By Bill Campbell
Canada v. USA Hockey
In Olympic hockey, it was all about defense as Team Canada won all 6 games with an amazing commitment to defense and discipline. It was all golden by the time Sydney Crosby skated in alone on Sweden’s Henrik Lundquist and slid a perfect backhander into the net. It must have been exciting to be in Sochi, Russia, last week to watch Canada take it all, including a win over the USA in the semi-final, 1-0, and then the Swedes, 3-0. Crosby’s last Olympic goal was 4 years ago in Vancouver as Canada beat the Americans in overtime of the championship game. But last week’s wins will take a rightful place along with the more flamboyant title games in Olympic history.
Canada did everything by the book in this one. The contest didn’t have a lot of drama, since the winning goal was scored in the first period. But it was an impressive performance. Jonathan Toews scored in the first period, Carey Price made 24 saves in his second straight shut-out, and the pair helped to confirm Canada’s world-wide dominance in the national game for the third time in the last four Olympics. No team in the era of the NHL has controlled a tournament like this one, allowing just three goals in twelve days of competition. It was not as exciting a performance as the last one, but there are all are different ways to win a game. Canada did it the traditional way in 2014. The team never trailed at any point in these hotly- contested games on the shores of the Black Sea.
Crosby said the win over Sweden was “not quite as dramatic as the other one” but “it was just real solid all the way through.” He added, “We knew the way we wanted to play, and the last couple games, we were solid. With each game, we seemed to build more and more confidence.” It showed. At the end of this final event, Canadian fans took away with them an unshakeable pride in their team and country. They have the only repeat Olympic champions in this team, which has won 9 gold medals in men’s hockey since 1952 outside North America.
Sochi Olympics a Smash
They’re calling it “Spectacular Sochi” now. Those two words seem to sum up everything about Sochi since the closing ceremonies – and this after Mr. Putin and his planners were hoping they could pass Olympic muster without too many problems when the torch was first lit there. In the end, Russia led the medal count with 33 followed by the USA with 28. Norway won a total of 26 medals, Canada 25. There were many surprises in the seaport city over the two weeks: no American winners in speed skating, a relatively unknown Russian woman winning the ice skating. Snowboarding took front and center this year and gained a lot of fans. The weather was unpredictable, warming up and turning ski runs into mush at times and delaying events. A new railway line proved itself to be a bit undependable and some untested security measures failed at times. But despite these snags the event itself went off well, whether athletes were competing up in the Caucasus Mountains or down in the city’s ice venue, and there were no security breaches to cause a concern to the athletes or the visitors. By the time the closing ceremonies took place at Sochi Olympic Stadium, the sense of fragility and uncertainty that lay over the opening had faded and the colorful farewell felt right to all who were there. The seventeen days provided contests that were hard fought, colorful, competitive. Some of the athletes’ stories were deeply human; some were over-the-top. Just like the Olympics should be.
The start of free agency is upon us. The rosters are not yet set in the NFL and the Birds were at last week’s combine in full force to survey the talent available. It’s reported that Jairus Byrd, considered the top safety who may be available, will be franchise-tagged by the Buffalo Bills to prevent him from coming on the player market. The Cleveland Browns were expected to try to re-sign safety T.S. Ward, though they may choose to franchise tag him as well. Meanwhile, the Birds have signed contracts with Riley Cooper and Jason Kelce. They’re still talking to Jeremy Maclin and are expected to make a deal with him. Jason Avant is likely to be left out in the cold.
Villanova – Creighton: Creighton, which beat Villanova for the second time on February 17th by 101-80, held off Seton Hall over the weekend, 72-71. Coach Greg McDermott was pleased with the victory, acknowledging that wins like this one can be the difference for his high-ranking Blue Jays having a good season or a great one. Despite getting out-hustled and out-rebounded and missing 5 of 6 foul shots in the last 3 minutes, Creighton held on to take it home. Mc Dermott said, “For us to miss free throws and turn it over at critical times is not who we are. But we still found a way to win, and it looks just as good on that side of the column as any of the other ones.” Adding to the win was McDermott’s son, Doug, who had 29 points to become one of the top ten scorer’s in college basketball history. Grant Gibbs also had a season-high 16 points. After this one, Creighton took a half-game lead over Villanova in the Big East. Creighton has won eight of its last nine. For Seton Hall, Ferguson Edwin had 21 for the Pirates, who are now 14-12, 5-9.
In other college games, Michigan’s Nik Stausaks scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half and his 20th ranked Wolverines beat 13th ranked Michigan State, 79-70. Michigan took over first place in the Big ten as a result of this win. At Connecticut, Nick Russell and Nic Moore each scored 15 points to pace SMU to a 64-55 win over UConn. On February 24th at the Wells Fargo Center, Villanova trailed for just ninety seconds against Butler and used a pivotal 21-3 run in the middle of the second half to put the game away, handing Butler its 7th straight loss, 67-48. Wildcats’ senior James Bell and junior guard James Hilliard both scored eleven aided by sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono who added in 9. Junior forward JayVaughan Pinkston and freshman forward Josh Hart also contributed 8 apiece with Hart adding in 8 rebounds. In all, 10 different Wildcats scored and with 4 minutes to go Coach Jay Wright was able to sit his seniors for a rest.
St. Joe’s – Dayton: St. Joe’s rolled past Dayton 79-53 on Wednesday night at the Hagen Arena. After the Hawks lost to Villanova by 30 in December, there was time for some soul-searching. The St. Joe’s coaches and players were so upset after that game, they worked together on re-motivating each other. Once he he’d had a few discussions with his team, Coach Phil Martelli said, “[W]e go on to the next game. I found this quote: ‘You can’t get on to the next chapter of your life until you stop re-reading the last chapter.’ We did it, we accept it, we’re responsible, I’m most responsible, and now let’s get on.” It’s three months later. St. Joe’s had won 19 games, 16 of their last 19. They went on to win number 20 against Dayton – a win many didn’t expect to see, at least this year. Martelli put on the dressing room blackboard a note about Dayton: the last time the Flyers had lost was against St. Joe’s on January 29th, 60-57. That note meant something. The Hawks came out and played a consistent game for 40 minutes against Dayton for the win. Martelli said, “Sure we’ve played a team once but now we have to start thinking like a tournament team. In our scouting report it said to trust the fact that these guys from Dayton have improved since the last time we’ve seen them. But the last time we played them we won on a buzzer-beater.” This time point guard Chris Wilson scored a career high 20 points and hit all 8 field goal attempts. Forward Ron Roberts, Jr. had a game-high 22 and Halil Kanacevic had 10 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. DeAndre Bembry contributed 12. After 14 minutes, the Hawks were shooting 13 for 19 and led 34-19 at the half. Langston Galloway ran up 33 points, putting in ten 3-pointers. In his last 14 games, Kanacevic has had 129 rebounds, 70 assists, 22 blocks while shooting 68 for 118, 57.6%. He will finish his career with more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds and more than 400 assists. St. Joe’s is 20-7, 10-3 in the Atlantic Ten. As Coach Martelli said, the Hawks can start to think about tournaments.
Cole Hamels is feeling better. The tendonitis situation that appeared to be spoiling his trip to Clearwater is improving and Hamels is expected to be throwing a few balls before long. He seems to be pleased with his progress. “This feels like the first week in Florida for me,” he said. Hamels has a way to go, though, before appearing in the bullpen or at practice. The regular season starts in 5 weeks and Hamels is back in the pitching rotation by that time GM Ryne Sandberg will be satisfied. Hamels threw on flat ground this week. He has yet to throw off the mound. “I have made a lot of progress in the past week,” the southpaw commented. “When I will really know where I am will be in another month after I have been in 4 or 5 games, 5 or 6 innings, then I will really know.” The rest of the pitching staff had a recovery day on Sunday, no work-out Monday. The new pitching coach, Bob McClure, who has replaced Rich Dooby, seems satisfied with he has seen in the early part of spring training. Meanwhile, Sandberg sat in on a meeting regarding the implementation of instant replay for the upcoming season. He believes there will be about five televised Grapefruit League games where he will have a chance to run through the process. Managers will have one challenge to use in the game’s first 6 innings, another if they win the challenge. After the first six innings an umpire gets a chance to run through the process. The Phillies began the season with an intra-squad game at Bright House Field in Clearwater. Admission was free. Left-hander Jesse Biddle and right-hander Ethan Martin were tentatively on tap to start. Others scheduled to pitch in upcoming games were David Buchanan, Justin De Fratus, Luis Garcia, Jeremy Horst, Shawn Camp, Cesar Jimenez, Shawn Kamp and Kerry Giles.
Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs were introduced the other day by Comcast Sports Network as the new commentary team for the Phillies TV broadcasts. They aren’t the only new voices being added. Mike Schmidt will join CSN’s broadcast team for the 2014 season for all 13 Sunday home games at Citizen’s Bank Park. Schmidt, a 12-time All Star with the Phillies, will be the third man in the booth for those games. The entire broadcast team will work all 9 innings. The “Sundays with Schmidt” could begin next month. Mike is scheduled to visit Clearwater in mid-March and is likely to begin working on the air at that time. He is reportedly staying in close touch with his doctors regarding an ongoing but undisclosed health issue. Schmidt, 64, also is a guest instructor for the team. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, the same year as Rich Ashburn.
Roberto Hernandez was to make his Phillies debut in the Grapefruit League opener against Toronto this week. The 33-year-old signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract in December and is the big favorite for the fifth starting job. His opponent was set to be former Phil, J.A. Happ. Ryan Howard, trying for a big comeback, is 2 for 2 and, along with Cesar Hernandez, even hit a home run during an intra-squad game this week. Freddy Galvis had 2 doubles in the same game. When the Phillies open the season in Texas on March 31st , they will face Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, the 2013 AL Cy Young runner-up. The Phils have not yet announced a starting pitcher for that game. They’re waiting to see how Cole Hamels is doing by then.
Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen returned to the Flyers after averaging 18 minutes of ice time helping Finland win a bronze medal in Sochi last week. Timonen has played in 57 of 59 games plus 6 more in the Olympics. He’ll reach 39 on March 18th. His average is second only to Braydon Coburn’s 22.35 among Flyer players. Claude Giroux is third at 20.38. Flyers’ coach, Craig Berube, was asked how concerned he was with ice time for veteran Timonen and ice time with the Flyers finishing with 23 games in 26 days. He said, “That’s not good for him or anybody. You’ve got to stay out of the penalty box. Those minutes hurt people. It hurts Couturier and Read. They’re out there killing penalties and then they’re playing against top lines. In the third period they get worn down sometimes because they killed too much and that includes the defense.” Captain Giroux put it this way: “Down the stretch we’re playing a lot of good hockey teams and there will be a lot of fights each night. We’ve got 3 games in 4 nights right away and those are 6 points that we’ve got to have.” Giroux is concerned that, when you haven’t played for 2 weeks, a team can lost its mental focus and that first shift has to be ready.
On March 15th the Flyers will open at home against Pittsburgh and then play Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis and L.A. The team spent some of its off-time doing conditioning work but has put its skates back on this week. Coach Berube said that the last week has been about game-planning, reinforcing the defense first, trying to retune while recharging, which is needed thanks to all the traveling the team does. In the opinion of Scott Hartnell, this year is similar to last year since the team “has done a good job staying in game shape, which is not the same as practice.” They will jump into deep waters here at home first, hosting San Jose, a team that is 7 wins better and has gotten back forward Logan Couture, who had missed 16 games with hand surgery.
The cold weather continues here so keeping up with hockey and basketball seems right. But I’m looking forward to hearing them say “Play ball” down on South Broad Street in a few weeks. Let’s hope there’s no snow on the ground by then.