Friday, February 28, 2014

Mock Draft version 2.0, post-combine edition

By John McMullen

PHILADELPHIA - One of the best things about the annual NFL Scouting Combine is getting unfiltered access to the prospects themselves.

So much of NFL football is based on pure physical ability, but the things that
set the truly great ones apart tend to be the intangibles -- things like work
ethic, maturity and leadership skills.

For instance, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning just put together the
greatest statistical season in NFL history, but if he showed up in Indianapolis
as a 22-year-old kid with the same physical skills he possesses right now,
Manning likely wouldn't even be regarded as a draftable commodity.

But, a stopwatch can't measure ambition, desire or hunger. Pure brute strength
can't mask a low football IQ, and short-area quickness means little without an
instinct for the game.

And that's why, in the end, the NFL Draft is really just a crapshoot, a
snapshot in time of a glorified educated guess.

That said, the more you prepare, the better the chances are you make a prudent
decision and hordes of NFL personnel people departed Indianapolis this week
after doing their due diligence on the league's next generation of talent.

A total of 335 prospects were invited to the Hoosier State and 269 of them
were kind enough to speak with the media in some form, according to the Pro
Football Writers of America.

Here's our current snapshot as The Sports Network rolls out its latest mock
draft, the post-combine edition:

1. Houston Texans - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida - There are four
elite prospects in this draft and none of them plays the QB position (South
Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson, Buffalo OLB
Khalil Mack and Clemson WR Sammy Watkins). Bill O'Brien, however, was brought
to the Lone Star State to fix the quarterback problems and the Texans believe
they are a worst-to-first candidate if they can solve their woes at the

The first option here is to trade down with someone who wants to go all-in on
Clowney or Robinson. Absent of that, though, O'Brien will choose the
prototypically sized Bortles over Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, the
most polished and NFL-ready signal caller in this draft, and popular but
undersized Texas A&M stalwart Johnny Manziel.

"I think it would be unbelievable," Bortles said when asked about playing in
Houston for O'Brien. "The track record that he has is awesome. So to have the
opportunity to play for a guy like that would be very special."

Previous Pick: Bridgewater

2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins) - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn -
Clowney remains the best pure prospect in this draft, but the Rams already
have what Clowney projects to be (Robert Quinn), along with another solid end
in Chris Long. St. Louis would certainly like to trade down and build on the
windfall they got in the Robert Griffin III trade, but if forced to stay put,
it would be a good idea to get the best tackle on the board because Jake Long
tore an ACL late last season and Rodger Saffold is headed for free

Texas A&M star Jake Matthews is the safer choice, but Robinson's ceiling is
much higher and he blew up at the combine, clocking 4.92 seconds in the 40-yard
dash at 332 pounds, putting up 32 reps on the bench press and excelling in both
the 3-cone drill and the short shuttle.

"I'm not at full potential right now. I still have a lot to go," Robinson
said. "I started last year (and that) was my first season starting. Like the
guys they have ahead of me like Jake Matthews, he started since he was a
freshman. That's just something I feel I need to prove."

Previous Pick: Matthews

3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina - If the NFL is
truly a copycat league, the Jags have a leg up when it comes to emulating
Seattle' terrific defense because Gus Bradley was one of its architects.
Clowney's production didn't match his talent in Columbia, but his upside as a
player is off the charts.

Clowney wowed everyone at the combine with his 4.53 40-yard dash at 266 pounds,
but he also played into some of the work ethic concerns when he declined to
participate in the on-field workouts.

"I believe I did work hard (at South Carolina)," Clowney said. "You pull out
any practice tape from last year, you'll see that. I'll tell everybody that. I
will always be working hard. No matter where I end, up I am going to work hard
and give a team everything I've got."

Previous Pick: Clowney

4. Cleveland Browns - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson - Reports say the old
Browns regime fell in love with Manziel and would have done everything it took
to get him. New GM Ray Farmer, though, isn't interested.

The scary part for Cleveland is that there is a lot of smoke indicating Farmer
is enamored with Fresno State signal caller Derek Carr, certainly a capable
prospect but a guy who belongs nowhere near the top 10. In the end, someone
will have to talk Farmer off the ledge and convince him to take a far safer
option like Watkins, who could form a nearly unstoppable duo on the outside
with Josh Gordon for whomever plays QB in Cleveland.

"I think I can do just about anything on the field from wide receiver to
running back to slot I can make plays all over the field," Watkins said. "What
I love doing is dominating defenses. I think that's what I bring to the game
and I think that's going to turn over to the NFL. When I come into the NFL, I
think I can be that dominant receiver."

Previous Pick: Manziel

5. Oakland Raiders - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville - Both general manager
Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen are on very short leashes in Oakland.
Neither man believes in Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin at quarterback, so they
will have their choice between Bridgewater and Manziel. The added incentive to
win right now will turn Oakland toward the safer prospect and Bridgewater, the
most pro-ready signal caller in this draft class.

"I feel that I'm the best quarterback in this draft," Bridgewater said.
"There's obviously actions that have to back up these words, and I'm just
confident in myself and my capability to be able to play this position. I'm
just going to go out there and prove that I'm the best guy."

Previous Pick: Watkins

6. Atlanta Falcons - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M  - The Falcons have plenty
of needs, but protecting Matt Ryan is first and foremost on their list. Ryan
was sacked 44 times last season after Atlanta released Tyson Clabo and saw Sam
Baker and Mike Johnson go down with injuries. It's about time a top-tier
tackle landed in Dixie and Matthews could step in at left tackle, enabling the
athletically limited Baker to move over to the right side.

"Being considered a polished player, someone who's done a lot and played well
in my life, I'll take that as a (compliment)," Matthews said. "At the same
time, I still feel like there's a lot I can get better at. Definitely wouldn't
say I'm at my peak -- a lot more I can learn, a lot more I can get better at."

Previous Pick: Robinson

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo - Mack cemented his status
as a top-10 pick after finishing well in the 40 (4.65), vertical jump (40),
broad jump (10-8), and 20-yard shuttle (4.18) in Indy. Neither UCLA's Anthony
Barr nor Mack are really scheme fits for Lovie Smith's 4-3 cover-2, but Mack
has the chance to be the far more well-rounded 'backer.

"My versatility helps me in a lot of ways," Mack said. "If you have a guy who
can rush the passer, as well as drop in coverage -- that covers two of the big
issues on the defense."

Previous Pick: Mack

8. Minnesota Vikings - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State - Most believe the
Vikings will go QB here, but after swinging and missing badly by reaching for
Christian Ponder back in 2011, general manger Rick Spielman doesn't have the
political capital to roll the dice on a Manziel or Carr this early.

Add in the fact the aggressive Mike Zimmer is the new coach in Minny and the
corners under Leslie Frazier were abysmal (save for the promising Xavier
Rhodes) and the speedy Gilbert seems like a good fit. The former Oklahoma
State star cemented himself as the draft's top cornerback in Indy by running
a 4.37 in the 40, posting 20 reps on the bench press, and recording a 35 1/2-
inch vertical leap.

"I think I'm the best corner in the draft," Gilbert said. "(It's about)
dedication to the game and the work that I put in day in and day out off the
field, watching film, making guys around me better."

Previous Pick: Barr

9. Buffalo Bills - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan - The Bills probably wouldn't
mind adding either Mack or Barr at linebacker next to this year's rookie
standout Kiko Alonso, but it's also a good idea to build up around E.J. Manuel
to help him develop in his second season. Lewan proved to be nearly as
athletic as Robinson at the combine with a 4.87 40-yard dash and solid efforts
in the broad jump and 3-cone drill.

"I like to think I'm very consistent and I play through the whistle," Lewan
said. "That's one of my weaknesses, too, as everybody likes to comment on.
But no doubt about it, I like to play through the whistle and do whatever I
can to put people in the dirt as much as possible."

Previous Pick - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

10. Detroit Lions - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State - The Lions and new
coach Jim Caldwell would probably love to add Mike Evans opposite Calvin
Johnson, but improving outside the numbers on defense is also a priority.
Dennard, who was just a tick behind Gilbert athletically while in
Indianapolis, is very physical and has a chance to be an elite press coverage
player who has the personality to be a lockdown corner.

Previous Pick - Gilbert

11. Tennessee Titans - C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama - Ken Whisenhunt was brought
in to help Jake Locker, not give up on him, so forget about a QB here and
focus on defense. Mosley turned a few people off at the combine by not running
the 40 and refusing to address the media, but he could be the kind of
difference maker inside who new defensive coordinator Ray Horton can build

Previous Pick - Mosley

12. New York Giants - Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA - The Giants' linebacking corps
was a vast wasteland a year ago and Barr was once thought of as a top-five-
type selection. He's still raw after starting his career in UCLA at running
back and needs to add strength, but Barr would be a perfect fit in North
Jersey -- an explosive player who figures to eventually be an impact guy off
the edge.

"The transition (from offense to defense) was pretty smooth, honestly," Barr
said. "Difficult at first. I think moving backwards, going back in coverage,
was something that was new to me. But now I feel comfortable with that. Just
sort of getting used to the position. It's still sort of new to me in a sense.
It's exciting. If I continue to work, the sky's the limit."

Previous Pick - Dennard

13. St. Louis Rams - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M - Adding playmaking ability and
much-needed size opposite their top pick from a year ago, Tavon Austin, makes
a lot of sense especially if the Rams are really intent on moving forward with
Sam Bradford.

"There are a lot of great receivers in this draft, don't get me wrong. But I
feel I'm the best one," Evans said.

Previous Pick: Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal

14. Chicago Bears - Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State - The Bears, who were
dismal against the run last season after Henry Melton went down with an injury,
need help on the interior. Jernigan is the best three-technique tackle in the
draft and a better fit than Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix for what Chicago
is trying to accomplish.

"I feel like now in the NFL a lot of nose tackles have to come off the field
and I feel like that's where I can benefit a team at," Jernigan said. "I've
played in the shade, I've played over the center, I've played in the three-
technique. When it's a pass situation, when you want to go to a three-man
front, you can put me on the nose guard, right on the zero. I can get pressure
from the middle of the offense. I feel like that's where my game changes
from anyone else's."

Previous Pick - Nix

15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama - Second-year man
Shamarko Thomas is currently penciled in opposite Troy Polamalu on
Pittsburgh's back end and he has some potential, but that's not enough to pass
on the instinctive Clinton-Dix, who could be an elite player.

Previous Pick - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

16. Dallas Cowboys - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh - Jerry Jones probably
doesn't even know what the Cowboys are going to run defensively this season,
but if they stick with a Kiffin-Marinelli Tampa-2 amalgamation, getting an
impact player at the three-technique is paramount, and Donald may be
undersized but he has the quickness and explosiveness to dominate.

"I would like to play for anyone, but it would be good to play for (the
Cowboys)," Donald said. "I love the way they play up front: 4-3. I like the
way they play their defense."

Previous Pick - Donald

17. Baltimore Ravens - Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California - Lee reminds you
a little of Keenan Allen, a great college receiver who is getting downgraded
because he didn't run all that well at the combine. Ozzie Newsome will
understand just how refined Lee is and take the leap here.

"The main thing you have to learn coming in as a college player coming into
the NFL is the playbook," Lee said. "Also, spending that time with the
quarterback so you're on the same page."

Previous Pick - Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame

18. New York Jets - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina - Getting playmakers will
be important for Geno Smith's development and Ebron is the best tight end in
this draft, an athletic marvel in the mold of a Vernon Davis.

"There's a lot of great tight ends (coming out in the draft)," Ebron said.
"What makes me different is who I am. I'm not going to sell myself, but I'm
very fast, I'm very different. I play the tight end role like no one else."


19. Miami Dolphins - Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame - Miami allowed a league-
high 58 sacks and couldn't protect Ryan Tannehill with Jonathan Martin and
Richie Incognito or without them. Zack Martin is one of the safest picks in
this draft with a lot of position flexibility.

PREVIOUS PICK - Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

20. Arizona Cardinals - Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame - The Cards need to start
thinking about tomorrow on the defensive line. John Abraham will be entering
his 15th season in 2014 while Darnell Dockett's future is up in the air due to
a large contract. Tuitt is a bit of a mystery at this stage because he wasn't
cleared to participate at the combine because of a small fracture in his left
foot. That could send him tumbling, but the guess here is that his rare
physical gifts, along with impressive scheme-versatility, will have Arizona


21. Green Bay Packers - Ra'shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota - The Packers have
said they want to get more athletic up front and that means they will choose
the gifted Hageman over the more plodding Nix.

"I feel like a lot of people don't think I have the mechanics and just the
talent to play D-tackle," Hageman said. "But I feel like me being athletic
definitely helped me get to where I am. I feel like everyone in the NFL is
athletic. So, I definitely have to kind of stay to my fundamentals to get


22. Philadelphia Eagles - Dee Ford, DE, Auburn - People are focused on safety
with the Eagles and while they certainly need help at that position, an impact
player off the edge is even more of a concern. Ford, an undersized defensive
end at Auburn, looks like a tailor-made fit as a 3-4 outside rush linebacker.


23. Kansas City Chiefs -  Odell Beckham, WR, LSU - Alex Smith gets criticized
a lot for being a game manager and failing to push the ball down the field, but
one of the major reasons he didn't last season was the fact Kansas City had no
one outside the numbers to pop the top on opposing defenses. Beckham is the
kind of dynamic athlete who can stretch a defense.


24. Cincinnati Bengals - Calvin Pryor, safety, Louisville - With Zimmer now in
Minnesota, the Bengals will have a tougher time masking deficiencies on their
defense, so upgrading the talent on the back end is necessary. Pryor is
an instinctive player with a nose for the football.


25. San Diego Chargers - Jason Verrett, CB, TCU - The Chargers ranked 29th
overall in pass defense and dead last in the AFC, so the talent level has to
improve on the back end. Verrett is undersized and considered a slot
cornerback by some, but he opened a lot of eyes in Indianapolis with his speed
and athleticism.

"I've been challenged with receivers that have been over 6-foot my whole
college career," Verrett said when asked about his size. "I played against a
lot of good receivers in college that were over 6-foot. I feel like I'm this
height for a reason, but I can compete with the best."

PREVIOUS PICK - Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford

26. Cleveland Browns - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State - The Browns stay patient
and get their man in Carr, a solid prospect who has been paying for some of
the sins of his older brother.

PREVIOUS PICK - Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

27. New Orleans Saints - Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame - Rob Ryan worked some
serious magic in turning around the Saints' defense a year ago, and adding Nix,
a prototypical nose tackle, to the mix will only open things up further for
players like Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks.

"I think I can wiggle a little bit," the bulky Nix said while playing up his
athleticism. "I have dance moves. That should prove a lot."


28. Carolina Panthers - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State - The Panthers need to
give Cam Newton help on the outside and Cooks has the speed to do some serious
damage with the football in his hands.

"I'm a playmaker," Cooks said. "I'm able to create plays from nothing. Be able
to catch a 3-yard ball, I'll take it the distance. Those YAC yards, yards
after the catch. Speed kills and I feel like that's what I'm going to bring to
the game."


29. New England Patriots - Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech - Whether Rob Gronkowski
can overcome his injury issues or not, the Pats need to add another tight end,
and Amaro is the slot type who would fill the void left from Aaron Hernandez's

"I think I'm a mixture of both (an in-line and slot tight end)," Amaro said.
"I think that's why I'm so unique. It's kind of a revolution to the game now
with what tight ends can bring across the board. I like to see myself as both
a tight end and as a receiver."


30. San Francisco 49ers, Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech - The 49ers are one of
the most talented teams in football with few glaring holes. They, however, lack
depth at cornerback and Fuller has the size, length and physicality that
is en vogue now.

"I moved around in our defensive backfield. I played field (corner), I played
boundary (corner). That just shows how versatile I am," Fuller said. "I
definitely consider myself a physical player."

PREVIOUS PICK - Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida

31. Denver Broncos - Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri - Von Miller and Derek Wolfe will
be back next year, but if this season proved anything in Denver, it's you can
never have enough live bodies on the edge, and Ealy, despite a less-than-
impressive 4.92 in the 40, is tremendous value here.

"I want to prove that I'm one of the best defensive linemen, if not the best
defensive lineman in this draft," Ealy said. "I don't want to be second-best,
I want to be first."


32. Seattle Seahawks - Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA - The one weakness in
Seattle is the offensive line and Su'a Filo, the most experienced and NFL-
ready member of UCLA's impressive O-line, could step right in as a starter.

"Nowadays in the NFL, from what I feel like, as an offensive lineman, if you
can be athletic, if you can move, or at the guard position if you can be more
flexible and you can play multiple positions, then you're more valuable to a
team," Su'a Filo said. "At UCLA, we ran spread zone, but we did have some gap
scheme and power in there. When I was at guard, I love pulling, getting out in


Dropping out:

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford

Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida

Eagles re-sign WR Maclin to 1-year deal

PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Eagles today announced they have agreed to terms with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin on a one-year contract, believed to guarantee the Missouri product $3.5 million and give him the ability to earn up to $6 million.

“Jeremy is an ideal player for our scheme with his combination of size, speed, strength and route-running ability, in addition to his dynamic playmaking talent,” said Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. “We’re happy to see him rehabbing well and to get him under contract for the 2014 season.”

Maclin missed the entire the 2013 season with a torn ACL suffered during training camp. In 2012, Maclin led the Eagles with 69 receptions, 857 yards receiving and seven touchdowns through the air and became just the eighth receiver in NFL history to record at least 55 catches and 750 yards in each of his first four seasons in the league.

“I’m excited to see Jeremy play in our offense,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “You saw the potential of that in the spring and summer but obviously he didn’t get an opportunity last year. However, what was great to see was how he was literally here every single day since being injured. You can see he has a passion for the game of football. When he was on the field last spring and summer, you saw his intelligence, you saw his great route-running ability and you saw how tough of a one-on-one match-up he could be.”

A steadying force in the Eagles passing game, Maclin ranked among Eagles receiving greats through the first four years of his career, leading the franchise in receptions (258), while ranking third in yardage (3,453) and fifth in touchdowns (26). He enjoyed his best season in 2010, as he notched career-highs in catches (70), receiving yardage (964) and touchdowns (10).

Selected by the Eagles in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Maclin burst onto the scene in his rookie campaign, hauling in 56 catches for 773 yards and four touchdowns, while setting a franchise record with 146 receiving yards in the team’s NFC Wild Card game at Dallas (1/9/10). He also became the first Eagles rookie to ever post two touchdown receptions of 40-plus yards in the same game, recording scoring grabs of 51 and 40 yards vs. TB (10/11/09).

A two-time first-team All-American at the University of Missouri, Maclin scored a school record 33 touchdowns in 28 games and was the first player in school history to score a touchdown via reception, rush, punt return and kickoff return. He started all 14 games as a sophomore and led the nation with a school single-season record 2,833 all-purpose yards, which ranked as the fifth-highest single-season total in NCAA history.
Chester, Pa. – PPL Park will once again bring the “world’s game” to the Chester waterfront this summer, hosting Greece and Nigeria in an international exhibition match on June 3, it was announced today. 

The match is part of a 10 day, seven game tour, entitled, Road to Brazil, and is organized by Soccer United Marketing, MLS’ commercial arm.

Tickets for all Road to Brazil matches will go on sale to the general public March 17 via Kick off times will be announced at a later date.

 “We’re excited to welcome Greece and Nigeria to PPL Park” said Philadelphia Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz. “This match will give fans an opportunity to see two teams up close and personal as they begin their road to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”

Ten countries will participate in the Road to Brazil series of matches, representing four continents – Europe, Africa, North America and South America. World Cup-bound teams include the following: from Europe, defending champion Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Greece; representing Africa are the African Cup of Nations champion Nigeria and powerhouse Ivory Coast; and Honduras from CONCACAF. The national teams of Bolivia, El Salvador Israel and Turkey will also participate.

Road to Brazil will feature players from some of the top leagues from around the world, including the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Campeonato Brasileiro and MLS.

The full Road to Brazil schedule is listed below. For more information visit

Sixers announce Allen Iverson night details

PHILADELPHIA – The 76ers have announced details for the retirement of Allen Iverson’s number 3 in a halftime ceremony during their game on Saturday against the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center.

All fans in attendance will receive a voucher at all entrances to the Wells Fargo Center, which may be redeemed for one of four classic Iverson giveaways, given at random, at one of six stations on the main and mezzanine concourses. Giveaways include the Iverson Celebriduck, Iverson Gumby, “Alien” Iverson doll and Iverson bobblehead. Fans will receive one giveaway per voucher; no exchanges may be made.

Fans are encouraged to arrive early to experience Iverson’s legacy at stations around the concourse, including a display of his 11 NBA All-Star jerseys, as well as a selection of game-worn and autographed items up for auction, with proceeds benefitting SIXERS STRONG.

Additionally on the concourse outside of Section 119, fans can watch hair clipping artist Kenny “The Professional” Duncan cut Iverson’s likeness into the hair of a fan starting at 6:30 p.m. Ivben Taqiy, an artist hailing from West Philadelphia, will also paint a picture of Iverson onto a large canvas from when doors open to 7:10 p.m.

The historic night will tip off with national recording artist Marsha Ambrosius singing the National Anthem. All Sixers players will wear special “Iverson Forever” patches on their jerseys and Iverson’s 3 on their shooting shirts pregame. The patches will be on sale at team stores in the arena on Saturday night.

During an extended halftime ceremony, Allen Iverson’s number 3 will rise to the rafters, joining Sixers legends Wilt Chamberlain, Julius “Dr. J” Erving and others in becoming just the eighth player in team history to have his number retired. Dignitaries expected to speak during the ceremony include NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Sixers Managing Owner Josh Harris and Iverson himself.

Special guests for the ceremony and game include Sixers greats Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Moses Malone, Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliff, along with Gary Payton and Pat Croce. Members of The Roots are also expected to be in attendance, as well as other surprise guests.

Throughout the game, the Sixers will show footage of some of the NBA’s greatest current and former players and coaches sharing their thoughts on Iverson, his impact on the game and how he inspired them individually, as well as other highlight videos from his career. The high-flying Sixers Flight Squad, presented by Lundy Law, will wear Iverson jerseys during their dunk show during the third quarter break, and the Sixers Dream Team, presented by Parx Casino, will wear Iverson jersey dresses for the game.

Michael Parks: Invisible Man

Let's talk about the Flyers prospect at a major Division I program, a junior who is considered a prime mover on his team.

No, not him. The other one. A lot further north and west and whose club, once a national powerhouse, faced an uphill battle to be recognized among the best in the country once more.

That's right...Michael Parks.

Parks has put together a third campaign in Grand Forks that has been largely ignored when compared to the printed hype Shayne Gostisbehere's endured for the No. 3-ranked Union Dutchmen and the travails with the uber-stacked London Knights that goaltender Anthony Stolarz has seen since jumping from Nebraska-Omaha midway through his freshman year.

Selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, Parks has risen to become a leader on this years' Fighting Sioux squad, adorned with the "A" of alternate captain. The 22-year-old native of St. Louis has picked up 26 points (10G, 16A) in 30 games, good enough for second on the club in all three categories. That performance has helped North Dakota ascend to the top of the brand-new NCHC, though pushing through into the upper echelon of the national rankings proved elusive until this past week, with a debut at #10.

It's quite a turnaround from a tumultuous sophomore campaign, one which was slowed by the infamous and nebulous "lower-body injury" suffered during an October exhibition contest against the University of Manitoba -- that ended up costing him a chunk of the first half of the schedule and limiting him to seven goals and one assist in 25 appearances.

The Fighting Sioux are hot. Heading into a two-game weekend set against conference rival and fifth-ranked St. Cloud State, they have gone 14-2-1 since late November, and they have won four straight games by a combined 21-6 count. That's a searing offensive pace for a team which struggled to top three goals-per-game from the start of the season through the early part of this sizzling streak of success. Their record currently stands at 18-9-3.

Parks has risen to the occasion, stoking the fires by collecting seven goals and eight assists over 12 games since the calendar moved to 2014.

Parks is a rare commodity within the Flyers organization: a draft pick who chose the Division I path who has, thus far, suffered neither hype nor dismissal, one who won't feel the pull or demand to elevate his game so that the club can entice him to move from college to the pros. From the sound of the following from Fighting Sioux beat writer Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald, he's a versatile man in the Michael Raffl mold:

"He is used in all special teams situations. His speed and ability to separate a guy from the puck help on the PK. His job is screening the goalie and looking for rebounds...he scores almost all of his goals within 10 feet of the net on rebounds or wraparounds."

Here's video of Parks' carom-controlling prowess against long-time rival Denver:

Afraid of those demon shootouts, the bane of the Orange and Black? Don't be:

"If he comes in alone on a goalie, he has a lot of poise to make a good move and score (or shoot 5-hole). UND has not been in a single shootout this year, but if they get in one, Parks will be their second shooter (after Rocco Grimaldi)."

Hit the link for a prime example of that poise, from a home game during his freshman year.

He's just the type of player the franchise needs as an anchor, one who will be left alone to complete his growth in college and then be allowed to grow into whatever role the Phantoms or Flyers wish to provide.

Without extraneous distractions and extra attention paid to first-round picks and those who wish to tout franchise saviors at whatever position is the need of the moment, Parks should be free to make of his opportunity to stick in the pros all about his own smarts, ability and adaptability. Schlossman backed up that sentiment, ending with the following:

"He still has work to do before becoming an NHL player, but I wouldn't rule out his chances of playing in the NHL at some point if he keeps developing. He's definitely moving in the right direction. I'm pretty certain he will be back at UND next season..."

With two more weeks left in the college hockey regular-season slate, Parks will be called upon to lead the way as the Sioux try to break a deadlock atop the conference standings, which UND leads by virtue of one more win than the Huskies. Things can get very complicated if both schools end up with identical records, as the NCHC has five separate tiebreaking rules.

And BTW, if the Sioux keep rolling right through the postseason, their fans are guaranteed to be the largest contingent present at the Frozen Four next month.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Backtracks: Flyers performance after the Olympics

For the fifth time in the last 16 years, the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves having to jockey for playoff position following the Olympic break.

The previous four certainly saw their share of twists and turns, so the home stretch of 23 games in 2014 will likely turn out no different.

Unlike other years when the Winter Games were contested, the club did not send a single impact player to the major hockey powers although five skaters represented their home countries and Kimmo Timonen managed to help Team Finland rip the Bronze medal away from the Americans.

That doesn't mean, when the remainder of the schedule commences tonight against the San Jose Sharks, that things won't happen which will set Craig Berube's club on a memorable course.  Here's a look back at previous years:

Before Olympics: 29-17-9 (2nd Atlantic, 3rd in East)
After Olympics: 13-12-2 (2nd Atlantic, 3rd in East)  

The Orange and Black, under first-year bench boss Wayne Cashman, skidded into the Nagano intermission with five losses in their last six games. Once back from Japan, any ideas of catching the Devils for the division lead were squashed when Darius Kasparaitis elbowed Eric Lindros, causing a Grade III concussion which removed the club captain from action for the next 18 games. Despite a 4-0-2 homestand immediately after Big E's injury, the club -- now under the auspices of Roger Neilson -- played barely above .500 and in fact lost three of their last five games once Lindros returned. One bright spot was John LeClair hitting the 50-goal mark for the third straight season.

The game which singularly captured the sheer weirdness of the end of that season, was a Sunday night game on ESPN between the Flyers and Penguins in Philadelphia just over 24 hours after Lindros' woozy exit. Alexandre Daigle scored a highlight-reel overtime goal -- his first with the club -- to produce a 4-3 victory ad a split of the home-and-home set. Shortly after its end, Cashman was suddenly demoted to an assistant and Neilson was elevated to head coach. 

Playoffs: Buffalo, the surprising sixth seed backstopped by league MVP and Vezina winner Dominik Hasek, claimed a five-game first-round victory with Michal Grosek netting the series winner in overtime of Game 5 in Philadelphia. Ron Hextall was supplanted as the starter by the recently-acquired Sean Burke, a portend of the unfortunate end to Hexy's career.

Before Olympics: 33-18-6 (1st Atlantic, 1st in East)
After Olympics:  9-12-4 (1st Atlantic, 2nd in East)

The writing on the wall wasn't there yet for Bill Barber before Salt Lake City, as a crush of games in January and February leading up to the break didn't cause much fatigue, with the club going 4-2-1 until the quadrennial recess to remain atop the Atlantic. After the league's return, the wear and tear became more evident, and even the infamous deal to acquire Adam Oates from the Capitals couldn't stoke the fires of a dying offense. After going unbeaten in five, the Flyers ended the regular season on a dismal 2-7-1 string during which they scored just 16 goals yet somehow didn't abdicate their crown.

Playoffs: About as much of a failure from top to bottom as there has been in franchise history. Two names you need to have seared into your consciousness: Ruslan Fedotenko and Dan McGillis, who are the only two players to score in the entire five-game loss to the Ottawa Senators. Rusty's goal won Game 1 by a 1-0 count in OT, while McGillis' tally sent Game 5 into extra time before the Sens took the series. Barber took the fall, as a veteran core of players went over his head to complain directly to GM Bob Clarke, who later axed his former teammate one year removed from a Jack Adams Award.

Before Olympics: 33-16-9 (2nd Atlantic, 5th in East)
After Olympics:  12-10-2 (2nd Atlantic, 5th in East)

Buoyed by two potential Hart Trophy candidates in Peter Forsberg and Simon Gagne, the Flyers shook off the losses of Keith Primeau and Eric Desjardins to stay near the top of the standings prior to the NHL heading to Torino. However, Ken Hitchcock couldn't prevent a 3-5-1 slide before the Olympics and then his charges promptly lost four in a row (0-3-1) right after games resumed. Curious trades to acquire Niko Dimitrakos and Petr Nedved and to get rid of Dennis Seidenberg accompanied this end-of-year skid, and the organization took no chances, dusting off Kate Smith for a Saturday afternoon matinee win over the Rangers -- the first time in years the famous rendition of "God Bless America" was dragged out for a regular-season tilt. The club scored 27 goals in their final 10 games, well below the searing pace the team enjoyed previously and well below some of the clubs above them in the conference.

Playoffs: The suddenly rejuvenated Buffalo Sabres, with a roster stacked unlike any time since the late 70s, steamrolled the Flyers in six games. Philadelphia, thanks to the guidance of two-time Cup winner Forsberg won Games 3 and 4 at home to even the series by a goal differential of plus-3. However, due to the overwhelming prowess of the Sabres' first three lines, they lost the remaining four contests by a combined 21-5 count.

Before Olympics: 32-25-3 (3rd in Atlantic, 6th in East)
After Olympics:  9-10-3 (3rd in Atlantic, 7th in East)

Up is down, night is day. Despite losing starter Ray Emery to congenital hip problems, and shepherding a roster still getting used to his methods after John Stevens was fired in December, Peter Laviolette aided his club to four straight wins and victories in six of their last eight before the pause to send the best and brightest off to Vancouver. When they came back, fatigue and a possible Gold-medal hangover from Canada's victory looked to be a factor in a 2-7-2 stretch which threatened to knock the Orange and Black out of the postseason race altogether. But they finished 3-1-0 and beat the Rangers in a winner-take-all shootout at home on the final day of the regular season to slip into the playoffs and vault into the seventh seed.

Playoffs: The Charmed Life continued through the Spring, with the Flyers knocking off the second-seeded Devils, then etching their names in the NHL record book by overcoming an 0-3 series deficit against the Boston Bruins, and finishing off their Cinderella ride by dispatching the eighth-seeded Habs to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and Brian Boucher all suffered significant injuries, while Ian Laperriere's career came to an end in the first round. Down to duct tape, grit, determination and Michael Leighton in goal, Chicago wins the series in Game 6 here in one of the worst ways possible.

Sixers and Granger part ways

PHILADELPHIA - Danny Granger's short tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers officially came to an end Wednesday, with the team announcing it has agreed to buy out the remainder of the injury-plagued forward's contract.

Granger, a former All-Star whose production has declined sharply over the past two seasons due to knee problems, had been acquired by the Sixers from Indiana at last week's trade deadline in exchange for forwards Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. He did not appear in a game with his new team, however, as the two sides worked on an arrangement for his release.

"Following the completion of the trade on Thursday night, Danny traveled to Philadelphia and we had an opportunity to meet with him here," said Sixers president of basketball operations and general manager Sam Hinkie. "These were in addition to the open lines of communication with his agent Aaron Mintz and CAA while we worked through the next steps.

"Given Danny's future goals and his desire to pursue them, we worked to fulfill his requests and have come to a resolution that we feel is mutually beneficial to both Danny and our organization. We wish Danny the best in the next phase of his career."

Granger was in the final season of a five-year, $60 million extension he signed with the Pacers during the 2008-09 campaign, his best in the NBA. The nine-year veteran will be eligible to sign with any team if he clears waivers.

The 30-year-old was named the NBA's Most Improved Player in 2008-09 after averaging 25.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range for the Pacers that season. Granger followed up by averaging 24.1 points over 62 games the following season, but has since those numbers go down in every year since.

A serious knee injury limited Granger to only five regular-season contests for Indiana in 2012-13, and he missed the first 25 games of this season due to a strained calf. He averaged 8.3 points and 3.6 rebounds in 29 outings prior to last week's trade.

Eagles get deals done with Cooper, Kelce

PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles have agreed to terms with wide receiver Riley Cooper on a five-year contract, and center Jason Kelce on a seven-year contract. 

Cooper (6-foot-3, 222) enjoyed a breakout year in his first season as a full-time starter in 2013, as he set career highs in receptions (47), receiving yards (835) and touchdowns (eight). In addition, the four-year veteran ranked third in the NFL in yards per reception (17.8) and became just the second player in Eagles history to accumulate five receiving touchdowns over a two-game span after hauling in three touchdowns at Oakland (11/3) and two at Green Bay (11/10).

“Riley is one of the toughest and hardest-working guys in our locker room," Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said. "We talk a lot about how players have to make the most of their opportunities, and he did just that last year. He used his size, strength and speed to make a lot of big plays for our team and I’m excited to watch him build upon his success.”

Valued for his unique blend of size, athleticism and toughness, Cooper took advantage of an ACL injury to veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin and was able to overcome an embarrassing high-profile, racially-fueled incident at a Kenny Chesney concert to have his breakout season.

He has been a valuable component of the Eagles offense since he was selected by Philadelphia in fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, appearing in 56 games (25 starts) while registering 93 catches for 1,514 yards and 13 touchdowns.

“Riley’s a tough player who can not only go up and catch the football and make big plays, but who also takes a great amount of pride in his ability to block and be physical down the field," Eagles GM Howie Roseman said. "He made the most of his opportunities last year and we all expect him to build upon that. Riley wants to be an Eagle and expressed that several times to us throughout this process. We were very excited to get this done before the start of free agency.”

A native of Clearwater, FL, Cooper, 26, was a second-team All-SEC selection as a senior at Florida in 2009 and helped the Gators win two BCS National Championships during his collegiate tenure. Cooper was also a standout on the diamond and was drafted twice into Major League Baseball, first by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006 and then by the Texas Rangers in 2009.

An athletic and intelligent center, Kelce (6-foot-3, 295) started every game for the Eagles in 2013 after returning from a serious knee injury suffered in Week 2 of the previous season that derailed his sophomore campaign.

With Kelce leading an offensive line that saw the same five players start every contest, the Eagles offense flourished as he helped the team set franchise records in points scored (442) and total net yards (6,676). Kelce also assisted in paving the way for the NFL’s leading rusher in LeSean McCoy, who finished with franchise bests in both rushing yards (1,607) and yards from scrimmage (2,146). As a result of his play, he was named the team’s Ed Block Courage Award recipient, which honors a player from each NFL team who exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.

“Jason is the epitome of the type of player we want around here, both on and off the field," Kelly said. "He’s tough, extremely intelligent and is a leader by his actions and by his words. His athleticism is something that really sticks out when you watch him play. There aren’t many centers that can get down the field like he does.”

A sixth-round selection of Philadelphia in 2011, Kelce, 26, became the first Eagles rookie offensive lineman to start all 16 games since Doug Brzezineski in 1999 and the first rookie in team history to start every game at center. Kelce was named to Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin’s NFL All-Rookie team and helped the offense set then-franchise records in first downs (356) and total net yards (6,386).

 “You just don’t see many interior linemen with the athleticism that Jason Kelce possesses," Roseman said. "It shows up on film many times where you just see him 10 or 15 yards down the field making blocks. His intelligence, work ethic and pride in his game are just off the charts. He’s the proverbial gym rat and is always at the NovaCare Complex working on his game. This was the first off-season we had to re-sign Jason and we jumped all over the opportunity.”

A  native of Cleveland Heights, OH, Kelce was a four-year letterman at Cincinnati, starting 38 contests during his collegiate career.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Extra Points: NFL needs to steer clear of political gamesmanship | NFL (AP) | Latest news and...

Extra Points: NFL needs to steer clear of political gamesmanship | NFL (AP) | Latest news and...

Eagles keep Peters with 5-year deal

PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles have announced they have agreed to terms with tackle Jason Peters on a five-year contract. The deal will keep Peters in Philadelphia through the 2018 season.

“There aren’t many people cut from the same cloth as Jason Peters,” said head coach Chip Kelly. “To be able to bounce back from two Achilles injuries and return to an All-Pro level speaks not only to his incredible athleticism, but proves just how hard he works at his game. Having him at left tackle provides a lot of comfort to our quarterback and to our entire offense. He’s a guy that many players look up to in our locker room.”

A six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro selection, Peters (6-foot-4, 328) bounced back from an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the 2012 season, starting all 16 games for the Eagles in 2013 while earning Pro Bowl accolades and first-team All-Pro honors. With his sixth overall Pro Bowl nomination and fourth as an Eagle, Peters has garnered the second-most Pro Bowl nominations by an offensive lineman in Philadelphia history trailing only Chuck Bednarik (eight), who did so as a two-way player at center and linebacker.

“Jason is everything you look for in a left tackle,” said Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. “The unique blend of size, speed and athleticism that Jason possesses is something that everyone wants in an offensive lineman. However, what really makes him unique is his desire to improve day in and day out despite the fact that he’s played at an elite level for so many years. We are truly rewarding Jason’s excellence, as he’s a guy who has made six Pro Bowl appearances and has been selected an All-Pro five times. We’re excited to be able to keep him in Philadelphia for years to come.”

Regarded by many experts as the best left tackle in the game, Peters, 32, was part of an offensive line that helped block for the NFL’s leading rusher LeSean McCoy, who finished with a franchise-best 1,607 yards, and paved the way as the Eagles set team records with 442 points scored and 6,676 total net yards in 2013.

Originally signed as a rookie free agent tight end by the Buffalo Bills in 2004, Peters saw action at both tight end and tackle during his rookie campaign before emerging as a standout at tackle during his sophomore campaign. Peters was acquired by the Eagles in a trade with the Bills in 2009 and continued his upward climb, earning Pro Bowl honors in each of his first three seasons with the team.

A native of Queen City, TX, Peters was a three-year letterman at Arkansas and earned second-team All-SEC honors as a tight end in 2003.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MO Radio Show on Sports Live w/NFL Insider John McMullen 02/25 by Mo Radio Show | Sports Podcasts

MO Radio Show on Sports Live w/NFL Insider John McMullen 02/25 by Mo Radio Show | Sports Podcasts

Sochi medal stand had distinct Boston flair

What do Marie-Philip Poulin (Canada), Alex Carpenter, Kellie Stack (United States) and Florence Schelling (Switzerland) have in common?

Two things: they all were part of countries which medaled in the women's hockey competition at Sochi, and they all suited up for -- or in Carpenter's case currently plays for -- programs in Hockey East.

Poulin has gained an international reputation for clutch scoring by netting the tying and winning goals in last Thursday's Gold-medal-winning effort against the USA, after scoring twice more in her nation's winning effort on home soil four years ago in Vancouver against the Americans. She is a proud Boston University Terrier.

Stack has graduated from the Heights, while Carpenter -- daughter of "Can't Miss Kid" Bobby Carpenter -- will return to Chestnut Hill to finish her sophomore season for the Beanpot and Hockey East regular-season champion BC Eagles. 

Schelling is two years removed from a distinguished four-year goaltending career with the Northeastern Huskies. The Swiss native, who just completed a stellar Olympics by being named tournament MVP as well as the top goaltender at Sochi, filled the crease for 98 games at the school anchored on Huntington Avenue from 2008-12.

A relative giant in the net at 5-foot-8, Schelling started out very slowly, going only 5-12-1 in her freshman season despite allowing only 42 goals in 19 games for a 2.24 GAA, and .933 save percentage. That was enough to earn her a slot on the Hockey East All-Rookie team, which seemed to be de rigueur after garnering a nod as the conference's best defensive player in early October and then taking its best rookie mention the very next week.

She shot into the stratosphere over the next three seasons. In 2009-10, Schelling was named a second-team All-American, New England Division I All-Star, served as Hockey East Co-Player of the Year while being selected as the league's best goaltender thanks to an 11-5-4 record, four shutouts and 1.37 GAA. But wait, there's more. Schelling also made the list as an All-Hockey East first-team selection and was tabbed the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week seven times, while taking home the top goaltender award for October and November.

After going 13-9-6 with a 2.02 GAA and four more whitewashes the next year, the following was in the offing: a shutout string of 176:08 from Nov. 6-Nov. 12, Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week nod in late October along with top goaltender selection in late February and to cap it all off, Hockey East All-Tournament team honors. Schelling's senior season's bona fides were a 20-6-4 record, 1.42 GAA, .950 save pct. and eight shutouts which ranked third in the country -- all of which were good enough to be included in the top three choices for the Patty Kazmaier Award.

Poulin, who took a year away from the college game to play for Team Canada, will return to the comfort of Commonwealth Avenue next season already having topped the program's all-time scoring list.

The Beauceville, Quebec native recorded 55 points (19G, 36A) in only 35 games last year, leading the Terriers to the national final where they were steamrolled by the legendary Minnesota Golden Gophers -- who were in the midst of an unreal 62-game winning streak. In 79 appearances as an undergrad, Poulin has compiled 54 goals and 73 assists. That includes 63 points (26G, 37A) in 40 Hockey East contests over the same span.

What's more, is that the 22-year-old has accrued a laundry list of accolades in that time. In her freshman campaign, she was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year and became the only unanimous selection to the league's All-Rookie Team, while being runner-up for Player of the Year. Poulin also was selected the Hockey East Player of the Month in January and Rookie of the Month in October. Despite an injury-plagued sophomore season, her play was enough to garner Hockey East Player of the Month in March along with a selection to the Hockey East All-Tournament Team.

In 2012-13, Poulin continued on her starry path, leaving it a no-brainer to be named a unanimous Hockey East First Team All-Star as well as a New England Division I All-Star. After leading her squad within one game of a national championship, a berth in the Frozen Four All-Tournament Team and Hockey East All-Tournament Team was in the offing. 

Stack terrorized opposing defensemen and goaltenders for four years on The Heights from 2006-2011, with a year off, like Poulin this year, to play for Team USA at Vancouver in 2010. The 26-year-old native of the Cleveland suburbs still holds the program record with 207 points (96G, 111A) over 140 appearances.

She led the Eagles in scoring for each of her four seasons, including an impressive 54-point freshman season (17G, 37A) in only 36 games, along with a 59-point year in 2008-09 and 56 points that included a career-best 34 goals, over a 35-game senior campaign.

Stack's last in Chestnut Hill brought a raft of accolades. There were a pair of Hockey East Player of the Week nods (November, March), HE Player of the Month for both October and November of 2010, an All-Hockey East first-team selection, a conference tournament choice which also included being named MVP, Hockey East Player of the Year, a slot as a second-team All-American and to top it all off, a place in New England hockey lore as the best women's player in the region for 2010-11.

Carpenter, showing signs of success well beyond her 20 years, has blitzed the enemy to the tune of 110 points in 72 games during her first two collegiate campaigns. The Boston-area native who was raised in North Jersey ripped off a school-record 70 points last season and reached the 100-point plateau faster than any player in Eagles history.

Twice named Hockey East Rookie of the Month for October and December of 2011, she added a Player of the Week nod right before the end of the first semester, then capped the year with an All-Rookie Team selection, First-Team New England All-Star nod.

Boston College reached the Frozen Four in 2013 thanks to her efforts, which weren't quite enough to take down eventual champion Minnesota in the national semifinal.

Carpenter's still on the fence about competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, since it will take place almost two years from the date of her expected graduation, but at age 24, it's not like the game would have passed her by at that point. Having a legitimate women's professional league in North America in which to compete would fill the gap nicely between Olympiads.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Extra Points: Lyerla seeks redemption at combine - Football Wires -

Extra Points: Lyerla seeks redemption at combine - Football Wires -

Point/Counterpoint: NHL in the Olympics

Welcome to another semi-regular edition of Point/Counterpoint, where the Phanatic's hockey editor and his favorite punching bag, Nick D of Flyerdelphia, square off on either side of a hot-button hockey issue.

Keeping with the times, we debate the merits and pitfalls of using professionals in Olympic games.

Point, Nick: The NHL should definitely allow it's players to play in the Olympics after Sochi. Have you watched these games? It's incredible hockey. Why? Because the best players in the world are competing for their countries. I know that the whole league has to shut down and the players risk injury, but Olympic hockey is special for the fans of the game and for the players. It's something that happens once every four years and is always a great tournament. I say you let the players go and play for their homelands.

Counterpoint, Bob H: Henrik Zetterberg. Steven Stamkos.  These are two players of the so-called "best in the world" who didn't compete. John Tavares managed to squeeze in a few games before that freak knee injury suffered against Latvia killed his Olympics and has killed the rest of his Islanders season. Remember when Jaromir Jagr was done the dirt by Jarkko Ruutu eight years ago in Turin, on a blindside hit that would be a five-game suspension in 2014?

While it's an exciting prospect to have an overwhelming number of top-level NHL players compete every four years, the facts are a) the brutal nature of the NHL's in-season competition has caused injuries to marquee players severe enough that they cannot risk playing in the Olympics and rest them for the continuation of the NHL season, and b) having an overwhelming number of NHL players populating the medal-hopeful nations simply brings that level of brutality overseas, where injuries that can affect not only the Olympics but also the resumption of the NHL schedule are lurking around a blind corner.

Let's also recall injury-prone Peter Forsberg's months-long "Hamlet" act during his first season with the Flyers over whether or not to risk his new contract against starring for the Tre Kronor, who desperately needed him to help erase the stench of losing to Belarus in Salt Lake City. Save the drama for your mama.

Nick: If NHL players were barred from competing, the quality of hockey would certainly diminish and for this two week period where this beautiful game is showcased so prominently, why wouldn't you want the best players playing to best represent the sport? I know I am sick and tired of hearing how hockey will never be as popular as basketball or football or baseball in the United States, so for the two and a half weeks that hockey is on top of the world, I want the top athletes in the game in those games. I'm sure that there are plenty of kids watching these contests and becoming life-long fans of the sport.

Hockey deserves to be recognized and with the Olympics, for once, it gets its due.

Bob: You're a hockey fan, right, Nick? I mean, you grew up here but live in Florida, so I assume the flame still burns. You should want to be like me, and thousands of others, who are greedy bastards when it comes to the game. Before 1998, we had the NHL and the Olympics going on at the same time, every four years.

Sure, the USA stunk it up in three of the four Olympiads pre-pros, but there wasn't this emotional investment and unrealistic expectations because we knew it was a bunch of college kids and discarded pros going up against guys who may or may not be considered "professional." The essence of amateurs competing against each other is that satisfaction we're seeing the absolute best they can do. Besides, once every 20 years when Team USA shocks the world, it makes those memories cherished and celebrated more. And when the Americans or whatever non-powerhouse country manages to do well, it creates that buzz of anticipation that these successful "kids" may soon be making their mark in the NHL.

Besides, have you heard and seen how many people whined and moaned on social media about missing the Flyers for the four days in between the end of the NHL schedule and the start of the Olympic slate? Keeping the pros out of the equation, if nothing else, keeps that unsilent majority pacified. You'll have any one of the 30 NHL teams competing AND the bonus of your home country playing before, during or after, depending on the time zone relative to yours where future Games are contested.

I think the NHL has done all it's going to do to raise its international profile, as far as the male of the species is concerned. It has had five cracks at this over 16 years. It's time to square up its own house and improve some internal issues that made it THE best league on Earth.

Nick: If the NHL were to keep it's players from participating, wouldn't that also deter some guys from coming here in hopes of playing in the best league in the world? You hear it all the time when this topic comes up every four years. If other pro leagues like the KHL and Swedish Elite League allowed it's players to go to the Olympics and the NHL did not, I feel that some players could opt to play in those other leagues.

How long will it be before the National Hockey League is no longer recognized as the best league in the world after players leave in favor of the chance to play for their countries because these other leagues afford them an opportunity that they would have to forego in order to play in the NHL? To me, this is a no-brainer: let the players participate.

Bob: Nick, you ignorant slut. At least you didn't roll out the old chestnut that Uncle Ed did, about the Olympic break halting a team's positive momentum.  It works both ways, that it's a blessing to have a break when a team is doing horribly.

The NHL is Hell-bent on being portrayed as the best league in the world, and from a marketing standpoint, it doesn't even need an Olympic showcase to do so, even in the face of competition from the Kontinental Hockey League, Elitserien, the Czech Extraliga and other European leagues. That's what the potential resurrection of the World Cup can accomplish, without a set schedule, and without the needless kabuki between Gary Bettman along with the IIHF and IOC. The idea is to take the NHL level game and display it on the world stage? Done and done without having to put the league on hiatus for 2 1/2 weeks. There has been reports in the populace of fatigue with the NHL invading the Olympics as well, American disappointment notwithstanding.

Canada "needs" to be able to defend double Golds? Why go all the way to South Korea when it can be done from Toronto, Chicago, Stockholm and Helsinki? If it happens that enough marquee NHL players defect to other leagues, they can still participate in a World Cup just as easily as an Olympics while still competing under the NHL banner.

I hold the Olympics sacred, separate from all other competitions, and if there are other alternatives, the NHL braintrust should feel obligated to investigate them going forward.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sound Tigers clip punchless Phantoms on short-handed goal

Philadelphia, PA --Chris Langkow netted the tying tally and Aaron Ness provided the game-deciding score near the middle point of the third period, sending the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to a 3-2 victory over the skidding Adirondack Phantoms, who have won just twice in their last 16 games.

Chris VandeVelde converted a nifty cross-ice feed in tight from Jason Akeson, giving the Phantoms a 2-1 edge during a 5-on-4 power play at the 1:35 mark of the third period, but it was all undone on the next shift.

Scooter Vaughn swept up a puck at center ice and raced up ice, waiting until Carsen Chubak bit before sliding a pass across to Langkow for the easy tap-in and tie game only 18 seconds later.

Bridgeport then went up 3-2 just after the midway point of the frame. Breaking up the right wing in an odd-man rush, Andrew Clark dished across to Ness on the left wing for a low shot which crossed up Chubak and slid through him.

"We respond well when we get scored on," Ness said. "We're going to win a lot of games if we can do that, kill a lot of momentum for other teams."

Seconds after denying Ryan Strome at the left post with the splits, Chubak and his club faced a short-handed situation. With four seconds left on a roughing minor to Rob Bordson, Vaughn was sent off for tripping but Adirondack's 1:56 on the advantage from there passed uneventfully.

Chubak was sent to the bench for an extra skater with 1:03 to play, and what was left of the crowd implored their home team to shoot the puck while taking time to set up their 6-on-5 situation.

That patience backfired, and Terry Murray's club extended its season-worst misery to eight straight games without a win.

Chubak suffered his first American Hockey League defeat despite stopping 26 shots, while Anders Nilsson came up with 26 saves in a winning effort.

"We've been getting good goaltending, no matter who's in net," Bridgeport head coach Scott Pellerin said. "Defensively, guys are really solidifying our defensive habits. We've gotten production with more versatility throughout our lineup." 

The Phantoms, who have suffered through a season-long scoring drought, wasted back-to-back power plays in the first half of the first period with a three-second 5-on-3 overlap. Bruno Gervais' slapper from the point was the toughest chance for Nilsson to stop through a screen.

Bridgeport waited for things to settle and netted the game's first goal, when Joel Broda chased down a dump to the right of Chubak and fed into the slot for a one-timer by Sundstrom at 11:13. Strome and Matt Donovan worked an identical play almost two minutes later, but Chubak was wise to it and slid across in time to stop the shot.

Sound Tigers enforcer Brett Gallant took on Brandon Manning with 3.3 seconds left in the first, avenging his teammate Anders Lee, who lost a lopsided bout at the 28-second mark. Unfortunately for him and his club, the Phantoms made out with a four-minute power play after Gallant was hit with a minor for high sticking, two more for instigation, five for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct.

Adirondack played largely without a pulse during the advantage, and it was eventually erased 3:14 in when Tye McGinn, who missed a tip attempt at a half-open net, was sent off for interference.

The hosts eventually gained equilibrium at 6:40 when Cousins chased down a Brandon Alderson pass along the right wing, used him as a decoy and froze Nilsson enough that he couldn't squeeze the crook of his arm enough to stop the shot from getting through.

That was the final red light on Saturday night for the Phantoms, who have been held under three goals in a game a whopping 28 times in 52 outings.

Notes: Bridgeport has won all four of its games this season against Adirondack in regulation ... Bordson, Ben Holmstrom and Petr Straka all picked up a game-worst minus-3 rating ... The home team were without the services of goalie Cal Heeter, forward Kris Newbury and defenseman Zack FitzGerald, all still serving suspensions handed down earlier this week for their roles in a line brawl last Sunday at Portland ... Defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon was lost again indefinitely due to post-concussion syndrome ...Attendance was announced as 17, 585 but appeared to be not too far north of 10,000 ... The Phantoms are off until next Friday, when they travel to Utica to take on the Comets, whose team president is former Flyers goaltender Robert Esche. 

Finns blank USA for bronze; American collapse complete

Sochi,  Russia -- Teemu Selanne and Jussi Jokinen tallied in an 11-second span early in the second period and Tuukka Rask stopped 27 shots, as Finland claimed yet another bronze medal thanks to a 5-0 decision
over the United States on Saturday.

Selanne scored twice -- presumably ending his Olympic career with 24 total markers -- for the Finns, who claimed bronze for the fourth time since 1994. Jussi Jokinen, Olli Maatta and Juuso Hietanen added a goal each, with Lauri Korpikoski and Mikael Granlund adding two assists apiece.

The 43-year-old "Finnish Flash" is getting his well-deserved due after completing his sixth Olympiad, as Anaheim Ducks teammate and USA defenseman Cam Fowler stated after the crushing loss: "If there's one guy on the planet I feel happy for after losing a game, it's him."

"You're not going to see that," Selanne said when asked if he could hold out four more years for South Korea. "Obviously it was a huge disappointment, losing last night (to Sweden), but we bounced back today. It was 27 years ago that I played my first international contest for Finland. I'm proud that I got to play all those years for my country."

Rask's shutout, his first of the tournament, was aided by stopping a pair of Patrick Kane penalty shots.

Jonathan Quick was left in for all five goals on 29 shots for the Americans, who saw the promise of another shot at a gold medal dissipate thanks to back-to-back scoreless outings.

It was a similar finish as the surprising 1992 Team USA squad, which shocked the world by reaching the semifinals, only to finish fourth after consecutive losses to the Unified Team and Czechoslovakia.

"We lost 1-0 in the semifinal to Canada, and it erased the 20 goals before," said USA head coach Dan Byslma of the sudden power outage.

Selanne put his country ahead with a backhander from the left side at 1:27 of the second period, then Jokinen flipped home a rebound from the high slot only 11 seconds later to provide Finland a commanding 2-0 edge.

That seemed to break the American team's spirit.

The United States has yet to medal away from North America since taking a surprise Silver in 1972 at Sapporo.

“They played like they had something to win, and we just shut it down,” said US captain Zach Parise.

The last gasp for Team USA came less than five minutes after Jokinen's marker.

Kane's stick was shattered by a Leo Komarov slash on a breakaway, and provided yet another chance in alone on Rask with 6:24 played. The dynamic Chicago forward came up empty once more, clanging that chance high off the right post.

It was 3-0 for the Finns at the end of a Kane tripping minor, when Hietanen beat Quick on a shot through a screen with 6:10 elapsed in the third period. That score capped a clinic by the Finns in puck possession, showing how tight a unit these international veterans were compared to their NHL counterparts.

Selanne struck once more, on a subsequent Finnish advantage, to make it a four-goal margin just after the nine-minute mark. He stood in the slot and one-timed a Granlund feed inside the left post.

Maatta added a power-play marker with 6:51 to play that accounted for the final margin.

The best chance to snap the deadlock in a scoreless opening period came when the USA was awarded a penalty shot with 6:20 remaining. Veteran Finnish defenseman Kimmo Timonen flipped a broken stick towards Ryan Kesler during a scoring chance.

Rask had the right post sealed off, but Kane, who was tabbed to take the uncontested chance, lost control of the puck and slid his opportunity wide.

There is one more hockey game on tap, Sunday's Gold-medal tilt between defending champion Canada and the upstart and undefeated Swedes.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Double disappointment: Canada beats USA once more

Sochi,  Russia -- Jamie Benn supplied the lone goal of the contest  at 1:41  of the second period,  and Canada earned the right to defend its gold medal thanks to a 1-0 decision over Team USA in Friday's semifinal of the Sochi Olympics.

Carey  Price  turned aside all  31 shots he faced  for the Canadians, who will take  on Sweden  in Sunday's title contest. The Swedes advanced earlier Friday with a 2-1 victory over Finland.

"A lot of people expect us to be there, and expect us to just show up in the final and have a chance to play for the gold medal," said Canadian forward and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. "But we knew it was going to be a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of adversity to get there."

Canada,  which topped  the U.S. in a memorable overtime contest four years ago in Vancouver to claim gold, reached the Olympic final for the fifth time since 1992.

Jonathan Quick made 36 saves for the Americans, who must regroup quickly for a matchup with the Finns in Saturday's bronze medal tilt.

The  United States,  which has a checkered history on the international stage, suffered  its  first  shutout  loss  in the  Olympics  since  falling  5-0  to Czechoslovakia on Feb. 8, 1976.

"We're coming home with a bronze medal. After we put this loss behind us we'll be back to do that," said a defiant USA head coach Dan Bylsma following the game. That would be a tough thing to accomplish, as America hasn't collected a third-place medal since 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Quick,   the  LA  Kings'  starting  goaltender,  was  beaten  only  once.  Jay Bouwmeester  unleashed  a low, hard  shot from  the left point which skittered into the slot and was redirected home by Benn for the winning margin.

Canada  improved to 4-1 in Olympic action against its southern neighbors since NHL players began competing in 1998.

USA  defenseman John Carlson released the first quality chance for either side at  the six-minute  mark of the scoreless opening period, but Price stayed put in  his  crease to glove down  the rising shot  with traffic sliding in to his right.

Quick  was sharp  with 16 saves in  the game's initial 20 minutes, while Price was  good  on 11 shots.  Both nations  misfired on their respective power-play chances.

Following Benn's marker, the Americans failed to convert two subsequent power- play opportunities, and couldn't dent Price on 11 more shots during the middle frame.  Quick was  equal to the other 11  pucks he faced to keep it a one-goal margin.

Canada  couldn't expand its  edge on a hooking call to Phil Kessel just before the  midway point  of the  third period,  but its  defense did  an expert  job keeping its foes away from the middle of the ice.

Chris  Kunitz  had a golden opportunity  to expand the Canadians' lead when he was  left alone in  front of Quick, but pushed his rebound try wide of the far side with 5 1/2 minutes to play.

Due  to Canadian forechecking pressure, Quick wasn't summoned to the bench for an  extra attacker  until  less  than a  minute  remained,  and the  Americans couldn't reward his effort with an equalizer.

On Thursday, Canada's women snagged its fourth straight Gold with a thrilling comeback 3-2 overtime victory against America's top females. 

2014 NFL Draft Positional Rankings: Top 7 At Each Position


Soul begins training camp

PHILADELPHIA – The Back-to-Back American Conference Champion Philadelphia Soul began training camp on Thursday, Feb. 20, when all players were required to report.  The practices for training camp will be held at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia beginning on Saturday, February 22.

Entering training camp, the Soul have 17 players from last season’s American Conference Championship team.  The top returners of the 2012 season include: QB Dan Raudabaugh, FB Derrick Ross, WR Tiger Jones, OL Brennen Carvalho, DB Rayshaun Kizer and DL Bryan Robinson.

“It’s always important to have key players return to our team,” said Soul head coach, Clint Dolezel.  “It makes our job a little easier as coaches heading into the season.  But, at the end of the camp, we still need to pick 24 of these very talented players.  This should be a very competitive camp and the guys will have to prove they have what it takes to help us get to the next level.”

Dolezel, entering his second season as the head coach of the Soul, assembled his coaching staff for the upcoming season.  Two-time First Team All-Arena performer, Phil Bogle, begins his third year with the Soul as the assistant head coach, and veteran defensive coach Rod Miller will join Dolezel and Bogle as an assistant coach.

The team practices at Eagles’ NovaCare Complex starting on Saturday, February 22 until final cuts take place on March 7.  The first cuts will reduce the roster to 28 players on February 28.  The final 24-man roster will be announced on March 8 when training camp ends.  The Soul open their 2014 season on Saturday, March 15 at 9 p.m. in Phoenix, against the Arizona Rattlers for an ArenaBowl XXVI rematch.

The 2013 training camp roster consists of 20 AFL veterans and 13 rookies. The All-Arena players on the Soul’s rosters are: three-time All-Arena WR Tiger Jones, three-time All-Arena DB Rayshaun Kizer, two-time All-Arena DL Bryan Robinson, three-time All-Arena FB Derrick Ross and All-Arena/Offensive Lineman of the Year finalist, Brennen Carvalho.  

Brackins, Larry
Pearl River C.C.
Raudabaugh, Daniel
Miami (OH)
Ross, Derrick
Tarleton State
Jenkins, Jacobi
East Carolina
Damian Clark
Perkins, Brandon
Kizer, Rayshaun
Langley, TJ
Arkansas Tech
Jones, Tiger
Randall, Bryan
Virginia Tech
Lacey, V’Keon
Angelo State
Goosby, Joe
McDaniel, Ryan
Robinson, Bryan
Little, Raymond
Sacramento City
Stevenson, LaRico
West Georgia
Romain, James
Delaware State
Whitehurst, Kyle
Haag, Nick
Buford, Lemone
Smith, Adam
Western Kentucky
Carvalho, Brennan
Portland State
Mosley, Jordan
Johnson C. Smith
Holman, Jason
Jones, Jason
Pray, Bryan
Pittsburg State
Young, Justin
Morgan State
Fance, Calvin
Angelo State
Hurst, Tyron
Delaware State
Cerami, Rudy
East Stroudsburg
Debose, Chauncey
Eastern Kentucky
Jennings, Teddy
Brown, Morkeith
Tivis, Neil
Abilene Christian
Phillips, Pernell
Central State
Blasczcyk, Ryan
Martinez, Carlos
Buena Vista
**Injured Reserve
--Refuse To Report (RTR)
                        *Player numbers are subject to change after or during training camp