Sunday, August 31, 2014

Slow exodus continues as Mayberry dealt to Toronto

The veritable Bataan Death March that has been the 2014 Phillies season continued with a bit of promising news.

Following a series-ending 6-5 loss to the Mets in Flushing, Queens this afternoon, the club shipped off outfielder John Mayberry, Jr. to the Blue Jays in exchange for minor league infielder Gustavo Pierre.

The 30-year-old, six-year pro never was able to take the reins and establish himself as an everyday presence in the Philadelphia outfield for the duration of his stay here. He was hitting just .213 with and OBP of .286 along with six home runs, seven doubles and 21 RBI over 63 appearances this year.

Since arriving in red pinstripes in a deal which saw Greg Golson headed to Texas in November of 2008, Mayberry batted .242 and collected 52 homers, 74 doubles, 160 runs scored and 169 RBI in exactly 500 games.

Pierre batted a combined .260 over 116 combined games with Single-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire.

SJP begins title defense with narrow win in Chicago

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- For the third straight year, the St. Joseph’s Prep football team opened its season by going on the road to defeat a national powerhouse.

And it did so under the watchful, and somewhat cocky eyes of former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who released the following on his Twitter account: "Time 2 show our out of town guest from St. Joes Prep how real football is played. We Are MC."

The Hawklets (1-0) scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday and hung on to beat McNabb's alma mater of Mount Carmel of Chicago, 28-27, at Toyota Park.

The Prep, ranked No. 1 in Southeastern Pennsylvania by The Inquirer, took a 28-21 lead with 6 minutes, 32 seconds remaining by taking advantage of a fortunate bounce. Jack Clements’ pass was intended for Terrence Green over the middle, but it deflected into the hands of Jon Reid in the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown. Reid, who is bound for Penn St., caught two touchdown passes.

Clements, a senior entering his first full season as a starter, went 11 for 15 for 206 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Caravan (0-1). Olamide Zaccheaus rushed for 112 yards, including a 37-yard score in the first quarter.

Mount Carmel, the two-time defending Illinois state champions, drove for a touchdown with 2:23 left, but the extra point missed wide left. The Caravan had one last chance with the ball, but a Zaccheaus tackle forced them to turn it over on downs with about 30 seconds remaining.

The Prep, who are defending PIAAA Class AAAA champions, beat Dallas Jesuit in the opener last season and defeated Cocoa (Fla.) the previous year.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Penn State season opener is Ficken good

Dublin, Ireland -- Turns out, the only thing that threatened Penn State's trip to the Emerald Isle was the play of its opponent, and not some external threat from Mother Nature.

Sam Ficken drilled a 36-yard field goal as time expired to give the Nittany Lions a 26-24 victory over Central Florida in the opener for both schools on Saturday at historic Croke Park. 

Justin Holman capped a 75-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to give UCF its first lead of the day, 24-23, with 1:13 left. Holman's 37-yard pass to Josh Reese on 4th-and-10 immediately preceded the scoring run on a quarterback draw.

Penn State (1-0) had plenty of time and all three timeouts, starting from its own 26. Christian 
Hackenberg converted a 4th-and-3 from the 33 with an 8-yard run and covered the next 40 yards on three completions -- the last an 18-yard strike to Geno Lewis -- to set up Ficken's fourth field goal of the day.

The kick made a winner of James Franklin in his Penn State debut. The former Vanderbilt coach replaced Bill O'Brien, who left in January to take the vacancy with the NFL's Houston Texans.

UCF (0-1) had won nine straight dating back to last season and also left Beaver Stadium in September with a 34-31 win during a 12-1 season.

The Lions took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a Zach Zwinak 1-yard run. A roughing the punter penalty allowed Penn State to keep possession and Hackenberg followed with a 44-yard pass to DaeSean Hamilton to set up the score.

Hackenberg, who threw for 454 yards, was intercepted on Penn State's next series and UCF converted with a 36-yard field goal from Shawn Moffitt early in the second quarter. Ficken then capped a 15-play, 72-yard march with a 22-yard kick for a 10-3 advantage that the Lions carried into halftime.

Ficken kicked a 33-yard field goal midway through the third quarter and Holman, who took over under center for starter Pete DiNovo, scored on a 1-yard run to cap a 70-yard drive in seven plays for the Knights' first TD.

It didn't take long for the Lions to answer, as Hackenberg found Lewis behind the secondary for a 79-yard touchdown strike just three plays later to make it 20-10. Holman, though, pulled the Knights within three early in the fourth with a 10-yard TD pass to Reese.

The teams traded turnovers on the next three possessions -- a Hackenberg pick, a Holman fumble and a Hackenberg fumble. Penn State then extended the margin to six on Ficken's 24-yard kick with 3:30 to play.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gillick takes over as Montgomery continues cancer battle

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies made a surprising announcement Thursday afternoon when they revealed general partner and president David Montgomery is taking an immediate medical leave of absence while he recovers from jaw cancer surgery.

Pat Gillick has assumed Montgomery's responsibilities.

Gillick, who served as the organization's general manager from 2005-08 and continued to work as a senior advisor, issued a statement that said, "I have the highest regard for David Montgomery, as does everyone in our industry. I am glad to be of assistance to the Phillies."

The team added in its statement: "The club looks forward to David returning to his roles as General Partner, President and Chief Executive Officer when he is fully recovered."

Montgomery, 68, had surgery May 19 to remove cancer from his right jaw bone. He had been undergoing treatment following the surgery. Montgomery has kept a low profile since, although he was first in line Wednesday to shake hands on the field with the Taney Little League team during a pregame ceremony at Citizens Bank Park.

Montgomery had been unavailable to reporters in recent weeks, although he spoke to a fan group last week at the ballpark. He also recently made the team's road trip to Washington before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Montgomery has been the public face of the Phils' ownership group since 1997, when he became president. He started in the organization in 1971, when he sold season and group tickets. Montgomery advanced to marketing director and director of sales, before becoming executive vice president following the 1981 season.

Montgomery became chief operating officer in 1992. He acquired an ownership interest in the team in 1994.

Montgomery is very popular with his employees. Former players often cite the organization's "family atmosphere," and it is something that starts with Montgomery, who makes a point to know everybody in the organization, regardless of their stature or importance.

Montgomery grew up in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia. He graduated from William Penn Charter School in 1964 and the University of Pennsylvania in '68. Montgomery received his MBA from the Wharton School in '70.

Montgomery and his wife Lyn have three children: Harry, Sam and Susa. They have two grandchildren: Elizabeth and Cameron.

Former Wildcats head coach Kraft dies

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Jack Kraft, who guided the Villanova Wildcats to 238 victories and an appearance in the 1971 NCAA Championship game as head coach from 1961-73, died on Thursday in Cape May Court House, N.J. He was 93 and a resident of Stone Harbor, N.J. since the late 1970s.

"The Villanova community mourns the loss of Jack Kraft," said the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, University president. "His leadership style inspired great play and nurtured the development of skills and interests off the court that contributed to successful and rewarding lives. This inspired great loyalty and love among those he coached, and created a rich legacy that will endure at Villanova."

"Coach Kraft was a winner, a gentleman and an outstanding coach," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "His players loved and respected him. They stayed in touch with him until his final days. Everyone in the Villanova family will miss Coach Kraft. He is a beloved member of the Villanova community."

Kraft came to Villanova in 1961 from nearby Malvern Prep as the successor to Al Severance. In his first season he guided the Wildcats to a 21-7 mark and appearance in the NCAA Tournament - the first of six such appearances VU would make over the course of his tenure.

Among the standouts Kraft tutored were such Wildcats legends as Hubie White, Wali Jones, Jim Washington, Bill Melchionni, Johnny Jones, Fran O'Hanlon, Howard Porter, Chris Ford, Hank Siemiontkowski and Tom Ingelsby. His teams in the late 1960's helped bring Villanova to national prominence, highlighted by a 23-6 campaign that delivered the `Cats to the NCAA Final Four in 1971 for the first time since 1939.

In the NCAA Tournament that year Villanova defeated Saint Joseph's and Fordham at the Palestra before downing Penn 90-47 in the East Regional final in Raleigh, N.C. The Wildcats then staged an epic Final Four duel with Western Kentucky, ultimately prevailing in double overtime 92-89 at the Houston Astrodome. Villanova then dueled UCLA to the wire in a 68-62 loss in the title game.


Kraft, whose winning percentage of .715 is the highest of any Wildcats' coach, was honored 50 years to the month of his first Villanova victory at the Pavilion in 2011 with many of his former players in attendance. Survivors include Coach's three daughters (Janice Callaghan, Cheryl Rule, and June Hilton), a brother (Joseph Kraft), four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Birds finish up preseason by strafing Jets

Philadelphia, PA -- Former Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez sat against his old team, his new role as a high-profile backup settled.

The same was true for former Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, except for what amounted to a ceremonial snap and handoff at the beginning of the game to give the Philly crowd a chance to cheer him if they wished.

So forgive this preseason finale for producing a storyline no more interesting than a kicking competition between teammates.

Rookie Cody Parkey showed a strong foot with three field goals, including two over 50 yards as Philadelphia beat New York 37-7 on Thursday night.

Acquired by the Eagles from the Colts last week to compete with Alex Henery, Parkey took every field goal attempt for his new team and two of the four extra-point attempts.

He was good from 54, 53 and 25 yards and added some booming kickoffs to give the competition some heat. Henery, who has made just two of his five attempts over 50 yards in three NFL seasons, was called on for one extra point and a few kickoffs.

Matt Barkley, taking most of the snaps with starter Nick Foles and Sanchez both sitting out, passed for 253 yards with a 43-yard touchdown to Arrelious Benn. He threw one interception, in the end zone, and also rushed for a score.

The Eagles scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away -- on Barkley's 7-yard run, Trey Burton's 21-yard catch from G.J. Kinne and Damaris Johnson's 46-yard run. They won their last two games to finish the preseason 2-2 and will open the regular season against Jacksonville at home on Sept. 7.

Starters LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper also sat so the Eagles were led by Henry Josey's 121 yards rushing on 22 carries and Jeff Maehl's 84 yards receiving on four catches.

New York named Geno Smith their starting quarterback last week, leaving Vick as the backup. Matt Simms took most of the snaps, passing for 121 yards on 7- of-17 completions. Rookie Tajh Boyd was 7-of-12 for 92 yards and a 42-yard touchdown pass to Clyde Gates.

The Jets lost their last two preseason games to end 2-2 and will play Oakland at home on Sept. 7.

Eagles running backs Kenjon Barner (ankle) and Matthew Tucker (shoulder) were banged up during the game. X-rays on Barner's ankle were negative.

Temple's defense fuels shocking win at Vandy in season opener

Nashville, TN -- The Temple defense forced seven turnovers as the Owls crushed the Vanderbilt Commodores, 37-7, in non-conference action at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Temple (1-0), which finished a mere 2-10 last season, held the Commodores to just 278 yards of total offense on the night. On offense, it was P.J. Walker who made the biggest impact as the quarterback converted 23-of-34 for 207 yards and two touchdowns, adding another 21 yards and a score on eight rushing attempts as well.

Stephen Rivers handled the majority of the quarterback duties for the Commodores (0-1), converting 12-of-25 for 186 yards and an interception. While Rivers was sacked only once, fellow signal caller Patton Robinette, who hit on 4-of-6 passes for 38 yards, was sacked three times.

The first points of the night were tallied by the Owls as Walker hooked up with Brandon Shippen on a 35-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-down play late in the first quarter.

Deep in their own end, the Owls were forced to punt from the end zone with just over 10 minutes to play in the second quarter. However, the snap went over the head of punter Alex Starzyk and instead of falling on it for a safety, he failed to make the recovery and it was eventually pounced on by Oren Burks for a Vandy touchdown.

It took a little time for the Owls to respond to their miscue, but with just over two minutes to play in the first half Walker found Jalen Fitzpatrick with a short screen out to the left side and Fitzpatrick did all the rest as he slipped down the sideline and into the end zone from 18 yards away.

The Temple defense then went on the attack, sacking Stephen Rivers and stripping him of the ball, which Averee Robinson then scooped up and rumbled with 55 yards for the score to give the visitors a commanding 21-7 edge at the break.

In the third the Owls extended their lead to 24 points thanks to a 19-yard field goal by Austin Jones and a three-yard TD run from Walker.

On the next Vandy possession, Johnny McCrary had a pass picked off near midfield by Tavon Young, the defensive back returning it to the 14-yard line, but the visitors had to settle for a 28-yard field goal. Young had to INTs on the night, while Robinson was credited with a pair of fumble returns.

The Owls had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Jones, who later gave way to Tyler Mayes who booted a 25-yard field goal for the visitors for the only points tallied in the fourth quarter.

Last season Temple was tied for 97th nationally in turnover margin (minus-0.50), forcing a total of just 13 miscues in 12 games.

The start of the game was delayed more than an hour and a half due to lightning in the area.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Extra Points: Two wrongs don't make a right for Goodell |

Extra Points: Two wrongs don't make a right for Goodell |

Royals hanging tough in ECHL's long game

Reading's 2013 Kelly Cup champs
The Reading Royals have staying power.

Nestled in the Schuylkill Valley, the 2013 Kelly Cup champions have stayed in one place for nearly a decade and a half, holding court on Penn Avenue between 7th and 8th Streets since the Autumn of 2001.

Since the franchise's arrival, only three other teams have matched the Royals' longevity in the ECHL: the South Carolina Stingrays, Florida Everblades and Wheeling Nailers.

The Cincinnati Cyclones disappeared and were resurrected, while one Toledo franchise went under and another arrived to take its place. All other teams -- Trenton, Atlantic City, Johnstown, Charlotte, Roanoke, Richmond, Greensboro, Greenville, Pee Dee, Columbia, Augusta, Macon, Columbus, Pensacola, Mobile, Jackson, Mississippi, New Orleans, Louisiana, Baton Rouge, Arkansas, Peoria, and Dayton have disappeared from the landscape. Lexington has come and gone, Long Beach and San Diego from the WCHL were absorbed then disbanded, and the league continued to drift Westward, necessitating a brand shift from "East Coast Hockey League" to the acronym we know today.

If there's one thing we can thank Columbus' NHL entry for, it's that there has been high level minor-league hockey just an hour up the road from Philadelphia. If not for the Ohio capital's successful bid to earn an expansion franchise, the Chill might still be there.

Instead, once the Blue Jackets gained entry into the highest level of the game in North America, the Chill packed up for good in 1999, laid dormant for two seasons, before relocating to Pennsylvania. In the 14 years since, the Royals have welcomed the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals as NHL affiliates, and it's under the banner of the latter one where the franchise claimed its first title two seasons back.

However, in a move that makes geographic sense with the demise of the Titans in 2013 and the shenanigans surrounding the Greenville Road Warriors dropping the Orange and Black mid-season and signing on with the Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers agreed to a two-year affiliation beginning this year. It could have been a joint affiliation had the Capitals not decided to divest their interest.

Reading are winners. The club has posted a record of .500 or better in nine of their last 11 seasons, after spending their first two years under two separate head coaches getting their bearings and finishing out of playoff contention. The Royals have posted five consecutive seasons of 30-or-more victories and three of the last four have been 40-or-more win campaigns, culminating in back-to-back franchise record 46-win seasons the last two years.

That run of on-ice success stands in sharp contrast to the actual fan support, which has slipped to the tune of almost 2,000 per game since the club's first year of existence and inversely proportionate to their win-loss record. Ron Hextall and his front office have a prime opportunity to boost the profile of all the Flyers' affiliates, but it looks to be easier with a new building in the Lehigh Valley than it will in a 15-year-old edifice located literally on the other side of the tracks.

Architect of this renaissance at the on-ice level is Larry Courville. Courville, who will turn 40 towards the end of the regular season, took over in the middle of the 2008-09 season for Jason Nobili and has completely reversed the fortunes of the Purple and Black. A former draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1993 who suited up for 33 games over parts of three seasons in the late 90s with the Vancouver Canucks, the Ontario native has a connection to the early days of his team. Though not one of the first Royals to take the ice in the club's inaugural contest, Courville arrived in Reading late in the 2001-02 season from Hershey. Despite brief stops with Johnstown and Cincinnati, Courville returned to Reading in 2004 and ended his career there in 2008.

Courville's method of coaching and the way he constructs a roster are revealed in greater depth over here by Reading Eagle beat writer Jason Guarente. It's been enough to warrant the club's trust in the long term.

Like their new parent club in Philadelphia, the Royals have also been a part of an historic playoff comeback, albeit at their expense. In the 2010 Kelly Cup semifinals, Reading jumped out to a 3-0 series lead against Cincinnati, only to see it implode into a Game 7, 1-0 road loss to end the series. After back-sliding in the postseason the next two years by being eliminated in the second round and then the first, Courville and his charges finally put it all together in a five-game defeat of the Stockton Thunder two Junes ago.

Old League, New Goals

The ECHL itself is a completely different animal in 2014 than it was in 2001 when the Royals came onto the
Courtesy of the ECHL

Its footprint just after the turn of the Millennium was defined as the East Coast ad Central Midwest, generally East of the Mississippi River with a few exceptions, featuring more clubs in the South -- due to the rush to emulate the NHL's arrival in the Sun Belt -- than in the Northeast. Back then, the "E" was one of three leagues at, for lack of any better comparison than with professional baseball, North America's Double-A level.

Included in that mix were the West Coast Hockey League and the Central Hockey League. From the bones of those two late, lamented businesses, the ECHL gained Alaska, Idaho and Bakersfield, while the CHL offered up Colorado and Evansville to the current ranks.

With only seven franchises left after Denver and Arizona abruptly announced they were folding last week, the CHL appears to be on the brink of either ruin or absorption. That falls in line with the NHL's plan to tier their farm systems with just one league per level, as in Major League Baseball. At one time, the IHL existed parallel to the AHL and NHL parent clubs found affiliates in each until the 2001 shuttering of the former which resulted in several clubs jumping to the AHL.

If that plan comes to fruition, and it appears likely that next season would be the target, there will be just one league servicing the top two levels in minor hockey acting as feeder systems. There are 22 ECHL clubs at present, and if the health of all seven CHL franchises is deemed well enough to be folded in, then simple math tells us only one more franchise is required to bump the Double-A level up to 30 so that each NHL franchise can claim affiliation with one ECHL and one AHL team.

Since the Trenton Titans and Johnstown Chiefs have folded, Reading's natural rival is Wheeling -- the Penguins' farm club -- 300 miles away, while its closest rival is Elmira, approximately 210 miles to the North. Should absorption of the CHL be off the table, there aren't many smaller towns left that haven't either failed at the ECHL level or already support an AHL team. A potential franchise earmarked for Burlington, Vermont never materialized, and somehow the E was skipped over before legitimate minor-league hockey returned to Glens Falls five years ago.

Roll Call

Ryan Flinn was the first member of the Royals to make it to the Show, debuting in late January of 2002 with the Kings, after a rocket ride of 57 games between Reading and Manchester. His fourth career fight occurred against the Philadelphia Flyers' Todd Fedoruk in LA.

Over the years, Jeff Finger, Barry Brust, George Parros, Rich Peverley, Deryk Engelland, Jonathan Quick, Ben Scrivens and Philipp Grubauer have also risen from Reading to the NHL for various clubs. Chris Bala, a Hill School graduate and Harvard product who was a second-round pick of the Senators in 1998, also spent several years at the end of his career with the Royals.

Reading's season opener takes place in Wheeling on October 18, and its home opener one week later to complete a home-and-home set with the Elmira Jackals.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Phantoms, AHL unveil 2014-15 schedule

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms will commence their inaugural season in Allentown on October 11 on the road against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Six days later, the nascent franchise opens up at home against the club which took over their former residence, the Adirondack Flames.

The following are a series of tweets from Phantoms broadcaster Bob Rotruck - entering his fifth season calling the action home and road for the club -- describing the ins and outs of the 76-game slate:

Hit the link for the breakdown of all 30 teams from the AHL's website.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sixers complete Thabeet deal

The Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday evening acquired a trade exception and a 2015 protected second round draft pick from the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for center Hasheem Thabeet and cash considerations.

Multiple sources, including ESPN and report the Sixers will waive Thabeet, who has a contract which is worth $1.25 million in unguaranteed money.

The Thunder have one year to use the trade exception.

Thabeet, a UConn product about to enter into his sixth NBA campaign, averaged 1.2 points and 1.7 rebounds over just 23 games with OKC a season ago.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hextall signs Hextall to minor-league deal

Flyers GM Ron Hextall didn't have to look far in his quest to fill out the Lehigh Valley Phantoms' roster.

That player was found right in his own family.

On Monday, Brett Hextall -- son of Ron -- signed an American Hockey League contract for the upcoming season.

The 26-year-old native of Philadelphia spent last season with the Portland Pirates, his third with the franchise, accumulating 11 goals and 12 assists in 59 games.

Hextall played collegiately at North Dakota, totaling 39 goals and 42 assists over 125 games from 2008-11.

The younger Hexy's birthday, April 2, 1988, occurred when his father started in goal at Quebec with the Flyers posting a 7-4 victory at Le Colisee. The elder Hextall stopped 32-of-36 shots that night.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Taney Dragons to be honored by Phils on Wednesday

From the Phillies PR department: 

                        The Taney Dragons local little league team is about to get a major league tribute!

On Wednesday, the Taney Dragons will take to the field and be honored by the Phillies and fans during a ballpark-wide celebration. The entire Taney Dragons roster will take part in this special tribute, with their families and coaches in attendance. 

Fans can take advantage of a special ticket offer, with Taney receiving a portion of the proceeds, by visiting

All fans in attendance will also receive a Taney Dragons hat and t-shirt.

                        Wednesday, August 27, 2014 6:30 p.m., prior to that night’s Phillies-Nationals game

Taney advanced to an elimination game of the American side of the Little League World Series, but dropped a 6-5 decision to eventual USA champs from Chicago's Jackie Robinson West squad on Thursday night. The Dragons advanced further in the tournament than any other Philadelphia team in Little League history.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Phillies owner Sally Buck dies

Phillies President David Montgomery issues the following statement on the death of team owner, Sara L. “Sally” Buck, who passed away earlier this morning:
“The Phillies are very sorry to learn of Sally’s passing. Sally and her late husband Alexander (Whip) Buck had been a part of the Phillies ownership group since December of 1981.  Whip and Sally provided consistent support for the organization both as partners and fans.  Sally was loved by many in the Phillies organization from front office staff, to players, to fellow owners.  Her passing leaves the club with a profound sense of loss.  Her presence at Citizens Bank Park will be missed by all who knew and loved her.

“Our heartfelt condolences are expressed to Sally’s sons Pete and Sandy, daughters-in-law Nancy and Sissy, and loving grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“As her sons Pete and Sandy said, ‘Sally always put family and others first, ever humble and selfless, and deeply committed to her community, her friends and those in need. She modeled love, strength, virtue, good cheer and wisdom.’”

Eagles start trimming roster

The Philadelphia Eagles have released the following 14 players: TE Blake Annen OL Michael Bamiro OL Karim Barton WR Kadron Boone WR BJ Cunningham OL Donald Hawkins TE Emil Igwenagu LB Jake Knott DE Joe Kruger S Daytawion Lowe DE Frances Mays S Davon Morgan K Carey Spear DE Alejandro Villanueva The roster now stands at 76 players. All NFL teams must cut down their rosters to 75 players by Tuesday at 4 pm Eastern.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Birds come up big in home preseason tilt against Steelers

Philadelphia, PA -- LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles scored touchdowns in the first half and the Philadelphia Eagles grabbed a 31-21 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday in South Philadelphia.

McCoy caught a 22-yard score in the first half, but the team got a bit of a scare as he exited the game with a thumb injury. X-rays taken on the thumb, though, came back negative.

Nick Foles ran the first-team offense for the first half and led the team on three scoring drives, going 19-for-29 for 179 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper were together on the field for the first time in the preseason and 
combined for nine catches for 68 yards as the Eagles won for the first time in their exhibition slate after dropping their first two games. Maclin stayed in the game after going down on a non-contact injury early in the contest which brought back memories of his torn ACL from last season, but recovered quickly.

Ben Roethlisberger played into the third quarter and finished the game 15- for-24 for 157 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Steelers, who are 1-2 on the preseason. 

Twin running back threats LeGarrette Blount and Le'Veon Bell dressed and played more than 24 hours after their arrest and citation on marijuana charges in the Steel City suburbs. Blount traveled with the team. Bell paid his own way to join the squad, according to's Ian Rapoport. They combined for 55 yards on 16 carries. 

The Eagles found the end zone on their second possession of the game as McCoy caught a short pass out to the right and ran into the end zone for a 22-yard score and a 7-0 lead with 6:12 left in the first.
Philly added to its lead on its next touch as the team drove the ball 77 yards on 13 plays, with Sproles punching the ball in up the middle from a yard out for a 14-0 lead.

The Eagles got a 36-yard field goal from Alex Henery late in the first half to take a 17-0 lead into the break.

Philly added to its advantage on its first touch of the third quarter as Matthew Tucker finished off a nine-play drive with a 1-yard score, but Pittsburgh got its offense together on its ensuing possession as Roethlisberger tossed a pass into the end zone that Heath Miller came down with for a 27-yard score.

Tucker added another 1-yard run late in the third quarter for a 31-7 lead.

Darrius Heyward-Bey caught a 33-yard score from Bruce Gradkowski, and Martavis Bryant caught a 3-yard score from Gradkowski to make the game respectable for Pittsburgh.

Giroux dodged a bullet with successful guarantee

We don't know what motivated Claude Giroux to draw attention to himself and make a bold prediction.

Maybe he didn't want to do it. Maybe he felt he had to. Perhaps it was a selfless act by a captain learning on the fly, to draw attention away from the club's performance. Or it might have been a rash, spur-of-the-moment dictum by an athlete playing young and in the peak of confidence.

Whatever way you look at it, it was done. On October 22, Giroux went in front of the cameras and boldly declared the Philadelphia Flyers were going to make the playoffs. This was at a time when the team he led was mired in a franchise-worst 1-7-0 slump to start the season and managed to re-write its own record books with regard to offensive futility.

"We'll take it here game-by-game and we will make the playoffs," the leader of the Ginger brigade proclaimed. "When you have the record we have right now, you're a little frustrated and you try to figure out what's going on but everybody came to the rink and we know there's a lot of hockey left to play here. We're not far at all. How many points are we off, six? To think that with the start we had, we're that close. We've never thought that we're not going to make the playoffs."
At just 25 years of age, it didn't appear Giroux was too concerned about right or wrong, or that the last top player in Philadelphia to wear the "C" was effectively neutered by his own guarantee of victory. Giroux ended up being right, because he had the luxury of staking his claim with 74 games remaining in the season.

But what if he was wrong? Giroux fashioned a rope far thicker and far tighter than Eric Lindros ever did, when he tried to make like his hero Mark Messier and came up well short.

Following a deflating, momentum-shifting 2-1 double-overtime home loss to the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Semifinals at the Spectrum, Lindros went ahead and guaranteed his team would be back home for a deciding Game 7.

"We're coming back here and we're going to win," the fragile behemoth said. Anyone who recalled the 10 seconds in front of the camera then, couldn't help but notice it wasn't a confident gesture. Lindros was in the process of vigorously removing his equipment, and tossed off the line as if it were perfunctory and a fait accompli. Unlike Messier, there was no precedent, no five Stanley Cup rings and Conn Smythe or Hart Trophy to back up the visibly-perturbed captain's claim.

Two nights later in Miami, Lindros was shut out completely and the Flyers dropped a 4-1 decision to the upstart Panthers, who made it all the way to the Cup Finals. It was John LeClair, his Legion of Doom linemate, which held up a defiant index finger upon scoring his goal with 4:17 left in regulation, while Lindros was largely silent.

The only fallout from that failed guarantee -- other than a few snickers that Lindros had a long way to go before achieving the gravitas of Messier -- was that the Flyers' season was over, and the offseason would be used to fine-tune the top club in the East. Last October Giroux not only put himself into the gallows, but the rest of his teammates as well, who can only do what they're capable but require his game-to-game presence for that special guidance and spark.

It is a tricky method of doing business, having your best player, your most skilled skater, also serving as the team leader both on and off the ice. The Flyers have indulged in quick leadership changes for the sake of youth several times in their history, first with the dumping of Dave Poulin for Ron Sutter in December of 1989, then investing in Lindros as he headed into his third NHL campaign in 1994, and most controversially, giving Mike Richards the "C" prior to his fourth season in 2008.

With Lindros and Giroux, the main trouble with tying your team's performance to its leader's scoring ledger is, as the captain goes, so did the rest of the team. Giroux stumbled horrendously through the first goal-less 15 games, then needed another 15 -- during which he scored just five times and added eight assists -- to get the motor running. By the time he reeled off nine straight games with at least one point around Christmas, the Flyers only began their climb out of the dungeon and into playoff contention in earnest.

Remove that outburst which set Giroux on a course for Hart Trophy consideration and nomination, and the bottom falls out of the season very quickly. The top line remains a mess with Giroux AWOL and Scott Hartnell faltering, Tye McGinn looks more lost in the NHL and Michael Raffl never finds his niche when skating alongside the captain. Wayne Simmonds, who I had tabbed for the club's true MVP, remains their best player but can't be relied on to score, fight and check the rest of his team into relevance. Steve Mason can't hold back the deluge every game with a defense that most likely won't have Andrew MacDonald patrolling it long-term. 

His goal and assist at home against Montreal provided the win over the Habs in a 2-1 final; without his four points in the third period against Columbus, there's no 5-4 comeback victory and the home-and-home set is completely lost; his assists on the first and third goals in Edmonton disappear, Raffl's shootout heroics never occur.

Even before that burst, we're not even talking about a 6-0-1 stretch in early November where the Orange and Black returned to respectability, and whatever push there is, dies without Giroux's steady contributions. There's also bound to be increased discussion about how the brawl with the Capitals was a total anachronistic failure.

If Paul Holmgren talked to Ed Snider about a leadership change in the front office as far back as January, it's not too difficult to envision that Holmgren would have tendered his resignation -- perhaps as early as that initial conversation and maybe as late as the Olympic break -- as the Flyers continued to stew in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference cellars. Whether Snider accepted or told Homer to wait out the season as a lame duck, as Bob Clarke apparently was at the start of the 2006-07 season, is up for further speculation. Neither path would have been a very attractive option, but a quicker change would have given Ron Hextall at least three more months headway to implement his vision for this year.

With an insurmountable hill to climb, Craig Berube is not given the green light to guide the team beyond the end of the regular season. His role, more of a caretaker while the organization draws up a list of potential long-term candidates, ends with Game 82. Despite rumors, Terry Murray does not become a candidate to take over until season's end, though his desire to preside over a rebuilding team in the NHL at age 63 is a serious question mark.

John Tortorella could have relocated back across the continent, installed as a "motivational" head coach after two straight disappointing seasons without a playoff berth.

Giroux also clearly never embraces the chance to further test his bravado with the promise of extending the Flyers' first-round series against the Rangers: "We’re going to tie up this series and go back to New York. You’ve got to stay confident," he said after a Game 3 home loss whose promise was fulfilled by a narrow 2-1 decision in Game 4.

Heading into his third season and second full-strength schedule as Flyers captain, Giroux will do well to tread lightly, to make sure his stellar play and his emerging leadership stay one step ahead of his brain and mouth. Proclamations, promises and guarantees are good in short supply. Messier knew it, and Lindros apparently learned it after being burned. How Giroux deals with essentially going 2-for-2 on his own back will go a long way towards determining the way his locker room is run.

With "Lindros Syndrome" imprinted on the minds of Flyer fans who recall the now distant past, Hextall would be wise to sign or trade for mid-level players who can adequately make a difference if Giroux should be hurt or endure another inexplicable prolonged slump. The club will not likely survive another downturn as occurred through the first quarter of last season, whether Giroux is the primary mover or not.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Birds acquire another kicker

The Eagles brought in extra competition for incumbent booter Alex Henery and the ever-hopeful Carey "Murderleg" Spear on Wednesday in the form of Cody Parkey.

Philadelphia moved to acquire Parkey from the Indianapolis Colts by sending running back David Fluellen to the other side.

Undrafted out of Auburn, Parkey signed with the Colts following this spring's NFL Draft. He went 2-for-2 on field goals with the Colts during the preseason, including a 45-yarder. Parkey finished his senior season 14-of-19 on field goals while ranking first in the nation with 69 touchbacks.

According to multiple sites, Both Fluellen and Parkey were thought to have been waived by their respective former teams earlier in the day, before both sides agreed on a mutually beneficial deal.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Eagles excise LB Phillips

The Philadelphia Eagles have finally made a transaction, announcing on Tuesday afternoon that linebacker Jason Phillips has been released.

Phillips, out of TCU, was originally signed as a free agent in 2013, but suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during last year's camp and missed the remainder of the season. He was back healthy this year and competing for a spot at inside linebacker.

The 28-year-old Oklahoma native arrived in Philly after parts of two seasons suiting up for the Carolina Panthers. In 2012, he recorded 22 tackles while participating in all 16 games.

A fifth-round pick of Baltimore back in 2009, Phillips had been credited with two tackles during the Eagles' first two preseason games. He claims 31 tackles in 30 games over three NFL seasons with the Ravens and Panthers.

MO Radio Show on Sports Live w/NFL Insider John McMullen 08/19 by Mo Radio Show | Sports Podcasts

MO Radio Show on Sports Live w/NFL Insider John McMullen 08/19 by Mo Radio Show | Sports Podcasts

Monday, August 18, 2014

Eagles' Jon Dorenbos on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel:

Nearly 60 wrestlers announced for WWE 2K15

By JJ Miller

WWE and 2K began announcing the roster for its upcoming next-generation video game, WWE 2K15, over the weekend, with more expected wrestlers to be reveled down the road.

While I don't watch wrestling anymore, I was a fan during my latter high school years and several names jumped out at me while looking at the list on 2K's website, including Big Show, Chris Jericho, John Cena, Goldust, Kane, Mark Henry, Rey Mysterio, Shawn Michaels, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker and Triple H.

Two other big names are included, with two versions of Hulk Hogan (classic Yellow and Red and "Hollywood" Hogan) included in the "Hulkamania" edition of the game, as well as retro Sting in addition to his The Crow-style persona from later years. Sting is available as a pre-order bonus.

Other popular wrestlers of note include the recently let-go Alberto Del Rio, the popular-but-injured Daniel Bryan and the "retired" CM Punk. Other names joining the list include Batista, Brie and Nikki Bella, Brock Lesnar, Cody Rhodes, Kane, Randy Orton, RVD and The Miz.

Other wrestles and divas expected to be included when the game is released on Oct. 28 are AJ Lee, Bad News Barrett, Big E, Bray Wyatt, Cameron, Cesaro, Curtis Axel, Damien Sandow, Darren Young, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, Erick Rowan, Fandango, Jack Swagger, Jey Uso, Jimmy Uso, Justin Gabriel, Kofi Kingston, Luke Harper, Naomi, Natalya, R-Truth, Roman Reigns, Ryback, Santino, Seth Rollins, Sheamus, Summer Rae, Tamina, Titus O'Neil, Tyson Kidd, Xavier Woods.

A note at the bottom of the page says that the full roster is "coming soon."

Staszak: The First Philadelphian

For all intents and purposes, Ray Staszak is a footnote in one of the worst seasons by any franchise in modern NHL history.

He skated in a total of four contests for the Detroit Red Wings early in the 1985-86 season, recording his lone NHL point in his first appearance in a tie against the North Stars. Working under head coaches Harry Neale and Brad Park, the Wings finished a league and franchise worst 17-57-6 and surrendered more than 400 goals.

Despite those origins which seem much less than humble, it meant that Staszak earned a place in local history as the first player born and raised entirely in the City of Philadelphia to make it into the National Hockey League.

Not even Tom Brennan, born here in 1922 but who had to relocate to Canada in his teen years in order to hone his hockey skills before skating in 12 games with the Bruins from 1943-45, can claim that. 

Flourtown native Mike Richter might be the most famous, or infamous for those of you who are dedicated New York Ranger haters. Cherry Hill's Own Bobby Ryan might be the subject of the most fetishistic rumors, and Jay Caufield might have possessed the most petrified hands. Mark Eaton was from Delaware, and Eric Tangradi also turned heel like Richter and skated for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Yet, even in failure Staszak can claim to be something that none of the above can: the first college player to be signed to a million-dollar free agent deal.

The kid from the Northeast made headlines when the Detroit Red Wings, in the midst of a free-agent signing frenzy, inked Staszak to a whopping five-year, $1.4 million-dollar contract on July 31, 1985. Included in the bunch were such names as Tim Friday, Warren Young, Harold Snepsts, Chris Cichocki, Dale Krentz, Adam Oates and Petr Klima.

To what did he owe the honor of the sudden windfall? Two years in college and one stellar season with the now-defunct program at Illinois-Chicago, during which he led the Flames in goals (37) and points (72) in just 38 games, gained All-CCHA honors and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, and a Hell of a lot of hard work. UIC's Hobey campaign even featured him in the mills of Indiana, touted as the "Man of Steel."

His rise to the top was as unlikely as it was swift. He didn't begin skating until he was in middle school. Having graduated from Archbishop Ryan High School in 1980, the undersized winger (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) had to take his talents on the road because, even five years removed from the Broad Street Bullies taking the hockey world by storm, players from Philadelphia simply weren't on anyone's radar. He spent one year with the Bux-Mont Glaciers (Junior B) in the Mid- Atlantic League season while working as a machinist, then another with a Minnesota club in the USHL where he garnered enough notice to snag a scholarship to UIC in 1983.

But after taking part in four of the first five games of that disastrous season, during which Detroit went 0-4-1 and was outscored to the tune of 35-13, Staszak was shipped up to Glens Falls to play for the Wings' AHL affiliate under future Flyers head coach Bill Dineen.

"He seemed to me to be in no-man's land. I thought he was a full step behind and having a tough time with the transition," then Red Wings GM Jim Devellano said at the time of Staszak's demotion. "He can go down, relax, start to unwind, start to handle the puck a little better and start to do some of the things he can. It looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Because he cares, he has pride and character, he wants to contribute and he wants to live up to his contract. That's unfair because no one can live up to that contract."

"That contract," which in short order came to be seen as an albatross (albeit one not stone dead and hawked by John Cleese) for the moribund Wings, provided desperate help to a family which saw its patriarch felled by a heart attack just prior to Staszak's college debut.

"(It) was a godsend," Staszak said to the Inquirer in 1987. "It was just under a mil, spread out you know. I helped my family immediately. I paid some bills, helped my sisters through school and put the family's mind at ease as far as where the next dollar was coming from. We're a low-middle class family, and with my father gone, it wasn't easy."

Staszak went to work, totaling 13 goals and 21 assists over 26 games with Adirondack -- which went on to win the Calder Cup in a stunning reversal of fortune. But disaster struck when he suffered a groin injury, then a pair of debilitating shoulder injuries which impacted his shooting. Rehab and more hard work failed to resuscitate the joint, and Devellano was forced to make a business decision and buy him out of his deal.

"It first happened when I was in Adirondack in the (American Hockey League) finals against Hershey," he said. "I felt the pain, but you don't quit at a time like that. Then I hurt it again at practice, in preseason (at the Red Wings' camp). Somebody pulled me down from behind near the goal. My shoulder started bothering me, but when you're in the position I was in -- second year, trying to make a spot on the team -- you don't give up. I kept playing all through camp, fought it to the bitter end."

Staszak suffered one final indignity during a tryout with the Vancouver Canucks in 1988, hurting the shoulder again while taking a hard check during a battle for the puck, and he finally hung up the skates for good. 

"When I came back from Vancouver, I figured it was time to let go for a while," he said. "It was the first time I'd given my body time to heal. I didn't play any hockey for four months, didn't do any lifting," Staszak said in a piece from the Inquirer in March of 1989.

Staszak returned to his Academy Road alma mater as a special assistant to its boys' hockey coach in 1989, and he's lived a quiet life since then. Cursory internet searches appear to have turned up that he lives in the far Northeast.

It has taken a little more than a generation for the NHL to come back around and openly court college free agents, though the hype surrounding UMass-Lowell defenseman Christian Folin last Spring didn't come close to reaching the publicity Staszak and his cohorts did.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Powe returns on AHL contract

Princeton's own Darroll Powe returned to the Flyers franchise on Wednesday, thanks to an AHL deal.

Powe spent last season split between leagues in the Rangers organization, primarily playing for the Hartford Wolf Pack, New York's primary affiliate.

The 29-year-old native of Saskatoon played in Philadelphia from 2008-11, collecting 22 goals and 43 points over 204 regular-season appearances along with one goal and four assists in 40 playoff games.

He has struck for 28 goals and 28 assists during 329 NHL games for the Flyers, Wild and Rangers over parts of six seasons.

Sixers unveil 2014-15 schedule

The Philadelphia 76ers will open up the 2014-15 season on the road, two days before Halloween.

Games in Indiana (10/29) and Milwaukee (10/31) precede the club's home opener, the next night against the four-time defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat.

The campaign will conclude, oddly enough, against Miami on April 15. 

Hit the link for the full 82-game slate.

NHL 15 Demo coming Aug. 26

By JJ Miller

EA Sports has announced that the demo for NHL 15 will be released on Aug. 26 for both the Xbox One and Playstation 4.

The teaser for the game will allow you to play three two-minute periods as either the New York Rangers or Los Angeles Kings using a variety of camera modes. Also, two of the much-hyped Authentic Arenas will be on display, with users given the option of playing in either Madison Square Garden or the Staples Center.

The demo will also feature a practice mode, allowing a free skater to practice moves against a goaltender.

The full version of NHL 15 is slated for release on Sept. 9.

Below is the latest trailer for the game released at Gamescom 2014.

New-Gen Goalkeepers highlight FIFA 15 upgrades

By JJ Miller

EA Sports is looking to take full advantage of the next-generation consoles for FIFA 15.

The company announced on Wednesday a number of upgrades for the Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC versions of the game, including an overhaul of the men manning the net, dubbed “Next Gen Goalkeepers,”as well as new legends and licenses for the game.

The newest version of the popular game will also include new features in FIFA Ultimate Team mode, a new team management system in career mode and a fresh news hub called Match Day Live.

Using the EA Sports Ignite game engine, goalkeepers in FIFA 15 are expected to look, move and think closer to their real-life counterparts. That includes a new AI system that will allow the netminders to better anticipate shots and passes, improve positioning and use a number of new animations to make the big stops.

For those looking for an authentic product, FIFA 15 is adding all 18 clubs from the Turkish Super Lig and is overhauling the Barclays Premier League with all 20 stadiums, chants captured during live events from the past season and new commentary.

We’re delivering innovations and improvements that have been at the top of our fans’ wish list: new goalkeepers, more responsive gameplay, and the Turkish Süper Lig,” said David Rutter, Vice President and General Manager at EA. “This year we’ve put the game in the hands of fans earlier than ever before, listened, and delivered what they want in gameplay, authenticity, and modes.”

Ultimate Team, known by fans as FUT, will now allow users to sign players on loan and use them for a limited number of games to see if the player fits into the squad's style before the user shells out resources to secure the player full-time. That is key for a mode that boosts teams through chemistry.

FIFA 15 Ultimate Team will also sees the arrival of a number of new ultimate team legends exclusive to Xbox.

The new team management system also will allow users to customize up to six different team sheets that alter formations, tactics and roles, letting players set up their matchups with different clubs ahead of time.

Match Day Live will be updated with published news powered by, giving games the chance to keep tabs on stories, stats and standings from around the world.

FIFA 15 is expected to be released in September and is available for preorder

Is Gruden strong enough to handle RG3?

By John McMullen

Whether he knows it or not Jay Gruden is hoping to become the NFL's version of Pat Riley.

For that to happen, though, Robert Griffin III will have to become football's Magic Johnson.

Riley, the current president of the Miami Heat, is an NBA legend with nine league championships on his resume as a player, assistant coach, head coach and now executive. His legend, however, really took hold in Los Angeles back in the early 1980s as the mentor of the Johnson-led "Showtime" teams.

And Riley may have never been put on the fast track for success if Magic had not butted heads with his first NBA coach, Paul Westhead.

Six games into the 1981-82 NBA campaign, Johnson asked to be traded because he was unhappy playing for Westhead. Days later Lakers owner Jerry Buss did what he had to and fired Westhead in order to keep his superstar happy.

After Jerry West turned down the opportunity to coach Magic and Co, Buss landed on Riley and the rest is history. A master motivator who understands what buttons to push, Riley co-existed with Johnson and the two went on to have great success together.

Meanwhile, a narrative which could have ended with Johnson labeled as a coach killer instead morphed into the Michigan State product being tagged as one of the best leaders, floor generals and teammates in NBA history with Westhead lost to history as nothing more than a footnote in Johnson's spectacular

RG3 is at the same crossroads as Magic was back in the early '80s, the logical winner in the my-way-or-the-highway game the old school Mike Shanahan played inside the Beltway.

In fact Griffin over Shanahan was an easier prediction for DC folks than Obama over McCain.

You only get one, though. If the third-year QB can't get along and succeed with new coach Jay Gruden the whispers will start and all the fingers that immediately pointed at Shanahan this time, will start hesitating, at least a bit.

After all once is chance and twice can be written off as coincidence but the third time is always a trend. RG3 should want to keep that third card in his pocket at all costs.

Gruden, meanwhile, must tap into the Griffin's pure physical gifts and figure out how to get consistent production out of a player with a ceiling as high as any in the game.

Great coaches are part Patton and part Freud. Strategy is obviously an important part of coaching but managing personalities is another and some say far more difficult task for any mentor.

When it comes to superstars, or in the case of RG3 a potential superstar, it's always a feeling out process for coaches. Some big-time athletes have thick skin while others need to be coddled. Finding the right approach and reaching them is what sets the great coaches apart from the majority of their peers.

Gruden took an interesting tact recently by pointing out what he considers to be a flaw in Griffin's game, his inability to give up on a play and live for another day.

"I like the fact that he works hard, he studies the game hard, he's very accountable," Gruden told when discussing his QB before unleashing this caveat: "The only negative on him, if there is one, is he wants every play to be a touchdown.  And it drives me crazy.  It's a good thing, but sometimes, it's not a good thing, you know what I mean?"

We all know what Gruden means and we have all seen that kind of mentality from some great quarterbacks over the years, most notably Brett Favre, who would probably have three of four Super Bowl rings is he just learned to lay up on occasion and not channel Roy McAvoy on every play.

In fact days earlier Gruden was much clear after practice.

"I think (Griffin's) so athletic that he thinks he can keep a lot of plays alive and maybe he can," Gruden said. "But I think there's a point in time where he's got to not make a bad play worse. That's something we're going to preach and eliminate the negative plays."

The issue here may be the cachet or lack thereof that Gruden brought to the capital with him. The ex-Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator got his coaching start in the AFL and just doesn't possess the presence of heavyweights in his profession like Parcells or Belichick.

And his request for an  reporter's ratification only speaks to that.

"(Griffin will) do some things, I know, on game day. He'll jump around, make six guys miss, throw a bomb for a touchdown, and I'm sure I'll high-five him," Gruden admitted. "But if he does it again and it's a 12-yard sack-fumble, then what do you do?"

It's always possible Gruden is just a big "Seinfeld" fan and took on Cary Elwes' role as a "question talker" but fair or not it sounds like the rookie head coach has no idea how to cure RG3 of what he perceives to be a bad habit and that's a problem.

To reach his potential RG3 needs a strong, steady hand and I'm not sure Daniel Snyder has provided that to him.

Union advance to US Open Cup final

Frisco, Texas – Clad in the black and white of five-time U.S. Open Cup winners Bethlehem Steel, Philadelphia Union qualified for its first final in franchise history after a 2-1 victory in extra time against FC Dallas.

Actually, the Union bested Dallas 4-3 on penalty kicks after goalkeeper Zac MacMath parried a pair of goals – including Dallas stalwart Blas Perez – to seal the win. Credit the entire Union team however for finding the fortitude late to convert all four from the spot without a hitch. As a result, the Union will now host the winner at PPL Park between the Seattle Sounders and Chicago Fire on Sept. 16.

“That was kind of like a heavyweight boxing match,” said Union interim manager Jim Curtin. “Fortunately we were the last team standing even though Dallas put in a great team effort. I’m happy; I had 11 men out there the whole night and this is something that we have been striving for. Now we host a final and we’re extremely excited.”

It was the Union that struck first in the 47th minute after Amobi Okugo neatly slipped in a driven ball across the box from Sebastien Le Toux.

However, in the 81st minute, Fabian Castillo, the FC Dallas winger that doubles as a gazelle most days was at it again using his speed to bypass MacMath on a rundown and tapped the ball past and coolly slotted home the equalizer, setting the stage for a grueling extra time stanza that saw a ton of chances – and even one that looked to have secured the Union the win after a run in the box from Vincent Nogueira was rewarded with a chance at goal. With the window quickly closing Nogueira placed a low hard shot on goal that beat Dallas keeper Raul Fernandez, but not the post as it caromed off and roll harmlessly across Dallas’ 18-yard-box.

“They were playing a lot of balls in-behind our defense and I tried to play a high line and get off my line as much as possible to defend against that,” MacMath said postgame. “Unfortunately, [Castillo] got to it first and made us pay. It’s tough because I felt like I let my team down, so I am just really happy that we were able to battle past that and I was able to do the little things to make this happen.”

However it was well placed penalties from Sheanon Williams, Vincent Nogueira, Maurice Edu and the clincher from Cristian Maidana that secured the Union a berth into the final.

Tuesday night is for celebration. But it’s a short lived party as the Union now prepare for another showdown in Texas as Houston is next on Friday. That match will round out a three-game in seven-day stretch for the club.

“It’s awesome. It’s a feeling that this club has never had before and I know our fans back home are really excited,” said Okugo. “We’re happy to be able to bring it back home. Now we shift our focus to Houston and hopefully look to finish this trip to Texas on a high note.”


Philadelphia Union 2, FC Dallas 1 (Philadelphia advance on penalty kicks 4-3)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas


PHI: Okugo 47’
DAL: Castillo 81’


PHL: White (yellow card 75’)
PHL: Lahoud (yellow card 103’)
PHL: Cruz (yellow card 114’)


MacMath, Williams, Edu ©, White, Gaddis, Lahoud, Okugo, Nogueira, Le Toux (Maidana 97’), Wenger (Cruz 90’), Casey (Brown 63’)

Unused Subs: Blake, Valdes, Carroll, Fred


Fernandez, Michel, Zimmerman (Watson 37’), Hedges ©, Loyd, Ulloa, Moffat (Keel 45’), Castillo, Diaz (Hollingshead 45’), Akindele, Perez

Unused Subs: Sanchez, Benitez, Garcia, Acosta

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ryan White and the ugly business of acquiring grit

In the game of hockey, it is inevitable that high-speed contact occurs between two players, but unfortunate when that contact results in injury to one or both parties.

Whether it's in the normal course of action or in the settling of scores per the Code, the intention between two agents always seems to be to temporarily incapacitate and not to injure. It's all in the process of laying one's body down in the line of fire to help his team win, or whatever cliche is convenient to mask one or the other's true intentions.

All 30 NHL teams have, at one time or another, reached out to stock their NHL or minor league lines with players who previously did some kind of dirt -- to put it nicely -- to an existing member of that club's roster.  Just as the old British maxim about the newspaper industry held that today's news is tomorrow's fish wrapping, in hockey, today's Public Enemy #1 is tomorrow's hard-nosed player that will help his new team win at any cost.

The Philadelphia Flyers are no strangers to this idea, though the news towards the end of last week that new GM Ron Hextall reached out to sign Ryan White to a two-way deal where he's expected to be a role player with the Phantoms, brought a recent incident against his new club to the forefront.

On April 15, 2013,  with the visiting Orange and Black leading 2-0 early in the first period of an eventual 7-3 win at Bell Centre, White delivered a flying elbow directly to the head of defenseman Kent Huskins. The force of the blow caused the towering blueliner and 2007 Stanley Cup winner with Anaheim to drop limply, sprawled out and skidding on the ice in the right circle.

White was immediately tossed from the game with a match penalty, and thanks to the fact that he hadn't accumulated previous supplemental discipline from the NHL, was given a five-game suspension and was forced to forfeit more than $18,000 in salary which automatically goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

Huskins never played for the Flyers again, having missed the remaining six-plus games of the regular season while recovering from a concussion.

Less than 18 months later, White has been invited to join the franchise against which he violated the rules in spectacular fashion. Has he learned his lesson, or will he simply ply his trade for a team which holds dear its history in the dark arts of retribution? It's the nature of the business, and front office members need to have short memories and a cool head for evaluating talent.

White, thought Hextall, filled a need that someone like the dear, departed Zack FitzGerald couldn't perform adequately, and so one is brought in after the other is let go. The 26-year-old White has played on the up-and-up since that incident, carrying 17 points and 232 PIM over 147 career appearances for Montreal.

Perhaps the most puzzling and enraging example of this phenomenon occurred on July 20, 1998, when then-GM Bob Clarke signed free agent bottom-six forward Marc Bureau to a three-year deal. At the time, Bureau was on the downside of his career, age 32, with parts of nine NHL seasons to his credit. While Clarke exhibited a fetish for signing players just after their peak in order to round out the roster with veteran talent, that's not why the move came under fire.

What occurred in the second period of a Canadiens-Flyers game on February 1, 1996, and at the 1:25 mark of the following video did the trick:

Bureau gained a beating by Craig MacTavish later on in the clip, a well-deserved one-way bout in which the decidedly old-school MacT was banished for instigation as his prey covered up. In what was a major leap in discipline for the time under league vice president Brian Burke, the native of Quebec was slapped with a five-game suspension for this egregious slight.

Svoboda, miraculously, missed just one game and returned to the lineup after one calendar week. By the time Bureau was acquired, Svoboda was at full strength, but to outsiders, the fact that both players were now on the same side seemed awkward at best. Any lingering issues between the two had to wait to be resolved when Svoboda was shipped to the Lightning in December of 1998 in a one-for-one swap which netted defenseman Karl Dykhuis.

Bureau spent less than two seasons here, totaling 14 points and only 20 penalty minutes in 125 games before Clarke bundled him off to the Calgary Flames in March of 2000 for a forgettable player and a sixth-round draft choice.

The very next season, Clarke reached out to a former nemesis for defensive assistance. With Paul Coffey sidelined due to a concussion, Kjell Samuelsson out long term due to injury and Dykhuis soon to be on the shelf for a month, he plucked Michel Petit off the waiver wire from Edmonton in January of 1997.

This was the same journeyman rearguard who was ordered by former Flyer and then-Lightning head coach Terry Crisp during the opening round of the 1996 playoffs to double team Eric Lindros along with Igor Ulanov. Ulanov generally went low and Petit went high. The nonsense from Petit went on until Lindros did some cosmetic surgery on Petit's face in Game 5 of that series at the Spectrum.

When he arrived in Philadelphia, Petit was used as much as a 33-year-old career middling defender could be, then gradually reduced to a spare part once his defense and discipline became suspect. He appeared in just 20 regular-season and three playoff games, picking up 57 PIM before being released.

Even the beloved Boxcar had a history with Philadelphia before he was picked up from the Hartford Whalers prior to the 1984-85 season.

In Game 34 of The Streak, on January 4, 1980, Pat Quinn's Flyers took on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Trailing by an insurmountable 4-0 margin late in the second period, a scrum broke loose in the left-wing corner, and Ed Hospodar's frustrations and not being able to continue his bout with Flyers center Mel Bridgman spilled over into a line-crossing event off the ice which rarely happened back then:

Hospodar was the perfect darling under Mike Keenan, filling in at wing and defense over parts of three seasons, with the exception of the brawl which preceded the Flyers-Canadiens 1987 Wales Conference Game 6 at the Forum -- an action which left Hospodar suspended for the entire Stanley Cup playoffs and never to play in Philly again.

Honorable mention goes to Randy Holt, who finished his 10-year NHL career with a 26-game, zero-point, 74-PIM stint under head coach Bob McCammon in 1983-84. Holt was most infamous for participating in what was then a record-setting brawl with the Flyers, as a member of the Los Angeles Kings, in March of 1979 at the Spectrum. Holt still holds the league's single-game penalty-minute record with 67 in that contest.

Mark Bell gained an invitation to Flyers' training camp in 2009, 2 1/2 years after delivering a questionable shoulder/elbow hit to defenseman Alex Picard in the second period of a 6-1 Sharks victory at San Jose in November of '06, one which knocked the rookie blueliner from the contest with a concussion.

Also worth including on the list, is Ulf Samuelsson. The irrepressible Swede completed his career with 49 games on the Philadelphia defense under both Roger Neilson and Craig Ramsay during the 1999-2000 season, collecting three points and 58 penalty minutes. While not directly involved with the harming of a Flyers player during his years skating for the Whalers, Penguins and Rangers, Samuelsson was tainted by reputation by the time of his arrival.

Judging from the statistics of the above examples, it appears that Hextall's best move in bringing White here, is that he's not going to be depended on to fill a role at the NHL level. Any lingering issues in his play or discipline will be reason enough to keep him entrenched at Allentown until either his improvement or unforeseen circumstances permit a recall.

Nonetheless, on a one-year deal, the circle may remain unbroken if White is called into service by another club next year whose player or players White engaged in less than legal fashion. As long as White continues to exhibit the qualities which have kept him on the recall list since arriving in the NHL in 2009, there will be a market no matter his misdeeds.

The same can be said for any other player Hextall deems worthy of including in future plans, because nobody can stay angry or hold a grudge for long in the Show.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Howard again sends Phillies to victory

Philadelphia, PA -- At 34 years of age, Ryan Howard's best days are fading quickly in the rearview mirror, but that doesn't mean the former Big Piece can't show up every once in a while with a Little Piece of his old magic to help the Phillies through their worst season in more than a decade.

On Sunday afternoon, Howard hit a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning to cap a six-run rally and lift Philadelphia to a 7-6 comeback win over the New York Mets in the third test of a four-game set.

Cody Asche led off the ninth with a double against Jenrry Mejia (5-5), and Marlon Byrd rolled a single back up the middle to bring him home and tie the game.

"You know, it could be the work load," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Mejia. "He's still throwing hard. His velocity hit 96 today. His velocity is good, I don't know if the crispness on his breaking ball is what we've seen it to be."

Ben Revere struck out and Jimmy Rollins lined out before Byrd stole second during Chase Utley's at-bat. Utley, who was a double shy of the cycle, was intentionally walked and Howard followed by lining his base hit down the line in right to plate Byrd.

Ken Giles (1-0) fired a scoreless top of the ninth to notch his first career win and salvage some respect for the hosts, who had dropped the first two games in the series on Alumni Weekend.

"Good come-from-behind win," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "The guys are going to continue to fight and battle."

Utley launched a solo homer and smacked a two-run triple among his three hits to go with two runs scored for the Phillies, who trailed 6-1 heading into the seventh.

Juan Lagares cracked a two-run triple among his two hits to go with a run scored for New York, which took the first two games of this series. Lucas Duda and Travis d'Arnaud whacked solo homers in defeat.

The game was tied 1-1 before the Mets plated a run in the second, two in the third and two more in the fifth to surge ahead.

Daniel Murphy had a sacrifice fly in the second and Lagares' two-run triple in the third gave the Mets a 4-1 lead. Duda and d'Arnaud clubbed back- to-back homers to lead off the fifth and make it 6-1.

The Phillies trimmed the gap after pushing across two runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh.
Domonic Brown laced a two-run, two-out double to right in the sixth and Utley cracked a two-run triple with two outs in the seventh to cut the deficit to 6-5. Howard, though, struck out with Utley at third to end the frame.

Earlier, David Wright's RBI single opened the scoring in the first before Utley's solo shot in the home half knotted the score.

Notes: New York announced Sunday that rookie pitcher Jacob deGrom will miss his next start due to right shoulder soreness ... The Phillies claimed pitcher Jerome Williams off waivers from the Texas Rangers on Sunday ... Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick surrendered six runs -- five earned -- on 10 hits and three walks over five frames, while Mets starter Zach Wheeler allowed three runs on three hits and three walks with five strikeouts over six frames.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Eagles defense flying low in Madden

By JJ Miller

Those wanting to take the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl in the upcoming Madden NFL 15 game had better be prepared to win some shootouts.

After having a pair of players place in the top 5 of their respective positions on the offensive side of things -- running back LeSean McCoy and offensive lineman Evan Mathis -- the Eagles saw none of their defenders show up on EA's recently-released lists.

That isn't a huge surprise, but what may ruffle some Eagles fans' feathers are a pair of safeties that did.

Both free safety Jairus Byrd and strong safety TJ Ward were available as free agents this past summer and Philadelphia opted to pass on both. Interestingly enough, Byrd, who signed with New Orleans, ranks as Madden's top-rated player at FS with a 96 rating while Ward is third at the SS position with a 91 rating.

Said Madding Ratings Czar Donny Moore on the official EA Sports website,, of Byrd, "Byrd is the top-rated player in Madden in terms of Zone Coverage (99). His 81 Catching (best among FS) and 90 Play Rec make him the ultimate ballhawk in Madden NFL 15."

Of Ward, who signed with Denver, Moore noted "New to the Broncos, TJ Ward adds some hard-nosed football to the Denver secondary. With impressive 92 Hit Power, 88 Tackle and 86 Speed, Ward hits the hole and shuts down the opponent's run game. Despite his run stopping mentality, his Coverage and Pursuit ratings aren't too shabby at 84 and 86 respectively."

Sounds like two players that Eagles fans wouldn't have minded controlling on their TV this upcoming season.
EA also released on its website a full spreadsheet download of all the player's rankings ( and outside linebacker Trent Cole came in as the top-rated Eagles defender at 89. He slots in overall behind Mathis, McCoy and Justin Peters (93 overall).

Quarterback Nick Foles was given an 88 overall, just ahead of three players ranked at 87 overall: punter Donnie Jones, center Jason Kelce and running back Darren Sproles.

One safety the Eagles did add, Malcolm Jenkins, has a 77 overall rating. Rookie wideout Jordan Matthews has a 73 rating.

Other NFL defenders of note include Houston defensive end J.J. Watt and Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, both of whom received 99 ratings.

Also, current New York Jet defensive end and Temple product Muhammad Wilkerson was the fifth-highest rank player at his position at 93.

Madden NFL 15 is set to be released for the Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 4 and Playstation 3 on Aug. 26. You can preorder the game here:

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Flyers work quickly to bring in Del Zotto

The Philadelphia Flyers moved quickly to replace Kimmo Timonen on Tuesday, agreeing to terms with free agent defenseman Michael Del Zotto on a one-year contract.

Reports state it's worth $1.3 million.

Timonen was revealed earlier in the day to be dealing with multiple blood clots, a situation which puts his final NHL season in jeopardy before it begins. The need to bring in a veteran presence immediately led Ron Hextall to Del Zotto, who by and large went through the motions this season while suiting up for the Rangers and Predators.

Hextall has performed admirably in the three months since he was elevated to the GM post, handling the myriad curveballs thrown his way with sensible action. 

Never a favorite of former Blueshirts coach John Tortorella who found disfavor with new head coach Alain Vigneault, Del Zotto was dealt from New York to Nashville on January 22 in a straight-up swap for Kevin Kline

The Preds decided not to give Del Zotto, a restricted free agent at the end of last season, a qualifying offer by the June 30 deadline, and so the 24-year-old former first-round pick was free to sign with anyone who displayed interest.

If not for the Flyers' emergency situation, Del Zotto might have been waiting until training camp to receive an invite. There is a clear sentiment that he is in the "reclamation" phase of his career, despite having only played five NHL seasons. At this point, it would be unwise to predict how he fits into Craig Berube's defensive system, but I can trust that a fresh set of eyes in Hextall is on the correct track.

Over 67 regular-season games for two clubs in 2013-14, Del Zotto finished with three goals and 16 points. Since breaking into the NHL during the 2009-10 season, the native of the northern Toronto suburbs has compiled 27 goals and 99 assists over 317 appearances. He's added three goals and nine helpers over 32 postseason contests for the Rangers in 2012 and '13.

Hockey by the Bay: SeaGoal Cup and the art of team building

Thanks to PSSC
Summer 2014 officially arrived at 6:51 AM on Saturday, June 21.

As the sun began its early arcing ascent above the horizon, 10 hockey-crazed souls -- men and women alike -- were in the final stages of a night's rest, nestled in their beds among three levels in the palatial digs along the ocean block of 84th Street in Sea Isle City.

In a few hours, they'd have to rouse themselves, don the gear and the attitude of presumptive victors, and step onto the court for a winner-take-all tournament against rivals they've seen dozens of times before.

No matter what the calendar says, or how high the mercury soars, the game of hockey is alive and well in the Delaware Valley, long after the Flyers season ends and shortly after the National Hockey League crowns its champion.

It happens at a time when those not inclined to escape the urban heat island and those who could care less or can't afford to get away are regurgitating endless chatter on social media about Vinny Lecavalier's value in trade to other clubs, lack of value to his own, or the mystery behind Scott Hartnell to Columbus. Eighty miles away, the few, the proud and the dedicated have shut that all out, paid their hard-earned money and decided to use time usually spent in relaxation to pursue one goal: the SeaGoal Cup.

Begun in 2007 under the guidance of PSSC hockey commissioner Brian Groth, SeaGoal has been an open competition for teams in the five-county area which draw from places like Springfield, King of Prussia and points beyond, though this season there are only four teams in contention, from the same PSSC league, all known to each other, and not exactly on good terms with each other.

No laptops allowed except for the one operating the scoreboard. The phones are used to contact teammates, friends and relatives.  All that matters is what happens inside the boards, between the lines and on the final stat sheet. 

In the hockey world, superstition and ritual play the same part no matter where you are.

Some of the team sleep in a certain room, in a certain position and perform certain tasks while rising from bed and gearing up for the day. Others have the same game-day meals or pre-game energizers.  Donuts and beer? Check. Granola and OJ? Check. Clif bar and water? Check. Getting up early and driving down from Philly to arrive a half hour before the tournament begins? Check. Kissing your stick blades for good luck...that's also an option. The goal is the same -- performing at one's peak -- but the methods differ from person to person given that our squad age differential ranges from 26 to 42.

It can be easy to take advantage of the season, the location and the freedom from responsibility a rental by the sea affords. Still, alcohol's generally a no-no the night before the tournament commences because performing at optimal pace and skill is necessary, but that doesn't mean a glass of the house wine the night before is out of the question. Sinking cans of Miller Lite and playing games until the wee hours is pushing the limits.

Most of the club consisted of players from my primary team, D5 (yep, just like District 5 in the original Mighty Ducks movie), with the roster filled out by guys and gals from other clubs who reach across the aisle and routinely socialize once the games are over.

With the average age of our team drifting north of 30, the majority of our team bonding consisted of a
Sea Gulls, courtesy of PSSC
night out at Sea Isle's foremost Italian restaurant, on Landis Avenue, just south of the bustling business district. There, in the muted light, surrounded by frescoes and friezes, windows and mirrors, and all the wonderful aromas of Mediterranean cooking, 12 people began to truly get to know each other, their often weaving conversations over several hours enhanced by the fruit of the vine and not skewed by pitchers of beer.

Here's Sea Gulls and D5 team captain, 4who4whatsports, on how he came to realize that playing competitive games with people he knows and likes, can positively impact the tournament experience:

"Originally building this team (D5), I only had my friends to fill up a roster. Well I didn’t want to go winless the next season so it was time to add to our solid core, but I didn’t know too many people throughout the league. Luckily my teammates had a few friends of their own that were brought in. Problem is their lack of team play outweighed their talent, so sure we got a few more W’s but there was still something missing.

"That lasted for a couple of seasons until my team needed a change in direction. I was now dealing with my own version of the arrogant showboats. I started to understand that talent can only get you so far without teammates that are willing to leave it all out on the court for each other. Add to this epiphany that my team needed to cut out some bad seeds, my goalie decides to tear his ACL snowboarding. Fortunately this turned out to be the best thing to happen in my team’s history. 

"I had to reach out to the commissioner of the league and see if he knew any goalie that could come in and save us. Not only did I find that goalie, but I found a new friend. This new goalie opened the door to making new friends throughout the league. Before, my team was closed off from the rest of the league. This also added a new requirement for ay additions on the team -- can I get along with this person? That is how I've built my teams ever since. 

"It doesn’t work all the time. We are not running through the schedule going undefeated but I’m willing to go through the rough patches with people I call my friends rather than some cold mercenary I use for their talent. There is a thin line one must tip toe across when building a successful squad and there is not perfected ratio between teamwork and talent. What I can say though is you will know when you’re in that perfect situation and it doesn’t get much better than that."

Three years running, and we haven't quite clicked on all cylinders. Despite fielding what appeared to be the cream of the on-court and social crop this year, the Sea Gulls ended up losing twice in overtime and tying during the round robin, then dropping our first playoff game in regulation. The grand total of offense was five goals in four games. Make no mistake, frustrations ran high on the bench, but 99 percent of the encouragement was positive. That stood in stark contrast from 2013, when a now ex-member of the D5 and Sea Isle teams adopted a more dictatorial stance, going above the captain to berate and direct teammates, and ended up turning things into a roiling mess. 

With only a four-team field, there was nowhere to hide once the first ball dropped at 9:30 AM, and no easy early-round matchups in which we could fine-tune our lines and coverage. We got burned at inopportune times, and never lifted ourselves out of the funk. Each pairing brought something to the table, but something different based on whichever team they played for regularly, and the true consensus of what the Sea Gulls were as a team wasn't evident.

In a strange twist of events, a team in our league which routinely sits in the lower middle of each
Thanks to PSSC
year's standings and in the lower end of the top playoff bracket, brought in some extra players not on their usual roster and ended up winning it all.

The OC, usually clad in orange, forgot their yearly Sea Isle blues, called themselves Shore Thing, and trampled last year's champions Cobra Kai on the way to victory.

In that case, only adding a few extra elements proved to be the right move with a restricted field of participants. Would it be right next year?

Any future captain of the Sea Gulls has to weigh the benefit of bringing in only those who are geared towards winning at all costs, against those who are known to each other, and won't think it's the end of the world in defeat and can go off together and be social afterwards. Discussion about changes and positional adjustments line-to-line and amongst line mates and defensive pairings are one thing. Arguments about who's not passing enough, or shooting too much, who's not living up to their defensive commitments, or only using their favored players when moving the ball around the court are expensive ones win or lose.

It would be nice to have it all, distractions limited to who gets to the condo early enough to snag the best bedroom, who gets the last piece of garlic bread, drinking on the patio before and after the tournament is over, taking sips from that trophy while laughing at our good fortune. Our group settled for all of that minus the trophy, and it was a needed two-day break from the norm.

I don't know if there was anyone on the team that didn't hear the waves lapping against the sand half a block away as the sun completed its arc in the opposite direction and still thought about that shot or pass they missed. All talk, all night after the tourney centered around better and lighter topics.

But the carousel continues, and the auditions for next year's Sea Gulls are ongoing, on the court, off the court and in the bar. Some time in May, the decisions have to be made and the scales tipped to one side or the other: winning or enjoyment of the experience? Communication is key, before winning or fun.