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Shakeup Looming in College Basketball
[Posted Sunday p.m.]
Olympic Hockey Quiz: The U.S. won the gold medal in men’s hockey at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, and then the USSR won it the next four Olympics before the Miracle on Ice in 1980. The USSR, and then the Russian “Unified Team,” won it the succeeding three Games, 1984, ‘88 and ‘92. At that point the Olympics went to every two years, alternating Summer/Winter. So how many different teams have won the gold from 1994-2018, seven Games? Answer below.
Almost 15 months after a controversial draw that left both fighters desperate for a rematch of their thrilling bout, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder squared off again in Las Vegas Saturday night.
Fury, from the UK, weighed in at 273, while Wilder, the American and WBC titleholder, was at 231, the heaviest of his career, his team wanting him to gain weight for the bout.
Anthony Joshua, holds the IBF, WBA and WBO titles.
And now Fury posseses the WBC belt after demolishing, in stunning fashion, Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs), Fury moving to 30-0-1, 21 KOs, scoring a pair of knockdowns en route to a seventh-round technical knockout.
Wilder’s corner threw in the towel to save him from further punishment from Fury, who fought fantastically from the first round to the finish.
Afterward, Fury said:
“A big shout out to Deontay Wilder. He came here tonight and he manned up and he really did show the heart of a champion. I hit him with a clean right that dropped him and he got back up. He is a warrior. He will be back. He will be champion again.
“But I will say, the king has returned to the top of the throne!”
Fury outlanded Wilder 82-34 in total punches, per CompuBox. Fury landed 58 power punches in less than seven rounds in their rematch after landing just 38 in the first fight. Wilder landed just 18 power shots.
At the time of the stoppage, two judges had the fight 59-52, while the other scored it 59-53. The Los Angeles Times had the fight at 59-53.
“The best man won tonight, but my corner threw in the towel and I was ready to go out on my shield,” Wilder said. “I had a lot of things going on heading into this fight. It is what is is, but I make no excuses tonight. I just wish my corner would have let me go out on my shield. I’m a warrior. He had a great performance and we will be back stronger.
“Even the greatest have lost and came back, that is just part of it,” Wilder continued. “You just take it for what it is. I can make no excuses tonight....But we’ll come back stronger next time around. This is what big-time boxing is all about, the best must fight the best. I appreciate all the fans that came out and supported the show.”
The announced crowd at the MGM Grand was 15,816, a sellout. It generated a total gate of $16,916,440, making it the highest ever for a heavyweight fight in Nevada history, beating the previous mark of the rematch between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield in 1999.
Today, it’s felt there will be a third fight between the two in September or October, with a mega-fight against Anthony Joshua next year.
Now if we can just get all the powers that be behind the scenes to put their egos aside, for once, and work together to do what’s best for the sport.
College Basketball Review
Houston, after weeks of stability at the top of the college basketball rankings, we have renewed chaos.
Yesterday, Nos. 1, 2, and 4 went down.
3 Kansas went to Waco to play 1 Baylor and the Jayhawks took down the Bears 64-61. I was unimpressed with Baylor, but boy was the nation blown away by the potential of Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, the 7-foot Nigerian with 23 points and 19 rebounds, plus 3 blocks, in a dominating performance for the ages...at least in Big 12 annals.
So Kansas is your new No. 1, moving to 24-3, 13-1, while Baylor falls to 24-2, 13-1.
The reason why No. 2 Gonzaga doesn’t move up is because they traveled to Provo, Utah, to face a surging No. 23 BYU and the Cougars (23-7, 12-3) took out the Zags (27-2, 13-1), 91-78. I told you last chat this was a game to watch. [But it was on too late for moi, the ending at least.]
Well the above two results should have meant 4 San Diego State would move up a spot or two, but noooo...earlier Saturday evening, in a game I was watching, the Aztecs suffered their first loss of the season at home, 66-63, at the hands of UNLV (15-14, 10-6), SDSU falling to 26-1, 15-1.
So it’s 5 Dayton (25-2, 14-0) that will move up bigly, 80-70 winners over a decent Duquesne (18-8, 8-6) team Saturday.
6 Duke (23-4, 13-3) beat Virginia Tech (15-12, 6-10) 88-64, but the Dookies had suffered a horrendous loss on Wednesday, 88-66, at the hands of a highly-mediocre North Carolina State, the largest loss to an unranked opponent in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 40-year career at Duke.
So here’s what we know. It’s been easy to pull out the annual cliché that March Madness will be absolutely nuts, but the evidence makes it clearer than ever that 2020 will indeed be that year. As in I said weeks ago, it’s clear that no one should be surprised if a team not even ranked heading into the tournament wins it all. [Like the No. 7 or 8 team in the Big Ten, or the sixth team in the Big East.]
One team that I just put a little coin on through DraftKings’ SportsBook is Providence, at 100-1. Now the Friars (16-12, 9-6) have to first get in the tournament, I grant you, but their 82-74 win over 19 Marquette yesterday was a huge step towards that goal, the Golden Eagles falling to 17-9, 7-7. Every time I’ve seen Providence, they’ve impressed me.
I do have to note Markus Howard’s effort for Marquette in defeat, 38 of the 72 points, including 15 of 17 from the line.
In other games, 18 Colorado had a nice 70-66 win over USC on Thursday, but then yesterday, talk about a collapse. The Buffaloes led UCLA, at home, 50-41, with 12:34 to play, only to go scoreless the next seven minutes, the Bruins taking a 55-50 lead on their way to a terrific 70-63 win for them. Colorado falls to 21-7, 10-5.
What a great job by UCLA coach Mick Cronin, who has slowly been installing his system, winning the players, and fans, over, as the Bruins have won five in a row, 9 of 11 in the Pac-12, to get to 17-11, 10-5. This is good for the sport.
Well we then had some important games today.
Indiana in all likelihood wrapped up its NCAA tourney bid with a big 68-60 win over 9 Penn State (20-7, 10-6), the Hoosiers 18-9 and back to .500 in the Big Ten, 8-8.
But Rutgers is fumbling away its tourney bid. What once seemed in the bag is now in major doubt. The Scarlet Knights have now lost 5 of 7, not what the Selection Committee wants to see heading into March, Rutgers losing at Wisconsin 79-71 this afternoon to fall to 18-9, 9-7, while the Badgers are 16-10, 9-6.
Meanwhile, 25 Ohio State had a big win over 7 Maryland in Columbus, 79-72, the Buckeyes 18-9, 8-8, while the Terps fall to 22-5, 12-4, a blow to their 1-seed hopes.
16 Seton Hall, which had rebounded from two tough Big East losses the week before in beating 21 Butler on Wednesday, 74-72 on a Sandro Mamukelashvili lay-in at the buzzer, then faced St. John’s today.
And the Pirates will move back up a few notches in the next AP poll, completing a good week with an 81-65 win over the Johnnies, (14-13, 3-11); The Hall now 20-7, 12-3, and still in line for a 3- or 4-seed in the East.
But not for nothing, but Myles Powell is 18 of 83 his last 10 games from three, 21.7%, and he’s now at 30% for the year. No national title for my “Pick to Click” if this doesn’t improve in March.
Lastly, the surging 15 Creighton Bluejays are now 21-7, 11-4, after an 81-59 win over 21 Butler that wasn’t as close as the final score; the Bulldogs losing their third in a row to fall to 19-9, 7-8. With five straight wins, Creighton should be about No. 12 tomorrow. Greg McDermott can coach. He is welcome to explore the Winston-Salem area with his family, should he want to explore something different.
So after this weekend’s action, the only team that has a 1-seed locked up is Kansas (and Dayton, if they run the table). San Diego State threw away its chance at a ‘1’. Gonzaga will have to win out to get one. Baylor? To me not a certainty.
--Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will miss the rest of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, the Nets announced Thursday.
So Brooklyn signed Kevin Durant last summer, knowing he’d miss the entire season rehabbing his ruptured Achilles tendon, and then Irving, who was the other big free-agent signee, ends up playing all of 20 games, missing 26 over a span of nearly two months with a right shoulder impingement. When he was in the lineup he played extraordinarily well at times, averaging 27 points per game, including two 50-point efforts.
Right now the Nets have the seventh playoff spot in the East at 26-29.
--Friday, Zion Williamson had 25 points in the Pelicans’ (24-32) 128-115 win at Portland, the Trail Blazers falling to 25-32, as both try to make a final push to overcome Memphis (28-28) for the final playoff spot in the West. Zion is averaging 22.4 points in 27.6 minutes.
--Saturday, Mark R.’s 76ers fell to 35-22, coming up small at Milwaukee (48-8) 119-98. Every time you think the Sixers are going to start playing like the title contenders they were supposed to be this season, they fold like a cheap suit, in this case Joel Embiid shooting 5 of 18 from the field, while Giannis toyed with Philly, 31 points (12 of 17 from the field), 17 rebounds. 8 assists, in just 29 minutes!
--And as a Wake Forest alum, I can’t help but note former Demon Deacon John Collins’ effort last night, as the Hawks beat the Mavs 111-107, Collins going off for 35 points and 17 rebounds, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis out for load management, the Mavs having played the night before.
It just hit me...with all the hate and tension in the country these days, President Trump, in a joint measure with Congress, should declare Friday, March 20, “National Load Management Day,” that day coinciding with the first-round of the NCAA basketball tournament.
Spring training is officially here with the first exhibition games. Houston played its neighbor in West Palm, Washington, and Astros players were booed unmercifully. I love it. Even the mascot, Orbit, got booed.
David Waldstein / New York Times
“Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball’s commissioner, knew he had a crisis on his hands. So he cut short his annual trip to spring training in Arizona on Wednesday, gathered the staff members traveling with him and flew back to New York.
“Back at MLB’s headquarters, he convened all 30 team owners on a conference call, the type of event reserved for only the most pressing league matters. The purpose of the call, according to three people who participated, was for Manfred to address the bitter fallout from his investigation into the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scheme and to issue a warning about what he has described as a ‘culture of cheating’ in the game.
“With players openly criticizing Manfred in preseason camps, the entire affair and its fallout were blossoming into baseball’s biggest scandal since the steroid era – not only undercutting Manfred’s authority as commissioner but also threatening the integrity of the game.
“Speaking frankly to the owners, Manfred noted that the Astros scandal was only the latest in a series of cases in which team personnel – both players and executives – had broken rules to gain a competitive advantage. He also decried the pervasive code of silence within the game that made fact-finding so challenging, and urged owners to join him in rooting out the dual problems inside their organizations.
“The next day, he gathered more than 1,000 employees of Major League Baseball in the atrium of their new offices in Midtown Manhattan...Standing at a lectern, he explained his decision-making in the investigation and his choice to grant immunity to the Astros players involved even as he issued lengthy suspensions to team officials, which was producing loud criticism from players on other teams.
“ ‘I abhor the fact that we made a decision that evoked this kind of emotion from the players,’ Manfred said in an interview on Friday. ‘It’s not good for the sport.’....
“(But) to many in the game...Manfred inflamed a difficult situation with clumsy attempts to defend his actions. The low point came last Sunday when, in an interview with ESPN, he denigrated the Commissioner’s Trophy, presented annually to the World Series champion, as a ‘piece of metal’ in an attempt to explain his choices in the Houston case.
“In doing so, Manfred – a Harvard-educated labor lawyer and a former baseball investigator trying to sort out truth amid the competing interests of teams, agents, players and their powerful union – had committed a cardinal baseball sin: He failed to show reverence for the game and its most precious symbols.
“ ‘The commissioner has to be a bit of a romantic,’ the former commissioner Fay Vincent said. ‘The commissioner has to believe in the mythology of baseball.’”
--The New York Post’s Kevin Kernan had an interesting interview with Players Association executive director Tony Clark the other day at the Mets’ training camp, as Clark did his annual tour of Florida and Arizona, meeting with the teams (as Manfred does). When asked if the Astros should have their 2017 World Series title stripped, Clark offered:
“That is not our responsibility. That is something that falls on the league. When guys believe the integrity of the competition is being challenged, it runs the gamut of concerns, culminating with the World Series trophy, which is something that players are all committed to, trying to be the last team standing.”
So this was kind of a surprising answer, as in we all believed Manfred acted the way he had because he didn’t want an issue with the Players Association prior to critical negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Clark’s answer thus made it clear that Manfred is the one who can strip the title and also seemed to say that players fully realize the integrity of the competition was challenged.
As Kevin Kernan put it: “The players know if the integrity of the competition is destroyed, all is lost. Make the Astros pay for their sins. Take away their World Series trophy. If they want one. Earn one.”
It seems like Clark and Manfred need to have a summit, with Clark, a former player who barely missed out on a World Series himself when he was with the Yankees in 2004, telling Manfred that the players will have his back if he reconsiders his decision, and it won’t impact the looming talks on the CBA.
The issue of the use of in-game technology is going to be a big one in the talks, by the way. Players want the ability to look at video during games, but that leaves room for cheating.
--The “Big Needle,” Red Sox legend David Ortiz, expressed his displeasure with Oakland pitcher Mike Fiers, the whistleblower in the sign-stealing saga, saying that the former Astros hurler should have said something in the moment about the trash-can banging scheme instead of waiting until he was on another team.
“I’m mad at this guy, the pitcher who came out talking about it,” Ortiz said at Red Sox training camp. “And let me tell you why. Oh, after you make your money, after you get your ring, you decide to talk about it. Why don’t you talk about it during the season when it was going on? Why didn’t you say, ‘I don’t want to be no part of it? So you look like you’re a snitch. Why you gotta talk about it after? That’s my problem. Why nobody said anything while it was going on?”
Ortiz, who works for the general manager in Boston, and is also a broadcaster for Fox, added that he thinks Rob Manfred is receiving too much criticism.
--Yup, sports fans, you can never have too much pitching. The Yankees suddenly have issues in their starting rotation, that was setting up to be one of the best in baseball. Domingo German will miss the first 63 games of the season because of his suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy. But this was known awhile ago, that he’d return sometime in June.
What wasn’t figured into the equation was that James Paxton would have back surgery, which has him targeting a June return. And that Luis Severino, another critical piece, would be back in New York undergoing a series of tests on his throwing elbow, the results of which won’t be known before Wednesday.
So as every Yankee fan is saying today, ‘Thank god we signed J.A. Happ.’ The 37-year-old was 12-8 last season for New York, but with only a 4.91 ERA. Yet he was, and has been, dependable. As in he’ll take the ball every fifth day and he’s done that for years.
The Yanks were contemplating trading him to get rid of his $17 million contract for 2020, but they decided to keep him, and now he’ll receive $17 million in 2021 if he starts 27 games or pitches 165 innings, and the Yanks will happily accept that at this point. Suddenly, he’s number three behind Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka, assuming Severino is shut down for a while.
It’s just funny how things work. It’s also no coincidence why the Yankees have one of the better organizations in the sport.
--The PL resumed a normal schedule this weekend, and Saturday, Chelsea won its big matchup with Tottenham 2-1, the Spurs’ lone tally an own goal. Without Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, Tottenham is lost. [The Spurs also lost their Round of 16 Champions League match Wednesday to RB Leipzig, 1-0 at home, putting them behind the eight-ball when they travel there for the second-leg in two weeks.]
Also Saturday, in a biggie, maybe, depending on Manchester City’s appeal (more below), City defeated Leicester City 1-0 on the road, while Sheffield and Brighton played to a 1-1 draw.
Today, Manchester United beat Watford 3-0, and Wolverhampton whipped Norwich by the same score to stay highly relevant.
Arsenal then beat Everton in a biggie, 3-2, and suddenly the Gunners, after a dreadful start to the season, have worked themselves back into contention for even a Champions League slot.
Monday, Liverpool plays West Ham.
Standings after 26/27 of 38...
1. Liverpool 26 – 76
2. Man City 27 – 57
3. Leicester 27 – 50
4. Chelsea 27 – 44
5. Man U 27 – 41
6. Tottenham 27 – 40
7. Sheffield 27 – 40
8. Wolves 27 – 39
9. Arsenal 27 – 37
10. Burnley 27 – 37
11. Everton 27 – 36
--Separately, the other day in talking about Man City and their probable ban from Champions League play, I mentioned that there was a similar issue, in terms of Middle East ownership, when it came to France’s powerhouse club, Paris St.-Germain, or PSG.
So on Thursday, Nasser al-Khelaifi, a Qatari businessman who is president of PSG, as well as president of BeIN, a broadcaster run by al-Khelaifi, was charged by Swiss prosecutors with inciting a former secretary general at FIFA to break the law. The official, Jerome Valcke, was also charged with accepting bribes and criminal mismanagement.
Swiss authorities announced the charges after a two-year investigation into lucrative World Cup television rights that were secured by BeIN, which has been a huge buyer of global sports content for much of the past decade, as reported by the New York Times’ Tariq Panja.
Al-Khelaifi also sits on the boards of European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, as well as an alliance of the Continent’s top clubs, the European Clubs Association.
The charges against the Qatari stem from the purchase of a luxury villa on the Italian island of Sardinia that he made available to Valcke while Valcke was the No. 2 official at FIFA. In his position, Valcke was responsible for the World Cup.
Yup, as we say around here, boys and girls, corruption makes the world go ‘round.
As for Man City, their chief executive spoke for the first time Wednesday since the Champions League ban was levied and he remained defiant; that charges that the club broke cost-control regulations in pursuit of on-field success were untrue and that City would fight to have the punishment overturned.
City manager Pep Guardiola, speaking to reporters after the Leicester City game, said he was standing with the club “100 percent.”
--Lastly, a “Good Guy” shout-out to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after a 10-year-old Manchester United fan wrote a letter to him, asking Klopp to please lose a game. The boy, later identified as Daragh Curley of Donegal, Ireland, was surprised when Klopp wrote back denying his request.
Curley had penned a letter as part of a school assignment:
“I support Man United and the reason I write is to complain,” he wrote to Klopp. “Liverpool are winning too many games. If you win nine more games then you have the best unbeaten run in English football. Being a United fan that is very sad.
“So the next time Liverpool play please make them lose,” Curley continued. “You should just let the other team score. I hope I have convinced you to not win the league or win another match ever again.”
“Yours Sincerely, Daragh.”
Acknowledging the letter, Klopp told reporters he replied because he found the boy’s request clever. But Klopp has no intentions of letting up, as he noted in his reply.
“Unfortunately, on this occasion I cannot grant your request, not through choice anyway,” Klopp wrote in a registered letter received by Curley’s shocked parents in Ireland.
He praised Curley as a credit to Manchester United and explained how sports can be a metaphor for life.
“Luckily for you, we have lost games in the past and we will lose games in the future because that is football,” Klopp wrote. “The problem is when you are 10-years-old you think that things will always be as they are now but if there is one thing I can tell you as 52 years old it is that this most definitely isn’t the case.”
Klopp added: “This, to me, is what football is all about. Take care and good luck, Jurgen.”
Miracle on Ice
In honor of the 40th anniversary, time to resurrect a piece I did ten years ago.
Bar Chat, 2010:
February 22nd is the 30th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice,” the U.S. beating the U.S.S.R. in hockey at the Olympics in Lake Placid. It was a game that lifted the spirits of all Americans, what with hostages being held in Iran, the Soviets invading Afghanistan and the Cold War in full force. Slava Fetisov, then a rookie defenseman on the Soviet team, recalled from his end, “We were told (we could) lose to anybody but the U.S.”
The year before, in a Challenge Cup Series with the NHL All-Stars, the same Soviet team had won 2 of 3, including a 6-0 finale. In a pre-Olympic appearance, the Soviets beat the Americans, 10-3.
At Lake Placid the U.S. team was seeded 7th, though coach Herb Brooks still thought they might win a bronze medal. In their opener, the Americans salvaged a 2-2 tie with 3rd-seeded Sweden. They then whipped 2nd-seeded Czechoslovakia, 7-3; Norway, 5-1; Romania, 7-2; and W. Germany 4-2. Next up were the Soviets.
You can all probably recall where you were when you watched the game. What I’m forgetting is if I knew the result beforehand because the game was on a 3-hour tape delay. The Soviets led 2-1 when, with one second remaining in the first period, Mark Johnson scored to tie it at 2-2. The Soviets had the world’s best goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, but he was benched for the remainder of the game after Johnson scored in one of the more controversial decisions by a coach in the history of sports.
In the 3rd period, with the Soviets now up 3-2, Johnson scored again to tie it and then suddenly, on a shift change with 10 minutes to go in the game, Mike Eruzione scored on a screened shot to make it 4-3 U.S. That’s the way it ended. The final 10 minutes were the longest of their lives.
What many now forget is that the U.S. still had to defeat Finland for the Gold Medal. If they lost they’d finish 4th. They won 4-2. Eleven of the U.S. team went on to play in the NHL.
A few other notes since I wrote the above:
--The Russian coach who removed Tretiak was Viktor Tikhonov, who went on to lead Russia to gold in 1984, ‘88 and ‘92. He was known as a real taskmaster, often requiring his players to live in barracks, away from their families.
But he later said removing Tretiak was “the biggest mistake of my career.”
--James Freeman / Wall Street Journal
“Sometimes a game is just a game. But the U.S. hockey team’s 4-3 Olympic victory in Lake Placid, N.Y., brought relief and joy to a country in desperate need of good news. And it affirmed that the 1970s really were over.
“During that nightmarish decade, the Soviet empire had expanded while America suffered through Vietnam, Watergate, runaway inflation and an energy shortage.”
Jimmy Carter gave a speech announcing that America was suffering from “a crisis of confidence.” Four days after the speech, Soviet-backed communists seized power in Nicaragua.
“That same month in Colorado, current and former college hockey players were focused on the more mundane task of trying out for the U.S. Olympic team coached by Herb Brooks.
“Brooks had decided that he wasn’t going to select the best players, but rather the 20 young men best able to contribute to team success. One player who made the cut was Rob McClanahan, who recently described his experience for a website called The Rink Live. He remembers Brooks saying, ‘We may not be the best team, but we’re going to be the best-conditioned team.’....
“The victory was an upset, but it was no fluke. Brooks wanted a team with both the stamina and the toughness to beat the Soviets. So in the months before the Olympics he ran his young squad through a seemingly endless exhibition schedule of more than 60 games, featuring both European finesse teams and North American brawlers. ‘We were a good team who learned how to battle against guys who liked to throw a few punches once in a while,’ Mr. McClanahan tells The Rink Live.
“Once the Olympic tournament began, the American team staged a series of comeback victories. They were by now the best-conditioned team in the world. Nobody could skate with them in the final period....
“By the time the Americans faced the Soviets, cheering crowds were assembling in living rooms and bars nationwide. Before the game Brooks looked around the locker room at each member of his team and said, ‘You are born to be a player. You are meant to be here. This moment is yours.”
“Hal Bock of the Associated Press reported what happened next: ‘With roars of ‘USA! USA! USA!’ ringing in their ears, America’s comeback kids rode the red-hot, 36-save goaltending of Jim Craig to a sensational victory that set off a wild celebration, first on the ice and then all over this Olympic town.’ With yet another comeback, the Americans had won 4-3 on a late goal from captain Mike Eruzione....
“The actor Kurt Russell, who brilliantly portrayed Brooks in the 2004 movie, ‘Miracle,’ recalls that ‘beating that particular Soviet team at that particular time at that particular event created a sense of delirium in the U.S.’ He adds, “Herb Brooks and those players earned an upset so improbable that it felt like a miracle.’”
The Players Association board of representatives decided against holding a vote on the owners’ proposed terms of a new collective bargaining agreement after the executive committee voted 6-5 against recommending the proposal to the overall body of players.
The NFLPA said “the leadership looks forward to meeting with NFL management again next week.”
The current CBA expires following the 2020 season and many of the players have been outspoken about the prospect of extending the 16-game regular season, with the likes of Richard Sherman and J.J. Watt, two prominent voices in the league, totally against adding another game.
The owners approved a proposed 10-year CBA that includes a 17-game regular season, an expanded playoff field, a shortened preseason and changes to the league’s drug policies and system of player discipline.
So we’ll see what happens when the two sides do get together again, but the owners believe they don’t need the players’ approval to increase the size of the postseason field, this year, from 12 to 14 teams; believing they have that right under the existing CBA, though in the past the NFLPA has contended it does not.
Under the proposed format for an expanded playoffs, only one team, not the current two, would get a first-round playoff bye. So six opening-round playoff games rather than the current four.
The owners were not unanimous in their approval, 24 of 32 being needed, and the league did not make Commissioner Roger Goodell available to address reporters. Nope, wouldn’t be prudent.
The NFL’s new league year begins March 18, when the free agent market is scheduled to open, and you have the issue of the franchise tag, which can be applied next Thursday (pushed back from the scheduled Tuesday by both the players and owners), which is why the players’ leadership has to meet next week as well.
--What a story in Toronto Saturday night. David Ayres was sitting in the stands with his wife at Scotiabank Arena when Carolina Hurricanes goalie James Reimer went down with an injury. The on-call emergency netminder in Toronto, Ayers left his seat and got half dressed into his gear on the off chance something might happen to Carolina’s second option, Petr Mrazek.
Midway through the second period, Ayres noticed his cell phone started to blow up. What he didn’t realize was Mrazek had been hurt in a scary collision with Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford and was down on the ice.
Next thing the 42-year-old Zamboni driver knew, he was walking down the tunnel and into NHL history. 28 minutes of action later, Ayres became the oldest goalie in NHL history to win his regular-season debut.
Ayres allowed goals on the first two shots he faced before settling down and stopping the next eight as Carolina picked up a stunning 6-3 victory over Toronto.
Ayres, who had a kidney transplant 15 years ago and wasn’t sure if he would ever play hockey again, has been a practice goalie with the Leafs and the club’s American Hockey League affiliate for the last eight years. During the season, he faces shots from professional players on an almost daily basis, but never thought he’d be called into service in an NHL game.
Hurricanes players mobbed him afterwards.
As is normal under NHL rules, there is an emergency goalie available to both teams, and Ayres has specifically been the emergency backup in Toronto for the last three years, according to the Toronto Sun.
Ayres was paid $500 and gets to keep his #90 Carolina jersey.
--Congratulations to Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who Saturday afternoon in New Jersey, scored the 700th goal of his NHL career, becoming just the eighth to do so. It was also the 42nd goal of the season for Ovechkin, giving him a shot at his second 60-goal season.
As in, Alex Ovechkin isn’t slowing down at age 34, becoming the second-youngest to hit 700 since, you guessed it, The Great One.
As in, suddenly, the hockey world is thinking, ‘Holy s---! Where have we been? This guy could conceivably exceed Gretzky’s 894!
As in, this is a potentially very cool story for the next 4-5 years. It’s sort of like Aaron going after Ruth.* [Without the ‘hate’ Aaron had to deal with.]
Good for Ovechkin...and for us.
Gordie Howe 801
Jaromir Jagr 766
Brett Hull 741
Marcel Dionne 731
Phil Esposito 717
Mike Gartner 708
*By writing this last line, I just got pissed off all over again...thinking about Barry Bonds being on top. But it’s ‘755’ for me and just about every other baseball fan, not 762.
--I’ve been watching a fair amount of the Rangers recently as they suddenly have won 7 of 8 to put themselves in the chase for a final playoff slot, New York defeating San Jose 3-2 at the Garden last night in a thriller. Rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin is 9-1 since being called up. As Ronald Reagan would have told Nancy while reading the Sunday morning sports pages, as Nancy prepared his Cream of Wheat, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’
Needless to say, Rangers fans have taken to Shesterkin in a huge way. “Igor! Igor!”
But New York has until 3:00 p.m. tomorrow to decide whether to trade one of their best players, Chris Kreider, before the trade deadline. Kreider is a free-agent at the end of the season and he wants an extension, but the two sides are said to be far apart on that, any new deal having major salary cap implications.
--Patrick Reed captured his eighth PGA Tour title by one over Bryson DeChambeau at the WGC-Mexico Championship with a clutch final round 67. It was his second WGC triumph, which is damn good.
I love this course. It produces excitement, and it has that municipal golf course feel that so many of us are used to. Plus the sponsors, Grupo Salinas, do an outstanding job getting the local youth involved. The whole event is positive...for the world, to get all corny on you.
Meanwhile, at the alternate-field event in Puerto Rico, rising star Viktor Hovland picked up his first Tour win, and this is very significant.
It means the three stars from college golf, just last year – Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa, and now Hovland – have already all picked up their initial Tour wins. They will be in my DraftKings’ lineups, for sure.
Speaking of DK, I snapped a mini-slump with a win this week. I’ll be partying allll night.
[Except I almost finished last with my NASCAR bet.]
--Speaking of which, Joey Logano won the second race of the NASCAR season in Vegas. The atmosphere was so much better knowing the health of Ryan Newman.
Newman revealed in a statement prior to the race that he suffered a head injury at Daytona, but no internal organ damage or broken bones. He said he is being treated and wants to return.
--Mikaela Shiffrin has not returned to the Alpine World Cup circuit following the death of her father, and she has now lost the overall points lead.
There are 11 races remaining, with six in her best disciplines. It’s not appropriate to comment beyond this, but we should pray for her.
--Roger Federer announced he will miss his fourth French Open in the last five years after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Wednesday.
Federer, whose only win at Roland Garros was in 2009, said doctors were “very confident of a full recovery.”
“See you on the grass!” added the eight-time Wimbledon champion.
Rafael Nadal will be looking for a staggering 13th French Open title when the event commences May 24. If Nadal does so, he would pull even with Federer on 20 Grand Slams.
--Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, and teammates, of Navy offensive lineman David Forney, who died late Thursday night after he was found unresponsive in his dorm room, Naval Academy officials announced Saturday.
Forney had played in 39 straight games during his final three seasons at Navy, starting all 13 games at left guard his senior year, making the All-AAC team.
Forney would have graduated on May 22 and been commissioned as a cryptologic warfare officer.
--Steve D., Boston College alum, wanted me to mention that fellow B.C. grad, Lesley Visser, is going to be the first woman to be honored with a Sports Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sports Emmy Awards. Among Visser’s “firsts” are:
First woman ever enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
First woman to report from a Super Bowl sideline
First woman to cover the NFL as a beat
First woman on “Monday Night Football”
First woman on a Final Four broadcast
First woman on a World Series broadcast
First woman on a NBA Finals broadcast
So we quaff an ale for the trailblazing Ms. Visser.
Top 3 songs for the week 2/24/73: #1 “Killing Me Softly With His Song” (Roberta Flack) #2 “Dueling Banjos”* (Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell...from “Deliverance,” one of the top ten flicks all time) #3 “Crocodile Rock” (Elton John)...and...#4 “You’re So Vain” (Carly Simon) #5 “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” (Spinners) #6 “Do It Again” (Steely Dan) #7 “Last Song” (Edward Bear) #8 “Don’t Expect Me To Be Your Friend” (Lobo) #9 “Love Train” (O’Jays) #10 “Rocky Mountain High” (John Denver...very good week, ‘A-’...)
*Watch the YouTube clip of this...what a movie.
Olympic Hockey Quiz Answer: Men’s Ice Hockey Gold Medal Winners, 1994-2018.....
1994 / Lillehammer: Sweden
1998 / Nagano: Czech Republic
2002 / Salt Lake City: Canada
2006 / Turin: Sweden
2010 / Vancouver: Canada
2014 / Sochi: Canada
2018 / Pyeongchang: Russia (Olympic Athletes from Russia)
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.