Stanley Cup Final presents an unlikely matchup

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Stanley Cup Final presents an unlikely matchup

From Comcast SportsNet
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Roughly two years ago, the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils were the finalists in the free-agent market battle for Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils won the right to keep the high-scoring Russian with a bid of 102 million. Wednesday night, the teams will start fighting for a much bigger prize, the Stanley Cup. In this contest, skill, heart and desire will decide the outcome. Nothing else. And it doesn't matter that the Devils and Kings aren't the two teams most experts expected to be left standing after three rounds of the playoffs. "You hear it every year, but it doesn't get old: Once you make it in, you have a chance to get here," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "I think that's one thing that the prognosticators don't consider. I always put it this way, when the playoffs start, the clocks should be reset. Because everyone's starting over, and all 16 teams have a shot to win it all. "I think both teams would agree with that this year." Led by Kovalchuk and a 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, the Devils are just the second No. 6 seed to reach the finals. The 2004 Calgary Flames, coached by Sutter, were the other. Riding the goaltending of Jonathan Quick, the Kings overcame even bigger obstacles. They are only the second No. 8 seed to make it since the conference-based NHL playoff format was introduced in 1993-94. The Edmonton Oilers were the first in 2006. "It's all about winning here, and eliminating distractions and doing what it takes to be successful," said Brodeur, who led the Devils to Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003. "That's worked for us this year, and really my entire career. For me, to be a part of that is great. To come to the rink every day during my career, knowing we had a chance to win every night is something special. "I've had that my whole career here, and that's been a great ride." While this isn't a glamour series that boasts the likes of a Sidney Crosby, a Steven Stamkos or even a Henrik Lundqvist, it has elements that should help the NHL, and prove entertaining on the ice. To start, this is an East-West series featuring two of the nation's biggest media markets: Los Angeles and the New York metropolitan area. The Kings and Devils also present great story lines. Los Angeles, which heavily courted Kovalchuk in free agency, is making only its second appearance in the Cup finals, having lost in 1993 to Montreal. The Kings are back after a midseason shake-up that saw Sutter replace Terry Murray just before Christmas and a late trade that added skilled scorer Jeff Carter to the lineup. Still, they didn't clinch a playoff berth until the final week of the season. The Kings have been virtually unstoppable since then. They have posted a 12-2 record in the playoffs and knocked off the three top seeds in the Western Conference -- Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix. They have never trailed in a series, winning the first three games in each round. "Everybody's just clicking," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "People are used to playing with their linemates now. The lines have been the same from the last part of the season. D pairings are the same. It's just getting used to them. Everyone is playing with confidence. Once you start clicking like that, pucks start going in the net for you." The Devils' story is just as good. They missed the playoffs last season despite retaining Kovalchuk with a 102 million contract that the league said violated its letter of the law. Few expected them to recover this quickly, especially with Brodeur seemingly on his last legs after a sub-par season, and captain Zach Parise returning from a major knee injury. When top center Travis Zajac blew out an Achilles tendon before training camp, the chances of Devils making the finals seemed slim. Guess again. New Jersey won its final six games in the regular season, rallied from 3-2 deficit in the opening round of the playoffs with two overtime wins against Florida, and then eliminated the Flyers and Rangers, their two biggest rivals, in five and six games, respectively. "Last year was tough," said Kovalchuk, who said there was never a doubt in his mind that he would stay in New Jersey. "But we made sure it paid off. We have a great coaching staff, great players here, great group of guys, very close to each other. I think that makes a big difference." The other thing that should be great is the goaltending. The 26-year-old Quick leads playoff netminders in goals-against average (1.54) and save percentage (.946). He has eight road wins in as many starts, posting a 1.55 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in those games. Brodeur is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner. He has played in 24 career Stanley Cup finals games, posting a 15-9 record with a 1.91 goals-against, losing only a series to Colorado in seven games in 2001. The Montreal native is set to become the fifth goaltender in NHL history and first since Jacques Plante in 1970 to appear in the Stanley Cup finals after his 40th birthday: "Well, everyone knows what he's meant to the league and this team, and where he stands in history," Quick said of the NHL's winningest goaltender. "For me, it's not about me against him. It's about the Kings and the Devils." The Devils and Kings are very similar in their approaches. Both want to establish the forecheck, create pressure and have it lead to offense. The Kings, who posted a 25-13-11 regular-season record after Sutter took over, are definitely a little bigger than the Rangers, and they certainly have more depth. Devils defenseman Peter Harrold played five seasons with the Kings before signing with New Jersey this year. He spent the majority of this season at Albany of the AHL, before being inserted into the Devils' postseason rotation. He said both organizations stress team first. "Everything is about the collective, not the individuals," said Harrold, who says this series will be good for hockey. "It's two really big stages. "That's what you want to grow the game."

High School Lites preview: Week 1

High School Lites preview: Week 1

CSN Chicago will have cameras covering the biggest high school football games across Chicagoland on the season premiere of High School Lites, Friday at 11 p.m. Can the defending 7A state champion Glenbard West Hilltoppers take care of business on the road in Bolingbrook? Can defending 4A champs Phillips begin its road back to the state title game with a win against an experienced Fenwick squad? Who wins the heavyweight ground battle between Prairie Ridge and Cary-Grove? And who comes away with a win when Palatine travels to Lincolnshire to take on Stevenson?

Check out the Facebook Live video of CSN Preps contributors Joe Collins and "Edgy" Tim O'Hallaran and be sure to check Facebook at noon every Wednesday for a live preview.

Von Steuben vs. Amundsen at Winnemac Stadium, 4:15 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Von Steuben, led by head coach Alan Rood, will play its first varsity season in school history. The Panthers are looking to build off the foundation set last year, where they played a full JV schedule. Can the Panthers bring winning football to Chicago’s northwest side? As for Amundsen and head coach Nick Olsen, they will look to improve on a 1-7 record from last fall. 

EDGY's Pick: Von Steuben 20, Amundsen 18

(5) Lincoln-Way East at (South Bend) Adams, Ind., 6 p.m. CT

EDGY's Take: Lincoln-Way East will open the season against an opponent who already has a game under their belt. South Bend Adams (1-0) defeated Northridge 46-29 last Friday. Lincoln-Way East will look towards a steady running game diet via senior RB Nigel Muhammad and a strong offensive line anchored by senior Sam Diehl (Colgate). The Griffins defense features junior DE Devin O'Rourke (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) who already has a handful of BCS level offers. Can the Griffins shake off the rust against an opponent who already has game experience?

EDGY's Pick: Lincoln-Way East 27, Adams 12

(2) Glenbard West at (15) Bolingbrook, 7 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Glenbard West and head coach Chad Hetlet's defense has always been the Hilltoppers calling card, and expect that to be an early strength. Seven starters are back from last year’s 7A state champion squad. Keep an eye out for senior LB Jackson Goleach, senior DB Justice Bradley and senior FB/DE Dionte Moorehead. As for Bolingbrook, they have a ton of talent on the defensive side as well with senior DE Izayah Green-May (Wisconsin), senior DB/WR Kendall Smith (Illinois), senior S Zyon Bell and junior DT Deshaun Mallory. Watch out for the new-look Raiders offense, spearheaded by Bolingbrook’s new offensive coordinator Doug DiFusco. The Raiders offense remains a huge key to success this season.

EDGY's Pick: Glenbard West 24, Bolingbrook  20

 (11) Montini at (22) Maine South, 7 p.m.

EDGY's Take: The biggest question for both Maine South and Montini in this game could be the overall quarterback play. The visiting Broncos will rely on junior Brad Norgle while Maine South will counter with senior Nick Leongas. Both starting quarterbacks are being given the keys to two of the state's top offenses. Will the team who avoids the most turnovers/penalties/early season rust win it?  

EDGY's Pick: Montini Catholic 35, Maine South 24

 

(14) Prairie Ridge at (18) Cary-Grove, 7 p.m.

EDGY's Take: This opening night game in the Fox Valley will feel like a state playoff game atmosphere. Both Prairie Ridge and Cary-Grove want to run the football early and often. Both teams also feature great defenses. Prairie Ridge will let junior QB Samson Evans run the Wolves option game while Cary-Grove will give the football to three-time All-State FB/LB Ty Pennington early and often. Look for, possibly, a late turnover or penalty to potentially be a factor here, and I also wouldn't be shocked to see an overtime or two.

EDGY's Pick: Prairie Ridge 22, Cary-Grove 21 (OT)

Kaneland at Brooks (at Gately Stadium), 7:15 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Kaneland made it to the state playoffs a season ago, however the Knights graduated several starters from that squad. However, Knights head coach Tom Fedderly has a very strong underclassmen group led by second-year starting sophomore RB Jonathan Alstott, who is a cousin to former JCA/Purdue and NFL fullback Mike Alstott. Brooks and head coach Benjamin McCall is looking to bounce back after a 3-6 record in 2015. 

EDGY's Pick: Kaneland 34, Brooks 14

Simeon at (20) Oak Park-River Forest, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Simeon and head coach Dante Culbreath might have one of Chicagoland's most dangerous offensive weapons this season in junior QB Jayshon Jackson (5-foot-11, 170 pounds). Jackson, who already is drawing major D1 recruiting looks and offers, moved from receiver to quarterback this fall, giving Simeon a dangerous run/pass option threat. OPRF and head coach John Horerster also welcomes back some key playmakers, including senior QB Jeremy Hunt plus three starters on the offensive line. Can Simeon's inexperienced offensive line come ready to play? Can the Huskies hang with the Wolverines overall team speed?

EDGY's Pick: OPRF 26, Simeon 20

(9) Phillips at Fenwick (at Triton College), 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Phillips and head coach Troy McAllister will look to defend its 4A state title. The Wildcats defense is an early strength, led by senior DT/FB Chris Elmore (Western Michigan) along with OLB Malcolm Fox and senior S Dexter Warren (NIU). The Friars, coached by Gene Nudo, welcome back 19 starters including the entire starting offense from a year ago, including QB Jacob Keller. Can the Phillips offense get going early here? Can Fenwick withstand Phillips quick-strike potential? 

EDGY's Pick: Phillips 27, Fenwick 14

Glenbrook South at (24) Barrington, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Glenbrook South will take the field under first-year head coach David Schoenwetter, who takes over the Titans program from retired head coach Mike Noll. South will be inexperienced with just five returning starters, including WB Noah Acocella and senior WB Jake Smiley. Barrington and head coach Joe Sanchez seems to find a way to reload every year. Keep an eye out for senior WR Josh Babicz (North Dakota State) plus senior DE Jackson Perkins (Navy) and senior LB Blake Holley (Navy).

EDGY's Pick: Barrington 28, Glenbrook South 14

(7) Palatine at (12) Stevenson, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Great season-opening non-conference game between two 8A powers. Palatine made a terrific run last season. Expect the Pirates to rely heavily on returning All-State QB Zach Oles and a strong core of offensive skills players back from a season ago. Stevenson and head coach Bill McNamara will bring back nine starters (four offense, five defense). The Patriots' key could be the development of first-year starting QB Aidan O'Connell (6-foot-4, 190 pounds). Can the Stevenson defense contain Zach Oles?

EDGY's Pick: Palatine 28, Stevenson 17

**VIEWERS’ CHOICE GAME OF THE WEEK**

Gary West Side at Valparaiso, 7 p.m.

This will be the first-ever High School Lites game featuring Northwest Indiana foes. The host Vikings, who lost 27-7 in their opener against last year’s Indiana 6A runner-up Penn, features eight returning starters on defense. QB Jake Leffew went 19-of-27 and a touchdown against Penn. They face a Gary West Side team looking for revenge after last year’s 56-0 loss against Valpo. One of the strengths of the Cougars is their secondary, featuring senior Mario Newell and juniors Darius Benton and Markell Outlaw.

"5 Minutes with Edgy Tim" is LIVE! Have a question about your favorite High School Football program? Ask now and Edgy will answer. Don't miss the High School Lites debut this Friday at 11 PM!

Posted by CSN Chicago on Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tim Beckman steps down from volunteer assistant role at North Carolina

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Tim Beckman steps down from volunteer assistant role at North Carolina

Well that was fast.

About as quickly as the world found out Tim Beckman was working as a volunteer assistant at North Carolina, the former Illinois head coach stepped down from his post.

In a Thursday release, Beckman said he doesn't want to be a distraction to the team.

"I do not wish to be a further distraction to the team or university, and I will no longer serve as a volunteer at UNC," Beckman said in the announcement, published by the News & Observer.

North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora defended Beckman's presence Wednesday, showing a surprising lack of concern over the fact that Beckman was fired from his position as the head football coach at Illinois a year ago when an investigation found evidence supporting accusations of player mistreatment, with former players alleging on social media that Beckman forced players to play injured, demeaned injured players and threatened to take their scholarships away.

Beckman was said to only be working on scouting and film study, but pictures taken at North Carolina practice showed him working with players on the field.

"I don't believe everything I read, all right," Fedora told reporters Wednesday, his quotes tweeted by Andrew Carter of the News & Observer. "I know Tim. I know his side of the story, also. So I was comfortable with it. If I wouldn't have been, obviously I wouldn't have brought him. I wouldn't have allowed him to be in our program. But I was very comfortable with it. I don't have any issues with it at all."

Fedora acknowledged the controversy, saying, "I know it's going to happen, and then a couple of days from now it won't be news. I mean, I promise you, I didn't see anywhere where the NCAA said that he should be banished from the game of football. You know? I mean, the guy didn't win enough games. That's all it was."

North Carolina brass clearly wasn't as comfortably with Beckman's presence as Fedora was, with some strong words coming from the university chancellor.

"When I first learned yesterday that coach Larry Fedora had invited former Illinois head coach Tim Beckman to serve as a volunteer with the football program, I was surprised and disappointed," chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement, published by the News & Observer. "The decision for Mr. Beckman to withdraw from his volunteer position was the right thing to do, and moving forward I don’t expect this situation to recur."

The possibility existed for Beckman to show up in Champaign, as Illinois plays host to North Carolina in the second game of the season. But with Beckman no longer a part of the Tar Heels' staff, that possibility no longer exists.

Badgers name Bart Houston starting quarterback

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Badgers name Bart Houston starting quarterback

Wisconsin has a starting quarterback for its big season-opening game against LSU.

Head coach Paul Chryst named Bart Houston the team's starting quarterback Thursday, picking the senior over freshman Alex Hornibrook.

"One thing I was impressed with was the way Alex and Bart approached camp," Chryst said in a video interview posted by the team. "I thought they both got better, and one of our keys was to make sure that both were ready to play this season and not just play but be able to win with them playing. And I felt both did that. As a team, they're no different than the group, we've still got a ways to go.

"Coming out of it, felt like Bart did everything that he needed to do and earned the right to get the start and was also energized by what Alex did. Love the way that he grew during fall camp, and both need to continue to keep growing. Wanted to get it done as we begin our preparation for LSU and make sure that everyone knew where we were at with it internally, and I'm excited to go forward now."

Houston has appeared in 15 games in his career but got the majority of his playing time in Wisconsin's win over Illinois last season. In that game, he completed 22 of his 33 passing attempts for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns, also throwing a pair of interceptions.

Houston has a tough test in his first game of the season, going up against the No. 5-ranked Tigers at Lambeau Field. And things don't get much easier from there, the Badgers' schedule an absolute gauntlet to begin Big Ten play a few weeks later with six consecutive games against Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern, with four of those games coming on the road.