Friday, November 29, 2013

Early start helps Flyers top Jets

Thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers
by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Steve Mason stopped 25 shots and Sean Couturier picked up the key short-handed tally in the second period, as the Philadelphia Flyers squeaked past the Winnipeg Jets, 2-1, on Black Friday.

Mason upped his record to 8-8-2 on the season, as Philadelphia shook off losses in Florida to win for the fourth time in their last six games.

Scott Hartnell scored in the first minute of the contest and, as usual, the hosts had to cling to the lead late as Michal Frolik made things interesting. It was a badly needed win for the hosts, who kick off a six-game road swing in Nashville tomorrow night.

"I think it's a good time to get on the road with the team," Flyers head coach Berube said. "I think it's a good time to get focused and get to where we need to get to. I don't view it as grueling; I view it as an opportunity."

His club, which is 8-3-2 since the debacle against Washington to kick off the month, faces its stiffest challenge since beginning the year 1-7-0. 

Ondrej Pavelec was beseiged at times, making 32 saves in defeat. The Jets had opened up their current six-game trip with wins over the Devils and Islanders.

"We just weren't good enough to win the game," Jets head coach Claude Noel said. "When you look at momentum, we didn't generate much, momentum-wise. Our power play (0-for-6) wasn't very good and we haven't been able to get anything out of it the whole year.

It wasn't a classic shut-down victory, as the visitors were hamstrung less by the Flyers defense than the irregular morning start time, an hour earlier by their clocks than the 11:30 AM puck drop on Eastern Standard Time.

The Jets gifted the Flyers a goal with only 48 seconds elapsed after the opening faceoff. A botched exchange between two Jets players on a clear up the left boards during a Philly shift change saw the puck kick back between the circles. Steve Downie touch-passed it back to Hartnell, who flipped it into a half-open cage.

"I'll take it," Hartnell said. "It's nice. You take your first shift and right in the slot there is a big present waiting for you."

Pavelec made a sprawling left-pad stop on a short-handed breakaway from Couturier at the tail end of a Nick Grossmann penalty just after the midway point of the first and Winnipeg played most of the rest of the period on its heels, outshot 13-2.

Despite coming up empty on two power-play chances, the hosts had 1:24 of 5-on-3 to exploit at the outset of the second period after infractions on Devin Setoguchi and Tobias Enstrom. That gambit also failed and the club's best offensive pressure came immediately after the advantage expired.

Couturier, though, made good on his second short-handed breakaway, streaking in from the left wing side this time while Andrej Meszaros was in the box and fooling Pavelec with a backhander for a 2-0 game at 5:36.

"I think I was due. “I've had some scoring chances, I just haven't been putting the puck in the net, Couturier admitted after snapping a six-game goal drought. "I don't think I’ve been playing bad, but lately the pucks been going in so the points are obviously going to go up.”

Despite misfiring on two advantages through the middle portion of the third, the Jets halved their deficit with 7:07 remaining on Frolik's rebound try from the left side. 

Pavelec was sent to the bench for an extra skater with under 90 seconds to play, and though Adam Hall missed two prime chances to deposit a puck into the empty net, it didn't jeopardize the victory.

Notes:  Mason fell just shy of becoming the first Flyers goaltender to blank a Winnipeg club in Philadelphia since Ron Hextall did so to the original Jets (3-0) at the Spectrum on March 16, 1996 ... Jets forward Evander Kane left the game after the first period with a lower-body injury ... The game was the first pre-noon start in Philadelphia since February 27, 1993, a 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders.

Extra Points: Packers are lost without their shark |

Extra Points: Packers are lost without their shark |

Black Friday and Morning Starts (A Brief History)

Hope you all had a restful, bountiful and Happy Thanksgiving, but now it's back to hockey this morning as the Flyers take on the Winnipeg Jets.

Black Friday contests have become a recent phenomenon league-wide, but have been a part of Philadelphia hockey history since the glory days of the Fred Shero era.

For the first nine seasons of existence, the Orange and Black did not play in a game the day after Americans give thanks. That all changed in 1976, when the three-time defending Campbell Bowl champions played the Colorado Rockies. The first trip to Denver after the Scouts relocated from Kansas City was a successful one, as Jim Watson, Rick MacLeish, Bobby Clarke and Bill (not Phil) Collins beat Michel Plasse in a 4-2 victory.

It wasn't until the late 1980s when the tradition of a home game on the day Christmas sales kicked off in earnest took hold.

A run of 10 straight (though not in consecutive years) Friday matinees on home ice saw the Flyers entertain six different clubs, beginning with a 5-1 victory over the future Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers at the Spectrum on November 24, 1989.

In the following years, the Flyers beat Toronto (4-1 in '90), lost to Pittsburgh (9-3 in '91, the infamous "Paul Must Go" game), topped the Islanders (6-3 in '92) and Lightning (3-0 in '93), took out the record-setting Red Wings (4-1 in '95), bested the Islanders again (4-1 in '97) then shook up the Leafs twice in a row (4-3 in '98 and 3-2 in '99) before losing to the Penguins once more on a shutout by Garth Snow (1-0 in 2000). The streak was broken the following year, when Bill Barber's club tied in Dallas, 3-3, on November 23. There was a loss to Toronto (3-0 in '02) and win over Carolina (4-2 in '03) back here before Armageddon set in.

Following the cancelled 2004-05 season, the league has seen fit to schedule a Black Friday contest for out hometown club every single year that there's been hockey in November. After a 5-3 victory in Boston on November 25, 2005, we've seen afternoon games on Broad Street six times. The last one was a 3-1 success against Montreal two years back.

As of this morning, the Philadelphia Flyers carried an amazing 17-3-1 record on Black Friday before ties were eliminated -- including 10 straight wins from 1976-90 on this particular day. Following the inclusion of shootouts in 2005, they are only 2-1-3. This will be the first time the Jets have played in Philadelphia on the day after Thanksgiving.

And speaking of morning starts, this will be the first pre-noon puck drop in Philly in almost 20 years.

Playing games in the AM also originated in the late 1980s, as a way to throw some whimsy in the usual 5-6 game matinee slate and to get crowds aware of the impending Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival, which was switched from its long-running weeknight slot to a Sunday afternoon. An 11:05 start, rather than the usual 1:05 or 1:35 PM action, ensured at least two more hours of final preparations on Carnival day once the game was finished.

There was one a year from 1989 through 1993 before the practice was abandoned, beginning with  7-4 thrashing of the New York Islanders on January 28, in which the sub-header for the game story in the Sunday Inquirer read "Outcome decided by lunch."

In 1990, a wild 7-6 affair with the Minnesota North Stars on Feb. 3 was decided with seconds left in overtime by Mike Bullard, the following year on Feb. 2, Peter Sidorkiewicz posted a 20-save, 2-0 shutout with Hartford where fans were greeted with extra security measures at the Spectrum due to heightened fears over the Gulf War. The event was moved to March in '92, but the Flyers still pulled out a 3-1 win over playoff-bound Washington on the 14th, and the Islanders spoiled the pre-party with a 3-2 win on Feb. 27 of 1993.

By 1994, the Flyers played an afternoon contest in Boston, losing 4-0 on Feb. 4, with the Carnival on tap the next day back home.

For the record, I'm all in on the organization throwing us a bone with a morning start each season, just not the day after a major holiday which involves food stuffed with natural drugs that make one pass out on the couch.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lightning take down Flyers in Lecavalier's return to Tampa

Tampa, FL -- Victor Hedman notched a season-high three points thanks to two goals, and Tampa Bay almost coughed up a three-goal lead in the final two minutes of regulation, but topped Philadelphia, 4-2, spoiling Vincent Lecavalier's return.

In 14 seasons with the Lightning, the former No. 1 pick of the 1998 draft totaled team records of 1,037 games played and 383 goals, along with 491 assists and 874 points. He was honored by the hosts with a lengthy video tribute in the first period which drew a standing ovation.

It didn't manage to lift his spirits enough in spite of the final score.

"Our execution wasn’t there,” Lecavalier said. “They played a good game, had a lot of puck possession and capitalized on their chances. We didn’t win and I’m disappointed with that.”

Ondrej Palat also lit the lamp for the Lightning, who have won two straight after losing four in a row and moved within one point of first-place Boston in the Atlantic Division.

"It's fun to contribute on both ends of the ice," Hedman said. "You can't get satisfied. You want to keep going and winning hockey games, that's what's most important."

Seemingly on his way to a shutout, Anders Lindback was beaten twice in a 40- second span, by Lecavalier and Mark Streit, but won thanks to 19 saves.

Ray Emery made 31 stops for the Flyers, who dropped both ends of their Florida sojourn after winning three straight home games.

"There's no excuse for not being motivated," Emery said. "We could have found tons of stuff to get motivated over."

Ahead by two, Tampa Bay enjoyed 90 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play after Scott Hartnell (slashing) and Niklas Grossman (boarding) were whistled for infractions 30 seconds apart.

Hedman followed up a blocked Teddy Purcell shot and beat Emery with a turnaround chance for a 3-0 game at the five-minute mark, but the hosts failed to click on the one-man edge.

Lecavalier finally solved Lindback, ripping home his ninth goal of the season on a one-timer from a Brayden Schenn dish while on the power play with 1:53 remaining.

Emery rushed to the bench soon after and Streit's point blast -- his first goal of the year -- hit the net at 18:47 to pull Philly within a goal.

When the visitors again used the extra skater, Lecavalier failed to keep the puck in the Flyers' zone near the blue line, and Tyler Johnson wheeled past him and up the right wing to put the disc into the empty net.

“I don’t think we competed hard enough in the battles tonight, right from the start of the game,” Flyers head coach Craig Berube said. “They came hard with pressure and forechecked hard and we didn’t handle it. We didn’t compete on the walls and battle the puck out and do all the little things that needed to be done.”

Simmonds was harassed by Hedman on a breakaway with 3:14 left in the first period. Despite getting off a shot and not being checked, a penalty shot was called.

Lindback was equal, flashing the left pad as Simmonds moved from forehand to backhand.

“I don’t know about the call there, but then I just read him right and he didn’t elevate the puck, so I was able to get my pad down there,” Lindback said.

Emery's chance to shine came just past the 4 1/2-minute mark of the second, as he dragged the left pad to deny two chances in close from J.T. Brown.

Tampa picked up the game's first goal at 9:15, when Hedman's shot from a sharp angle on the left wing dropped from the crook of Emery's arm at the near post.

The Bolts led 2-0 when Palat followed up Hedman's blast during a short-handed 2-on-1 break three minutes later.

Notes: Tampa Bay improved to 4-3-1 since Steven Stamkos suffered his broken right leg ... The Bolts tied a franchise record with their fifth straight victory at home over Philly, having originally done so from Jan. 3, 2004 to Oct. 19, 2006 ... Lecavalier was 18 years, 178 days old when he first played for the Lightning against the Flyers, in a 5-2 Philly win on Oct. 16, 1998 ... Simmonds has converted one of three career penalty shots, and the Flyers have missed four in a row since Matt Read connected on Nov. 13, 2011 ... Read was a late scratch due to an undisclosed injury ... Prior to the contest, the Lightning recalled forward Dana Tyrell from Syracuse of the American Hockey League ... After missing the last seven games due to illness and healthy scratches, Michael Raffl returned to the Philadelphia lineup.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lecavalier bolts forward with Flyers

Vincent Lecavalier was heralded as nothing less than the next Gretzky and Michael Jordan by then-owner Art Williams, when he was taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning with the first overall pick of the 1998 draft.

Fifteen years, 14 seasons, one Stanley Cup, a still-standing team record for goals and games played later, and the Montreal native was nonetheless the subject of the largest single buyout under the new rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement this Summer.

He had seven years left on an 11-year, $85 million contract signed in 2009 when Lightning GM Steve Yzerman decided to sever that tie, and he's pocketing both the the $30 million he is owed by the Lightning and $22.5 million on his new deal from the Flyers. Tonight, it all comes home for the 33-year-old, when he returns to the city which made him the person and player he is now, only suited in Orange and Black.

"It's not about proving anybody wrong," Lecavalier said to Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times. "I want to prove (the Flyers) right. The Lightning made a business decision. I don't have anything against them. They do everything the right way. The thing for me was to move on. That's all."

So far, the move has paid dividends, with Lecavalier tied for the team lead in goals with eight and third on the club with 13 points in a season which can charitably be described on the whole as rocky so far. That doesn't account for the emotions which haven't bubbled to the surface until today. 

In 52 regular-season games against the Flyers, Lecavalier racked up 42 points (15G, 27A). He scored a goal in four of the last six games for Tampa against Philadelphia and totaled eight multi-point contests against his new club.

But now, the odometer has been rewound all the way back to zeros. Number 4 has become No. 40 and a new scoring line is waiting to be logged.

“It’s going to be weird,” former teammate Martin St. Louis said to a media assemblage after Wednesday's practice. “What he’s done here on and off the ice and what he’s meant to this franchise for a long time.”

Lecavalier made his debut against the Flyers at 18 years, 178 days old, in a 5-2 home loss on October 16, 1998 -- only four games into his rookie season for a team that finished 19-54-9. He made his debut with the Flyers at 33 years, 164 days on Oct. 2 and also carried with him an air of revitalization and renewal when signed here in July, though nowhere near on the order of franchise savior or best player in hockey.

He knows his former fans will help ease the transition once the skate hit that old familiar sheet of ice: "I think the fans have been supporting me my whole career over there. I don't think it'll change because I have a different jersey. They've always been good to me and the other players."

Nothing did change. When play was stopped during the first period for a lengthy video tribute to the former Lightning captain and franchise icon, the crowd stood and expressed their thanks -- along with the players on both benches.

It didn't manage to raise Lecavalier's spirits much, given the end result was a 4-2 defeat, but he did acknowledge their effort.

"It was very weird stepping out on the ice. I had a great experience just skating here. The fans were supportive. It definitely means a lot."

Sixers to retire Iverson's number

PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia 76ers today announced that they will officially retire Allen Iverson’s number “3” in a special halftime ceremony on Saturday, March 1, 2014 when the Sixers host the Washington Wizards.

Iverson is one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history despite his small stature (6’0 and 165 lbs). He led the 76ers to their first Finals appearance since 1983 and played in front of thunderous cheers and sold out crowds.  Known as “The Answer,” he is one of the greatest finishers in the game. He leaves a lasting legacy forever in the hearts of Philadelphia fans. With boundless talent, he was always exciting to watch and had a flashy style that endeared him to fans all over the world.

“Allen Iverson is, without question, one of the most iconic players to ever wear the Sixers uniform,” said Philadelphia 76ers Chief Executive Officer Scott O’Neil. “Allen left everything out on the court and no one could ever question his heart – he was relentless, fearless and pound-for-pound, was one of the greatest to ever play the game.”

The Sixers drafted Iverson, who officially retired from the NBA in a press conference held on October 30, 2013, with the first overall pick in the 1996 Draft. He would go on to appear in 722 games (6th all-time) and play 29,879 minutes (2nd all-time) for the Sixers, while averaging 27.6 points per game, tied with Wilt Chamberlain for the highest scoring average in franchise history.

Iverson’s career included moments that will stand the test of time and are immediately identifiable, including his famous crossover on Michael Jordan during his rookie season and his step-over on Tyronn Lue during Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals.

Iverson also ranks among the top players in Sixers history in field goals made (3rd, 6,962), field goals attempted (2nd, 16,543), free throws made (2nd, 5,122), free throws attempted (2nd, 6,576), assists, (3rd, 4,385), steals (2nd, 1,644) and points (2nd, 19,931). During the course of his career, Iverson would go on to earn:

NBA Most Valuable Player (2001)                                       3× All-NBA First Team (1999, 2001, 2005)

NBA Rookie of the Year (1997)                                            3× All-NBA Second Team (2000, 2002, 2003)

11× NBA All-Star (2000–2010)                                             All-NBA Third Team (2006)

2× NBA All-Star Game MVP (2001, 2005)                            NBA All-Rookie First Team (1997)

4× NBA scoring champion (1999, 2001, 2002, 2005)          2× NBA steals leader (2003, 2005)

Iverson will join Julius Erving (6), Maurice Cheeks (10), Wilt Chamberlain (13), Hal Greer (15), Bobby Jones (24), Billy Cunningham (32) and Charles Barkley (34) as players with their numbers retired, along with legendary public address announcer Dave Zinkoff (microphone).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Union waive four including Kleberson

Chester, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union has waived four players: Don Anding, Greg Jordan, Kleberson and Oka Nikolov.

All four players will be available in today’s Major League Soccer Waiver Draft, which will take place via conference call at 3:30 p.m. ET. Any players not selected in the Waiver Draft will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The 34-year-old Kleberson, who joined the team on a loan earlier this year from Brazilian side Bahia, was the most high-profile name on the list. He made 11 appearances for the Union last season, notching one goal and two assists.

Anding, 22, was drafted with the 26th overall selection in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. He made his only appearance this year July 6 on the road against Houston Dynamo, where he played 30 minutes as a second-half substitute.

Jordan, 23, was selected with the 32nd overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft on January 12, 2012. Jordan spent time with the Union’s USL PRO Affiliate, Harrisburg City Islanders, during the previous two seasons.

Oka Nikolov, 39, signed with the Union after spending over 20 years with who most recently played for Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt.

Extra Points: Romo is masking deficiencies in Dallas | Local 24 News | News, Weather and Sports for Memphis & the Mid-South | WATN-TV |

Extra Points: Romo is masking deficiencies in Dallas | Local 24 News | News, Weather and Sports for Memphis & the Mid-South | WATN-TV |

College Hockey Round-up, Week 7

There's intrigue at the highest level of Division I hockey, thanks to the new poll released on Monday afternoon. 

Although Minnesota and St. Cloud State remained fixed in their positions from last week, for the first time this season, a second-place program received more votes than the No. 1 school.

The Gophers are working with a deficit of 25 votes after splitting two at home against Minnesota-Duluth, winning 6-1 and losing 6-2, while the Huskies increased their notice in the poll by the same number thanks to extending their unbeaten streak to five (4-0-1) with a 2-2 tie and 6-2 win over Colorado College at the Brooks Hockey Center.

Michigan moved up two spots to No. 3 with only one game on the docket, beating up on Niagara by a 6-0 count, while Providence dropped one slot to #4 after a weekend split at Schneider Arena with 20th-ranked UNH, seeing its five-game win streak ended with a 3-2 OT loss but recovering for a 4-2 victory.

Quinnipiac only slid one level down to #5, after failing to sweep a home-and-home set with Princeton. The defending national runners-up, led by stellar goaltender Michael Garteig, pitched a 19-shot, 3-0 shutout on Friday at Baker Rink.

The script was totally flipped on Saturday in Hamden, however. The visitors rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to post a thrilling 4-3 victory which is the signature win for a program which had lost eight of nine games up to that point. Senior and Hobey hopeful Andrew Ammon netted the winner with 2:24 left in regulation, capping a three-goal third-period burst fueled by scores from Jack Berger and Mike Ambrosia. Colton Phinney stopped 32 shots, and shut the door after Kellen Jones scored 42 seconds into the final period.

Alma mater of Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz, Ferris State was a big gainer this week, rising from 10 to No. 6 courtesy of extending the nation's longest unbeaten streak to nine games (8-0-1). The Bulldogs pulled off wins of 4-3 and 5-3 against the University of Alaska to up their mark to 7-0-1 in the WCHA.

Boston College is a fixture at #7 after a 5-1 win at Harvard and 5-1 loss at Maine, No. 8 goes to the soaring UMass-Lowell RiverHawks, swooping up five spots into the top 10 thanks to 1-0 and 3-1 decisions against Notre Dame at Tsongas Arena. Yale was off this week and stayed in place, with 10th spot going to Clarkson for simply not playing. The Fighting Irish plunged from No. 6 to 11th place.

On the local scene...

Penn State enjoyed this last weekend off, and the 3-5-1 Nits continue their residency at the 'Peg on Saturday and Sunday against the resurgent Union program which features Flyers defensive prospect Shayne Gostisbehere.

The Dutchmen, clocking in at #15 this week, were off and climbed two spots as a result. Gostisbehere ranks third on the team in scoring with 12 points in 11 games, but leads all players with 51 shots on goal.

North Dakota is slogging through an uncharacteristic slow start to the season, one which currently does not feature a slot in the nation's top 20 schools. After a loss and tie at Boston University this weekend, the Fighting Sioux are 5-6-2. However, Flyers forward prospect Michael Parks is holding his own, second on the team with nine points (3G, 6A). The junior winger and fifth-round pick in 2010 has done well recovering from an injury-plagued 2012-13 campaign.

Princeton, fresh off its road triumph against Quinnipiac, can't sit back on its laurels. The program faces its toughest tests of the season in dual games on the road at Michigan State this coming Friday and Sunday.

Something completely different

The Frozen Four is coming here in April. It's the third straight location that has little or no connection to major college hockey. This has to change. If it can't be spurred on by the presentation of a Division I championship, this city may never have a shot to field a legitimate D-I team again.

Though there is a significant alumni presence in the region, having the premier collegiate tourney in Philadelphia sponsored by a school (Penn State) more than three hours away and whose student body is comprised by almost half of those from the opposite end of the state doesn't sit well.

The University of Pennsylvania's program had the life choked out of it due to budgetary concerns and an inactive alumni and booster presence back in 1978. The Delaware Valley features more than two dozen club teams that participate in lower-level leagues, including the rest of the City 6 -- Temple, Drexel, St. Joseph's, La Salle and Villanova.

You can't tell me there's not one intrepid soul or a group of hockey-crazed alumni with the coffers, influence and fandom to back one of these institutions so Philly can get a taste of what Boston offers.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

UFC returns to Newark on Super Bowl Saturday

Las Vegas, Nev. – Two world title fights headline UFC’s return to Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014.

In the night’s main event, the undisputed UFC bantamweight champion will be crowned when reigning champion Dominick Cruz (19-1, fighting out of San Diego, Calif.) returns to action after two years away from competition due to injury to meet red-hot interim champion Renan Barao (33-1, fighting out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

Then, in the night’s co-main event, UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo (23-1, fighting out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) returns to the Octagon to face proven finisher Ricardo Lamas (13-2, fighting out of Chicago, Ill.), a winner of four straight.

Also, two former heavyweight champions collide when former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir battles former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem.

“We put together a fight worthy of Super Bowl weekend," UFC president Dana White said. “It's the fight that everyone has been waiting for - champion vs. champion - Dominick Cruz vs. Renan Barao for the 135-pound title. Dominick Cruz is the reigning champion and hasn’t lost a fight in six years. He takes on the interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao, who’s been on a tear with a 30-fight win streak and hasn't lost in eight years. Two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, two of the best 135-pounders on earth: the world is finally going to find out who is the undisputed 135-pound champion.

“Plus, the unstoppable Jose Aldo takes on the man everyone has been waiting to see him fight, Ricardo Lamas. Aldo has been the 145-pound champion since 2009 and he’s torn through the featherweight division. But Ricardo Lamas has heavy hands, great wrestling and will be the toughest test of Aldo's career.”

Union's Casey named finalist for MLS Comeback Player of the Year

Chester, Pa. - Philadelphia Union forward Conor Casey has been named one of three finalists for the 2013 MLS Comeback Player of the Year. The winner will be revealed on Dec. 2.

In his first year with the Union, Casey scored 10 goals and added five assists in 31 appearances during the 2013 MLS Regular Season, helping lead the club to its most victories (12) in franchise history.

Before joining Philadelphia, Casey suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in 2011 as a member of the Colorado Rapids and scored two goals the following year.

Other finalists in the category include Kevin Alston (New England Revolution) and Lamar Neagle (Seattle Sounders FC).

Star LB Goosby to return to Soul

PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia Soul jack linebacker Joe Goosby will return to the two-time defending American Conference Champion for the 2014 season.

Goosby, who is entering his fourth AFL season, was third on the Soul defense in total tackles (68.5), while recording four interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two total sacks last year.

“Joe is a physical player with great instincts,” said Soul head coach Clint Dolezel.  “He plays his position as well as anybody in the League and we are excited to have him back in Philadelphia next season.”

Goosby has amassed 164.5 total tackles, eight interceptions, 3.5 sacks and five fumble recoveries in his two seasons with the Soul (2012-13). 

He entered the AFL as a rookie free agent out of Tulane, joining the Dallas Vigilantes in the 2011 where he recorded 43.0 total tackles, three blocked kicks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one interception that season. 

Prior to joining the Vigilantes, Goosby was a member of the IFL’s San Angelo Stampede Express (2010), and the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings (2009).  Goosby played collegiately at Tulane (2004-06) and was an All-Conference USA selection. In three seasons at Tulane he totaled 100.0 tackles (60 solo) in 33 career games.

The Soul also signed wide receiver Bryan Pray (5’8, 175, Pittsburg State).

Pray began his collegiate career at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M before transferring to Pittsburg State, where he averaged more than 23 yards per catch with the Gorillas.  This will be Pray’s first season in the AFL after spending time with the Green Bay Blizzard (IFL) the past two seasons.

Soul finish open tryout

PHILADELPHIA –  The Philadelphia Soul concluded what the team described as a successful open tryout that drew over 250 prospective players to the Philadelphia Eagles’ NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia on Saturday.

“This was a tremendous turnout,” said Soul head coach Clint Dolezel.  “Not only did we draw a very large number of players but we were very pleased with the level of talent we saw today.  We want to make sure the entire Soul organization receives recognition for their handling of the large amount of athletes that showed up and express our sincere appreciation to the Philadelphia Eagles for allowing us to use their facility.”

The day was also highlighted by those who attended to view the tryout: current Soul Co-Majority Owner, ESPN analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Ron Jaworski, as well as current Soul coaching and football operations staff and current players on the Soul’s roster.

The Soul found Rookie of the Year finalist, Ryan McDaniel, at last year’s open tryout.  McDaniel earned a starting job a few weeks into the season and finished with 65 receptions for 819 yards and 21 touchdowns.  He also had an impressive 13 catches for 137 yards and two-touchdown performance in this year’s ArenaBowl.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Flyers continue run of success, pound sinking Islanders

Philadelphia, PA -- It didn't come easy, but it seems like nothing ever will for this year's edition of the Flyers.

Despite nearly wasting a three-goal lead which they accumulated in the early stages of the middle period, Matt Read's second straight two-goal performance, plus 36 saves from Steve Mason, paced a 5-2 Philadelphia victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

"I'd say a little bit of luck, (laughs) being in the right spot at the right time," Read admitted about his mini red-light binge. "You know my line mates are doing all the work and I've just been benefiting from them. I give all the credit to those two (Downie and Couturier).  "We'll just keep working together, and hopefully continue to have success."

Stat(s) which definitely means something:  Mason has gone 4-0-2 in his last six appearances with a 1.63 goals against average and a .949 save percentage.

Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux added a goal and assist each for the Flyers, who almost wasted a three-goal lead, but extended their season high of accumulating points to seven straight games (6-0-1) by sweeping a three-game residency.

Brayden Schenn posted a late tally as the hosts upped their record to 7-1-2 over the last three weeks. Craig Berube's club broke even in the win and loss column for the first time all season at 10-10-2, and begin a Florida road trip on Monday against the Panthers with a chance to hit the .500 mark for real by Thanksgiving.

John Tavares and Eric Boulton scored for the Islanders, who have dropped three in a row and eight of their last 10 outings.

Kevin Poulin was chased after Philly opened the scoring with the deciding burst. Anders Nilsson finished up by stopping 12-of-13 shots.

New York got on the board with Tavares' backhander off a Thomas Vanek centering feed with 5:56 on the second-period clock, then climbed within a goal at 2:39 of the third period as Boulton tapped in a Casey Cizikas feed following the latter's left-circle faceoff win.

Stat which might mean nothing: Tavares' score was the first even-strength goal the Flyers had allowed since the third period of a Nov. 9 win over Edmonton.  It ended an incredible run of 345:39.

Scott Hartnell was denied an insurance goal just after the four-minute mark of the third period, when review determined his try from behind the net only reached the inside of the cage after it was lifted off its moorings.

Philly did get the crucial tally with 7:39 to play, as Nilsson steered a missed centering pass into the slot, where Schenn one-timed his gift into the upper-right corner for a 4-2 game.

"I think it was a pass made to me by my brother, but backwards," Schenn said. "Jake [Voracek] tried to feed it and snapped the puck to me. It was good work in the corner by Giroux and Jake. Good things happen when you go to the net." 

The Islanders skated 6-on-5 once the clock ticked down to two minutes remaining, and Read deposited his second of the contest into the empty cage with 49 seconds left.

"Yes, they are a little fragile under pressure but you have to battle through it," said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano. "The first goal and the fourth goal we lost D side positioning, Read beats us off the wall then Schenn. We’re just fragile right now but you’re going to have to learn that you might have to win 2-1, 1-0.”

A scoreless first 20 minutes passed where each team unleashed 10 shots on goal.

The Flyers struck at the 46-second mark of the second period. Steve Downie kept the puck alive along the left-wing boards and Sean Couturier's blast from between the circles kicked out, where Read made no mistake on the rebound.

Less than a minute later, Simmonds finished off a 3-on-2 by beating Poulin on the short side from the right circle.

It was 3-0 at 3:48, when Giroux ripped a shot from his usual spot in the left circle past a diving Isles netminder during a power play and Nilsson was called on to take the crease from Poulin.

Notes:  Mason extended his streak of allowing no more than three goals in any start to 22 games since arriving in Philadelphia at March's trade deadline ... The Flyers won three straight home games in the same residency since doing so from Mar. 30-Apr. 3, 2013, and have taken four in a row in Philadelphia overall for
the first time this season ... In addition, the Orange and Black improved to 32-4-2 over the Isles since the start of the 2007-08 season.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Hater's Guide to Michael Leighton

Today, the Phanatic features a piece straight from the desk of 4 Who 4 What Sports. This missive, an emotional appeal against a former Flyers goaltender, architect of one of the most heart-breaking moments in Orange and Black history.

Hard to believe, since we're known for our forgiving natures in this town, but there's a professional hockey player that I loathe with every fiber of my being. 

He is one of the most over-hyped "talents" to ever skate on National Hockey League ice and I place him squarely at fault for the biggest gut-punch moment in my lifetime as a Flyers fan. 

You might say Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin or Zdeno Chara. Those with long memories might even think it's Patrick Kane. You're only half right. Mr. Kane is forever linked to this object of my obsession -- Michael Leighton is the thorn in my hockey fandom’s side.

Honestly, I don’t have the stats to prove that this man is the most incompetent goaltender I’ve ever witnessed, but why should that stop me? In 105 total NHL games for the Blackhawks, Preds, Flyers, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets, Leighton posted a 35-41-14 record with a goals-against average of 2.97 and a save percentage of .901. Those are typical run-of-the-mill NHL numbers. But you'd have to agree, to have seen this man stumble across the crease in a vain attempt at "goaltending" was just atrocious. 

For a guy who kicked around the league for the better part of a decade, Leighton fails the eye test miserably. Every time a shot went on net I held my breath because I didn’t know if Leighton was going to misread it or possibly set up the opposing team with a fat, juicy rebound. After going back to watch the entirety of the 2010 Stanley Cup finals, I say if Brian Boucher had played over Leighton then the Flyers would have won the series. 

The supposed playoff savior let up multiple goals against that were from above the faceoff circles, not to mention another good chunk of goals were scrums in front of the net where Leighton could neither track the puck nor control rebounds. 

Case in point, here's a clip of Marion Hossa and Ben Eager -- yes that Ben Eager -- scoring back-to-back during Chicago's 2-1 victory in Game 2:

During the replay of Hossa’s goal you can see Leighton hardly react and watch the puck lay in front of his left leg pad as if he was praying that it would somehow absorb into him and get a stoppage. Nope, didn’t happen. One of the premier snipers in the NHL buries that, and he hasn't had too many that were easier during his career. Leighton then made hands-of-stone Eager look as good as Gretzky on a routine wrist shot from above the right faceoff circle. Just an “oh let me get this on net and pray it gets in” shot that Leighton failed to snag and resulted in a goon receiving the honor of a Stanley Cup game-winning score.

Even putting that aside, I saw that Leighton's biggest problem was crease awareness. During the first period of the track meet that was Game 5, Leighton had lost where he was in the crease and let in three goals on Chicago’s first thirteen shots. All of them could have been stopped if he was square to the shooter but they all dribbled or deflected in because Leighton was not spatially aware. He relied too much on his large frame to try and block shots instead of relying on positioning to stop pucks. 

I don't need to remind you how it cost us dearly
throughout Game 6.

The image of Kane receiving a pass from the point and taking a shot from the left half boards through what can best be described as Leighton’s "unorthodox stance" is seared into my head and the biggest reason I despise him with such vitriol. 

How do you leave your legs that open to let a bad angle shot go in? How do you do that during the Stanley Cup Finals with your team’s life on the line?

We all know how this story ends, in typical fairy-tale fashion. Leighton lies to Paul Holmgren about a back injury he sustained to sign a two-year contract whose time is spent mostly not in Philadelphia. After wallowing in the AHL, being part of Peter Laviolette's "goaltending carousel" and then being sent back permanently to Glens Falls, we sign the Russian who will not be named. At least we got something good out of his banishment to Columbus at last year's trade deadline in Steve Mason.

I should let this hatred go but I can’t. I was in Hell when Leighton became a fan favorite, because it was obvious from my viewpoint that he wasn’t the reason the Flyers were winning. They won in spite of him. They played good team defense and clogged the middle during that playoff run to make sure rebounds didn’t get back to Leighton. Laviolette knew he had an amateur goalie and managed to work around it as best he could. 

Why he couldn’t do that with Ilya Bryzgalov is a story for a different rant, but because the A-holia from Petrolia cost us a shot at the Stanley Cup is why I hate Michael Leighton.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Miracle at the Meadowlands: 35 years later

November 19, 1978 at Giants Stadium, and the fortunes of the Eagles franchise turned with one mistake and a lucky bounce.

The first of five such "Miracles" in that North Jersey plot of land helped the Eagles earn a playoff berth for the first time since 1960 and sent them onto what was at the time the longest sustained period of excellence in team history.

Below, a dissection of the events leading up to one of the most improbable plays in NFL history.

Black Friday sale at Wells Fargo Center

PHILADELPHIA - Philly sports fans can save big and start off their holiday shopping season at the Wells Fargo Center “Black Friday Sale” on Friday, November 29.

Doors open at 6 a.m. with a 30 percent discount offered in the first hour. Exclusive Philadelphia Flyers and Sixers Reebok, adidas and 47 Brand styles are available for the entire family, including great stocking stuffers, at the Fan Zone powered by Reebok. Fan Zone offers an array of player apparel, headwear, outerwear and even team-specific accessories for pets, travel, automobiles, and more. Philadelphia Wings apparel and accessories will also be available.

Fans that shop early will save the most, with discounts of 30% off their total purchase from 6-7 a.m., 20% off from 7-8 a.m. and 10% off from 8-10 a.m. The 10% discount will also be available to November 29 Flyers and Sixers game ticket holders. Discount excludes jersey lettering, memorabilia and previously purchased items, and is valid only on November 29 at the Fan Zone store.

Shoppers will also be rewarded all day for big buys with free tickets to upcoming events at the Wells Fargo Center including:

Spend $350 and receive:
    2 tickets to a Flyers and Sixers home game
    2 tickets to the Feb. 1 or Feb. 22 Phantoms game at the Wells Fargo Center
    2 USPHL Flyers flex tickets

Spend $250 and receive:
    2 tickets to either a Flyers or Sixers home game
    2 tickets to the Feb. 1 or Feb. 22 Phantoms game at the Wells Fargo Center
    2 USPHL Flyers flex tickets

Spend $150 and receive:
    2 tickets to the Feb. 1 or Feb. 22 Phantoms game at the Wells Fargo Center
    2 USPHL Flyers flex tickets

A ticket voucher with available games will be distributed after purchase at the Fan Zone. Fan Zone powered by Reebok is located on the 11th Street side of the Wells Fargo Center. Fans will be offered complimentary coffee, hot chocolate and water while shopping and free parking until 9:45 a.m.

The Black Friday festivities continue when the Flyers host the Winnipeg Jets at 11:30 a.m. at the Wells Fargo Center. Fans will receive 10% off their entire merchandise purchase, and special breakfast options and beverages will be available at select locations. Great seats are still available by calling 1-800-298-4200 or visiting

The Sixers will also take on the New Orleans Pelicans at 8 p.m. with the extended 10% discount available on all Sixers merchandise during the game. Tickets are available online at SIXERS.COM, by phone at 215-339-7676 or in person at the Wells Fargo Center box office.

Bembry named A-10 Player of the Week

PHILADELPHIA - Saint Joseph's freshman DeAndre' Bembry has been named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week for the week ending November 17.

Bembry, from Charlotte, N.C. and The Patrick School (N.J), averaged 14.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists as the Hawks went 1-1 on the week. The freshman connected on 54.5 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from three-point range in the two games. 

A 6-foot-6 wing player, Bembry gained notice with his play  in the Hawks' 82-79 loss to Creighton when he scored a team-high 20 points, including 14 in the second half. He tied for the game-high in scoring with Creighton's Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott. He shot 8-for-14 from the field and connected on 4-of-8 three-point field goals while adding four assists and one blocked shot.

Earlier in the week, Bembry had nine points in the Hawks' 81-62 win over Marist in the home opener.

Saint Joseph's, now 2-1, is in the midst of an extended break and will return to action on Thanksgiving night when it faces LSU in the Old Spice Classic held at HP Fieldhouse in Orlando, Fla. The Hawks continue play in the tournament on November 29 and December 1.

Temple names team captains

PHILADELPHIA – Senior Dalton Pepper, along with juniors Will Cummings and Anthony Lee, have been named captains of the 2013-14 Temple University men’s basketball team.

Cummings and Lee are the only returning starters from last season’s team that posted a 24-10 record while advancing to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.  Pepper, who transferred to Temple from West Virginia following his sophomore season (2010-11), is the squad’s lone senior.

“A number of different things that go into the process of selecting captains, the quality of the individuals, how long they have been around,” said Owls coach Fran Dunphy.  “As for Dalton, Will and Anthony, they are just fine young men who understand what it is we, as a coaching staff, want to get across.   So it was an easy selection.”

The trio will next take the court at the Charleston Classic where the Owls take on the Clemson Tigers Thursday at 8:00 p.m (ESPN3/1210 AM WPHT).

Temple lands top prospect

PHILADELPHIA - Obi Enechionyia, a consensus Top 100 prospect out of St. James (MD.) School,  signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at Temple Unversity last week.

"We are very excited to have Obi Enechionyia become a part of our Temple program," said Owls coach Dunphy. "He is a tremendous young man, who comes from a great family.  We expect him to be a significant contributor next season and beyond."

A native of Springfield, Va., Enechionyia averaged 19.4 points, 12.7 rebounds and four blocked shots as a junior last season. He earned Washington County and Independent-Parochial Schools League Player of the Year honors his sophomore year and was named all-MAC and all-IPSL first team as a sophomore and junior.

Enechionyia also was a member of the DC-based AAU squad, Team Takeover, the past two summers, playing alongside fellow Division I commitments Phil Booth (Villanova), Martin Geben (Notre Dame) and Dion Wiley (Maryland).

Sixers name Ravi Shah VP of Strategy

PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia 76ers today announced that Ravi Shah has been named the organization’s new Vice President of Strategy, effective immediately.

In this role, Shah will oversee overall business development and analytics strategies for team sponsorships, ticket sales, premium seating and growth initiatives. He will report to Chief Revenue Officer Chris Heck.

“Ravi is undoubtedly one of the most sought-after strategic minds in sports business, and we’re lucky to have him on our team,” said Heck. “We are confident his work will help us continue to integrate ourselves into the fabric of Philadelphia’s business community in a way that is truly effective and mutually beneficial.”

Shah brings extensive consulting and analytics experience to the Sixers, having worked for the NBA in Team Marketing & Business Operations. While there, he drove the league’s initiative to introduce flexible pricing for single game tickets and optimal pricing for season tickets; launched a consumer survey to help NBA teams measure sponsorship effectiveness; and revamped all ticket sales, sponsorship and premium reporting to allow teams to compare their performances against like-markets.

Shah has also worked with Fortune 500 companies during stints with the Boston Consulting Group and Oliver Wyman, both in New York.

He holds a master's degree in business administration from Stanford University, and received his bachelor's in economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Video: 400-Pound running back Tony Picard

Monday, November 18, 2013

College Hockey Round-up, Week 6

Thanks to USCHO
The Minnesota Golden Gophers won two over the weekend, improving to 8-1-1 on the season and remained atop the new poll released on Monday.

Don Lucia's squad continued their early-season run with victories of 4-1 and 3-0 over former conference rival Minnesota State. They picked up eight more first-place votes over last week.

St. Cloud State, now a WCHA bellwether, moved up to #2 after taking down the Chargers of Alabama-Huntsville with 10-0 and 4-3 decisions.

Hockey East is represented for the first time at No. 3, with Providence rising two spots after beating Vermont in back-to-back games at Gutterson Field House in Burlington. Jon Gillies set a new program record in career shutouts for the 9-1-1 Friars, making 23 saves in a 3-0 win on Saturday, bringing his total to eight, surpassing Tyler Sims.

National runners-up Quinnipiac appear at #4, also having risen two slots, extending its national-best unbeaten string to 12 games (11-0-1) by taking down ECAC foes and Ivy League programs Harvard and Dartmouth on consecutive nights. The Bobcats earned two first-place votes for their hot streak, one more than the No. 2 school in the country.

The biggest fall in the top 10 belongs to the Michigan Wolverines, who plummeted from #2 to #5 after splitting with Nebraska-Omaha, losing 3-2 and winning 4-3. The Fighting Irish, only a few weeks ago looking up at Minnesota, tumbled to No. 6 by beating (4-0) and tying (2-2) Merrimack in South Bend.

Boston College remained firm in the seventh spot, after struggling to a 2-1 win and 2-2 tie at Conte Forum with the Massachusetts Minutemen. Miami-Ohio was also entrenched at No. 8 after splitting a pair with #12 Wisconsin on home ice. Defending champions Yale were once again affixed at #9 with one game on its docket, a 5-1 victory against Sacred Heart, while No. 10 Ferris State -- runner up to BC in 2012 and current leader in the reconstituted WCHA -- rose four spots thanks to three points (4-2 win, 3-3 tie) against Bowling Green to stretch its unbeaten mark to 6-0-1.

Before we get to the local programs, I want to extend congratulations to the Minnesota women's hockey team.

The Gophers reeled off a national-record 62 straight victories before finally being taken down by North Dakota on Sunday afternoon. That run included a 41-0-0 mark last season, conference crown and national championship over Boston University.

What an impressive accomplishment, and massively underscores the need for performers such as these to play in an organized professional league in North America after graduation.

Meanwhile...Penn State continued its homestand with perhaps its toughest matchup to date, and did not fare well. The defending Hockey East regular-season/playoff champion, Frozen Four program and new No. 13 UMass-Lowell River Hawks swooped into the 'Peg and came away with a two-day sweep by scores of 4-0 and 3-2.

On Thursday, PSU gained a 37-28 shot advantage, but Connor Hellebuyck was equal to all of them. Derek Arnold punctured Matt Skoff twice in the third period, while Adam Chapie and Scott Wilson tallied in each of the first two. Friday night, backup Eamon McAdam stopped 41 shots but couldn't turn aside a three-goal first-period barrage from the visitors. David Goodwin scored with 7:43 left in regulation to pull the Nits within one, but it wasn't enough.

Now 3-5-1 on the year, Penn State awaits a visit from ECAC's Union this coming Saturday and Sunday.

The No. 17 Flying Dutchmen are coming off a weekend sweep of conference rival and #14-ranked RPI by scores of 4-3 and 4-1. It was a tour de force for Flyers defensive prospect Shayne Gostisbehere,  who posted eight shots and one assist in Friday's one-goal win at home and then recorded the school's final two goals in Saturday's triumph at Troy.

Princeton's early-season struggles continued, facing Ivy League competition at Baker Rink.

On Friday, the Tigers put an end to a six-game losing skid with a 5-4 overtime win over Dartmouth. Senior forward and Hobey hopeful Andrew Ammon netted the winner -- his second of the contest -- with 11 seconds left in the extra session, bringing the hosts all the way back from a 3-0 first-period deficit.  Ryan Siiro, Tyler Maugeri, Mike Ambrosia tallied to forge a 3-3 deadlock after two, then Ammon put the hosts ahead 66 seconds into the third.

One night later, the luck ran out against Harvard. Seven combined goals were netted in the third period of the Crimson's 5-3 victory, with Aaron Ave, Aaron Kesselman and Tom Kroshus supplying the Tigers' offense. Jimmy Vesey scored the visitors' final two goals of the contest, including a late empty netter.

New Jersey's D-I Orange and Black (2-7-0) have a home-and-home series this weekend with national runner-up Quinnipiac on tap.

Don't forget, the 2014 Frozen Four comes to Philadelphia on April 10-12. Tickets aren't available to the general public, but the NCAA allows you to fill out a form for a ticket lottery.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Eagles take unconventional route to first place

PHILADELPHIA - Take care of your business at home and split on the road. That's the conventional route to a successful NFL season and making a run toward the playoffs.

The Philadelphia Eagles have been anything but conventional in 2013..

The Birds recorded their first home win of the season on Sunday, a 24-16
victory over the Washington Redskins, and it only took 11 weeks. Most teams
who haven't tasted victory on their home turf by Nov. 17 would usually be
doing their due diligence on a Teddy Bridgewater- or Jadeveon Clowney-type.
But, Chip Kelly's bunch is in sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

"It is a weight off our shoulders," Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper said.
"Finally get a win at home and give our fans something to cheer about."

Entering Sunday's contest, Philadelphia's drought at Lincoln Financial Field
had reached 10 games and nearly 14 calendar months, yet the Eagles still had a
piece of the NFC East lead in what admittedly may be the worst division in all
of football.

A 5-1 road record helped cloud the dismal and troubling 0-4 home mark.

Relief finally came for Philadelphia when nickel back Brandon Boykin
intercepted a woeful Robert Griffin III pass in the end zone with just 24
seconds left.

"It was awesome to get this win at home," Kelly said. "I think that part was a
little bit more special than the fact this puts us one up over .500 (on
the season)."

It shouldn't have been that difficult. The Eagles built up a 24-0 lead by the
end of the third quarter before attempting to give it all back against a
quarterback who was woefully inaccurate, especially on downfield throws,
for most of the game.

Boykin himself had two other attempts to end the game with picks on
Washington's ill-fated final drive, just missing when trying to jump a pair of
weakly tossed out-routes by RG3, who finished the contest 17-of-35 for 264
yards with two touchdowns and the one INT.

Older fans from outside the City of Brotherly Love who remember Veterans
Stadium, its awful turf and a hellacious Buddy Ryan-conceived defense
featuring players like Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, and Wes
Hopkins probably wouldn't recognize the laissez-faire atmosphere at the Linc
these days.

The Philly tough-guy mentality has been replaced by an eco-friendly "green
stadium" with wind turbines atop the structure that seem to rarely move sort
of like the Eagles' offense on this turf.

When Nick Foles was last seen in this stadium he had his worst game as a
professional, completing just 11-of-29 passes for 80 yards before leaving with
a concussion during a 17-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, a team which happens to
have one of the two or three worst pass defenses in the entire NFL.

Conversely, in the subsequent two weeks, Foles has thrown 10 touchdown passes
and no interceptions while recording passer ratings of 158.3 at Oakland and
149.3 at Green Bay, the best two-game stretch in NFL history.

By the time Foles ran it in from four yards out with 2:48 remaining in the
first quarter on Sunday the Eagles had gone 143:48 of game time, 149 offensive
plays and eight-plus weeks on the actual calendar between offensive touchdowns
at Lincoln Financial Field.

That's the kind of strange, inexplicable phenomena which could be featured on
"Ripley's Believe it or Not."

Kelly joked that he might have the driver of the team bus circle the stadium
for a while to make his club think it was a road game.

He didn't do that but the Eagles fans were ready to do their part, egging the
Redskins team bus as it entered the stadium, not the classiest move in the
world but perhaps a desperate attempt to regain some of the swagger the city
once had.

Poor play as the host tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. One or two bad
things happen early and the fans start getting antsy while expecting the other
shoe to drop.

The players in turn get a little tighter when they hear the faithful booing
and presto, you have a 10-game home losing streak dating back over a year.

The Eagles got an in between performance from Foles against the Redskins as he
connected on 17-of-26 passes for 298 yards with no TDs but also no
turnovers and a 104.3 rating.

The Eagles avoided a rough start which was key and by halftime the party was
on as 13-plus months of frustration morphed into celebration, and the
realization that a deeply flawed team would be atop the mountain in the
division with just five games left to play.

"Anytime you win it's awesome, Kelly said. "I thought out crowd was fantastic
today . They probably deserved it as much as anybody. They were into it the
entire game. It was an awesome feeling. There was a lot of energy in that
stadium and we needed every ounce of it."

Kelly was being kind. This wasn't exactly Arrowhead or CenturyLink Field and
more than a few hit the exits early in order to beat the traffic out of South
Philly, not only a sign of the times but also in a strange twist, a help
to the Eagles.

As the latest collapse unfolded, thousands weren't there to fret.

Instead of giving up after playing 45 minutes of the worst football you will
ever see, Washington awoke and pressed the issue.

First it was a 62-yard TD pass to Darrel Young, helped along by two
Philadelphia defensive backs colliding, followed by a 2-point
conversion. After an Eagles punt, Aldrick Robinson then quickly turned a badly
underthrown RG3 pass into a 41-yard TD. And another 2-pointer made it a one-
possession game.

"I think we played better in the second half," Redskins receiver Santana Moss
said. " As a team I don't know how we get ourselves in some of the situations
we do. But, in the end we did make it a game."

Foles seemed to secure a first down and likely the game by extending his 6-
foot-6 frame with a 4-yard scramble but a closer look revealed his knee was
down one-half yard short, forcing a punt with 3:26 remaining.

Veteran Donnie Jones uncorked a brilliant 70-yarder which backed the
'Skins up to their own 4-yard line.

"It was huge to make them go that far," Kelly said when discussing the punt.
"For our special teams to contribute like that. That's what it takes. To win
in a division, you have to be able to play well in all three phases. I thought
the punt was huge for us."

Philadelphia would need just about every extra yard Jones gave them.

Griffin was able to convert a 3rd-and-25 along with two other third downs and
had advanced Washington all the way to Eagles' 18-yard line. He still wasn't
sharp, though, and when defensive end Fletcher Cox put on a strong rush
as the seconds waned, RG3 just lofted a poorly conceived pass down the seam
which Boykin easily corralled.

"It's all about finishing," Cox said. "We thought we would shut them out but
things happened. They made a few plays in the second half that they shouldn't
have. I had it in my head that something had to happen. I knew a big play was
coming, so I stayed calm and I got pressure and he threw the ball."

And by throwing it, RG3 ensured the skid was over and the Redskins were

"We'll take it," Kelly said,

Bouncing back from 3-6 for a second straight season seemed untenable for
Washington but if they won in Philadelphia, it was conceivable nine wins could
have probably gotten it done this time around, meaning the 'Skins actually had
a margin for error, albeit a razor-thin one.

Instead the Eagles took the unconventional route to first place, inching one-
half game ahead of idle Dallas.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Shootout undoes Flyers again in loss to Jets

Winnipeg, MB -- Two pearls of wisdom gleaned from Friday night's game in Manitoba's capital: Never get involved in a land war in Asia and never let a game with the Jets end in a shootout.

Bryan Little netted the winner in the fifth round, as Winnipeg rallied for a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at MTS Centre.

Dustin Byfuglien posted both regulation scores on power plays for the Jets, who have taken four straight overall.

Ondrej Pavelec made 32 saves for Winnipeg, which improved to 5-1 this season in the game-ending breakaway competition.

Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds tallied for the Flyers, who failed to string together their first four-game win streak since the end of last season but managed to come away with five points (2-0-1) on their three-game road swing.

"I think they believe they can win games," said Philadelphia head coach Craig Berube. "They play like it, but I still think we need to push more. We had the lead tonight in the third and we should have went and pushed more in the third period. Whether we sat back or whether we're tired, I don't know. I just think we can be more aggressive."

Steve Mason was the hard-luck loser with 36 stops.

Each side had scored once through the first four rounds, then Little began the fifth by beating Mason with a quick shot inside the right post. Pavelec didn't have to do much but close off a small spot between his pads on Kimmo Timonen's chance to wrap up the game for the hosts.

On the opening man advantage, Byfuglien was allowed to skate up the right side uncontested and beat Mason with a wrister at 5:36 of the first period. The Jets entered the game with the NHL's worst power play, clicking at a 6-for-71 rate.

Hartnell's attempt at a wraparound from the right post at the 6:25 mark managed to cross the goal line before Pavelec snatched it away with his glove. Despite a no-goal call on the ice, replay reversed that decision for a 1-1 score.

It was 2-1 for the visitors with 8:15 left in the first, as Simmonds pried a Timonen shot from Pavelec's glove then outworked two Jets defenders to backhand the rebound home. The tally was Philadelphia's 10th with the extra man this season.

Both goaltenders stopped nine shots in a scoreless second period.

Byfuglien's blast from the blue line on another Jets advantage got through traffic and past Mason for a 2-2 deadlock with 5:37 left in regulation.

"Well, the power play obviously was a big plus for us getting us a couple of goals and long time waiting for us for that to happen," said Jets head coach Claude Noel.

Mason was quick with the pads to shuttle away a Mark Scheifele chance in close with 2:38 to play, and Pavelec had to be sharp as the Flyers peppered him with eight shots in overtime.

Notes: Winnipeg improved to 3-1-1 against the Flyers in Manitoba's capital since the franchise's transfer from Atlanta in 2011 ... This was Philly's first game this season decided in a shootout ... Olli Jokinen registered two assists for the Jets.

Friday, November 15, 2013

SI ranks top NHL fights; Flyers clock in at #1

The results are in, and the Philadelphia Flyers have engaged in the most notorious brawl in NHL history. 

Capitalizing on this year's never-ending debate on the role of fighting in hockey, Sports Illustrated decided to delve as deeply as it can these days on the issue.

A panel of in-house writers decided to rank the 50 landmark fights in league history, and, with the resultant need for video proof, no surprise that an overwhelming majority of the selections were culled from the Expansion Era.

Also no surprise that the Orange and Black got some pub on the list, clocking in ascending order with the #45 selection, #43, #36, #33, #27, #22, #19, #16, and #7 before taking the whole megillah courtesy of their pre-game battle with the Montreal Canadiens prior to Game 6 of the 1987 Wales Conference Finals at the Forum.

Bang the link for the entire piece.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Pelle Lindbergh endures

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

One sobering thought in a chilly November night brought me to write the following piece.

Pelle Lindbergh has been dead longer than he was alive.

This is a fact only important to, and given weight by, a significant portion of Flyers fans and professionals -- all of whom are 35 years of age or older.

Any younger than that, then any memories of the sensational Swede are most likely false ones, created through stories of siblings, relatives, peers and enhanced by the magic of taped highlights and YouTube.

It occured to me, after three years kicking around social media and selling my wares where the median age is a number I left roughly 10 years ago, that there are many who know of Pelle, who have heard the legend, but were never a witness to his greatness and infectiously happy personality. Therefore, you probably can't figure why his life and death are lodged deep within certain souls after one-third of a typical lifetime has passed.

First of all, it's because he rose to prominence at such a high rate. From the time he arrived in North America until his untimely death, only five years passed. From the time Bernie Parent's career-ending eye injury it was only a little more than six years. He was an anomaly: a European in the NHL, and a goaltender at that, and a goalie in Philadelphia, whose glory years were earned on the backs of rough-hewn Canadians of both English and French extraction.

After being the only netminder not to lose to the USA in the 1980 Winter Olympics, he set the American Hockey League on fire at Maine, taking home the league's MVP, top rookie and best goaltender honors in his first full season in 1980-81 with the Mariners.

Two years later, he helped rocket the Flyers to the top of the Patrick Division over the three-time defending Cup champion Islanders along with fellow rookie Bob Froese. Two years after that, in 1984-85, Mike Keenan helped restore Pelle's lost confidence from the year before, making him the starter and playing him until he tired of it. The results were a Vezina Trophy -- won for the first time by a non-North American -- along with league-best 40 wins, and a berth in the Stanley Cup finals after a record-setting 53-win regular season.

As many of his teammates including Brian Propp and Brad Marsh have said, the Flyers were who they were because Pelle worked so well in net that it elevated everyone else's confidence and level of play.  He lifted a team which had the lowest average age of any club in North American professional sports -- without the veteran leadership of Bob Clarke, or Bill Barber or Darryl Sittler -- and made them believe they could compete with the best in the NHL every night.

His style was unique for the times, aggressive, flexible, positionally-sound, or as much as you could be in the risk-taking 1980s, but his reaction and recovery times were and still are a rare commodity. The following video demonstrates some of his quickness:

Several lightning-fast saves, and a rejuvenated sellout Spectrum crowd broke out in a "Pelle" chant whose cadence is still hauntingly familiar to those who witnessed it.

Second, for those of you who believe in the Butterfly Effect, Pelle's sudden death created ripples on this frozen pond that resonate to this very day regarding the never-ending search for the next championship-caliber goalie. It's something that defies analysis, and is encouraged by long life and a good memory.

If not for his passing, in the early stages of another division-winning season, Bob Froese would have never been elevated to the starter, which wouldn't have given Keenan doubts about Froese's long-term viability. That, in turn, would have kept Ron Hextall down in Hershey for at least one more year and it wouldn't have resulted in Hextall's sensational rookie season that resulted in Froese's trade to the Rangers, and might not have ended with a Cup Finals loss to Edmonton and a Conn Smythe Trophy and Vezina Trophy and his eventual burnout through suspensions creating nagging groin injuries that lessened his impact when he did play for weak teams, and caused his trade and two years away from the organization before being brought back to start the cycle we know and loathe today.

There's high degree of probability that no statistic would exist about the Flyers featuring 11 different starting goaltenders in the playoffs every year they made it between 1996 and 2012, and we would have only heard of most of the names on that list (Hextall, Garth Snow, Sean Burke, John Vanbiesbrouck, Brian Boucher, Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche, Martin Biron, Michael Leighton, Sergei Bobrovsky, Ilya Bryzgalov) as playing for other teams.

Speaking of goaltending, and Parent -- this is where Pelle's effect on others really took hold. At age 34, Parent's Hall of Fame career ended prematurely due to a freak eye injury during a February, 1979 game against the Rangers. As has been related by his daughter, Kim and others, Bernie lost his way a bit in the aftermath, and as many do in times of trouble, turn to the bottle to drown sorrows. 

That malaise lasted until Pelle earned his way into the NHL during strong play in the 1982-83 season, where Parent was brought on as goaltending coach and mentor to the then-23-year-old. The relationship became beautifully intertwined: both professional and personal, and each managed to lift the other to a place Pelle always thought he'd reach and that Bernie might never have thought he'd see again.

The culmination of that special bond came in June of 1985, when Parent was on hand to present the Vezina Trophy to Pelle, linking the two Flyers greats forever engraved in silver. 

Parent finally made his feelings known publicly during Pelle's memorial, prior to a 5-3 victory over the defending champion Edmonton Oilers at the Spectrum 28 years ago tonight, choking back tears. The video below shows Bernie's eulogy, beginning at the 2:13 mark. I encourage everyone to watch not only that, but the rest of the clip as well as the second video, which are highlights from the game itself.

The Flyers won their 11th consecutive game, improving to 13-2-0, the best record in the NHL at the time. Running on inertia, and playing in Pelle's memory, the run stretched on for two more games, and the 13-win streak still stands as a club record.

In a twisted sense of logic, an athlete dying young preserves his personality, athleticism, reputation and impact at its peak. Time is not allowed to erode or diminish any of those qualities, but it's hard to imagine, had Pelle been gifted with a long life, that any would have been. Even though Elton John once sang that "life isn't everything," our cherubic Stockholm-born goaltender would beg to differ. Life was everything, and that exuberance showed then and radiates now.

Only a footnote in team history, it's up to us -- fans, writers, fellow Swedes of all ages and students of the game -- to keep the memory and the legacy vibrant. Celebrate and mourn in equal parts, but always remember.

As a bonus, here's a feature on goalie equipment and goaltending philosophy from Lindbergh and Froese, televised four days before Pelle's death: