Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Season ends as Flyers come up short in Game 7

Courtesy of the Associated Press
New York, NY -- For each step forward, there is a momentary footfall which serves notice that the road ahead is not always guaranteed.

After having missed the playoffs last season, and changed head coaches only three games into this one, then enduring a franchise-worst start only to surge into solid playoff footing, hopes were high that the opponent was a beatable one. Those hopes were finally dashed on Wednesday night, taken to the limit before fading away.

Henrik Lundqvist outdueled Steve Mason, Dan Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot scored in the second period and the New York Rangers outlasted the Philadelphia Flyers to post a 2-1 victory in the deciding Game 7 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

"That’s the great thing about our team. Different guys have been different heroes all through the year or throughout this series, as you can see. Every night, every win we’ve had we’ve had different guys step up," said Rangers center Brad Richards. "That’s a good sign for our team." 

One night after being yanked after two periods in a 5-2 defeat, Lundqvist made 26 saves, only letting a Jason Akeson third-period shot slip by him en route to upping his all-time Game 7 record to 4-1. The 31-year-old Swede also became the third goaltender in league history to win four straight seventh games, after Cam Ward, Patrick Roy and Ed Belfour.

"He's the backbone of our team for a reason," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "He made some huge saves down the stretch. We know what he means to this team and he knows what he means. When he's on his game he's tough to beat. When they had some time in our zone he was the backbone back there. He relaxed everybody with some big saves."

Carcillo and Pouliot lit the lamp within an 8:40 span for the Rangers, who have had to endure a seven-game series in the first round in each of the last three seasons but won each time.

New York will take on the Metropolitan Division-champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round in a series beginning Friday night. The Blueshirts hadn't enjoyed home-ice advantage against their bitter rivals since 1982 when the Patrick Division Semifinals were a best-of-five, but used that edge when it counted the most to record their first series win against Philly since a five-game upset in the first round of the 1986 postseason. 

At times their only serviceable player on the ice, Mason made 31 saves for the Flyers, who had won each of their last three Game 7s dating back to 2008. The starter, who hadn't made an entry into the series until the latter stages of Game 3, admitted following the loss that what kept him sidelined for two weeks was, in fact, a concussion.

Nonetheless, he finished 2-2 with a goals-against average slightly over two, stopping 123-of-131 shots in five appearances.

"We didn't initiate enough and play with enough aggressiveness," Berube said, though what that is exactly after a two-year postseason layoff wasn't very apparent. "I think overall, we didn't play our best hockey."

The Flyers misfired on their initial power play early in the second period, and Carcillo exited the box after serving his club's bench minor to redirect a cross-ice dish from Mats Zuccarello which gave the Rangers a lead at 3:06.

For the feisty winger, who also scored a goal in the third period seconds after serving a minor penalty, it was his first goal in a terminal playoff contest since he scored the final goal for the Orange and Black in a 5-2 series-ending triumph over the Buffalo Sabres three years prior. 

Mason did the splits to deny Martin St. Louis at the right post off a 3-on-1 with 7 1/2 minutes elapsed, but he couldn't get across in time to stop Pouliot's one-timer off a Derick Brassard dish to give New York a two-goal edge with 8:14 to play in the second.

Philadelphia remained stuck in quicksand, and endured some misfortune when Claude Giroux had Lundqvist prone in his crease, but lifted a Jakub Voracek centering feed over the crossbar with four minutes before the second intermission.

Incredibly, Giroux ended up leading the club with six points (2G, 4A) despite being rendered invisible for much of the series, in his first playoff experience as not only the star player but as team captain. 

Mason was then left alone on two point-blank chances in the final minute of the second, making deft saves on both and keeping his club alive with 16 stops in the middle frame.

"We didn't play good enough in the second period to win that game," Voracek said. "It's too bad we couldn't get that one. They had chances and buried two goals in the second and we got the goal in the third and we had a good push but it was too late."

Akeson gave the visitors some life, following up his own miss from the right circle with a successful try inside the left post to bring his club within 2-1 at 4:32 of the third.

Lundqvist had trouble handling the puck from the start as the Flyers began to press more offensively. He needed to fend off a pair of crease rushes, and then stopped Michael Raffl from the left side midway through the period.

Mason was called to the bench for an extra attacker on two separate occasions in the final 1:33 of regulation, but Philadelphia mustered only one quality chance for the remainder.

"We knew they were going to push in the third and they came pretty hard, but the puck management was really good," said Lundqvist. "It's just exciting, that last minute is so intense and you're nervous but at the same time you just want to see what's going to happen next. The final second, that's probably the best feeling."

One bright spot for the losing franchise, they still own a 6-5 series record over the Rangers since their first meeting in the 1974 Stanley Cup Semifinals. 

The game opened on a heart-stopping note. Rick Nash, who went scoreless in the series, flipped a shot off the left post on the game's first shift. It ended up being a positive omen for the visitors, as Mason stopped 10 shots and Lundqvist 11 in the scoreless first period.

"He pretty much stood on his head out there. I thought we really had it. We just couldn't put the puck in the net in the end," Akeson lamented.

Notes: New York upped its Game 7 record to 7-5, and maintained its perfect 6-0 ledger at Madison Square Garden ... Philadelphia fell to 9-7 during the terminal contest in best-of-sevens and 3-4 on the road ... The Flyers suffered their first Game 7 setback since a 2-1 result at Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals on May 22, 2004 ... The Rangers haven't dropped a Game 7 since falling to the Washington Capitals in the 2009 Eastern Conference quarterfinals ... Wayne Simmonds finished the series leading the Flyers with four goals and 20 penalty minutes ... Carcillo had been a healthy scratch in favor of J.T. Miller in Games 5 and 6 ... In the pivotal second period, the Rangers outshot the Flyers by an 18-5 margin ... Nash has recorded just two goals in 23 postseason appearances for the Blue Jackets and Rangers ... The last 17 teams to score first in a Game 7 have won that game to advance.

Point/Counterpoint: Expansion is the route of all evil

Thanks to Fabio Bura
Welcome to another semi-regular edition of Point/Counterpoint, featuring the notorious crank who runs this hockey department and the inestimable Nick D. from Flyerdelphia
This time around, we lock horns over the thorny issue of expansion, which always seems to be right around the corner when the NHL tries to unbalance divisions and conferences during periodic realignment.
Nick, with Point: Honestly, expansion wouldn't be necessary if the conferences were evened up from the onset. Realignment was necessary, I think we all know that, but it was obviously done with adding two teams in mind. 
Nothing more than a money grab if you ask me. Making money isn't a problem, after all this is the United States of America, but if it's at the expense of the product then it is and adding teams will absolutely force the quality of the product to take a dive, more than the New York Rangers do under Alain Vigneault. The NHL already has too many teams and not enough high-end talent, if anything, it's time to clean up this mess a little bit and trim the fat.
Bob, with Counterpoint: Hold on a minute there, Stosh. Two of the last three times the league decided to shuffle its geographic designations (1993 and 2013) to create unbalanced conferences, expansion wasn't immediately on the horizon despite the usual rumors. In fact, the unexpected movement of the Nordiques to Denver in 1995 actually created a balance, from 14 in the East and 12 in the West to 13 and 13, so I don't buy that the supposed oncoming largesse will automatically be used to fill the two "open slots" in the Central and Pacific. 
Aside from that, why wouldn't the NHL need more marketable stars in more marketable locations? It's been beaten like a dead horse how the league lacks the regional and global marketing push like the NFL and NBA, so why not spread the good word to cities which can handle a franchise? Remember, it's no longer about hockey acumen and ticket-based support, it's about the corporate structure, ownership and available arena space. Quebec is already constructing a replacement for Le Colisee, and it ain't because they need to draw a larger audience for Justin Bieber. 

Also, do you believe the current alignments are set in stone? Not hardly. I'd be surprised if it lasts three years before the complaints pour in, suggestions are made and one or two teams are uprooted from one place to another, making the current geographic designations moot. Florida has one foot out the door, Kansas City is just waiting for its chance and Seattle is teasing the out of any potential suitor.

Nick: Maybe relocation would be a better alternative to expansion. Having two teams in Florida seems like overkill, there are four teams within an hour and a half of each other in the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and our beloved Philadelphia Flyers. It's hard for the Devils to draw because of the direct contention with clubs that are in close proximity to them. Exploring relocation makes more sense than just adding teams. If the NHL wants to put a team in Seattle or Portland or Quebec or Hamilton or wherever else the scent of money emanates, instead of having an expansion draft, why not just up and move a team like the Islanders or the Devils or the Panthers? 
Bob: Yes, the NHL's Sun Belt experiment is listing like an Italian cruise ship to the side of failure, and there are clumps of franchises located around the major cities in the Northeast, but why should that stop the inevitable march of progress? Imagine this, a boot stamping on a human face, forever. That's how Gary Bettman, the rest of the league braintrust and the 30 members of the Board of Governors will maneuver given the chance. Time to cave in and get on board. Wipe out any failures with a fresh infusion of cash every x number of years. We've already seen through the cancelled 2004-05 season that the league will never contract any failing teams in the interest of true capitalism,  but in the spirit of true capitalism, will think nothing of collecting $50 million per each entry.
Besides, if it weren't for hockey's version of Manifest Destiny, we'd never have teams like Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Carolina -- all worthy in their times of triumph -- engraved on the Stanley Cup. Just hope they don't take a wrong turn in Albuquerque.

Nick: Bob, you ignorant slut. 
Why wouldn't the NHL want to expand? More teams means more markets and likely more revenue... But doesn't John Scott play in the NHL? What about Jay Rosehill? Do we really need to see guys like Chris Neil play more shifts? This is the best sport in the world we're talking about here, do we want a more watered down product than we're already getting? If you pay to see a game, you want to see the best players play and not see a team dress more lower-tier talent just so more the conferences are balanced. North America needs another National Hockey League team like I need another hole in my head.
Bob: Whores (NHL) do it for money. Sluts (me) do it for the love of the game. So, remember I told you that. 32 teams by 2016. Excuse me while I go make the buttons. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

'Silver' Lining: NBA suspends Sterling for life

NEW YORK – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has banned Donald Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers or the NBA, it was announced today at a press conference in Manhattan.

Commissioner Silver has also fined Mr. Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA Constitution.  The fine money will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and the Players Association.

As part of the lifetime ban, Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices, be present at any Clippers office or facility, or participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.  He will also be barred from attending NBA Board of Governors meetings and participating in any other league activity.

Commissioner Silver also announced that he will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team.

The discipline issued today is based on the Commissioner’s conclusion that Mr. Sterling violated league rules through his expressions of offensive and hurtful views, the impact of which has been widely felt throughout the league.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Former Sixers coach Dr. Jack Ramsay passes at 89

Hall of Fame basketball coach Jack Ramsay has died. He was 89 years old.

According to ESPN, the network for which Ramsay worked after his successful coaching career, the long-time NBA and college mentor died in his sleep Monday in Florida after a long battle with cancer.

The Philadelphia native landed his first NBA head coaching job with the 76ers in 1968, after helping build the team's 1966-67 championship squad as general manager, and spent four seasons guiding his hometown team. He also coached the Buffalo Braves, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers in a 21-year career.

Ramsay won an NBA title in 1977 with Portland, beating the 76ers. He had an overall record of 864-783 with 17 playoff appearances.

"The Portland Trail Blazers and indeed the NBA have lost an authentic original in Dr. Jack Ramsay," said Trail Blazers Owner Paul Allen. "In leading this franchise to its first NBA championship, Dr. Jack set a standard of excellence for his players, coaches and all who crossed his path. He was that rarest of men with a unique style that was inspirational and motivational about basketball and life itself. We loved him as a coach, as a broadcaster and as a human being."

Prior to his NBA career, Ramsay coached at his alma mater, Saint Joseph's, for 11 seasons. The Hawks were 234-72 with seven NCAA Tournament appearances from 1955-66 under Ramsay, reaching the school's only Final Four in 1961.

"Dr. Jack Ramsay was a legendary figure in Philadelphia and a man whose passion and contributions to this city and the game of basketball will long be remembered," said Sixers Chief Executive Officer Scott O'Neil. "He left an indelible mark on the basketball community -- from the Big 5 to our organization and throughout his storied career within the NBA -- and was a friend and mentor to those who knew him, both on- and off-the-court. On behalf of the Sixers organization, we truly mourn the loss and send our deepest condolences to the entire Ramsay family."

Ramsay retired as the second-winningest coach in NBA history and later had a long basketball broadcasting career. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.

Soul holds on to top Barnstormers, reach .500

PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Soul outlasted the Iowa Barnstormers, 60-55, at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday afternoon in front of 10,062 fans, an effort that enabled the club to reach the .500 mark for the first time in the 2014 season.

A solid offensive performance from veteran QB Dan Raudabaugh gave the Soul enough energy to finish the game strong.

“That was a classic Arena Football game,” said Soul head coach Clint Dolezel.  “It was a little closer than I would have liked, but what was important is that we got the win.  We still need to continue to get better.  We are not satisfied with where we are and will have a tough one next week in Pittsburgh.”

Anthony Jones and Ryan McDaniel led Philadelphia receivers with seven receptions. Jones had a total of 52 yards and five receiving touchdowns.  Ryan McDaniel added 152 yards for the Soul.  V’Keon Lacey added five receptions for 65 yards and three touchdowns.  Derrick Ross led the ground game with 44 yards on 10 carries.

Raudabaugh finished the night by completing 26-of-35 passes for 283 yards and nine touchdowns and an interception.

Defensively, T.J.Langley added six total tackles and 2.5 sacks.  Rayshaun Kizer had 7.0 total tackles and a fumble recovery to help lead the defensive secondary.  Second-year standout, James Romain, played a solid defensive game with 6.0 total tackles and a fumble recovery which sums up the main part of Sunday’s defense.

Iowa’s Carson Coffman finished by completing 21-of-31 passes for 306 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.  Marco Thomas, had eight receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns, while Darius Reynolds finished with seven catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

Iowa started the game off strong by scoring the first touchdown with a one-yard run by Steiner.  The Soul quickly answered back with a six-yard completion from Raudabaugh to Jones, but were unable to gain the extra point.  With 7:19 left, a 34-yard pass from Coffman to Thomas was completed, giving Iowa their second touchdown.  Lacey’s eight-yard touchdown, which earned “Catch of the Game”, brought the fans to their feet and made the game 14-13.  A little over a minute later, Thomas caught a 41-yard reception and scoring his second touchdown.  With only nine seconds left, Raudabaugh’s nine-yard completion to Tribue made the game 21-20 going into the second quarter.

Coffman’s 18 yard completion to Lester put Iowa on top 28-20.  About halfway through the second quarter, the Soul responded with back-to-back touchdowns by Lacey, finally giving them the lead.  Iowa finished the half with Gornall’s 25 yard field goal, making the half time score 34-31.

Once again, Iowa scored the first touchdown of the quarter with a 12-yard pass to Reynolds from Coffman.  Philadelphia regained the lead after Jone’s one yard touchdown reception with 4:31 left to play. Iowa’s Coffman ran the ball in from a yard out to finish the third and put the Barnstormers back up 45-41.

Raudabaugh’s 14-yard completion to Jones allowed the Soul to score the first touchdown of the fourth quarter.  With 5:11 remaining, Reynolds’ 10-yard reception putt Iowa back on top, 52-48.  Jones gave the Soul a 54-52 lead after his nine-yard reception.  With only 43 seconds left in the game, Iowa scored a field goal and went back up 55-54.  Philadelphia clinch the win with an exciting six-yard touchdown completion from Raudabaugh to Jones. Jones scored a game high five touchdowns and the Soul win with a 60-55 final score.

The Soul will face the Pittsburgh Power for Week 8 on Saturday, May 3 at 7 p.m at the CONSOL Energy Center.  The game can be seen on The Comcast Network.

Russell Athletic Offensive Player: Philadelphia’s Dan Raudabaugh

Riddell Defensive Player: Philadelphia’s T.J. Langley

J Lewis Small AFL Playmaker: Philadelphia’s V’Keon Lacey

Cutter’s Catch of the Game: Philadelphia’s V’Keon Lacey eight yard touchdown reception

Spalding Highlight of the Game: Iowa’s Darius Reynolds 12-yard diving reception

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Flyers come up short, Rangers win Game 5 to control series

New York, NY -- Brad Richards and Dominic Moore each netted second-period goals to help the New York Rangers take back the upper hand in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Philadelphia Flyers via a 4-2 Game 5 triumph Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Moore added an assist on Brian Boyle's empty-net score in the final seconds that sealed the victory and put the Flyers on the brink of elimination when the series returns to Philadelphia for Tuesday's Game 6.

Marc Staal also had a goal and Henrik Lundqvist came up with 24 saves for New York, which bounced back from a 2-1 Game 4 loss in which Flyers netminder Steve Mason turned in a stellar 37-save effort.

"I thought we played a really good game, good energy," said Lundqvist. "Looking back at the game in Philly [on Friday], we did a lot of good things as well. The difference is today we scored a couple goals and that brings a lot of confidence to the group. It's easy to play patient and not overdo a lot of things."

Mason managed just 18 stops in this one, however, and Philadelphia wasn't able to maintain its momentum from Friday's win despite captain Claude Giroux and veteran Vincent Lecavalier recording their first goals of these playoffs.

"This series is definitely not over," Mason said. "We're looking forward to going home and having a big game there and bringing it back here for Game 7."

Though new to the organization, his words ring true. The last two times the Flyers faced this situation, they recovered to win the final two games and advance. Philly rebounded from an 0-3 deficit to Boston in 2010 and then went down 2-3 to Buffalo and won the following season. 

The Flyers had their fate sealed after falling behind 3-0 late in the second period while failing on their first four power-play opportunities, with Staal's left-circle wrister on a transition rush nearly 12 minutes into the contest getting between the glove and pad of a slow-reacting Mason to place the Orange and Black at an early deficit.

New York had an apparent power-play goal by Martin St. Louis disallowed early in the second period, as referees stopped the action before he poked in a loose puck that had trickled behind Mason. However, the Rangers had two other scores count later in the stanza to build a comfortable lead.

Carl Hagelin had a wraparound try blocked in front with around eight minutes elapsed in the middle session, but J.T. Miller slid the rebound across the crease for Richards to put into an open left side to make it a two-score game.

Moore extended the margin with 3:40 left in the frame, stealing a puck that went through the legs of Flyers defenseman Hal Gill and beating Mason in all alone for his second tally of the series.

Philadelphia did capitalize on its final man-advantage situation to close the gap, as Lecavalier's long one-timer on a 5-on-4 deflected off the Rangers' Kevin Klein and got through Lundqvist's pads just 32.6 seconds prior to the second intermission.

The Flyers pulled Mason early and inched closer with time winding down in regulation, with Giroux breaking out of his scoring slump by sending a drive from the left boards that made its way in through traffic with 1:29 to play.

Mason was pulled again shortly afterward, but the Flyers couldn't get another shot on Lundqvist before Moore and Boyle ended any comeback hopes. Moore beat Philadelphia blueliner Kimmo Timonen to a puck dumped behind the vacated net, then sent a backhand feed to Boyle for an easy tap-in with only 15 seconds remaining.

"It's frustrating," Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said of the loss. "You're always playing catch-up. You make it a lot harder on yourself. You're skating that much harder to get on pucks, to create turnovers, to get chances, instead of playing comfortable. It's a lot easier when you've got a lead."

Notes: Gill, who had played in just six games during the regular season, was inserted into the lineup with Nicklas Grossmann injuring his right knee in Game 4 ... Miller, New York's first-round pick in the 2011 draft, was making his playoff debut ... The Rangers have won six of their last nine postseason series that were tied at 2-2, while the Flyers are 8-17 all-time in the playoffs when dropping Game 5 ... Philadelphia has now lost in 10 of its last 11 visits to Madison Square Garden.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Soul headline AFL's return to ESPN

PHILADELPHIA – Arena Football returns to ESPN television this Sunday, April 27, as the Philadelphia Soul (2-3) host the Iowa Barnstormers (3-2) at 4:00 p.m. EST on ESPN2. It will be the first AFL game televised on the ESPN Family of Networks since 2008.

The Soul offense is led by quarterback Dan Raudabaugh, who surpassed Tony Graziani last week for first place in franchise history with 229 career passing touchdowns in the City of Brotherly Love. Hauling in a fair number of those scores have been Ryan McDaniel and Anthony Jones. McDaniel leads the team with 41 receptions for 525 yards and 10 touchdowns on the year and has hauled in at least one receiving touchdown in each of his last 11 games played. Meanwhile, Jones continues to work towards solidifying his spot in AFL history. “Tiger” stands 171 receiving yards shy of 10,000 for his career and just six touchdown receptions shy of moving into a tie with Arena Football Hall of Famer Randy Gatewood for the ninth-highest career total in AFL history with 214. 

Philadelphia also has the luxury of one of the greatest fullbacks in AFL history in Derrick Ross. After rushing for a League-high 58 yards last week, Ross is now just 67 yards shy of becoming the first player in AFL history to record 2,000 career rushing yards. He is also nine rushing touchdowns shy of Arena Football Hall of Famer Barry Wagner’s record of 127 career rushing scores.

The Barnstormers come to Philadelphia after two straight wins at home. In a 31-12 victory over the LA KISS last week in the HYDRIVE Arena Football Hall of Fame Game, quarterback Carson Coffman put up 264 yards and three touchdowns through the air, while adding a rushing touchdown of his own on the ground. Marco Thomas and Darius Reynolds continued to be his favorite targets, each tallying touchdowns in the game. Thomas leads the team with 43 receptions, 542 yards and 13 touchdowns, and has caught a touchdown pass in five straight games.

Defense has been a strength of the Barnstormers this season. Defensive end Mike Lewis collected a season-high 3.5 sacks last week, which tied him with Ernest Allen for the sixth-highest career total in AFL history with 43.5. All five Iowa defensive backs also recorded interceptions last week. Rookie defensive back Tramain Thomas has recorded an interception in three consecutive contests.

The Soul will rely on their playmaking secondary as well. Defensive back Rayshaun Kizer leads the team with 28.5 tackles on the year and is two interceptions shy of 50 for his career – the third-highest total in AFL history. The Soul should also receive a boost from 2013 Second Team All-Arena defensive back Fred Shaw, who was acquired in a trade with the San Antonio Talons last week.

Mason starts building towards future with memorable debut

Though the end result was a second-period power-play goal from Jakub Voracek that proved to be the deciding tally in a nerve-wracking 2-1 victory which drew the Philadelphia Flyers even with the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the reality was that Steve Mason made a mark in his franchise debut as a starter.

You didn't even need an ALL CAPS headline with a clever turn of phrase to tell you that, either. 

Mason, sidelined for most of the last two weeks with an upper-body injury that seemed suspiciously like a concussion, stopped 37-of-38 shots to rightfully earn First Star honors on Friday night, the Orange and Black's first home-ice playoff win against the Blueshirts since May of 1997. Think about how much tougher his task would have been if New York had found the net on any of their 14 blocked shots or 20 outright misses.

“Yeah, I think so. Just to be able to get into the game right off the bat," Mason said of having to handle 16 first-period shots. "I hadn’t played in almost two weeks so it was good to feel the puck right away, make some saves, gain a little bit of confidence and carry that forward through the rest of the game.” 

He returned from a whiplash injury suffered on April 12 at Pittsburgh, earned his first career playoff victory and joined some rare company in his initial postseason start here. They're not household names, but notable nonetheless: Ken Wregget and John Vanbiesbrouck.

Wregget made his Flyers debut under extreme duress 25 years ago. More than a month after his acquisition, and having played in just three games since then, the former Maple Leaf was pressed into duty for a deciding Game 7 in Pittsburgh no less, after starter Ron Hextall suffered a debilitating groin injury. All Wregget did was stone Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey and a host of others, stopping 39-of-40 shots in a 4-1 victory which sent Paul Holmgren's club into the Wales Conference Finals, on April 29, 1989.

Ten years later, in the twilight of his career, Vanbiesbrouck wrested the starting job away from the faded Hextall and delivered as if he were manning the Rangers' net more than a decade before. He opened up the first round by shutting down the Maple Leafs -- then the highest-scoring team in the NHL -- in front of a hostile Toronto crowd with a 25-save shutout, still the only Philadelphia netminder to ever record a clean sheet in his debut for the club.That was April 22, 1999.

The 25-year-old Mason held the visitors off the scoreboard for the final 55:22 of the contest, after letting a Dominic Moore stuffer elude his right pad less than five minutes into the contest. Backed by defensemen who had trouble containing New York's attackers in the offensive zone and fronted by forwards which had trouble creating space, clearing the puck and possessing it on the rush through the neutral zone and beyond, Mason took the burden of pulling his club back from the brink.

In being the primary mover that dug his team out of a potentially fatal series disadvantage, Mason channeled Bernie Parent, Pelle Lindbergh and Hextall -- the top three in the goaltending pantheon -- but also might have created an undue burden in expectations going forward after just one night.

“It’s impressive,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “He hasn’t played in a while. I know he can hear me now, so I’m not going to be too nice to him. But, he battles and some of the saves he made tonight, especially with that stick there, is pretty awesome.”

It was a long wait of 1,828 days since Mason last started in the playoffs. That was Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on April 23, 2009 in Columbus, as the Detroit Red Wings poured it on and outscored the Blue Jackets, 6-5, to sweep the series. The length of time in between apparently didn't faze Mason, who said as much in the postgame, while also putting Moore's early tally and 7:15 of scoreless hockey in Tuesday's Game 3 behind him as well.

“It was a lot of fun to get back out there in this atmosphere at the Wells Fargo Center," Mason added. "It’s second to none in my opinion. Watching it on TV prior to getting to this organization and now that I actually get to play in front of that kind of crowd, it’s hard to describe. It’s a lot of fun.”

Ray Emery held down the fort as well as he could, going 1-2 with a 3.49 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage through the first three games as the Rangers tested his surgically-repaired hips and capitalized on undisciplined play by their opponents. Mason's career playoff save percentage stood at .880 even after his 3-for-3 effort in relief at the end of a 4-1 loss in Game 3, but is trending upwards that legitimizing 90th-percentile.

Now, the real test is ahead, 24 hours out, in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden where the fulcrum of the series rests.   

“I think if we’re able to go in there and have the kind of compete that the guys have shown time in and time out this season, I think it’s going to bode well for us. It’s not an easy place to go and play, but I think the guys are well prepared to going there with our best effort. I think if we have that, we’ll be ok."

His teammates might not have gotten there in such a great spot had it not been for Mason's highlight-reel save on Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh late in the second period.

McDonagh, known for slick rushes when the timing's right, cut in through the slot and appeared to have the whole right half of the net to himself. Not so, as Mason dove forward and thrust his stick at the puck to shuttle it aside. The Flyers kept their slim 2-1 edge because of it, then maintained the lead by killing off a 3-on-4 to start the third.

“It was kind of a tough play. I was trying to be patient and he was coming up slow. I bid early, he made a move to the middle and I was just able to reach back and get it with the paddle of the stick. It was a big save.”

Sidebar: While the club has a notorious recent history regarding the playoff starter selection process, the Flyers managed to make another bit of history with their dueling goaltenders on Friday night.

Since Ray Emery, who never participated in the postseason due to injury here in his first stint with the club in 2009-10 also made his Philadelphia playoff debut in Game 1, this year marks the first since the 1980 playoffs where two goaltenders participated in their first playoff game for the club during one series.

Rookie Pete Peeters bowed against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of the preliminary round on Apr. 8, 1980, stopping 14-of-17 shots as his teammates bailed him out with a 4-3 victory at the Spectrum. Phil Myre was slotted in net for the first time three days later, in a series-clinching 3-2 overtime victory in Game 3 at Northlands Coliseum, where he halted 41-of-43 pucks.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Mason steals one, helping lethargic Flyers even series

Philadelphia, PA -- Steve Mason waited five years and two days to make his next postseason start, and didn't waste the opportunity, stopping 37 shots to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 2-1 decision over the New York Rangers to even this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at two games apiece.

In his first start since exiting an April 12 game at Pittsburgh with an upper- body injury, Mason allowed a first-period strike from Dominic Moore and then stayed perfect for the rest of the contest to record his initial playoff victory.

Mason last saw significant postseason action during his rookie season, in the 2009 Western quarters against the Detroit Red Wings, losing all four games for the Columbus Blue Jackets and giving up 17 goals -- six in his last appearance as a starter on April 23, 2009.

"It was nice to be busy and get some nice saves under my belt right off the bat. I don't really dwell on what happened five years ago. For me this is a new opportunity, and for me to finally get in there after five games felt really good," Mason admitted.

If it would have been legal, and if Frank Seravalli could have gotten away with it, he would have made Mason all three stars and would have been escorted from the Wells Fargo Center on the hands of a grateful throng of fans. 

Matt Read and Jakub Voracek supplied the offense for the Flyers, who recovered from a 4-1 defeat in Tuesday's Game 3.

Claude Giroux was held scoreless for the fourth straight contest, but did manage to backup a prediction that the Orange and Black would win. He coyly suggested his best was yet to come, despite being limited to two assists thus far under heavy Rangers' checking.

"Obviously as an individual you want to help the team win, and there's room for improvement, but that's the playoffs -- you never know what's coming up," Giroux said. 

Henrik Lundqvist came up with 23 stops for the Rangers, who can steal back momentum on home ice for Game 5 on Sunday afternoon.

"Absolutely, we believe in ourselves here. We’ve got to just take it day by day, get ready for practice, look at a few things, correct a few things, but have faith," said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who seemed to have pinched his right shoulder on a hit absorbed in the third period. "Play the way we know we’re capable of and we’ll be alright and just take care of business here in game five and focus on that one.” 

The hosts assumed the lead for good with 7:22 elapsed in the second period on a power play created when Moore cross-checked Claude Giroux. Mark Streit kept the puck in the zone long enough to find Brayden Schenn, who slid a pass diagonally from the right point to the left circle, where Voracek redirected it under the crossbar for a 2-1 contest.

Outshot by a 16-6 margin in the first, the Flyers closed the gap to 12-11 in the middle period, relying a bit too much on Mason to keep things calm. That included a diving stick stop on McDonagh with seconds to go in the frame which resulted indirectly from another turnover by home defenseman Andy MacDonald.

New York opened the third with a 4-on-3 advantage that fizzled, and fired 10 unsuccessful shots on goal. Lundqvist was forced to make a pad stop on Read in front with 90 seconds left, and he went to the bench for an extra skater seconds later.  His teammates couldn't find an equalizer.

"The difference tonight is special teams. They beat us with one goal in that department," Lundqvist said of his club's power play which has gone 0-for-12 since Game 1. "It's a game where it's hard to create the big chances so when you get an opportunity on the power play or trying to kill their power play, it's going to be huge in this series."

After fending off an aggressive Flyers' power play early in the contest, the Rangers picked up the game's first goal.

MacDonald failed to corral the puck inside his own blue line as the last man. It was picked up by Brian Boyle, who fed ahead to Moore on the left wing. He followed up his own rebound by circling the cage and stuffing the puck past Mason's outstretched pad at the right post at 4:38.

"The original shot hit me in the head and went right back onto his tape. It's a save I've made before and have to make there," Mason admitted.

Read tied the game at 8:55, as he skated into a Jason Akeson shot from the left wing that caromed off the back wall and kicked back out into the opposite circle and beat Lundqvist to the short side.

"It was a 3-on-3 rush. Akeson made a great pass. He told me he meant to do that, throw the puck behind the boards, and it came right to me," Read said. "I just had to one-time it. I think Lundqvist got a piece of it but we'll take it."

Notes: The time in between Mason's playoff starts was 1,828 days ... Friday's win was the Flyers' first in the playoffs against the Rangers since May 25, 1997 in the clinching Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals ... Moore recorded his first playoff goal since May 17, 2011, for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins ... Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann fell awkwardly on his left leg while being checked into the end boards by Rangers forward Derek Dorsett with 5:25 gone in the second period. He left the game and did not return due to a lower-body injury.

Roy can dip into the past to give Avs lesson on tempered expectations

Denver, CO -- The Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche is tied at two games apiece, but Avs head coach Patrick Roy still felt compelled to defend his up-and-coming club after dropping two games in St. Paul after winning two in a row on home ice to start the best-of-seven set.

"It was not to go 16-0. How many teams have been 16-0 in the history of the NHL? ... Is there one? No? I'm surprised to hear that. I thought there were a hundred teams," Roy deadpanned when asked how he thought his Central Division champions would fare in the postseason. "It's tough in the playoffs. The 2-2 doesn't bother me one bit. It's how we're going to bounce back that I want to see tomorrow."

Colorado has endured a meteoric rise from 29th in the league a season ago to third overall, thanks to No. 1 overall pick and prohibitive Calder Trophy favorite Nathan McKinnon, a goaltender in Semyon Varlamov who broke Roy's single-season wins record and garnered mention as a Vezina Trophy candidate for the first time in his career, and a half-dozen other talents who have logged less than five years of service in the NHL. 

After a blistering franchise-record 14-2-0 start to the season, Roy's club cooled off a bit mid-year, only to regroup after the Olympics to outwait an injured Blues club and a sputtering Blackhawks and rise to the top of their division and gain the second seed in the Western Conference. What followed was an emotional comeback 5-4 overtime win on home ice in Game 1 and a solid 4-2 decision in Game 2.

But the tables turned in the Twin Cities, with the avalanche of offense suddenly reversed to flakes of chances, and two combined goals in losing 1-0 in OT and 2-1 over Games 3 and 4 as the Wild turned to the choking defensive game which is a franchise hallmark. The tides of momentum in this series have pundits searching for equal and opposite poles of rhetoric depending on which team wins and loses. 

Roy seems circumspect, for good reason.

"I understand we want a fast track. I understand we want to be Stanley Cup contenders. But it's a learning process. What the Montreal Canadiens did in '86 with eight rookies (including Roy), I'm not going to tell you it's going to happen every year. Maybe it has changed. It's tough to win the Stanley Cup." 

After that surprise triumph in '86 against the upstart Calgary Flames which netted Roy the Conn Smythe Trophy, it was a rocky road for both he and the Canadiens. Montreal lost in the Wales Conference Finals in '87 to the Flyers, with Roy eventually supplanted as starter by backup Brian Hayward, and the Habs dropped a five-game series to Boston in the Adams Division Finals in '88. After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in '89, a loss to Calgary, Roy didn't sniff the third round until his next Cup win in 1993. 

Once in Colorado, he led the nascent Avalanche to the Cup Finals in 1996, but lost to Detroit the next year in the Western Finals, then bombed out with the rest of his mates in the first round against Edmonton in '98. Colorado lost twice to Dallas in the third round in '99 and 2000, before winning the Cup again in 2001. Two years later, after he allowed an overtime winner to Andrew Brunette in Game 7 on home ice against the Wild which saw the Avs squander a 3-1 series edge, Roy decided to call it quits.

"I know we love to say we're Stanley Cup contenders, bingo, like this. You know that I love winning. But we need to be patient with our group," Roy added. "This is a young team. These are huge steps and this is a learning process. I'm proud of my team. I'm extremely proud. I'm not going to throw them under the bus because I'm their partner. I've been with them all along. I trust our team."

That's a big step for a Hall-of-Fame talent who was notoriously competitive, demanding the best of himself and of his teammates over 18 seasons, and never being shy to express that opinion. Roy the player could put you on blast, but Roy the head coach has recognized a steadier hand has to prevail. 

Roy even found himself staring at the situation from the opposite side. The Quebec Remparts called on him early in the 2005-06 season to take over for Eric Lavigne, and rolled the wave of momentum from his unique brand of leadership to 52 wins and the QMJHL Finals, where they lost to Moncton. However, the following season, his club only won 37 games and suffered a first-round playoff defeat. Still, he continued to build and develop, with the Remparts winning two playoff rounds in both 2009 and 2011, though the club won just one round the last two seasons.

"Can we skip some of it? I hope so," Roy said about the pains which accompany the growth process for many NHL teams. "But I'm very proud of what we have accomplished so far. Am I satisfied? The answer is no."

When Roy entered the league almost 30 years ago, it was a shock when a club that accumulated a number of wins north of 45 didn't at least make it to the Stanley Cup round. In the NHL of the 21st Century, regular-season success is no indicator of postseason largesse and vice versa, but Roy has already seemed to have conquered his own biggest enemy and that facing his team if he is learning to live with the results one game at a time.

Extra Points: Ohio State's Roby complicates his future |

Extra Points: Ohio State's Roby complicates his future |

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mason recovered enough to start in Game 4

Steve Mason's return from his still unspecified "upper-body injury" is apparently complete.

The erstwhile starter will return to his rightful place in the crease when the Flyers take on the Rangers in Friday night's Game 4.

Mason, who had been sidelined since April 12 due to what was speculated to be anything from whiplash to a concussion when Pens forward Jayson Megna crashed into him, played in the final 7:15 of New York's 4-1 victory on Tuesday in Philadelphia in relief of Ray Emery. He stopped all three shots he faced.

Emery went 1-2 with a 3.49 goals-against average and .888 save percentage over the first three contests in the best-of-seven set.

For Mason, it's his first taste of the postseason as a starter since his rookie campaign of 2008-09, when he was in net for all four games of a Detroit Red Wings sweep against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Mason racked up a 4.27 GAA and .878 save percentage in that series.

Eagles announce 2014 schedule

PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles announced their 2014 regular season schedule Wednesday night.

The Eagles kick off their 2014 regular season at a newly-renovated Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since 2010 as the team plays host to Jacksonville on September 7. Philadelphia then travels to Indianapolis in Week 2 in the first of two Monday Night Football matchups during the season, before returning home to kick off their division slate of games as they square off against the Washington Redskins (Sunday, September 21).

In Week 4, the Eagles get their first look at Levi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, September 28). Following a trip to the west coast, Philadelphia returns home for two weeks, as they host the St. Louis Rams (Sunday, October 5) before facing off against the New York Giants (Sunday, October 12) on Sunday Night Football.

Following the bye in Week 7, the Birds will hit the road for back-to-back weeks, traveling to Arizona (Sunday, October 26) and Houston (Sunday, November 2). The Eagles will return to primetime in the ensuing week as they welcome the Carolina Panthers to Lincoln Financial Field for a Monday night matchup on November 10.

For the sixth time in franchise history and the first time since 2008, the Eagles will take part in the NFL's Thanksgiving Day festivities as the team travels to Dallas in a nationally-televised division showdown. The following week, Philadelphia will host the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

Philadelphia will finish the season with three-consecutive games against their NFC East rivals, squaring off at home against Dallas (Sunday, December 14) before hitting the road for the final two contests of the season at Washington (Saturday, December 20) and at the New York Giants (Sunday, December 28).

"We are all looking forward to this season and getting the schedule finalized today makes it all the more exciting for all of us and the fans," said Jeffrey Lurie Chairman/CEO of the Philadelphia Eagles. "We have six scheduled nationally televised games this season and of those, two are on Sunday night and two are on Monday night. And for the sixth time in franchise history the Eagles will be playing on Thanksgiving – this time in Dallas. We even finish the season with three NFC East rivals in a row. I can’t wait."

Other scheduling notes:

Monday Night Matchups: In 2014, the Eagles are one of only eight teams in the NFL to have multiple appearances on ESPN (Week 2 at Indianapolis, Week 10 vs. Carolina). Additionally, the team will open its road schedule on Monday Night Football for the second-consecutive season.

Primetime Players: Philadelphia has four prime-time games on their 2014 schedule, including two on Sunday Night Football (Week 6 vs. New York Giants & Week 15 vs. Dallas) and two on Monday Night Football (Week 2 at Indianapolis & Week 10 vs. Carolina).

Under The Lights: Lincoln Financial Field will play host to three games under the lights in 2014 (Week 6 vs. New York Giants, Week 10 vs. Carolina & Week 15 vs. Dallas).

Opening Day: With a home matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, the Eagles will open their season at Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since 2010. The Birds have won each of their last three regular-season openers and five of their last six.

Thanksgiving Tradition: The Eagles will travel to Dallas for a Thanksgiving Day showdown in Week 13, the team’s first Thanksgiving Day game since 2008. Philadelphia is 4-1 all-time on Thanksgiving and has won its last three turkey day matchups.

Division Down The Stretch: Philadelphia finishes the 2014 season with three-consecutive contests within the division, including two nationally-televised games (Week 15 vs. Dallas & Week 16 at Washington).

Something New: The Birds will make their regular-season debut at two stadiums in 2014: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis, September 15) and Levi’s Stadium (San Francisco, September 28).

Flex Scheduling Update: For the first time, flexible scheduling may be applied in Weeks 5-10. During that period, flexible scheduling can be used in no more than two weeks by shifting a Sunday afternoon game into primetime and moving the Sunday night game to an afternoon start time.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bagnoli to retire from Quakers after next season

PHILADELPHIA - Al Bagnoli, who has served as the George A. Munger Head Coach of Football at the University of Pennsylvania since 1992, announced on Wednesday that he will retire from the position following the 2014 season. Effective December 1, the head coaching duties will transfer to the Quakers' current defensive coordinator, Ray Priore, who will enter his 28th season along the Franklin Field sidelines in 2014.

“It is with mixed emotion that I announce my resignation as Head Football Coach, effective at the conclusion of the 2014 season,” said Bagnoli. “It has been an honor and privilege to be part of the tremendous tradition and success Penn has enjoyed throughout its long, storied history. I remain appreciative of having the opportunity to work with an exceptional group of student-athletes; a tremendous coaching staff; an active, caring and generous alumni group; and a supportive athletic administration. I want to offer my sincere appreciation to all for making my job so enjoyable during the past 23 seasons.

“I am eagerly looking forward to this upcoming season and feel we have the potential to be an excellent football team,” he continued. “I also remain optimistic about the long-term health of the program. I am confident Ray and his staff will work exceptionally hard and build upon the past success we have enjoyed.”

Said Priore, “I am honored to assume the duties as head football coach at the University in December. Since joining the staff as a young coach in 1987, it has been my dream to follow in the footsteps of the legendary coaches who have walked the sidelines of historic Franklin Field. I wish to thank Coach Bagnoli for allowing me to be a part of his staff for the last 23 years. As a mentor, he provided me the guidance and support to grow as a coach. His knowledge, leadership and ability to manage have earned my deepest respect.”

“I am pleased to announce this transition at the head of our football program,” said Penn’s Director of Athletics, Steve Bilsky. “Obviously, Al will leave big shoes to fill, putting together arguably the finest coaching career in the history of Ivy League football. However, Ray has been there every step of the way alongside Al, and I am confident that he will take the lessons he has learned and forge his own path as he tries to keep that tradition of success going over these next several years. Before this transition takes place, of course, I look forward to watching Al add to his amazing legacy with one more run at the Ivy League title this fall.”

Bagnoli is clearly one of the living legends in his sport. The nine-time Ivy League champion is the active wins leader in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), owner of the second-highest winning percentage in Ivy League history, the only Ivy coach to ever capture nine outright titles, the winningest coach in Penn’s 137-year football history and is one of just six coaches in FCS history to record 200 career wins.

In 32 years as a head coach, Bagnoli's 232 career wins are eighth-most all-time among FCS coaches and are oppossed by just 91 losses. His career winning percentage (71.8%) is third among active FCS coaches. The Central Connecticut State alumnus has accumulated 146 of those wins at Penn (school record) and 110 against Ivy opponents (second all-time). His .714 winning percentage against Ivy opposition is second-best in the history of the league.
Penn’s dominance under Bagnoli, who holds a winning record against all seven Ivy League opponents, is no more evident than at Franklin Field, where the Red and Blue hold two winning streaks of 16 games or greater under the current head coach. The Quakers rattled off 16 victories at home from Oct. 17, 1992 to Oct. 21, 1995 and won 19 games in a row from Sept. 23, 2000 to Nov. 22, 2003. Bagnoli is 80-32 (.714) all-time at Franklin Field.

Entering his 23rd season at the helm of the Quakers in 2014, Coach Bagnoli lays claim to more outright Ivy titles (nine) than any other program has in its entire history. Most recently, Penn won three of four Ivy League outright titles between 2009-12 -- the second time the Quakers have pulled off that feat under Bagnoli, while no other program has done it once during his tenure. In addition, Bagnoli has logged back-to-back undefeated Ivy League seasons three separate times—no other coach has ever accomplished the feat on even one occasion.

Following three straight losing campaigns, Penn went 7-3 in Bagnoli's first season, and then rattled off an NCAA FCS-record 24 consecutive victories with undefeated campaigns in 1993 and 1994. The Quakers then posted another pair of undefeated Ivy seasons in 2000 and 2001 before most recently repeating that feat during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. During those title campaign's Bagnoli's Quakers accumulated the three longest Ivy winning streaks in league history, including a 20-game Ivy unbeaten streak from 2001-04 and more recently, a string of 18 straight Ancient Eight wins from 2008-2011.

NFL Mock Draft version 4.0

By John McMullen

PHILADELHIA - If this were a typical NFL calendar year, the draft would be kicking off later this week.

Instead a scheduling conflict with the event's long-time home, New York's
famed Radio City Music Hall, pushed the draft back a couple weeks to May 8-10.

The absence of the traditional late April time frame has resulted in a bit of
draft overkill, giving the second-guessers -- be they actual NFL personnel
people or the thousands of self-titled scouts now polluting the Internet --
more time to second-guess their original second-guesses.

Just ask former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, once the No. 1-rated
prospect on many boards and a player who may now want to consider adopting Tom
Petty's "Free Fallin'" as his new theme music.

Bridgewater is among a record 30 top prospects confirmed to attend the 2014
draft in Midtown Manhattan, but it's now a legitimate question to ask
whether he will be greeting Roger Goodell on Thursday night or spending an
extra day milling around Times Square.

Here's The Sports Network's latest stab at predicting where Bridgewater and
everyone else lands on May 8:

1. Atlanta Falcons (trade with Houston Texans) - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South
Carolina - The majority of the 10,726 searchable mock drafts on Google now
have the Houston Texans coming to their senses and selecting the most gifted
prospect in this draft, Clowney.

Understand, however, that Bill O'Brien was brought to south Texas to fix the
quarterback position. It's conceivable the Texans could go chalk and take
Clowney to team with J.J. Watt, while looking for the answer at the game's
most important position at No. 33 overall (Bridgewater, Zach Mettenberger, Tom
Savage?). That said, Atlanta desperately needs and wants a difference maker
off the edge so it makes more sense for both sides to work out a deal.

PREVIOUS PICK - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida to Houston

2. St. Louis Rams - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn - St. Louis also wants to move
down, but the Falcons' jump to the top will hurt those chances, meaning the
Rams are likely to play it safe with one of the top left tackles in the draft,
either Robinson or Jake Matthews. The Auburn star has the bigger ceiling, so
you have to believe he will be the choice.

PREVIOUS PICK - Clowney to Atlanta

3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo - Obviously, Chad Henne is
just a bridge, but Mack is one of the four legitimate blue-chip prospects in
this draft and Gus Bradley obviously is going to default to defense.

PREVIOUS PICK - Bridgewater

4. Cleveland Browns - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M - A quick look at the
Browns' current depth chart revels one gaping hole: the quarterback position.
Journeyman Brian Hoyer and the nondescript Alex Tanney are the only players
under contract right now.

Manziel is the most polarizing figure in this draft with some scouts believing
he will turn into a superstar and others thinking he belongs nowhere near the
first round. He flashed a better arm than advertised at his pro day, embraced
the big stage and has already improved on what were some shoddy mechanics at
times. That should be enough for Ray Farmer and Cleveland to pull the trigger.


5. Oakland Raiders - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson - The Raiders are always a
wild card, but you can tell the pressure is building on both general manager
Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen in Oakland. And that means the Raiders
will take the more conventional approach by snaring Watkins to help bolster
the receiving corps for veteran QB Matt Schaub.


6. Houston Texans (trade with Atlanta) - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida -
The trade down will enable the Texans and O'Brien to take the prototypically
sized Bortles without the pressure of passing on the real top prospects in
this draft.

PREVIOUS PICK - Robinson to St. Louis

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M - Keep an eye on Bortles
if he's still on the board because it's clear the new regime in Tampa does not
believe in Mike Glennon and veteran Josh McCown is just a stop-gap. That said,
with Bortles in Houston, the Bucs will shift to receiver after moving on from
the troubled Mike Williams. The lengthy Evans would team with Vincent Jackson
to give McCown a similar set-up to what he had in Chicago last season (Brandon
Marshall and Alshon Jeffery).


8. Minnesota Vikings - C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama - Minnesota clearly needs a
franchise quarterback, but after swinging and missing badly on A.J. Feeley
while in Miami and reaching for Christian Ponder back in 2011, general manager
Rick Spielman simply doesn't have the political capital to roll the dice on
any signal caller this early. Add in the fact the aggressive Mike Zimmer is
the new coach in Minneapolis and defense is the obvious direction here.

Minnesota has already addressed the front four and cornerback in free agency,
but the Vikings have been quiet on the linebacker front, save for bringing back
the limited Jasper Brinkley on a make-good deal. Mosley turned a few people off
at the NFL Combine by not running the 40-yard dash and refusing to address the
media, but if he checks out medically, he could be the type of seek-and-destroy
player who could be a terror in a Zimmer scheme and the first real surprise in
the top 10.


9. Buffalo Bills - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M - It's all about building up
around E.J. Manuel in Buffalo, so securing a franchise tackle who was once
regarded as a potential No. 1 overall selection is tremendous value here.


10. Detroit Lions - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh - The secondary is the most
obvious need in the Motor City, but something is going on in general manager
Martin Mayhew's mind when it comes to the interior of the defensive line.

The Lions won't be picking up the fifth-year option on Nick Fairley while
Ndamukong Suh had been a no-show at "voluntary" offseason workouts. Donald,
although undersized, is the best and most athletically gifted three-technique
tackle in the draft.

PREVIOUS PICK - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

11. Tennessee Titans - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State - A lot of people
have Tennessee looking at UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr because new defensive
coordinator Ray Horton will be shifting to a 3-4 attacking defense. Physical
corners, though, also are needed to pull off what Horton wants and that
position is a need in Nashville after the Titans lost cornerback Alterraun
Verner in free agency. Meanwhile, the Titans picked up veteran Shaun Phillips
to help on the edge. That makes Dennard a better fit here than Barr.


12. New York Giants - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan - The signing of Josh Freeman
has many speculating the Giants believe Eli Manning is on the descent as a
player. Whether that's true is up for debate, but what isn't is the fact that
Manning performed awfully in 2013, and if "Big Blue" wants that to change
quickly, it needs to protect Peyton's baby brother a whole lot better. Lewan
proved to be nearly as athletic as Robinson at the combine and could be a
long-term answer in north Jersey.


13. St. Louis Rams - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State - The Rams need plenty
of help in the secondary and could look to add a safety like Alabama's Ha Ha
Clinton-Dix or a corner like Gilbert, who some believe is a top-10 talent.
Gilbert's size-speed ratio is the prototype of what NFL teams want on the
outside these days and if he proves to be tough enough in run support the
Oklahoma State product would give St. Louis the type of presence they were
once expecting from Cortland Finnegan once upon a time.


14. Chicago Bears - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama - Rebuilding the defense is
paramount in the Windy City and additions at all three levels make sense. With
Mosley and Donald out of the conversation, however, safety is the most logical
direction and Clinton-Dix has the range and ball skills to be a playmaker
early in his career.


15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame - Many have penciled
in Martin as a Pro Bowl-level guard at the next level, but he was a darn good
left tackle at the college level. With former seventh-round pick Kelvin
Beachum currently penciled in at the starter at LT in Pittsburgh, it makes
sense to bring in a safe pick with a ton of position flexibility like Martin.


16. Dallas Cowboys - Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame - 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 a
potential impact player at the three-technique and a solid run-suffer at the
zero-spot is important. The 'Boys think they filled the hole at under tackle
by signing former Chicago star Henry Melton, who is coming off a serious
injury. Nix would be the load in the middle they need and a prototypical nose


17. Baltimore Ravens - Calvin Pryor, safety, Louisville - The Ravens wanted to
upgrade the safety position opposite Matt Elam anyway, but James Ihedigbo's
exit to Detroit will only expedite things. Clinton-Dix is the better fit but
Pryor is a nice consolation prize, an instinctive player with solid range and
a nose for the football.


18. New York Jets - Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State - Michael Vick and or Geno
Smith will want a playmaker, but it's hard to imagine Rex Ryan going into a
season with Dimitri Patterson as a possible starter on the outside, Roby is
the kind of big, press corner who could excel in a Ryan defense.

PREVIOUS PICK - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

19. Miami Dolphins - Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama - The Dolphins could be
bluffing but seem to love Kouandjio and his aggressive nature. Plenty of
organizations have red-flagged Kouandjio (at least in the first round) for
potential knee problems, but others have compared his skill set favorably to
his former linemate with the Crimson Tide, D.J. Fluker, who the Chargers
eventually took 11th overall in 2013.

One thing that is certain is the Fish need help on the O-line. Miami allowed a
league-high 58 sacks and couldn't protect Ryan Tannehill with Jonathan Martin
and Richie Incognito or without them. The Fish started the rebuild up front by
giving left tackle Branden Albert a monster deal, but more needs to be done.


20. Arizona Cardinals - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State - The Cardinals have
quickly morphed into one of the more talented teams in football. Their biggest
weakness -- the offensive line -- was addressed in free agency when the team
brought former Raider Jared Veldheer in to play left tackle. That move along
with the return of the immensely talented Jonathan Cooper from injury should
solidify things in front of Carson Palmer.

Arizona should be able to sit back here and think about the future. Snaring
Carr as the heir apparent to the 34-year-old Palmer is a luxury the Cardinals
can afford.


21. Green Bay Packers - Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA - Yeah, the Packers brought in
Julius Peppers to play opposite Clay Matthews, but that is the definition of
pounding the square peg in the round hole. Barr is a much better fit as an
edge defender in the 3-4, and although the former running back is raw, Barr has
the ceiling of a top-five prospect. That's something Ted Thompson will not
be able to pass on.

PREVIOUS PICK - Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois

22. Philadelphia Eagles - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State - Chip Kelly is
fond of saying big people beat up little people and this will be his answer
for DeSean Jackson. Benjamin is a 6-foot-5 monster who commands a double-team
in the middle of the field instead of the one Jackson created over the top.

PREVIOUS PICK - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

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 was the fact Kansas City had no threat
outside the numbers to pop the top on opposing defenses. Beckham is the type
of dynamic athlete who can stretch a defense and offers a little more size
than a Brandin Cooks.


24. Cincinnati Bengals - Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech - Leon Hall is coming
off an Achilles injury and Terence Newman will be 36 in September. That means
it's time to upgrade outside the numbers on defense in Cincy and Fuller is a
physical, instinctive corner who should push for a starting job early in his


25. San Diego Chargers - Jason Verrett, CB, TCU - The Chargers ranked
29th overall in pass defense in 2013 and dead last in the AFC, so the talent
level has to improve on the back end. Verrett is undersized at 5-9 but shapes
up as a Captain Munnerlyn-type, a player who battles enough to compete on the
outside during early downs before moving into the slot and becoming a
difference maker on obvious passing downs.


26. Cleveland Browns - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State - The Browns already
have a true No. 1 at wide receiver in Josh Gordon and a very good receiving
tight end in Jordan Cameron. The team also signed a solid slot option in free
agency (Andrew Hawkins) and finally addressed the running back position with
Ben Tate. Drafting a true burner like Cooks would give Manziel everything he
needed to be successful.


27. New Orleans Saints - Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal - The Saints could use
a corner but most worthy of this pick figure to be off the board, so why not
take a look at perhaps the draft's deepest position and replace Lance Moore?
Lee projects as the best route runner in this year's draft and should give
Drew Brees yet another solid option rather quickly.

PREVIOUS PICK - Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

28. Carolina Panthers - Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia - The Panthers also are in
the market for corners and receivers as well as a tackle to replace the retired
Jordan Gross. The corner market will be picked clean by this point and the
receiver options are so deep Carolina can wait until the second round to
address that. Moses kicked off his offseason with a great Senior Bowl week
and has been rising ever since.

PREVIOUS PICK - Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal

29. New England Patriots - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina - Rob Gronkowski's
health has to be a concern moving forward, and even if Gronk can stay on the
field, New England would like to replicate the two-tight end offense it had
when both Gronkowski and the now-jailed Aaron Hernandez were at their peaks.
Ebron is the best TE in this draft, an athletic marvel in the mold of a Vernon
Davis. Some question his physicality and strength, however, so don't be
surprised if he falls a bit on draft day.

PREVIOUS PICK - Ra'shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

30. San Francisco 49ers, Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri - Count me among those
who believe Aldon Smith may not be long for San Francisco. So why not replace
the troubled pass-rushing star with another Mizzou product who is a top-tier
athlete capable of playing with his hand down in the 4-3 or transitioning to a
3-4 edge rusher.


31. Denver Broncos - Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA - The loss of Zane Beadles in
free agency means the Broncos are thin at guard opposite Louis Vasquez. Su'a
Filo, the most experienced and NFL-ready member of UCLA's impressive O-line,
could step right in as a starter.


32. Seattle Seahawks - Dee Ford, DE, Auburn - The one real weakness in
Seattle is the offensive line, and the team lost Breno Giacomini and Paul
McQuistan in free agency. All of the big uglies worthy of a first-round grade,
however, should be gone by this point, so adding another pass rusher to replace
the departed Chris Clemons might be the better way to go.


Dropping out:

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois

Ra'shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

Flyers recall eight from Glens Falls

On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Flyers recalled eight players from their AHL affiliate, for the moment still stationed in Glens Falls, to augment the parent club's active roster.

Forwards Brandon Alderson, Nick Cousins, Ben Holmstrom, Petr Straka, defensemen Mark Alt, Oliver Lauridsen, Brandon Manning and goaltender Yann Danis are now officially in reserve.

Lauridsen appeared in 15 games for the Flyers, recording two goals and an assist to go along with 34 penalty minutes during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, and Manning appeared in 10 regular-season games with the Flyers over parts of two seasons, recording two assists.

None of the remaining call-ups have suited up at any point for the Flyers, though Danis is a veteran of 53 NHL appearances for four clubs, the last being the Edmonton Oilers.

Adirondack finished up its fifth and final season in Glens Falls with a 30-38-8 record, dropping a 3-2 OT decision Friday night to Bridgeport on home ice and ended its run for good with a 2-1 defeat at Hershey on Saturday. The club relocates to Allentown for next season. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Surging Sharks feasting on unsuspecting Kings

The Phanatic presents a perspective from the West Coast, for the surprising Western Conference Quarterfinal which pits the Sharks against the stunned Kings, who find themselves down 2-0 heading into tonight's Game 3 in Los Angeles. 

San Jose, CA -- If you predicted that the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings would play seven low-scoring games in their Western Conference Quarterfinal, many people would have agreed with you.

Of the eight first-round matchups in the 2014 playoffs, this one could have been voted most likely to be close. After all, last year's Western semifinal between the clubs featured only 24 red lights in a seven-game series.

Instead, it began with the Sharks veering wildly off course and defeating the Kings in two surprisingly lopsided home contests. Perhaps it is Los Angeles which went wildly off script, launching into a poorly-planned and even less well-executed improv performance. Either way, it has been a memorable start to the postseason for the South Bay predators.

After a 7-2 rout in Sunday night's Game 2, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan talked about his impressions of the opposition after taking a 2-0 series edge:
"After Game One, I talked about the fact that I don’t think we’ll be in this situation again and we ended up there. I don’t think that this series is going to play out in blowouts like this night after night. They’re a very good hockey club and they’re going to find their game."
In Thursday's opener, the Sharks jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first two periods. The Kings rallied in the third with three straight markers, but fell 6-3 after a late empty-net goal for the hosts. Three days later, the Kings worked their way to a 2-0 lead in the first despite being outshot 15-10 by the Sharks. The Sharks responded in the second and third periods with seven unanswered goals.

You have to go back to the 2011 playoffs to find more than one game in a series between these teams (playoff or regular season) that ended with a difference of more than two goals. That series included a wild comeback from 0-4 down which eventually ended up as a 6-5 OT win for the Sharks. Now, the teams head south to Los Angeles, where history tells us the Kings will bounce back. That is putting a lot of stock in the past.

Before the series began, neither team expected any surprises. LA ehad coach Darryl Sutter said before the first game:
"What happens in playoff time, a lot of time what separates winner or loser is not the team part of it, it’s the individual part of it. So there’s somebody that steps up and goes to another level or somebody that doesn’t, that’s usually at the end, what … when you call it a surprise or whatever that is, that’s usually what happens."
The first two games have certainly featured some individuals stepping up, and some failing to play their part. The Sharks' fourth line, for example, has been uncommonly productive. That isn’t entirely surprising. As the final pairing up front, they are somewhat overqualified.

That grouping includes Raffi Torres, Andrew Desjardins and Mike Brown. Torres started on the fourth line this season primarily to limit his minutes as he came back from knee surgery. Prior to that, the feisty veteran who is never far from crossing lines of conduct could usually be found among the top six. Desjardins has proven to be more skilled than most grinders -- and showed it on his second-period assists two days prior -- and he's perfectly capable of filling in on other lines in a pinch.

Of the line’s performance in the second game, Torres said:
"I thought Brownie had one of the best games I’ve seen him play, and Desi tonight was great with the puck, you know, getting his head up. I’ve told Desi a bunch of times that he’s got a lot of skill. It shows in practice, he’s been working on it. So it’s good to see those guys get rewarded."
For these unlikely suspects to score two goals in the space of five minutes -- pretty goals even -- looks like a surprise but it was far from improbable.

Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl, freshly back from injury, was supposed to ease his way into the playoffs in a third-line role. It took him four periods to be promoted back to the top line with Joe Thornton, after scoring his first playoff goal in his first playoff game. For him, it was not so much a matter of stepping up as picking up where he left off before being injured by Kings captain Dustin Brown last November.

A second rookie in the Sharks’ playoff lineup is Boston University product Matt Nieto, who stepped in when Hertl was injured and never gave the club a reason to send him back. His tenacious and speedy style earned him a steady spot in the top six. He represents a change in playing style that the Sharks have been working on for some time now. Todd McLellan talked about the team’s emphasis on speed:
"It’s been a focus of our organization over the last few years to up the speed element. The Matt Nietos and those type of players come in, we want to play a fast game. We feel that that’s what we need to do to have success."
While sitting playoff veterans Martin Havlat and Tyler Kennedy, McLellan has used these rookies in the roles those two would normally fill. That will not necessarily be the case throughout the playoffs, but for now the Sharks are in the enviable position of having too many capable players. They are not asking anyone to do more than they have done before, but everyone has shown up ready to play.

Only three Sharks skaters have no points so far: defensemen Jason Demers, Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan. Five skaters have accumulated three-or-more points. Joe Pavelski leads the team with four. The Sharks have allowed five goals in two games. In the first game, the goals against came in a span of less than 12 minutes. In the second game, the goals against came in less than ten minutes. The Sharks have played a tight defensive game, with a few hiccups, so far. 

For the Kings’ part, the individual difference has been worse than failing to go to another level. Too many of their regulars have underperformed badly. The Kings do not have a history of scoring a lot, but timely goals are stock-in-trade and they are supposed to have a formidable defensive game. In the 2013-14 regular season, the Kings averaged  2.05 goals against, the fewest in the league. In these two games that average ballooned to 6.5. 

Despite that, the Kings still have a reputation as a good defensive team. After the second game, Brown alluded to that, saying:
"We have to play solid defense and not let any goals in because we know that they’re capable of not letting that many goals in."
One has to wonder if the club which won the Cup two short years ago can recall all that. They have only played two games, a mathematically insignificant number, unless the goal is to win four.

Of the lopsided scores, McLellan said:
"The scores are irrelevant. They’re over, these could have been two triple overtime wins for us. That’s all you get is a win. You don’t get goals for or goals against that count for anything."
Nonetheless, those goal differentials do tell us something about who has and who has not performed up to par.

In previous meetings, Justin Williams was the Kings’ points leader against the Sharks. The Kings top five in points this season were Anze Kopitar (70), Jeff Carter (50), Justin Williams (43), Mike Richards (41) and Drew Doughty (37). In the first two games, Kopitar, Carter, Jake Muzzin and Trevor Lewis have two points each, Doughty has one, Williams and Richards have none. Just seven Kings have any points, only four have more than one.

Those numbers indicate that the Kings could very well turn this series around quickly. The Sharks expect as much in the next two games at Staples Center. Torres admitted the following:
"We’re kidding ourselves if we think that it’s going to be like this for seven games. We’ve been fortunate the first two games but then we’re really going to find out what kind of team they have going in to LA. It’s tough to win on the road, especially going in to LA."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Glens Falls deserved better than the Flyers and Phantoms could give

The curtain has finally gone down on the five-year tenure of the Adirondack Phantoms.

Thanks to a 2-1 loss against the Hershey Bears at GIANT Center on Saturday night, the Phantoms completed the 2013-14 season with a 30-38-8 record.

A surprising 5,586 fans turned out at the Glens Falls Civic Center on Friday night for the club's home finale, a 3-2 overtime loss against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

It came less than three weeks after the club was officially eliminated from the playoff race, the first team in the AHL to attain that dubious distinction.

That sellout crowd, slightly more vocal and emotional than the other 148 which preceded it, deserved much better than they got. What's more, they deserve much better than what the American Hockey League is giving: vague hopes of another troubled franchise possibly relocating to a venue which suddenly has 38 open dates.

Things were already hitting the skids by the time the Brooks brothers purchased the Phantoms in 2008, uprooted them from the soon-to-be-demolished Spectrum and planted them five hours north. The in-game experience left a lot to be desired. What once was reminiscent of an earlier era in the NHL became watered down at the altar of family entertainment. Fan and media member alike were drawn more to the ominous black curtains cordoning off wide swaths of unsold seats, the continuous blare of between-action music culminating in the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song, but not to the on-ice product, which limped along near respectability.

Yes, the Phantoms played to primarily packed houses on Glen Street since 2009. That's to be expected after a region mad for the sport was forced to wait 10 years and wade through the morass of two United Hockey League franchises before gaining the prestige of the AHL once more. Yes, the community spirit was there. Check out this video of opening night from October of 2009:

What wasn't there was winning, and if not that, then interesting, hockey. That's a great way to waste a ton of good will and good faith.

Although they had one quarter of the time of their previous incarnation to ply their trade, Adirondack Mark II did nothing to erase the memory of the mighty Red Wings, owners of four Calder Cup championships, whose banners hang in the rafters as a stirring reminder. The Phantoms went through four head coaches, two messy firings and most glaringly, five seasons without a single playoff berth as a Flyers affiliate. It showed in the wild swings of average attendance over their time in upstate New York despite that support for the sport.

Like most other places on the professional hockey map, fans like hockey but love winning hockey even more. They're not shrinking violets up here, either. The average annual snowfall in the area is 68 inches per season and the roads are cleared exponentially better than in the Mid-Atlantic. You've gotta give them something to move for, and with the exceptionally brutal winter up and down the East Coast this year, those who did should win a medal for their efforts.

That's not to say the organization completely fell short. Those who worked at ground zero, the main front office staff: Executive Vice President Chris Porreca, Erik Hansen and Kevin Breen from the sales force, ticket maven Kevin Schildt, director of fun and community management Andrew Hill, broadcaster Bob Rotruck and in-game operations and marketing chief Chris Miller did all they could on a daily basis knowing they were acting against sands through the hourglass from Day One.

Anyone who took a trip north to see the Phantoms noted that they drew more than the Albany affiliates supported by the Hurricanes and Devils, and advertised better in the Capital District than the home clubs. 

It's in the hockey operations department where fault can be found. Heading off any potential fallout, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren gladly fell on his own sword there:

“The fact that they haven’t won, I think is more of a reflection of not enough skilled players,” he said. “That isn’t (Phantoms head coach) Terry (Murray’s) fault, that’s mine," Holmgren told the Post Star's Diana Nearhos. “When you’re trying to win on the National league level, sometimes you do things that come back to bite you."

The following notable Phantoms have hit the skids because the big club needed to boost itself: Jonathan Matsumoto, David Laliberte, Jared Ross, Patrick Maroon, Jon Kalinski, Mike Testwuide, Kevin Marshall, Harry Zolnierczyk, Matt Ford, Tom Sestito, Jon Sim, Shane Harper, and Matt Mangene. Add Kris Newbury, brought in for veteran leadership, then cast away, labeled a grumpy loner as a late-season exile once it was known the Phantoms had no future in the postseason.

“I don’t know what the number of players you’d like to see to be able to move on an annual basis to be NHL players,” said Murray, playing the good organizational soldier. “But I think if you can get a couple up there and knocking on the door and be very close to players who can stay there, then I think the organization is doing a good job of it.”

Forget any notions of them helping the Flyers in the short or long term. Their removal from the organization largely stripped minor-league fans of some decent and bankable AHL talent. Sure, everybody loves Zack FitzGerald for his good nature off the ice and his lunacy on it and Jason Akeson -- before his call-up to Philadelphia for the playoffs -- provided some badly needed speed and all-time leading scoring punch, but after that, who was left? The aforementioned instability behind the bench offered little solace.

But listening to the Flyers' brass, you'd think the issue was internal, rather than external, as evidenced by this passage:

"Words ranging from 'disappointing' (Murray and Holmgren) to 'discouraging' (Holmgren) to 'unacceptable' (Hextall) describe the Phantoms’ record. All three lamented the failure to develop a winning atmosphere. Hextall said the attitude needs to change, that players might be getting used to losing and starting to accept it. The attitude problem shows in the team’s inconsistency, as a group and as individuals. The level of play varies immensely from one night to the next. Murray often commented on his team 'not playing the full 60 minutes.'

Hextall said 'we got some guys that got to kick it up a notch. There’s players here right now that I think are better players then they’re showing us.' He used (Tye) McGinn as an example, saying he has to find a way to have an impact in every game. Overall, Hextall said, there are a lot of players who need to make their off-nights into average nights. McGinn is one who he thinks is going to be a good NHL player if he can find the consistency. 'I think you see a certain hunger in certain players and eventually they’ll figure it out.'"

Murray, while having efficiently taught his two clubs how to be defensively responsible, is more likely responsible for turning the Phantoms into a team which matches his laconic personality.  Having seen four games up close and a half-dozen others from the comfort of a TV screen in Murray's tenure, it wasn't hard to suss out. There was a veritable flood of college talent which came along in the last two weeks of the season, but that was only enough to provide a brief spark and give the fans something which can keep them warm should hockey not land here next year.

Nonetheless, unless you go to work every day with a pointy hat, colorful robe and magic wand, no mortal can squeeze blood from a stone. Perhaps the Flyers' front office should take a good look in the mirror at their talent evaluators and see that intangibles like work, effort and attitude aren't enough to overcome a clear talent gap and largely one-dimensional coaching against other farm teams whose parent clubs have a little more on the ball.

They won six in a row in October, then went 6-1-0 around the holidays. When the club might have needed a boost to at least pretend they were serious about a postseason berth, they came up with a 4-18-3 record from mid-January to mid-March and then embarked on a scoreless streak of 174:06, snapped finally in a 6-4 loss at Springfield on March 28 -- a game in which the Phantoms couldn't hold leads of 2-0 and 4-3 and gave up a trio of third-period goals. What are the odds that all of those players who were called out above decided to show their down side all at once?

And then, with an influx of talent like Shayne Gostisbehere, Kevin Goumas, Derek Whitmore, Tom Serratore and Tony Capobianco, they finally gave 
it the ol' college try and came up with a 5-2-2 April when nothing was on the line.

The Phantoms' lone season above .500 came three years back, when Joe Paterson's one full season at the helm produced a 37-35-4 record which was only good enough for fourth place in a competitive Northeast Division. Still, he was let go in a surprise move in May of 2012, as Holmgren cited a need for "a different direction." That was the last of two times it was mentioned, the first when Greg Gilbert was fired in 2010 in a decision Holmgren said "he felt responsible for as much as anybody."

As always in a disfunctional organization, the men who blame themselves most often survive to make the decisions, while the chess pieces constantly change position and location. Murray ends his tenure in Glens Falls with a 61-76-15 mark and is a heartbeat away from becoming the next Flyers head coach (again). It won't be long before these issues surface once the promise of a fresh start and the sheen of the new arena in Allentown has been muted.

Something similar occurred with the Red Wings two decades ago. Consigned to keeping up with the Joneses on the NHL level as as major-market clubs fueled hefty salary increases for top-level talent, Detroit forgot all about player development as the 90s progressed. Though Adirondack made the playoffs in each of their final seven seasons in town, they didn't win a postseason series for the final five and dipped from 45 wins in in 1993-94 to a mere 21 in their final campaign of 1998-99. 

The Flames organization, which has eyes for the region, doesn't exactly have a track record of faithful service to the towns in which they place farm clubs. Since 2003, Calgary's kids have had to play in Saint John, NB, Omaha, NE, Moline, IL, Abbotsford, AB and now there's another potential swing all the way across the continent and back into the USA.

And the people of Glens Falls, Hudson Falls, Fort Edward and points beyond are forced to play the waiting game. Again. After years of not knowing if the Brookses were going to have their arena in the Lehigh Valley finished and see their latest heroes abscond to better environs. 

 "Our players are going to love the Lehigh Valley," said Jim Brooks to the Morning Call in a piece last year. "We've been waiting a long time, so we're pretty excited about what's coming."

Now that it's actually come to fruition, it's hard not to see the opportunity one of the best NHL franchises missed in a solid hockey environment.