fourth quarter and we don't get stops to win that would be tough," Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki said.

There was a time when guys played for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back. Brooks has to know that era has come and gone, at least for the majority of professional athletes.

He rolled the dice here, however. The only question that remains is whether Brooks released them out of desperation or with the understanding that Westbrook has the maturity to persevere.