By Derek Harmsworth… As first reported by TSN’s Darren Dreger last night, and now also being run in today’s Toronto Star, it looks as though the Toronto Maple Leafs have dipped their toes into the collegiate free agent pool.
It is expected today that the Maple Leafs will finalize a three year entry level deal with Christian Hanson, a star on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish team. He is also the son of Dave Hanson, one third of the famous Hanson Brothers.
Hanson, a 6′4″, 225lbs centre, is considered a two-way player, known for both his offensive flair, and for his defensive ability. He was one of the top faceoff men in the Collegiate system this year.
Aside from his offensive and defensive game, Hanson is also known as a great teammate, and according to one of his former coaches “reeks of character.”
If the Leafs are able to ink Hanson today as expected, it would be a real victory for Brian Burke. The Maple Leafs are believed to have beat out 20 teams for his services.
It is also expected that the Maple Leafs will make an aggressive pitch today for Denver College free agent Tyler Bozak. Though early reports were that Bozak could opt to sign with the Avalanche, to stay close to home.
The agent for Tyler Bozak, Don Meehan, said this weekend that his client should make a decision by Wednesday on where he would like to begin his NHL career.
As for Hanson, the Leafs organization reportedly see him as more of a skilled, finesse player, despite his size. There are reports that he may also be tested out on the wing, as it may be the best fit for him at the NHL level.
Should the Leafs sign Hanson today as expected, it is very plausible that fans in Leafs Nation wouldn’t have to wait long to see him play.
While he is coming off the end of a long collegiate season, he is healthy, and in game shape. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him suit up for one of the Maple Leafs remaining games left in the season.
Check out Dereks Radio show “Leafs Talk Today” - The show can be heard every Wednesday at 1:30 PM Eastern. For more on the show and to listen live, head over to www.leafstalktoday.webs.com
by Yoshi Farhi… Despite the Raptors’ dismal year, I remain optimistic toward the future.
Here’s why—the long awaited emergence of Bargnani as a legitimate player in this league is HUGE for this team.
He has put up very solid numbers of 19.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in 35.5 minutes per game since January, which would put him at 27th in the league in points per 48 minutes (right behind Joe Johnson).
Il Mago’s emergence gives the Raptors the possibility of having the highest-scoring big-man duo in the league. While it takes more to win than just points, Bargs is showing steady improvement all around, including rebounding and toughness.
Even though his game is far from perfect—his post game, rebounding, and defense still leave much to be desired—he has been the single bright spot this season and leaves hopes of a big turnaround next year.
Furthermore, Brian Colangelo is a proven GM in this league. Yes, he messed up with the JO trade last offseason, but Colangelo is a risk taker and risks don’t always pay off.
Even though JO was a bust, Colangelo has managed to soften the blow substantially. Similar to his first season, Colangelo has a large sum of money to work with this offseason and he knows the goal—a tough-minded slasher who can defend and score.
There are a number of free agents Colangelo is likely to look at this summer: Grant Hill (too worn out), Hedo Turkoglu (too much of a shooter?), Trevor Ariza or Odom (will the Lakers let either go?), Jamaal Crawford (could work, too risky maybe), Ron Artest (also risky), Ben Gordon (too much of a shooter?), and Iverson (expensive, but would work).
Since the list isn’t that impressive, Colangelo might needto facilitate some sort of trade—maybe a sign-and-trade of Marion—with all the cap room the team has and teams looking to unload cash before the big 2010 free-agent class.
Finally, the one good thing about the Raptors’ record is their presence in the lottery. While the Raps most likely won’t find their starting wing player in this poor class, there will surely be enough players in the lottery picks capable of holding their own as bench players.
The future doesn’t look so bad after all.
By Captain Fantabulous… With draft day fast approaching, I decided to take a meander down memory lane, and have a wee glance at the draft which I consider to be one of the strongest top five of all time—the almighty 1989 NFL draft.
Number one overall, HOF quarterback Troy Aikman.
Number three overall, HOF running back Barry Sanders.
Number four overall, HOF linebacker Derrick Thomas.
Number five overall, future HOF cornerback Deion Sanders.
You’re probably asking, “Who was number two in this once in a lifetime top five”? Who was the guy drafted ahead of Sanders, Thomas, and Sanders?
Well, it was Hall of Fame workout warrior, Tony Mandarich, who probably put in the greatest combine workout in NFL history. To such an extent that he made Sports Illustrated’s esteemed front cover, as “The best offensive line prospect ever.”
Mandarich was no one hit wonder. He had a stellar college career for Michigan State, being named as a first-team All-American, an Outland Award finalist, and a two-time Big Ten Lineman of the Year. But for all his obvious talent, he had “character issues” to match.
He was notorious for turning up to public meetings late, and sometimes drunk. He often missed team meetings because of hangovers. And of course, he notoriously laid out an open challenge to the then-heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson, for a street fight, 2 weeks before draft day.
This wasn’t the guy to walk your mother to church on a Sunday.
However, his almost mythical workout numbers swept most of this under the carpet. A potential problem player became merely “eccentric.” “Troublesome” became “charismatic.”
And if you check out the guy’s combine, it’s hard not to see how teams got caught up in the moment.
Firstly, you have to understand that we are talking about a 6’6″, 330-pound offensive lineman here. As a brief example, the top NFL line prospect in the ‘09 draft, Jason Smith, at an inch shorter, and 15 pounds lighter than Mandarich, put up these numbers:
· 40 time – 5.14 seconds
· Bench press – 33 reps
· Vertical leap – 25 inches
· Broad jump – eight feet
Jake Long, the uber-talented number-one overall pick of 2008:
· 40 time – 5.22
· Bench press – 37
· Vertical leap – 27 inches
· Broad jump – eight feet
That’s what we are talking here, in terms of an elite tackle prospect, and their combine performance. Now for Mandarich. I suggest you set your faces to “stun”.
Tony Mandarich, at 6′6″ and 325 pounds, ran an official 4.65-second 40 time, meaning this beast of a man covered 40 yards faster than future HOF players Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice at their respective workouts.
He was only marginally slower than 2009 studs Knowshon Moreno and Aaron Curry. At 325 pounds. Unthinkable. Incomprehensible.
And no, this guy was no one-trick pony. He bench pressed 39 times (only two less than dumbbell wonder Jonathon Ogden). His vertical leap was an unbelievable 30 inches. His broad jump was over 10 feet.
All figures that are rarely touched by tackles in any draft class.
This, my friends, was probably the greatest single workout in combine history. And along with some stellar tackle drills, elevated Mandarich from mid first round to second overall. His numbers made the Packers pass on three future HOF players for a guy who was fully recognised as a risk.
Like a lot of things that seem “too good to be true,” Mandarich was, sadly, too good to be true.
The whitewashed character issues soon came to a boil (such as calling Green Bay “a village” within months of joining the team), and Mandarich wouldn’t even start a game for the Packers for his first two seasons.
By then, the Packers had realized they had been duped, and soon shipped Mandarich out of Lambeau Field, and out of the NFL.
You see people, the whole Mandarich thing was a myth. A mirage. A carefully-planned assault by Tony on the NFL combine. To be fair to Mandarich, he knew the system and played it perfectly.
He managed to create this unbelievable shell for the scouts to drool over, but they were in no position to look at what lay beneath until they paid him big, and got him in training camp, to the determent of the Green Bay Packer coffers.
Mandarich was a steroid user, all through college. He faked his Rose Bowl tests weeks before the combine in fact, allowing him to sculpt a 330-pound bulk, with only 11 percent body fat. That, my friends, is how a 330-pound athlete works out like a 200-pound running back.
Slack testing laws in college and at the combine allowed Mandarich to abuse the system, and create this almost mythological projection of himself for the scouts. And make no bones about it, Tony planned it this way.
“I wanted to create as much hype as I could for many different reasons—exposure, negotiation leverage, you name it. And it all worked, except the performance wasn’t there when it was time to play football.”
However, becoming a professional athlete meant professional drug testing, and given a choice of fail (and default his multi million dollar contract) or fall, Mandarich chose the latter. His weight plummeted from 330 to 290 pounds in only a few seasons. His power and speed disappeared to such an extent that the Packers felt his only future in pro football was at the less-demanding guard position.
He dropped out of the NFL in 1998, making only 47 starts in 10 years. All the while, the Packers had to come to the realization that they passed on (Barry) Sanders, Thomas and (Deion) Sanders. For a combine myth.
The moral of the tale? The combine matters. But don’t rest your entire draft on it. Running a 4.7 forty doesn’t make you a bust (Rice). Running 4.65 for a tackle doesn’t make you a cert.
Just ask Tony Mandarich. The man that beat the system.
My Dirty Little Secrets: Steroids, Alcohol & God. A provocative title indeed! Click here to order an autographed book directly from Tony.
by Stoker Dafire… Early in 2005, the great Tito Trinidad’s tenure in the spotlight waned, and as a result Puerto Rico yearned for a new favorite son.
Making his debut in the talent-rich 140-pound division, a young fighter named Miguel Cotto left many Latino fans believing he would be the one.
However, in time, his growing difficulty to make weight threatened to dim the aura surrounding the rising young superstar.
In December of ‘06 Cotto made the inevitable move up in weight and got an immediate title shot against Carlos Quintana.
With a perfect left hook to the body of Quintana, Cotto began to dominate the star studded welterweight division.
With subsequent wins over top fighters like Shane Mosley and Zab Judah, suddenly many experts were touting Cotto as the successor or the heir-apparent to the great Trinidad.
Cotto possesses a tremendous body attack; he is a throwback to the great Julio Cesar Chavez, who had a trademark left hook to liver that once knocked Johnny Deplessis clean out of the ring.
However, lets be honest here, at 26 years of age, which is two years younger than Cotto is now, Trinidad already had defended titles 15 times, had beaten Whittaker and De La Hoya, and was a virtual boy wonder in his home country of Puerto Rico.
When he fought his successful comeback match against Ricardo Mayorga, after a 29 month layoff, the roar of his adoring fans at Madison Square Garden threatened to blow the roof off the boxing Mecca.
The look on the faces of ecstatic fans on this night was one of unadulterated worship.
However, you didn’t have to be from Puerto Rico or even Latino to appreciate Trinidad.
As a fan he is the sort of fighter who never disappointed me; even against the great Bernard Hopkins he fought his heart out, took his beating like a man, and went down swinging.
The above photo shows Miguel Cotto’s badly beaten face after his courageous match and subsequent loss to Antonio Margarito.
In hindsight, a strong argument could be made that these facial lacerations may have been the result of an illegal substance resembling plaster of Paris; the substance wasn’t found until Margarito’s fight with Mosley earlier this year.
In any event, Cotto has rallied back nicely, with a TKO win over Michael Jennings on Feb. 21, and he could very well be on a collision course for a superfight-rematch with Mosley.
If that mega fight comes to fruition and Cotto emerges the victor, he may just fit in those enormous shoes left behind by the legendary Trinidad.
Lloyd Bentsen: Senator Quayle, I served with Jack Kennedy: I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy. (Prolonged shouts and applause.)
by Aaron Neely… As the baseball season inches closer and closer to the opening pitch many questions are swirling around.
How will A-Rod do? How will the Yankees do? Manny in LA? San Fran looking to make their first real charge since the Bonds’ days.
Many questions, and we’ll have to wait along time for answers.
So let’s speculate!
When you think of the best teams in the Major Leagues, people automatically think about the Yankees and Red Sox…rightfully so.
But what about that team that usually finishes third in that division? Are they maybe getting closer to surpassing one, or both of those teams?
The Toronto Blue Jays are a team notoriously famous for their “Next year is going to be our year” motto.
However, could it actually be that this is their year? Taking a look at their lineup in years past they have always had one of the three keys components to win games.
They either have a bullpen, pitching or hitting. This year, they are the closest they have ever been to having all three.
When you look at their lineup a few things come to mind. First off, you marvel at the pitching ace that is locked up long term as well as the other young arms.
Roy Halladay is a guaranteed 20+ wins a season as well as a very likely night off for any pitcher who usually comes out of the bullpen. He has and will continue to be a pitcher that competes for the Cy Young award yearly.
Taking over for A.J. Burnett is 24-year-old Jesse Litsch. Having pitched only two years in the majors he still has plenty more to offer. He won 13 games last year and if all things fall into place could push the 18 win marker.
Let’s say for a second that the Blue Jays can get 40 wins between Litsch and Halladay, if the rest of the rotation can play just above average the Yanks and Sox won’t be the only teams contending in the AL east.
Second off, the out field is something to die for. Vernon Wells is a gold glove candidate and as long as he stays healthy is good for 25+ home runs and 105+ RBIs. His swing is perfect and his speed is among the elite. All star? I think so.
Alex Rios is even younger and has even more potential that, if things go well, should be realized this season. He took a bit of a step back last year but came on strong towards the end however should be a shoe in for similar stats as Wells, if not even better.
Add in veterans like Overbay and Rolen as well as young bats Snider and Lind and the returning Aaron Hill who was a Gold Glove second baseman and a 85-RBI guy at the plate and that is a very solid lineup.
Now comes the third and final part, very fittingly as well because it is the part that finishes the game most nights.
Two years ago the Blue Jays through a long term big money contract at B.J Ryan and finally got rid of the issue of a shaky bullpen.
After that Shea Hillenbrand decided to go AWOL and force the Jays into trading him; they somehow acquired Jeremy Accardo for the nut job Hillenbrand.
Combine those two guys with hard throwing Brandon League, Scott Downs and Brian Wolfe and you have quite the bullpen. If their pitching is as good as it was last year then they have one of the best arms in the MLB.
Overall, the Jays are going to make some noise…everyone knows that. The big question is if it can be more noise then what is going to come from New York and Boston.
New York is a soap opera that every writer wishes they created and Boston is getting older but is quite the powerhouse. If Toronto can get past New York then they just might crack into September.
Toronto has what it takes if it can all fall into place. They have the All-Stars, they have the youth and they have the finishers. But can those players finish is what we need to wait and see on.
So unfortunately for A-Rod, Manny and Barry, Toronto might just steal some of your spotlight guys. And they will do it with character and professionalism, so hopefully those three guys can learn from Toronto and see what good news can do. That, however, is a completely different article.
by Willie Gannon… “There are only two Christs; one plays for Barcelona, the other is in heaven,” so said Hristo Stoichkov before collecting his award for European Footballer of the Year in 1994.
With Hristo directly translating as Christ, you could be forgiven for thinking he was joking and that it was a play on words…but you’d be wrong. Stoichkov had three massive elements to his person, a God-given skill, a God-sized ego, and a Devil of a temperament.
Starting his career as a mere 16-year-old with local team Hebros, Stoickov quickly became the bright young star of Bulgarian football. Even then, his technical skills stood out.
As a left-sided winger, he terrorised teams with his pace and precision and it came as no surprise to see CSKA Sofia, the biggest team in the country, come in for the young prodigy.
Within a year of signing for CSKA, they began to realise that this precocious talent also had a wild temper, and in 1985 he instigated a brawl in the Bulgarian Cup Final against Levski Spartak.
The game had become a wild affair with both sets of players guilty of X-rated assaults on each other, and our young hero took exception to one tackle too many.
Although CSKA Sofia won 2-1, Stoichkov and six other players were suspended for three months each, and both teams were disbanded.
CSKA Sofia had their name changed to CFKA Sredets and our young Stoichkov returned to action a couple of games into the next season, after working on building sites as an electrician.
Stoichkov came back in imperious form. The prodigy’s reputation was growing in Bulgaria and he had begun to add goals to his game. His skill was also improving day by day and Sredets began employing him as a left-sided forward in their 4-3-3 formation. He had added power and strength to his dynamic dribbling skills, and his passing and shooting had moved to another level completely.
It had taken Sredets two years to get over the ‘85 Cup Final, but they returned to the pinnacle of Bulgarian football in 1987, and they went on to win the league for the next three seasons running, with Stoichkov the influential force throughout.
In Bulgaria, a Golden generation of player were beginning to come of age and none summed this up more than Stoichkov. Players like Yordan Letchkov, Illian Kiriakov, Krassimir Balakov, and the goal scoring machine of Emil Kostadinov were all starting to shine and European football was starting to realise that a new force was emerging.
With Stoichkov as the focal point, Sredets swept all aside in Bulgaria on their way to another title. And your prodigy was beginning to fulfill his promise. He scored an incredible 38 goals in 30 games for Sredets to win the European Golden Boot.
It wasn’t until Sredets made a great run in the Winners Cup that people outside Bulgaria finally realised just how ridiculously talented Stoichkov was.
During their run to the semi finals, Sredets knocked out teams like Panathinikos and Roda JC, before they came face-to-face with Johann Cruyff’s “Dream Team” at Barcelona.
Barcelona won the two legged affair to progress to the final but it was Stoichkov who stole the show. And Cruyff put in a bid immediately and snapped the young star up for the following season.
However, Stoichkov’s temper was to get the better of him again, in his debut season at the Camp Nou. After he disagreed with a refereeing decision, he went over to remonstrate with the official. As he starting shouting at the ref, he furiously stamped on his foot, leaving the ref injured.
He was given a two-month suspension and Cruyff’s decision to bring the volatile Bulgarian to the club was questioned at all levels. Despite the suspension, Stoichkov still managed to score 20 goals from midfield that season and the questioning relented.
But not before Stoichkov questioned Barcelona’s director’s parentage…live on television.
The signing was to be the inspiration behind Barcelona’s best-ever period. With Stoichkov pulling all the strings from the left hand side of midfield, Cruyff’s Barca went on to win the league for the next four seasons in a row (91, 92, 93, 94), the European Cup (92), the European Super-Cup (92), the Copa Del Rey (90), the Super Copa de Espana (91, 92, 94).
The name “Dream Team” was truly deserved (some things never change) with players like Ronald Koeman, Bakero, Salinas, Michael Laudrup, Nadal, and current manager Josep Guardiola, not to mention Gheorghe Hagi, Romario, and Stoichkov himself, as Barcelona played some of the best football ever seen in Europe.
With Stoichkov as the focal point of Cruyff’s Dream Team, they were unstoppable. Hristo had come of age; he orchestrated every Barca attack with the skill of a composer.
His rapier-like attacks, slicing though every opposition, his technical skill unsurpassed, his dribbling sheer perfection, his passing impeccable, and his shooting laser perfect. Stoichkov deservedly won the European Footballer of the Year award in 1994.
During his time at Barca, Stoichkov regularly clashed with his idol, Cruyff. And the relationship between the two could be described as fractious at best. After one massive argument with Cruyff and the press, Stoichkov told them at a press conference: “I am not talking to any of you bastards until November.”
Cryuff’s response to his star? Another argument!
It would be unfair to say that Stoichkov was a volcano constantly on the verge of eruption. In 1992, he paid for the 1992 European Cup Finals broadcasting rights for Bulgaria after the National broadcaster could not afford the fee and his amazing acts of benevolence have become the stuff of legend back home.
But something else was happening in Bulgarian football. Stoichkov, its undoubted star, now had ample support. Some of the country’s best players had been exported to the top leagues in Europe and as the World Cup in America came around Bulgarian football was at an all-time high.
Stoichkov may have been part of the Dream Team at Barca, but he was also the centerpiece of Bulgaria’s Golden Generation.
Without a World Cup win in their country’s history, Stoichkov led a quietly confident Bulgaria team to America.
Having being placed in a group with Nigeria, Argentina, and Greece, few gave Bulgaria any chance of progressing, especially given their lack of experience at this level.
That lack of experience showed in the first game as a stage struck Bulgaria team froze against Nigeria who swept them aside with a comprehensive 3-0 win. With Greece up next before Argentina, a win was the minimum that Bulgaria needed to give themselves a fighting chance, and a big win too.
With Nigeria registering a big win against them and with Argentina destroying Greece 4-0, goal difference was always going to be a factor in deciding this group.
Bulgaria took to the pitch against Greece like men possessed and hammered them 4-0, with Stoichkov bagging two. Argentina beat Nigeria 2-1 to set the group up on a knife edge going into the last game.
Mathematicians all over the world still suffer headaches with this one.
As we entered the last group game, Argentina were top of the group with 6 points and a goal difference of +5, Nigeria had 3 points and +2, and Bulgaria had 3 points and +1. Depending on the result any team could go out as it would come down to a head to head battle.
The cut and thrust of it meant that Bulgaria had to win by two clear goals.
Their cause was helped by Diego Maradona’s disqualification from the tournament after cocaine was found in his urine sample, something he strenuously denies to this day.
With Argentina reeling from the loss of their prime inspiration, Stoichkov missed out on the chance of a master vs. master battle that so many had looked forward to.
But he was not going to let Maradona’s absence spoil his World Cup.
The game was a tight affair, with Argentina spoiling throughout, and Bulgaria found it hard to find a rhythm. And despite Stoichkov being under close attention from Argentinian defenders he was still the best player on the pitch.
In the 61st minute, Stoichkov and Bulgaria got the moment they had been waiting for. Balakov intercepted a cross from Caniggia and headed the ball wide to Kostadinov whose perfect pass sent Stoichkov racing through three Argentina defenders. As the keeper came out, he was coolness personified as he passed the ball into the back of the net to give Bulgaria a fighting chance.
Argentina packed out their defence and Bulgaria crashed upon their wall time and time again as they searched for that elusive goal.
As the game headed into injury time Argentina were actually top of the group but all that was to change in the 92nd minute as Sirakov pounced to break Argentinian hearts and send Bulgaria and Nigeria through to the knock out phases.
Argentina also went through as the best third-place team, but the damage had been done and they crashed out to a Hagi-inspired Romania in the next round.
Bulgaria’s opponents were to be Mexico who had topped a group containing both Ireland and Italy, and again Stoichkov was on the mark, scoring his country’s only goal in the 1-1 draw. Eventually Bulgaria progressed after they won the penalty shootout 3-1.
They faced Germany in the Quarter Finals, and in a match that is regarded by many as being one of the best matches of the tournament they beat Germany 2-1.
Lothar Matthaus had given Germany the lead right on the stroke of half time, but a Stoichkov-inspired Bulgaria played phenomenal football in the second half, and two goals in the space of three minutes from Stoichkov and Letchkov gave Bulgaria a memorable win.
After becoming the fans favourite because of their beautiful expansive football, Bulgaria found themselves paired in the semi finals with Italy. Brazil and Sweden played in the other.
Of all the teams remaining, Bulgaria were the only total footballing side left in the tournament. Italy and Brazil had been grinding results out from the start and Sweden were a tough well organized team, so Bulgaria found themselves as the team that everyone wanted to win.
With pressure growing and Italy beginning to find their feet, Bulgaria had come up one match short. Roberto Baggio scored twice before Stoickov replied, but there was to be no way back and Bulgaria went out of the World Cup at the semi final stage.
Stoichkov won the Golden Boot, and was heralded as one of the world’s greatest-ever players.
Two years later, he left Barca for high-flying Parma in Italy. With him gone Johann Cruyff’s team failed to live up to the heights they had reached with Stoichkov in the team, and he was sacked the following year.
His time in Italy was an unhappy one, marked tightly by overzealous defenders, Stoichkov and his volatile temperament found it a difficult place to play.
Defenders constantly wound him up, and their “agricultural” play frustrated him constantly. He only managed to score five goals in an injury-plagued 23 games.
In the ‘96 to ‘97 season Bobby Robson, seeking a leader and an inspiration for his Barcelona team, brought an aging Stoichkov back to the Nou Camp.
Although he could not inspire Barca to the league title, Barca did manage to win the UEFA Cup, the Copa Del Rey, and the European Super Cup in his two seasons there.
By the time the 1998 season rolled around, an injury hit 32-year-old Stoichkov was on the wane, and he went back to Bulgaria and CSKA Sofia to try to inspire the next generation.
Frustrated with his lack of game time because of injuries, Stoichkov decided to learn his coaching badges, and travelled the world for the next five years, gaining experience at lower levels.
The biggest impact he had during this time was when he smashed a student’s leg apart while playing for DC United in the MLS; he was sued for this horrendous challenge and eventually settled out of court.
In 2004, he took over as manager of the Bulgarian national team and over the next three years they failed to make any kind of progress and he was sacked in 2007.
One of the best players ever to play in Europe was also one of the most volatile, but was also one of the most generous.
Stoichkov played like a God, lived like a God…and fought like a Devil.
by Mark Ritter… I don’t know about you, but if I saw a goalie named “Mason” was available in the 2009 entry draft I’d grab him. Columbus Blue Jackets Rookie goalie Steve Mason and the St. Louis Blues Chris Mason have arguably been the two hottest goalies in the second half of the season, the Blues are 7-2-1 in their past ten, largely due to the amazing play of Chris Mason, the Jackets are 6-2-2 in their past ten, largely due to the brilliance of Steve Mason, any questions?
Tiger Woods victory Sunday night at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was nothing short of sensational. Does anyone on the planet have the intimidation factor that Tiger does heads up? You knew once Tiger was in striking distance that he was going to find a way to win, Heading into the Masters next weekend how can you possibly pick anyone but Tiger Woods to win???
Looking at the NHL standings today you gotta wonder if the Edmonton Oilers will make the playoffs. Sure, they are only sitting one point back of the St. Louis Blues and just 2 points back of Nashville Predators, but something tells me this team is going to run out of games and come up short. Sad really, the Oilers were picked by most to have a solid season, an emergence if you will, personally, I think they have regressed and may need a shake up…again!
If you believe in polls, a recent TSN poll shows Just under 11% of CFL fans feel the Toronto Argos made a solid move by signing free agent Offensive Lineman Rob Murphy in the off-season, the best off-season signing? Saskatchewan Rough Riders signed Slot Back Jason Clermont receiving 44% of the vote. It says here the Argos will be hard pressed to win 9 games, but what do I know?
On another CFL note, with all the injuries that Edmonton Eskimos running back Jesse Lumsden has had in the past, how impressed are the Eskies about Lumsden taking a shot at representing Canada at the 2010 Olympics as a bobsled participant? Dude gets injured if he gets sneezed on the wrong way, I see nothing but disaster in his future, and hey, didn’t the Canadian Olympic team and Pierre Lueders do their due diligence on this guy? Lumsden is an accident waiting to happen, prediction- pulled hamstring or worse will sideline Lumsden, you can book it!
Who’s your pick to make the Stanley Cup final in the East right now? A month ago it looked as if the Boston Bruins would be the odds on favorite, if you took a poll today you’d be hard pressed to get 20% of fans picking the Bruins. Sloppy play and some less than impressive outings by Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez have more than a few NHL pundants questioning this team. Well, the Bruins are 6-3-1 in their past ten, they have got it back together and it’s looking more and more like they will face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, so the Bruins should be fine.
Have you got your Blue Jays Opening day tickets yet? Looks like it’s gonna be a sell-out. Not sure why Toronto fans flock to the Rogers Center to see the Jays opening day game, maybe it’s because it’s one of the few times that the game will end and the jays will be above .500? I love the fact that jays fans are optimistic, but the reality is it’s gonna be another season of third place or bust. The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees simply have too much talent, not to mention the Tampa Bay Rays, the Jays are beaten before they get started and that makes the season a total downer if you ask me.
Until next time,
by J.A. Allen… Andy Murray continues to confound critics and crooners alike. Sitting at No. 4 in the APT tennis standings inches behind No. 3-ranked Novak Djokovic, prognosticators predict that Murray will assuredly overtake the Serbian on his way up the ladder.
Eventually, they intone confidently, he will supersede the Swiss maestro Roger Federer at No. 2.
The nice thing about sitting back and saying these things is that you don’t have produce anything to make the statement. You just have to posture and wait for it to happen.
If you are Andy Murray, however, you have to endure the pressure of expectations heaped upon you as the “great hope of the Isles” and the No. 1 player of the English contingent.
There is perhaps no one more tormented by the prospect of promise than Murray as he struggles toward his perfected game. As his homeland awaits his arrival at the top of the men’s game, Murray survives the roller coaster rhythm of the tennis caravan.
In April of 2007 Andrew Murray advanced into the official ATP Top 10 for the first time. After the 2008 U.S. Open where he reached the final and lost to the eventual champion Federer, Murray reached a career-high of No. 4 in the world.
Since that time he has been instrumental in reconfiguring the pack—now often referred to as the fabulous four—Rafael Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, and Murray…as fans and the media scramble to predict what spot each player will hold at the end of the year.
Murray’s best surfaces are hard courts and grass, although he has been working hard recently to shore up his clay court game.
In order to improve his play and increase his endurance, Murray works with a team of fitness experts. Miles Maclagan currently serves as his main coach.
His relationship with American Coach Brad Gilbert is well-documented. Gilbert’s tutelage improved Murray’s game immensely but their stormy relationship did not sit well with the moody Scott.
After splitting with Gilbert and enduring harsh critics again, Murray began his 2008 campaign stating he was in the best shape of his young life.
This could well have been true, but unfortunately for Murray he ran into a very, very hot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2008 Australian Open and was summarily dismissed in the first round.
Humbled and abashed, Murray gathered his fragmented ego and moved on.
At his next tournament in Marseille, Murray won his fifth career title when he overcame Mario Ancic in the final. During Murray’s opening match in Dubai, he defeated world No. 1 Federer but was dismissed subsequently in the quarterfinals.
Murray lost early at the 2008 Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami. His 2008 clay court season was mediocre, as was his grass campaign, although he did win a thriller from Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon coming back from two sets down to win in the fifth. Nadal sent Murray home by defeating him in the quarterfinals.
Murray’s real triumphs began on the hardcourts during the summer of 2008. He reached the semis at Toronto and he defeated Djokovic to take the title in Cincinnati. This win propelled him to No. 6 in the world.
At the U.S. Open, Murray defeated Nadal during the semifinals, allowing him to progress to the finals facing Federer—where he lost in straight sets.
By reaching the finals, Murray became the No. 4 ranked player in the world, a ranking he has maintained since last September.
He went on to win the Madrid Masters and followed that by winning in St. Petersburg.
At the year end Masters, Murray defeated Federer and eliminated him from the round robin competition in a hard fought contest. Murry then lost his next match to Nikolay Davydenko.
Starting his 2009 campaign strong, Murray won the Capitala World Championship in Abu Dhabi and followed that by a win in Doha at the Qatar Open.
Again a fan and book-maker favorite to win the 2009 Australian Open, Murray ran into another hot player, this time Fernando Verdasco and he lost in the fourth round. The Australian Open has proven to be a heart-breaker for Murray fans.
Murray won the ABN AMRO in Rotterdam, defeating Nadal in the final. After some injuries and illness, Murray jetted to Indian Wells where he defeated Federer in the semis. Murray made it to the finals, but lost to to Nadal, the eventual champion.
Murray has great aspirations for the current Masters event in Miami.
He possesses one of the most complete games on tour with few weaknesses. As he tightens his grasp, Murray’s backhand looms as a weapon of purest distinction. He is consistently capable of pinpointing winners cross-court or down the line with his backhand.
The most improved element of his game is his serve, although his formidable forehand often wreaks havoc with his opponent’s game plan.
Perhaps his best weapon remains his ability to anticipate and plan—his mental acumen is exceptional and his abilities as a tactician remain almost unequalled.
All players who reach the top of the men’s game have this ability—you have to be smart to win consistently. Even Federer admits he has yet to figure out Murray’s game.
Murray will become the No. 3 player in the world if he reaches the finals in Miami this week. In order to do that, he will probably have to defeat Nadal who stands directly in his path.
Murray seems to be moving forward faster than his competitors as his game falls steadily into place. While Djokovic teeters and Federer flails, Murray moves ahead always advancing on his talented rivals. The timing is right for the stolid Scotsman.
After all no one expects Federer to falter for long, nor for Djokovic to fade away. If Murray is going to advance he must take advantage on this surface, his best, and Nadal’s worst.
Andrew Murray could leave Miami with the number three ranking in his pocket and with a less obstructed view to the top…stay tuned…
by Martin Fitzpatrick… Sergio Gacria and Phil Mickelson were within a hair of taking over Wood’s number one spot in the world rankings.
The young guns were licking their chops thinking that it could possibly take longer than expected for Woods to get back to his top form.
Well, Tiger Woods took the wind out of everyone’s sails on Sunday by winning the Arnold Palmer invitational for the sixth time in his career.
What has to have the rest of the PGA Tour shaking in their spikes is not so much the fact that Woods won the Arnold Palmer invitational in just his second stroke play event following a nine-month playoff, but the way in which Woods managed to win the event without even playing at his best.
Contrary to what one might believe had they simply tuned into ESPN’s Sports Center and watched the highlights of Woods’ late Sunday charge on Sean O’Hair, Woods did not play particularly well for most of the week and displayed a game that was still, well, downright rusty.
During the first two rounds, Woods was erratic off the tee to say the least and he managed to his just 50 percent of greens in regulation.
Despite striking the ball pretty horrendously during his first two rounds, Woods put on a short-game clinic and managed to card no higher than a 69.
Woods chipped in on three separate occasions during the first two rounds and recorded a scrambling percentage of 72.73 for the week which is part of what allowed him to average just 25 putts per round throughout the tournament, which ranked first in the field.
What makes Woods just a little bit better than everyone else, is that he is so good at so many aspects of his game. Even if his ball-striking ability completely breaks down, as it did on Thursday and Friday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he is still able to salvage the round and remain in contention through relying on his short-game.
Furthermore, Woods ability to make something out of nothing not only keeps him in contention, but also mentally breaks down his competition.
On Saturday afternoon, just is it was looking as if Woods was digging himself too large of a deficit to overcome on Sunday, he pulled the rabbit out of his hat as he has done time and time again.
Woods’ hit a horrendous approach shot into the 16th green on Saturday which left his ball burried in the thick green-side rough.
Woods managed to get the ball out of the rough but sent his flop-shot rolling 15 yards over the green, which he then followed with a less than stellar chip shot leaving him ten feet left for a bogey five.
Woods broke out the putter that he has relied upon for damage control so many times throughout his career and sunk the ten foot bogey putt; minimizing the damage to one stroke in a potential devastating situation.
On the 18th hole on Saturday, following a drive into the thick rough off the right-side of the fairway, Woods made a rare mental error.
Instead of laying up and once again trying to minimize the damage, Woods decided to try and go directly for the green over the lake that has swallowed so many golf balls and dreams throughout the years at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge.
Woods ball buried in the bank lining the left side of the lake and after five minutes of searching with a contingent that consisted of his playing partners, their caddies, spotters, scorers, officials and television crew, Woods called off the search party and was forced to take a one-stroke penalty and once again attempt an approach shot over the lake.
Woods hit a decent approach shot to 25 feet from the hole and once again limited the damage by sinking the putt for a bogey five.
Had Woods double-bogeyed the 16th and 18th holes, as most mortal golfers would have, he would have likely taken himself out of the tournament.
Woods’ bogey putt on the 18th hole on Saturday could have quite possibly been the most important putt he made all week. Had Woods missed that putt on Saturday, he would have taken himself out of the final group, thus eliminating the intimidation factor that so evidently cut the legs out from underneath Sean O’Hair on Sunday.
As much as O’Hair talked about how he was not going to pay attention to what Woods was doing on Sunday and how he would go out and play his own game, from the opening tee shot, O’Hair was clearly in a situation that the 26 year-old was just not ready for.
O’Hair looked timid over every shot on the opening holes and looked downright terrified when Woods birdied two out of his first three holes and cut O’Hair’s lead from five strokes down to just two.
In fairness to O’Hair, he has to be given a lot of credit.
Despite squandering a five-stroke lead, O’Hair settled down and went head to head with Woods on the back nine.
But, by that point it was simply too late. Woods has drawn blood and as we have seen him do so many times before, Woods brought his game up a notch heading down the final stretch.
On the par-three 14th, Woods’ drive buried in the green-side bunker just a few inches away from the lip.
Woods attached the ball with the athletic force that only he can produce on a golf course and managed to get the ball out of the bunker and to within ten feet of the hole.
O’Hair was already in with par and probably thinking that he had just gotten a stroke back from Woods drained his double breaking par putt as if it were a routine up-and-down.
After a good drive at the par-four 16th O’Hair sent is approach shot into the water off the left-side of the green.
Woods’ drive on the 16th landed in such a horrific lie in the rough that he was forced to just pitch out, after which, he knocked his approach shot to within three feet of the hole and took a one-stroke lead after O’Hair recorded a bogey.
On the par-three 17th. Woods once again left his tee shot buried up against the bank of the bunker and was lucky to even blast the ball out to twenty feet from the hole.
O’Hair calmly two-putted the 17th green and after Woods was unable to converge on his long par putt, the two went to the 72nd hole tied at four under-par.
Both players found the fairway with their drives and O’Hair played it safe by going for the back left of the green, avoiding any flirtation whatsoever with the water.
As would be expected, Tiger went in for the kill. Woods played a high cut that landed just beyond the flag stick and spin back to within 15 feet of the whole.
O’Hair played a quality lag putt that left him three feet for par and left Woods with a putt to win the tournament.
Sometimes it can truly seem as if the golf gods are sitting up there writing out a script for Tiger Woods that always seems to place him in the most dramatic situations from which to create those moments that ever golf fan will remember forever.
Woods looked as if he was in some kind of trance as he lined up the putt from ever angle and calmly knocked the putt into the dead center of the hole, before unleashing a massive upper-cut first pump and jumping into caddie Steve William’s arms while the thousands of fans screamed their heads off knowing that they had just witness one of those ‘Tiger Woods moments’.
On Sunday evening, Woods showed us all exactly what we have been so desperately missing over the past nine months.
It wasn’t the incredible saves out of the bunker, those pin-seeking approach shots on the back nine or the long par putts that he always seems to sink in the most crucial situations that we missed.
What was missed more than anything else in Woods’ absence was the theatre that he provides.
Many players have sunk tournament winning putts, yet few do so in the same dramatic fashion as Woods.
Obviously Woods cannot plan ahead of time to have a tournament winning putt on the 72nd hole with the grandstands overflowing with fans and Arnold Palmer himself standing at the side of the green with the setting Florida sun behind him.
This is something that would be concocted in a Hollywood studio, yet Woods seems to somehow find himself in these situations time and time again
This theatre Woods so often provides is the real entertainment that draws those millions of fans to the game of golf that wouldn’t otherwise be there if it were not Tiger Woods standing over that tournament-winning putt.
The pure electricity that was present on the back-nine yesterday was something we have not seen the likes of since the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.
Woods certainly has not lost his uncanny ability to make the big shot in the most crucial situations and he has once again demonstrated why he is arguably the greatest clutch putter to have ever lived.
Woods place as the best golfer on the face of the planet appears to be once again secure—if there was ever even a doubt about that in the first place.
And what is likely to make the rest of the PGA Tour toss and turn at night is the fact that Woods was able to win with a game far less than his best.
by Brian Oswald… On December 13, 2008, Ryan Bader defeated Vinicius Magalhães to win a UFC contract and the title of The Ultimate Fighter’s light heavyweight championship.
On April 1, at Ultimate Fight Night 18 aired on Spike TV, Bader will take his 8-0 MMA record into the octagon against Carmelo Marrero. It is Bader’s first fight since coming off the reality TV show and is all part of his five year plan to ascend the light heavyweight division and one day be champion.
I had the chance to speak this Ryan this week and got his thoughts on a number of issues. The full interview is below.
Your upcoming opponent Carmelo Marrero beat your training partner Steve Steinbeiss, in their most recent fight, by a close split decision. What did you learn about Marrero in that fight and what will you utilize to ensure a victory for yourself?
I got to watch that fight, I was in the stands live. I got to hear firsthand what Steve said about Carmelo and I have watched video on him. He has good wrestling and is always in good condition. I feel I have better wrestling so that will put the pressure on him. I have better standup too. I won’t be going into the fight with a specific game plan though; I am going to let this fight go where it needs to go. I see him ending up on his back though. When a wrestler is on his back he is in a different world. From there, the ground and pound can take over. Its one of those fights where I can utilize everything that I have been learning as a fighter.
You are pretty solid at 205 pounds. I heard you walk around at 225 pounds. Would you ever pull an “Anderson Silva” and cut down to 185 pounds if that was the best road to title shot or are you committed to light heavyweight for the next 2-3 years?
Yeah that’s about right. I am pretty solid at 225. I gained a lot weight from weight lighting. I am used to cutting weight and I have done it my whole life in wrestling. As far as cutting down to 185, I am pretty set at light heavyweight. In college I cut to 197 pounds and that was pretty brutal so I couldn’t see myself getting down to 185 at all.
You were the first Light Heavyweight selected by Coach Nogueira. One would have to imagine it was priceless experience training with a legend like Noguiera. What is your relationship like with him like now that the show is over?
It was awesome working with Nogueira, watching him work and hearing what he has to say about the sport. We have gotten to continue our relationship since the show. We were actually in the same locker room at UFC 92 when I was cornering for C.B. Dollaway and we got to talk for awhile. Its one of those things where I can call him up and he will have us come down and set us up at his place so. He is an awesome training partner and just an awesome guy in general. I cant say enough good things about the guy.
You have a great team at Arizona Combat Sports, training with guys like C.B Dollaway, Jaime Varner, and Matt Riddle. Can you tell us more about the environment at ACS and what makes training there such a good fit for you?
We started as a bunch of wrestlers from Arizona State University and they turned us into MMA fighters so it’s a perfect fit for us. The guys in the gym are tight knit. Everyone is there for each other. Its not one of those deals when you’re done training for your fight and then you take off for a couple months. I might take a week off after my fight and then I am right back in the gym helping whoever has an upcoming fight. C.B. Dollaway has a fight coming up at UFC 100 I will be there for that. Were there to look after each other and we’ve been successful with that so far.
What has the addition of Carlos Condit brought to the training camp?
Carlos is a very intense dude and that really transfers over to training. He is always going at 100 miles per hour and when you start sparring with him you know you’re in for a fight no matter what. He brings the whole MMA game, especially with his knees and elbows so I love training with him. He is a great guy who fit right in and his work ethic is second to none so it’s great to be able to feed off his energy level. It’s been great to have him there.
How do you think Condit will fit into the welterweight division with studs like George St. Pierre and Thiago Alves?
Oh yeah for sure. Watching him train, I didn’t know before that. I’d seen a few of his fights and knew he was a great fighter. If you would have asked that question awhile back I wouldn’t have been 100% sure. But watching him train, he goes against the top guys in our gym. He picks up stuff so quickly too, I have no doubt he’ll be a top contender right away. He is going to come in and win the fight with Kampmann and be right in the mix.
You are listed as a wrestler with heavy hands. That would cast you in the same mold as guys like Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans. Do you plan on becoming dominant within this mold or do you plan on adding other aspects to your MMA game like George St. Pierre has done?
I definitely want to evolve to that GSP type fighter which has every dimension to his game. A lot of people haven’t seen my submission skills and I think I am starting to turn the corner as far as in the fight. I am definitely a young fighter and have only been doing this for two years. It takes some time to get that cage time in to where your really comfortable going for an armbar and even if I miss it I am on my back but knowing I’ll be fine. I’m continuing to work and grow and the submissions are coming along. I will be looking to utilize them more in future fights for sure.
I spoke recently with Junie Browing and he said, “I am definitely rooting for Bader to win. He is a phenomenal wrestler and I glad I didn’t end up drowning him in that pool.” What is your relationship like with the controversial albeit entertaining Browing?
(Laughs) Yeah, Browning and I are fine, we’re friends I’d say. Its not like we talk everyday on the phone but when we see each other we’re friendly. I’ve seen him after a couple of fight cards. We really just had that one blowup and he apologized profusely for that, even after the show. He told me it was more geared for television and playing that role he wanted to play which worked because he found a niche for himself. Other then that stuff, he is a very respectful guy. I wish him the best of luck in his fight and hope he does well.
I read that your goal in the next five years is to fight for the belt and win that belt. It took TUF 2 winner Rashad Evans just over four years and nine octagon fights to win the title. Do you see yourself going down a similar path?
Yeah, that would be perfect. I would go as far as saying I wouldn’t want to fight for the title in two years. I am a young fighter and I want to become well rounded. When the time comes I want to be the best fighter that I can be. I definitely need time to grow as a fighter and get a lot of fights under my belt. That being said my goal is to win that belt. I am not here to be a run of a mill fighter. When I go for something, I go for it 100%. As of right now, I just need to win the fights in front of me. When you look past that, that is when you start dropping your fights. So yeah, I’m looking to do it exactly like Rashad did. I just need to win my fights and the title shot will come.
Lots of fighters want to fight for and win a title. What are the three qualities that will set you apart from other fighters that will actually allow you to accomplish this feat?
I would definitely have to say my wrestling pedigree sets me apart from a lot of the fighters, that level of wrestling. I will really allow me to dictate where the fight goes. My athleticism is also big for me. I would say my work ethic is also a huge part of it - my capacity to not be afraid of hard work and being in the gym. My desire to be the best at what I do is what is going to allow me to become the most well rounded fighter I can be.
I saw on your own website you talking about setting up websites, twitter, etc. Do you consider yourself technologically savvy and are you learning these things so you can remain current and connect with your fans?
I wouldn’t say savvy, but I am not too bad. (Laughs) I’d say somewhere in the middle. I like to stay up to date and the technology today is awesome. I want to keep the fans updated and give offer a more in depth experience. It’s fun for me to be able to interact with the fans as much as possible, that’s what it’s about for me.
Your old collegiate teammate Cain Velasquez looks like he is an absolute beast in the octagon. How would you hold up in a three found fight with him?
Wow, it would be very tough for me because he is a little heavier. He has looked great standing, and he also has that wrestling background which no one has really even got to see. Honestly, if there was one person in the UFC I wouldn’t want to fight it would be Cain. He is also a good buddy of mine so I am hoping for the best for him. I sure wouldn’t want to fight him and it sucks for all the people that have to!
What fighters, from MMA past and/or present, do you really admire and look to for inspiration or to emulate?
Obviously Nogueira, his heart and toughness are inspiring. I watched Dan Henderson a lot. I like watching people from similar backgrounds so Rashad Evans and also Josh Koscheck. I was a sophomore in college when he appeared on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter so it gave me a lot of inspiration. I love to watch Fedor for his dominance and well roundedness. I definitely try to watch all the fights I can and pick up little things that I can utilize in my game.
Some of your former 205 pound castmates have fights coming up at UFC 97. Krzysztof Soszynski will face off against Brian Stann and former teammates Vinny Magalhaes and Eliot Marshall will collide. Of the three, which fighter do you think has the best chance of joining you as a top 10 fighter in the future?
Vinny is tough and if he can get his stand up game where it needs to be he could be very tough fighter to deal with. Elliot is a very well rounded fighter; Krzysztof obviously has the heavy hands. The fight between Elliot and Vinny will tell us a lot. I thought Elliot was the most well rounded guy on the show actually so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Sherdog is famous for asking fighters their predictions on fights. Do you have an early pick for the following fights?
UFC 97: Liddell vs. Rua:Watching Shogun’s last fight, I see Liddell taking this one. Shogun was one of my favorites in PRIDE. I think Liddell will catch him at some point. If Shogun gets tired, Liddell is not the kind of fighter you want to be in there with. He will look to finish him.
UFC 98: Evans vs. Machida: This is a really tough one and I could see it going either way. I am going to say Rashad by decision because of the wrestling. It might be a little boring but with Machida you never know.
UFC 99: Franklin vs. Silva: This is another tough one. I want to say Wanderlei but I think Franklin might actually take this one. I think he might outbox him a little bit and with a tough fought decision.
UFC100: Lesnar vs. Mir: Lesnar for sure. I actually talked to Mir and he said Lesnar was the biggest more agile fighter he had ever fought. I don’t think you’ll see Lesnar get caught this time around. I see this one ending by stoppage.
UFC 101: Penn vs. Florian: B.J., he will have too many tools in this one.
UFC 102: Couture vs. Nogueira: This is tough because Couture is one of the worst matchups Nogueira can have right now. I am going to have to stick with Nogueira. He could get taken down, pull guard, and hopefully pull off a submission from his back.
It’s time for shout outs: Who would you like to recognize?
I would like to say thanks to Tapout. Also, to one of my sponsors who is very cool; they are helping out our troops, at their wesbite here. It’s a “shower in a towel.” You can go on their website and the will send it out to the troops. Check everything else out at my website here.
Thanks again Ryan. Best of luck in your upcoming fight with Carmelo Marrero.
I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
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