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When Bernie brought baseball to Burlington 25 Dec 2020, 12:33 pm

When Walter O’Malley abruptly moved the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in the autumn of 1957, many longtime fans were heartbroken. Among the most disappointed and saddened was Bernie Sanders, a young teenager who was as devoted a Dodgers fan as anyone.

When he could scrape together the sixty cents for admission, the young Sanders would frequently cheer on his beloved Dodgers at nearby Ebbets Field, which was within walking distance of his parents’ apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

Many of those closest to the Democratic presidential candidate believe that O’Malley’s decision to suddenly uproot the Dodgers helped shape the Vermont senator’s lifelong views on wealth and corporate greed.

The Dodgers, after all, belonged to Brooklyn.

Though losing his beloved boyhood team, Sanders maintained a strong interest in baseball and after winning the Burlington mayoralty in 1981 vowed to bring a minor-league baseball team to Vermont’s most populous city.

Despite a series of setbacks and disappointments during his first few tumultuous years as mayor in the early 1980s, Sanders was delighted when Burlington finally landed a professional baseball team in 1983 — something he had pursued since first taking office.

It wasn’t easy.

In late 1981, the city lost out in a bid to acquire the Holyoke Millers, a double-A franchise then affiliated with the California Angels. The Holyoke team had won the Eastern League championship in 1980.

A special committee headed by University of Vermont professor Huck Gutman, a close friend of Bernie’s who coincidentally had also been a diehard Dodgers fan while growing up in Queens, had planned to sell subscriptions at $100 per share to purchase the Massachusetts-based franchise, but the team’s new owners — a group of Amherst investors — eventually opted to keep the team in Holyoke.

Needless to say, Sanders was disappointed, but remained determined to bring minor league baseball to Burlington.

Vermont hadn’t had a professional baseball team since the Montpelier Senators played in the long-defunct Northern League nearly thirty years earlier.




Bernie’s persistence paid off a few years later when the city lured a Cincinnati Reds farm team from Waterbury, Connecticut, to Burlington.

Long associated with minor league baseball, Mike Agganis owned the Lynn Pirates, a Pittsburgh Pirates AA farm club — the team Sanders initially tried to bring to Burlington after the Holyoke effort failed. Agganis, a nephew of former Boston Red Sox first baseman and Lynn native Harry Agganis, who died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism during the 1955 season, was anxious to find a new home for his team.

The Lynn franchise, existing in the shadows of Fenway Park in Red Sox country, never drew particularly well in that Boston suburb — drawing a paltry 23,791 in 1982 and 31,575 in 1983 — despite being an Eastern League contender.

Bernie and Agganis hit it off superbly.

However, after signing the deal to move the Lynn franchise to Burlington, the Pirates’ ownership, which initially approved of the move, had second thoughts and leaped at an opportunity to move their AA team to Nashua, New Hampshire, when the California Angels contract there expired. Nashua had attracted 138,000 fans to its home games the previous season — an impressive figure by AA minor-league standards — despite winning only 60 of 140 games and finishing in sixth place.

“From a business and professional standpoint, Nashua is a great site for us,” explained Tom Kayser, the Pirates’ assistant director for minor league baseball. “The Nashua owners wanted a long-term deal and we also wanted something stable, so it was kind of natural.”

The Eastern League’s major league affiliates were shifting from one city to another quicker than one could blink an eye during that period, with no fewer than four franchises, including the Agganis-owned Lynn franchise, moving from one city to another during the previous two years.

Despite that disappointing setback, Sanders reassured his constituents that Burlington would have a team. “There’s no chance we will be without a baseball team,” said the mayor. “Our job was to bring AA baseball to the city of Burlington. We have no allegiance to any particular team. The Pirates have a very good farm system and it would have been nice to have been affiliated with them, but it really makes no difference to us which team we have.”

Agganis concurred and also tried to reassure disappointed Vermonters. “I tried to tell everyone that there was no guarantee that the Pirates were coming,” he said. “Everybody up there kept insisting it would be the Pirates, but I told everybody minor league baseball doesn’t work that way.”


Church Street in Burlington, Vermont (Image by Michelle Maria)

Most minor league teams were privately owned. The parent major league teams agreed to furnish their affiliates with ballplayers while agreeing to pay a portion of their salaries, according to the terms of the Player Development Contract.

Much to the mayor’s delight, Agganis quickly persuaded the Cincinnati Reds to move their AA team from Waterbury to Burlington before the start of the 1984 season. It didn’t take a lot of convincing on his part since the Reds were deeply dissatisfied with their Waterbury affiliate and were anxious to move.

Sanders, who cheered wildly for the Reds during their four-year stint in the Queen City, threw out the first pitch in the home opener before a sellout crowd during the team’s inaugural season.

Bernie had delivered big time in bringing minor-league baseball to Burlington, but there were many in the business community who couldn’t bring themselves to give the mayor any credit for his achievement, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge or support any endeavor that might have made him look good.

“There are people now who won’t give Bernie credit for bringing that baseball team here,” remarked a local businessman who was instrumental in raising private funds to renovate Centennial Field to meet the eight-team Eastern League’s requirements.

The appropriately-named Vermont Reds — reporters, as one might imagine, had a lot of fun with that —played their home games at the University of Vermont’s recently-renovated Centennial Field. The ballpark, built in 1903, had recently been given a $250,000 upgrade that included new lighting, an eight-foot fence to comply with Eastern League requirements, new seating, a state-of-the-art press box, and a sparkling new $100,000 forty-foot high scoreboard.

The Reds franchise prospered in Burlington, selling more than 400 season tickets before the beginning of the 1984 season. The team occasionally drew crowds of about 5,000 — not too shabby for a class AA franchise.


A view of Centennial Field in 2014, taken from the press box. (Vermont Lake Monsters)

With baseball being a novelty, the Reds drew a fairly impressive 121,112 fans to the ballpark during their first season in Burlington and a modest 90,478 and 77,559 in 1985 and 1986, respectively. Even with the decline in subsequent years, Burlington’s attendance figures were high enough to place the Vermont Reds among the league leaders.

Burlington’s residents were treated to some pretty good ball players, too. Ken Griffey, Jr., shortstop Barry Larkin, Omar Vizquel, two-time All Star Rob Dibble, relief pitcher Norm Charlton and right fielder Paul O’Neill were among those who played for Burlington’s AA team at one time or another during that period.

Though never winning the regular season title, the Reds captured the Eastern League championship during each of the first three years of their four-year stay in Burlington. Incredibly, they nearly won four straight Eastern League crowns, but lost the 1987 championship series to the Harrisburg Senators.

In 1988, the team’s parent club, the Cincinnati Reds, moved the franchise to a warmer climate.

The Vermont Mariners, the Seattle Mariners’ AA franchise, took their place, but lasted only one season before Agganis, who had a rocky relationship with Burlington’s business community, moved the franchise to Canton, Ohio.

As though haunted by the ghost of Walter O’Malley, Bernie was disappointed and heartbroken once again. But it was fun while it lasted.

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Niemann’s Presidents Cup confidence sparks hot start at Sentry Tournament 3 Jan 2020, 9:11 am

Chilean Joaquin Niemann, fresh from mixing it with the best in last month’s Presidents Cup, fired a seven-under-par 66 on Thursday to grab the first-round lead at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii.

The 21-year-old enjoyed a bogey-free round to grab a one-stroke advantage over world No. 4 Justin Thomas.

Niemann ended his day with a birdie at the 677-yard par 5 18th where he cranked a 360-yard drive and chipped his third shot to within 10 feet before making the putt.

The young Chilean’s surge comes just a couple weeks after he made his debut in the international competition at Royal Melbourne in Australia, where Ernie Els’ team narrowly lost to a powerful U.S. side captained by Tiger Woods.






“The Presidents Cup was one of my best experiences since I turned pro. It was an unbelievable week,” Niemann told reporters. “I shared a lot of moments with the best players in the world.

“Just being around good players, it gives you a lot of learning. It just gave me a lot of confidence knowing that I’m able to beat them if I play good.”

Niemann, who qualified for his first winners-only event with a victory at Greenbrier in September, set the early pace for a group of world-class players.

Thomas also went without a bogey and ended with a birdie on 18 to draw close.

After having part of his 2019 season derailed by a wrist injury, Thomas has been on fire of late with two wins and five top-five finishes in his last six events.






Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar each shot 68s to sit two behind at five-under.

Spain’s Jon Rahm, the world No. 3 who won four times during the 2019 calendar year, is among a group of players at four-under that includes Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.

Thursday’s opening round presented ideal scoring conditions, but that may quickly change as the forecast for the final three rounds is expected to include rain showers and strong winds that could reach up to 40 mph (64 kph).

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Tennessee scores twice late to top Indiana 23-22 in Gator Bowl 2 Jan 2020, 11:31 pm

Tennessee sure knows how to get out of a huge hole.

The Volunteers scored twice in a 30-second span late, using an onside kick to help escape a 13-point deficit, and then held on to stun Indiana 23-22 in the Gator Bowl on Thursday night.

The rally was indicative of Tennessee’s season, which started 1-4 and ended with six consecutive wins.

“Everybody in the country had given up on these guys,” second-year coach Jeremy Pruitt said.

Pruitt was talking about the season. He could have been talking about the game.






The Hoosiers (8-5) looked to be in control in the second half after scoring two touchdowns in a 1:03 span, the second one coming on Jamar Johnson’s 63-yard interception return, and later adding a pair of field goals.

Indiana was up 22-9 before Tennessee shocked most of the nearly 62,000 fans on hand.

Quavaris Crouch scored on a 1-yard plunge and then fellow running back Eric Gray recovered a surprise onside kick that barely went the mandatory 10 yards. Gray scored from 16 yards out a few plays later to put the Vols on top for good.

“Obviously, very very disappointing to have a fourth-quarter lead and let it slip away,” said Indiana coach Tom Allen, whose team was seeking its first nine-win season since 1967. “I’m not going to sit here and point fingers and blame. At the end of the day, it’s my responsibility for us to find a way to win the game. We didn’t do that.”

Gray was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “When adversity hits, you got to put on more steam.”






Logan Justus missed an extra point in the third quarter that turned out to be costly and was wide right on a 52-yard field goal attempt with 2:12 remaining. Justus’ kick had the distance but sailed just outside the right upright.

Tennessee punted with 1:02 remaining, but Indiana failed to get back into field goal range.

THE TAKEAWAY

Indiana: The Hoosiers have to find a replacement for offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, who stayed for the bowl game after getting the head coaching job at Fresno State. DeBoer gets much of the credit for Indiana’s offensive turnaround.

Tennessee: Jarrett Guarantano is far from guaranteed to be the team’s starting quarterback next season, especially after a two-interception performance. The Vols signed Harrison Bailey from Marietta (Ga.) High, and the incoming freshman is expected to enroll this month and compete for the job in spring practice.

JENNINGS PLAYS

Tennessee receiver Jauan Jennings, who was suspended for the first half for stepping on an opponent in the regular-season finale, had to wait until the fourth quarter to touch the ball. Jennings had receptions of 22 and 5 yards, setting up the first of the two late touchdowns.

ODD CALLS

Allen had a game-management issue that might have cost his team points.

The Hoosiers moved the ball to the 6-yard line in the waning seconds of the first half, but instead of calling timeout, Allen had Peyton Ramsey line up and spike the ball with 3 seconds remaining. They could have used their final timeout much earlier, taken a shot into the end zone and still had time for a field goal.






KEY INJURIES

Indiana played its second consecutive game without leading rusher Stevie Scott. Scott warmed up with teammates, but did not play. … Tennessee linebacker Daniel Bituli injured his right eye in the third quarter, returned on the next series and could be seen covering it with his hand to get calls from the sideline. … Indiana tight end Peyton Hendershot injured his right short on a tackle but later returned.

SPURRIER BOOED

Tennessee fans showed no love for former Florida coach Steve Spurrier.

The Head Ball Coach was one of several coaches and players on hand for the 75th edition of the Gator Bowl. All of them played or coached in the bowl and were recognized on the field shortly before kickoff.

The list included former Tennessee coach and current Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer, Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little, Ole Miss great Archie Manning, former Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs and longtime Tennessee AD Doug Dickey, who played and coached at Florida.

Dobbs got the loudest ovation.

Spurrier was roundly booed, hardly a surprise given he went 8-4 against Tennessee as Florida’s coach (1990-2001) and had famous lines like: “You can’t spell Citrus without U-T.”

UP NEXT

Indiana: Injured quarterback Michael Penix and several other offensive starters return next season, which begins with Indian’s toughest road opener since playing at then-No. 7 Notre Dame in 1991. The Hoosiers open at Wisconsin on Sept. 5.

Tennessee: The Vols will have to replace five key starters: receivers Jennings and Marquez Callaway, linebackers Darrell Taylor and Bituli, and safety Nigel Warrior. Junior guard Trey Smith could leave early for the NFL. Tennessee opens next season against Charlotte on Sept. 5 and plays at Oklahoma the following week.

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Nuggets use second-half rally to secure win at Indiana 2 Jan 2020, 11:26 pm

Denver Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. took command on his hometown stage Thursday night.

He repeatedly beat Pacers defenders and even occasionally the shot clock with his nifty drives to the hoop. He knocked down 3-pointers. He even upstaged All-Star teammate Nikola Jokic.

Porter scored a season-high 25 points, helping the Nuggets battle back from a double-digit deficit in the first half and leading them past Indiana, 124-116.

“It was cool,” said Porter, whose first appearance on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse floor came as a fourth grader. “I was hitting some of my shots and doing some of my moves that I used to do, so I felt pretty good out there.”






It probably looked familiar to some in the crowd, too.

Porter spent Wednesday reminiscing with old grade-school buddies from an Indianapolis suburb and invited them to his first NBA appearance on the Pacers’ home court.

He couldn’t have written a more perfect script.

Porter helped the Nuggets get back on track after they gave up 37 first-quarter points, helped them take control late in the third quarter and was still playing well enough to help them close it out — with some help from his teammates.

He wound up 11 of 12 from the field, 2 of 3 on 3-pointers, grabbed five rebounds and had one big assist.

And on a night Jokic struggled because of foul trouble, the Nuggets needed someone else to step forward.

Yes, Jokic finished with 22 points, 12 in the fourth quarter, and seven rebounds. But it was Porter who drew the rave reviews.

“It’s another glimpse into a very bright future,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He just got his first postgame water celebration, the guys dumped him. Everybody on the bench was happy for him.”

Jeremy Lamb had a season-high 30 points for the Pacers, who have lost four of six.






Domantas Sabonis had 18 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, falling just short of his first career triple-double for the second time this week.

But it was a frustrating night for the Pacers, who led the entire first half and never trailed until another Indiana native, Gary Harris, knocked down a 3-pointer with 9:16 left in the third quarter to make it 73-72.

Lamb answered with a 3, which turned the game into a back-and-forth contest until Monte Morris closed out the the third with a 3-pointer and an 18-foot jumper — off a rebound and pass from Porter — to give the Nuggets a 92-88 lead.

Denver opened the fourth by outscoring Indiana 11-6 to make it 103-94 and the Pacers could only get as close as 107-104 with 6:31 to go. Jokic and Porter scored eight of Denver’s next 10 points to seal the victory.

“You have to tip your cap to him,” Turner said, referring to Porter. “I’ve been following his career and I think he’s been through a lot. It’s cool and refreshing to see someone like that go off and have a good game. You hope, obviously, it’s against someone else.”

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Will Barton III had 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. … Jamal Murray also had 22 points. … Harris returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games with a bruised left shin and finished with 12 points. … Jokic picked up three quick fouls and played just eight minutes in the first half. … Denver had a 47-34 rebounding advantage and snapped a two-game losing streak in Indy … The Nuggets had 27 assists, improving to 17-4 when posting 25 or more this season.

Pacers: Turner had 21 points and T.J. Warren added 20. … Aaron Holiday finished with 10 assists. … Lamb made all five of his 3-point attempts and also grabbed six rebounds. … Indiana’s first-quarer scoring total was a season high. … Malcolm Brogdon has missed four of Indiana’s last five games with injuries, this time with a sore back. … The Pacers had won six straight home games before Thursday.

THEY SAID IT

Nuggets: “I think everybody’s getting more and more excited about what Michael’s going to bring, not just in the future, but right now,” Malone said.

Pacers: “I felt like we had the feeling we were up more than we were. I felt like we were just cruising because we were making shots. But those are the times we have to improve as a team and go up by 20,” Sabonis said.

UP NEXT

Nuggets: Will make their third stop on a five-game road trip Saturday at Washington.

Pacers: Can pull off a second straight season sweep of the Hawks on Saturday in Atlanta.

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Take 5: Titans will present major problems for Patriots 2 Jan 2020, 11:25 pm

The stability of the New England Patriots’ dynasty feels more precarious entering this postseason than perhaps ever before.

Not only do the higher-seeded Kansas City Chiefs and (likely) Baltimore Ravens stand in the way to the Super Bowl, but the Tennessee Titans present a major challenge Saturday night in Foxborough.

That’s where we begin our wild-card weekend preview, with a deep dive on both sides of the ball.

1. Vrabel, Pees know how to handle Patriots’ offense

In Week 10 last season, Tennessee embarrassed New England 34-10 in Nashville, the Patriots’ most lopsided defeat since the famous “On to Cincinnati” loss to Kansas City in 2014. The Titans allowed 284 total yards and limited Tom Brady to a season-low in completion percentage (51.2) with a game plan — which we dissected in Film Study at the time — that many other teams have since copied.






Rob Gronkowski wasn’t available, so Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees — both former Patriots — keyed heavily on James White and Julian Edelman. Kevin Byard, the league’s best all-around safety, usually matched White, a rare show of respect toward a running back.

Edelman drew physical slot cornerback Logan Ryan (also a former Patriot) and regular double teams. Tennessee also doubled Josh Gordon at times, but no other receiver demands such attention this time around. Edelman should see plenty of bracket coverage.

The Titans’ other primary tactic was “safe” blitzes and zone exchanges, showing six or seven potential rushers but only bringing four or five. Many came from a dime package featuring only one defensive linemen, four linebackers and six defensive backs, providing extra speed to execute stunts and further complicate the rush.

With fewer weapons, the offensive line regressing and Brady showing his age, the Patriots’ weaknesses have grown more glaring. Brady completed more than 56 percent of his passes just once in the final nine games, with the exception coming in a ball-control, play-action-heavy game plan vs. Buffalo in Week 16.

That approach is New England’s best option Saturday. The Patriots have shown improvement run-blocking in recent weeks, although the Titans’ front is stingy (4.03 yards per carry allowed, seventh in NFL).

2. Patriots’ defense must buckle up

New England’s historically great defense will likely have to carry the day against a surging Tennessee offense. The Patriots’ D is hardly overmatched, but the Titans are suited to attack its few weaknesses.

The Patriots finished 14th in yards per carry allowed (4.19), and they’ll see plenty of runs Saturday. Derrick Henry averaged 23.2 carries, 6.45 yards per tote and 149.3 yards per game over his final six games en route to the rushing title.






New England could employ Bear fronts (covering both guards and the center) to counter Tennessee’s zone run game, but the Titans also have a potent collection of toss plays — Henry is best when given a runway to build up speed — to attack the perimeter. Ryan Tannehill hasn’t been a major part of Tennessee’s run schemes, but his mobility presents opportunities to mix in zone-read designs.

Through the air, the Patriots should be able to handle the Titans’ drop-back passing game, but play-action is the biggest concern. The Bills exploited Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty deep off play-action in Week 16, and the Titans have embarrassed teams with similar schemes of late.

One of the game’s best matchups should be Gilmore vs. big-play rookie wideout A.J. Brown (25 catches, 605 yards, 5 TDs, plus a 49-yard rushing TD in the last six games). Brown is remarkably physical — downright violent at times — but that suits Gilmore’s style.

3. Watson must sharpen up vs. Bills

As great as Deshaun Watson is, his Houston Texans won’t go far if he plays like he did in the final three games.

Watson has always had a tendency for loose and undisciplined plays, but those have become more regular of late. His mechanics have grown wild, and he’s held the ball too long while moving himself into pressure or being unaware that it’s arriving.

That won’t fly against the Buffalo Bills, whose defense is extremely disciplined and rarely allows big plays. The Bills force opponents to put together long drives, hoping to short-circuit them with a negative play or a takeaway. Watson cannot feed into their hands.






It would be a major boost to have wideout Will Fuller (groin, game-time decision) in the lineup. The speedster’s presence would give Buffalo less room to be creative with its safeties and disguises, at risk of being burned deep.

Either way, Bill O’Brien could help Watson by using many empty formations early. These looks not only help define the defense, but also require quick and timely distribution, which would help Watson get into a rhythm. The third-year QB tends to let rocky starts snowball, so it’s important to open strong.

4. Young stars collide in the Big Easy

Perhaps the most important matchup when the Minnesota Vikings visit the New Orleans Saints on Sunday is between a pair of 25-year-old stars: Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and Vikings left defensive end Danielle Hunter.

Both are already top-five players at their positions. Ramczyk has allowed just one sack and committed two holding penalties all season, while Hunter had 14.5 sacks for the second consecutive campaign along with a career-high 22 QB hits.

Ramczyk has gotten the better of three previous meetings, though he didn’t face Hunter much in one (he played left tackle in his first career game in Week 1 of 2017). Hunter has no sacks and only two QB hits in three games vs. the Saints, with neither hit coming against Ramczyk.






That will likely have to change Sunday for the Vikings to win. Minnesota’s secondary has slipped significantly, and Drew Brees & Co. have been surgical through the air in recent weeks. Brees has even shown extra juice with his movement in the pocket, making Hunter’s job that much more difficult.

5. What’s changed since Week 12 for Seahawks, Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles’ offense hit rock bottom in a 17-9 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 24. Have things changed enough to produce a different result Sunday?

Right tackle Lane Johnson missed that game but appears set to return from a high-ankle sprain. In his absence in Week 12, the Eagles allowed repeated pressure off the right side, against both rookie Andre Dillard (who was benched) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.






Right guard Brandon Brooks (shoulder) is now on IR, so Johnson’s return might be a wash, but the Seahawks’ pass rush has mostly been quiet. They likely won’t hit Wentz nine times again. Either way, Wentz must be more aware with the ball, after fumbling three times (once on a botched handoff).

Another key change from Week 12 will be on Seattle’s defense, which lost linebacker Mychal Kendricks to a torn ACL last week. The Seahawks play more base defense than any other NFL team, and that didn’t change without Kendricks, who was replaced by rookie Cody Barton.

The rookie has been a beat late diagnosing and reacting in limited action on defense (151 snaps) this season, which is to be expected. That presents opportunities for the Eagles, who must exploit any possible weaknesses to overcome their lack of healthy weapons. Expect Doug Pederson to target Barton with play-action, rub routes, screens, high-low concepts and misdirection in the run game.

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NHL fines Jackets coach Tortorella $20K for rant 2 Jan 2020, 11:24 pm

Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella was fined $20,000 by the NHL for his comments regarding the officiating in his team’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.

The league also put Tortorella on notice that he was being assessed a conditional $25,000 fine. If he has another act of “similar inappropriate behavior” through Dec. 29, 2020, the NHL will collect the money.

Tortorella lambasted the officials after the game, contending an additional 1.1 seconds should have been put back on the clock nearing the end of the overtime period. It wasn’t, and a Zach Werenski goal that would have been the game winner was waved off because time had expired.






Starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo was injured in the shootout.

“Refs don’t do their freaking job and now we lose a game, and we lose our goalie,” Tortorella said in his brief postgame news conference Sunday. “So the chain of events, if it was done right, we don’t lose our goalie, we win the hockey game.”

Korpisalo, who was selected to the All-Star team, will be out four to six weeks after undergoing knee surgery this week.

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Troy Polamalu, Reggie Wayne among HOF finalists 2 Jan 2020, 11:24 pm

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne were named modern-era finalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Thursday in their first year of eligibility.

The pair is joined by five other first-time finalists, including wideout Torry Holt (sixth year eligible), defensive tackle Bryant Young (sixth), linebacker Zach Thomas (seventh), safety Leroy Butler (14th) and linebacker Sam Mills (18th).

The 15 finalists, of whom five will be selected for enshrinement on “Selection Saturday” on Feb. 1, the day before Super Bowl LIV, also include: defensive tackle Richard Seymour (third year eligible), guard Steve Hutchinson (third), guard Alan Faneca (third), running back Edgerrin James (sixth), wideout Isaac Bruce (sixth), safety John Lynch (eighth), offensive tackle Tony Boselli (14th) and safety Steve Atwater.






All 2019 finalists who were not enshrined were again named finalists. That includes two coaches, Tom Flores and Don Coryell, who were named among 38 finalists in December for a special centennial class of coaches, contributors and senior players. Of that group, two coaches, three contributors and 10 players will be inducted.

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Hischier, Blackwood lead Devils to 2-1 win over Islanders 2 Jan 2020, 11:24 pm

 Although the playoffs seem out of reach, the New Jersey Devils are not going to waste the rest of the season.

Nico Hischier scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period, and the Devils beat the New York Islanders 2-1 Thursday night for their third straight win.

“We are playing with confidence and we are making plays,” Hischier said. “From one guy to the last guy, everybody digs in.”

P.K. Subban also scored and Mackenzie Blackwood added 29 saves to help the Devils improve to 6-2-1 in their last nine games.






Hischier extended his point streak to four games when he scored the go-ahead goal at 1:09 of the third. The Swiss forward escaped the face-off circle with possession of the puck and made his move to the net. He craftily slid the puck from his backhand to forehand to give the Devils a 2-1 lead.

“I saw a lane there, so I took hit,” Hischier said of his mindset on the goal.

Brock Nelson scored for New York and Semyon Varlamov made 29 saves as the Islanders lost their fourth straight at Nassau Coliseum.

“We got away from our game of making it really hard on them,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought we were doing a pretty good job for the first 30 minutes. We got to stay to what we do well. If there is a play to be made, make it. If it’s not, then let’s put it in a place where we can retrieve it or continue to possess it. I didn’t think we did that right through the whole game.”

Nelson gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead when he put a wrist shot past Blackwood 7:33 into the second. Nelson charged up the ice during 4-on-4 play and stopped short upon entering the offensive zone. The Devils’ defender momentarily screened Blackwood and Nelson took advantage of the opportunity. Ryan Pulock and Derick Brassard assisted on the opening goal.






Anders Lee had a chance to double the Islanders’ advantage after 19-year-old defenseman Noah Dobson delivered a cross-ice pass, but Blackwood made a sliding pad save.

‘Those are the saves that you need in order to win some games,” Devils coach Alain Nasreddine said. “It certainly keeps the game tighter. Those saves are big and that’s what you need from your goaltender and right now we are getting it from Blackwood.”

Subban tied the score when his blistering slap shot buzzed by Varlamov with 1:27 left in the middle period. Nikita Gusev extended his point streak to five games with the primary assist. It was Subban’s fourth goal of the season and only his second since Nov. 2nd.

Travis Zajac tied Kirk Muller for third place on the Devils’ all-time points list after recording the secondary assist on the goal. It was Zajac’s 520th point after being drafted by the Devils in the first round of the 2004 NHL Draft.

The Islanders appeared to take a one-goal lead early in the second period when Leo Komarov buried a rebound in front. However, the play was called back after the Devils successfully challenged the play for goaltender interference 49 seconds into the middle frame. Komarov hasn’t scored since last Jan. 20.

“It’s a big decision,” Nasreddine said of his first challenge as a head coach. “That’s why we take our time and not 100 percent sure, but you have to be pretty close because it could be a big swing in the game.”

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Browns’ Haslam driven to get latest coaching hire right 2 Jan 2020, 11:22 pm

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is setting out on a search to hire the fifth head coach since buying the team in 2012.

He said the team will let past failures guide the franchise’s search with a strong determination to get it right this time.

The Browns plan to hire a head coach to replace Freddie Kitchens and then allow the next head coach to have input on a search for a new general manager. Haslam said the coach and general manager will report individually to ownership.

“There’s no guarantee. Let’s be honest,” Haslam said of getting it right when hiring a coach. “I do think we’ve learned a tremendous amount the hard way, very painful way. I think we have a great idea of what we’re looking for in both positions.

“We had a good process last time. I think we’ll have a really good process this time. I would just reiterate, we are very determined to get that right this time.”






That goes for both the coach and general manager. The Browns split with GM John Dorsey on Tuesday; Kitchens was fired on Sunday after concluding his first season at 6-10.

“Nothing is as important as these two things: Getting the right people and getting them aligned,” Haslam said. “That’s what we’re focusing on tremendously. That alignment is really, really important. I think we can always do better.”

Haslam said the search “has been and will be very thorough” for both positions. Haslam will make the final decision with input from chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, vice president of football administration Chris Cooper and executive vice president JW Johnson.

“Paul is a very smart individual, very strategic in his thought process,” Haslam said. “His job will not change, it will stay exactly the same as it is. He’ll do everything he can to support the general manager and head coach.”

Haslam said the coaching search committee talked to 20 or 30 players about what they want in a new leader.

“They want leadership,” Haslam said.

The role of the general manager is evolving, Haslam said, from just being a scout to an administrator capable of using analytics and coordinating other aspects of the organization. Assistant general manager Eliot Wolf will remain in his existing role, but the Browns plan to go outside of the current structure to find a general manager.






“There could be some changes to the roster but we have a really solid group of core players who are extremely young,” Haslam said. “Baker (Mayfield) is 24. Our old guys, Jarvis (Landry) and Odell (Beckham) are 26, 27. I can’t imagine anybody wanting to change that group.”

Haslam said the franchise is focused on supporting Mayfield, the 2018 No. 1 overall pick.

“He took a lot of grief this year,” Haslam said.

The post Browns’ Haslam driven to get latest coaching hire right appeared first on The Fanatic.

Utah beats Oregon State 81-69 behind Allen’s double-double 2 Jan 2020, 11:21 pm

Timmy Allen scored 25 points and collected 10 rebounds to lead Utah to an 81-69 victory over Oregon State in the Pac-12 opener for both teams on Thursday night.

Both Gach added 17 points while Rylan Jones scored 14 points and dished out five assists for the Utes. Utah overcame tough interior defense by the Beavers by successfully getting out in transition. The Utes scored 22 fastbreak points.

Tres Tinkle scored 19 points and collected six rebounds to lead Oregon State. Zach Riechle and Ethan Thompson chipped in 15 apiece. Oregon State scored 16 points off 11 Utah turnovers and blocked eight shots but could not overcome its own lengthy scoring droughts.






The Beavers endured a seven-minute stretch during the first half when they missed seven straight shots and 10 of 11 overall. It opened the door for Utah to rally from an early 13-7 deficit and surge in front.

Jones and Allen combined for back-to-back baskets to ignite a 12-0 run that put the Utes ahead for the first time at 27-19. Hot perimeter shooting from Gach and Jones helped keep Utah in front as the first half wound down.

Oregon State hung around for a while. Tinkle converted a 3-point play and then hit a pair of free throws to trim Utah’s lead to 36-32 heading into the final minute of the half. Gach buried his second 3-pointer to push the lead back to seven.

The Beavers cut the deficit to three points multiple times in the second half, the final time on a fastbreak layup from Antonie Vernon that brought Oregon State to within 54-51. The Utes slammed the door on a further comeback.






Utah used a 16-5 run to extend its lead to 70-55 with 5:31 left. Riley Battin sparked the run with a 3-point play and Gach added the biggest highlight with a dunk off a steal. Battin and Gach combined for four baskets in that decisive stretch.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon State: The Beavers made it tough for Utah around the basket at times but struggled to defend in transition. That could be a big problem with games against other high-flying athletic Pac-12 teams still ahead.

Utah: Once again, the Utes look like a team capable of making unexpected noise in the Pac-12. Utah still struggles with turnovers and scoring droughts from time to time. But when the offense is clicking, few teams areable to contain the Utes.

UP NEXT

Oregon State travels to Boulder to face Colorado on Sunday.

Utah will host Oregon on Saturday

The post Utah beats Oregon State 81-69 behind Allen’s double-double appeared first on The Fanatic.

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