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Empty Netter Assists - Penguins recall Oleksy, Sestito - 05-04-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Playoff Stuff
Penguins - Capitals

-The Penguins recalled defenseman Steve Olesky (above) and defenseman Tom Sestito from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. Olesky, 30, appeared in 63 AHL games this season and had 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) and a team-leading 123 penalty minutes. Sestito, 28, has played in 41 AHL games this season and had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) and 104 penalty minutes, second most on the team. In four NHL games this season, he had one assist and 19 penalty minutes.

-EN Says: With defenseman Kris Letang suspended and right winger Bryan Rust possibly sidelined due to a "lower-body" injury, these are interesting would-be replacements. Both players clearly bring an element of toughness to the table and have seemingly been recalled as some sort of response to the Capitals' antics through the first three games of this series. Still, it's hard to see either of these limited players actually getting into the lineup. Head coach Mike Sullivan likes both players but we can't see him trusting either of them with substantial ice time.

-Letang was suspended one game for interference against Capitals forward Marcus Johansson in Game 3

-How do the Penguins possibly replace Letang?

-“That’s fine. I haven’t played in a month now. What’s important is us winning. Matty’s giving us a chance to win every night he’s been in there. I’ll stay ready. I’ll encourage him. It’s not a personal game. It’s a team game.” - Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury on serving as a backup to goaltender Matt Murray.

-Johansson missed practice due to an "upper-body" injury.

-After the Jump: The Lightning take a 2-1 series lead.

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A look at the case of five football players who transferred from Ambridge

Written by Mike White on .

 

Just by sheer numbers, the case of the Ambridge football transfers was unusual. Maybe one of a kind.

Within the past two months, five players left Ambridge and transferred to other schools. These weren’t just any players. The starting quarterback, the two leading rushers, the leading receiver and the only returning lineman all transferred. And maybe there will be a few more leaving.

Even WPIAL boss Tim O’Malley said the league had never seen a case like this.

It turns out four of the players will be eligible to play at their new schools, but one will be ineligible.

The WPIAL board of directors made the rulings after five separate hearings with the players Tuesday to determine if their transfers were for athletic intent, which is against WPIAL and PIAA rules. After the hearings, the board ruled receiver-defensive back Isaiah McNair is ineligible to play football at Quaker Valley this upcoming season because he transferred at least partly for athletic intent.

The WPIAL ruled the other four players eligible for this season - junior RB-DB Davion Jones and his cousin, FB-LB Tariq Jones, at Aliquippa; junior QB Austin French at Beaver Falls; sophomore lineman John Prentice at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.

Below is some background on the cases. But first some comments from O’Malley and new Ambridge coach Terry George.

Ambridge had contested all the transfers, claiming they were for athletic intent. They claimed the transfers were because of turmoil in the Ambridge program with Dan Bradley resigning as coach and George being hired. At the hearings, George told the WPIAL the transfers were made because the players were worried the team would struggle next year because only one lineman was returning (Prentice). Four of the five who transferred are skill-position players and have some talent.

But O’Malley said the board of directors felt there wasn’t enough evidence from Ambridge to prove athletic intent.

“There has to be objective substantiated evidence. That’s what the transfer rule is based on,” said O’Malley. “It can’t be an opinion. It can’t be ‘we think.’ The difference with the McNair situation is there was some evidence.”

In the McNair case, Ambridge presented evidence of a Feb. 23 tweet from Case Riemer, the boyfriend of McNair’s mother who also trains McNair. The tweet was made in reference to Bradley and it said, “funny how u lie to teenagers that ur in charge of. Glad we found out in time to get the boys out.”

O’Malley was asked about how coincidental it was that the leases for residences of a few of the players all expired in March.

 “If you connect the dots, the court of public opinion might be … But from an evidentiary standpoint, nothing was established that would give an indication that the board should vote that [athletic intent was involved],” said O’Malley.

It should be pointed out that neither Ambridge or the WPIAL felt Aliquippa, Beaver Falls, Quaker Valley or North Catholic in any way recruited the players.

Now, comments from George, who is also a teacher at the school:

“These student-athletes’ decisions had nothing to do with me,” said George. “I was on good terms with all of them. My intentions are to never hurt anyone who wants to make a decision to leave the school for one reason or another. But at the same time, I’m hired by the district to instill a quality program with some pride and in doing so, we have to keep our enrolled students in our district.

“Sometimes it’s hard to create evidence. It’s probably easier to hide your reason for whatever decision you make. For our school district to pull up evidence is hard. Throughout our student body, the talk has been the players were leaving because they thought the football team was going to be bad. But that’s hard to prove.”

George said two more Ambridge players have indicated they are waiting to see what the WPIAL rules before they decide to transfer.

“There’s not much I can do about that,” said George. “But I do believe the decision the WPIAL made will have a lot to do with the future of some other student athletes.”

McNair, both Joneses and French all elected to have their hearings open to the media. North Catholic elected to close the Prentice hearing to the media.

It was up to the WPIAL to decide if it was mere coincidence that these players all left within a short period of time.

*Davion Jones and his family said he transferred to Aliquippa because his mother and father separated in January and his father moved to Aliquippa. So Davion moved in with his father and enrolled at Aliquippa in March.

*Tariq Jones said he moved to the Aliquippa district with his father. Jones’ father said he had to move to his parents home in Aliquippa to take care of his brother. Jones’ father said his parents are moving to California in the summer.

*French lived with his mother in Ambridge, but French’s mother said she moved into her childhood home in the Beaver Falls district with her son and daughter for personal reasons. The family now resides in the same Beaver Falls home as French’s grandparents.

*McNair’s mother said she moved from Ambridge to the Quaker Valley district with her son and daughter because it is a better school than Ambridge. McNair’s mother also said the family considered moving last September.

There is no doubt these players will have some kind of an impact in football at their new schools. Maybe a big impact. Tariq Jones was an all-conference linebacker in Class AAA. Davion Jones rushed for more than 700 yards last year at Ambridge.

The WPIAL certainly had a point in saying there wasn’t much evidence to rule against the players. But you wonder what message some disenchanted high school athletes from other schools will get from these rulings. 

“The decisions have been made and we’ll move forward,” said George. “You just hope something like this doesn’t happen to a smaller school than us because it could kill football in that school.”

 

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Letang suspended one game for hit on Johansson - 05-03-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was suspended one game by the NHL for his high hit against Capitals left winger Marcus Johnsson during Game 3 of their second round series Monday.

The NHL's Department of Player Safety produced a video explaining the suspension:

Patrick Burke, director the NHL's Department of Player Safety, states:

“Johansson retrieves a pass from a teammate at his own blue and and leads a rush into the Penguins' zone. Johansson hits the Penguins' blue line as several Penguins backcheckers converge on him. Letang steps up to pressure Johansson who crossed the blue and immediately moves the puck to a teammate. After Johansson moves the puck, Letang delivers a high forceful hit that makes significant head contact. This is interference.

It is important to note that Johansson is not eligible to be checked on this play. Players who are not in possession of the puck, are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of a puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case. Letang initiates this hit after Johansson releases the puck and contact is made outside the allowable window during which a player may finish a check.

It is also important to note that while Letang does come off the ice after contact, this is not a case of charging in which a player launches up and into his opponents head in a predatory fashion. Letang's skates are on the ice through contact and leave the ice in part due to the force of the hit. This is not an illegal check to the head. While there is significant head contact here, the head is not the main point of contact.

It is the combination of the lateness of this hit and the significant head contact that causes this hit to rise to the level of supplemental discipline."

While Johansson skipped practice today for what was termed an "upper-body" injury, the video states he suffered no apparent injury.

Letang's history of supplemental discipline is noted as well. His only previous suspension came in 2011-12 for a hit from behind against Jets center Alexander Burmistrov:

EN Says: The NHL appears to have gotten this one correct. The criteria for this being a offense worth of suspension are all laid out. The threshold the NHL has for allowing an offensive player to be hit by a defensive player after releasing a puck is razor thin and Letang appears to have clearly exceeded it. 

In this sense, it almost reminds us of the hit former Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo delivered on former Devils right winger Jaromir Jagr last season:

Bortuzzo earned a two-game suspension for that hit.

It's impossible to not look at Letang's suspension within the context of what has gone on in this series. Specifically, we're talking about the hit by Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik which injured Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta in Game 2 which injured Maatta and earned Orpik a three-game suspension.

After Capitals coach Barry Trotz was critical of the Orpik suspension Monday, there was no way the NHL was not going to take some sort of action on Letang for this violation. Given that this hit didn't lead to an injury nearly as significant as Maatta's, one game seems fair in comparison to the three games Orpik was suspended for.

Letang's absence for Game 4 will clearly have a major impact on the Penguins' lineup. Given that he usually plays in excess of 25 minutes a game, they won't truly replace him. 

And when you assume Maatta's injury will be sidelined for Game 4, the Penguins will be playing without their top defensive pairing for Game 4.

Defensemen Trevor Daley and Derrick Pouliot served as the Penguins' second pairing for most of Game 3. Daley has peformed well this season anytime Letang was absent and even served as the team's power-play quarterback during those instances. He's a capable, savvy veteran who is an ideal fit for how this team wants its back end to play. But expecting him to truly replace Letang is not fair.

Pouliot will likely see a significant increase in ice time as well. A healthy scratch for the better part of two months, he played a solid but hardly spectacular game in Game 2. A first-round pick in 2012, various coaching staffs have been slow to trust him with too much responsibility at the NHL level. There might not be any choice but to do so in Game 4.

Justin Schultz will presumably dress for Game 4 as well. Acquired at the trade deadline, he seemed to also be a natural fit for the Penguins' style of play. An aggressive offensive defenseman with a strong shot, he could boost the Penguins' power play which has gone 0 for 10 this series. He has not played since Game 1 of the first-round series against the Rangers.

Schultz could be reunited with defenseman Ian Cole as they found some chemistry down the stretch of the regular season while Brian Dumoulin and Ben Lovejoy, a duo used as a "shutdown pair" under previous coach Mike Johnston, could also be reunited.

The Penguins have some solid options to fill the void during Letang's absence but they will be a significantly lesser team in Game 4 without him. This will be a great opportunity for the Capitals to tie this series.

(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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Empty Netter Assists - Recapping Penguins-Capitals - 05-03-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Playoff Stuff
Penguins-Capitals 

-Penguins defenseman Kris Letang will have a disciplinary hearing with the NHL over an interference penalty he took against Capitals right winger Marcus Johansson during the first period of Game 1.

-“He obviously leaves his feet and hits me in the head. I guess that’s the kind of play you want out of the league. Yeah, it doesn’t look good.” - Johansson.

-The Post-Gazette's recap from last night's game. "Without him, there’s no way we win." - Right winger Patric Hornqvist on goaltender Matt Murray.

-The Associated Press' recap. "They play a good game, they use our mistakes. They're waiting and they use it. Good lessons." - Capitals captain/left winger Alex Ovechkin.

-The Washington Post's recap. “They definitely had us on our heels most of the period. I think the clock was the only thing that helped us out there at the end.” - Capitals goaltender Matt Murray.

-Highlights:

-Mike Lange's goal calls.

-Ovechkin got up close and personal with Letang:

-A good look at Ovechkin's goal as allowed by Murray:

-Murray and Hornqvist had a moment:

-A good look at Center Nick Bonino tucking a puck behind Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby to set up a goal by left winger Carl Hagelin:

-Marc-Andre Fleury got to be "normal" by being the backup goaltender for Game 3.

-"We didn’t get enough zone time. Usually, zone time, what comes with that is getting to the front of the net, getting rebounds, having a little bit more of a presence there just as kind of a result of playing the right way in the offensive zone." - Captain/center Sidney Crosby.

-Defenseman Derrick Pouliot returned to the lineup with Olli Maatta sidelined due to a suspected head injury.

-"It was a bad hit." - Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik on his hit which injured Maatta.

-Capitals coach Barry Trotz suggested Orpik was suspended because his team was playing the Penguins.

Calder Cup

-Will the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins turn to Tristan Jarry or Casey DeSmith in goal when their Atlantic Division final series opens

Kelly Cup

-Goaltender Brian Foster made 34 saves for the Wheeling Nailers in a 4-2 loss to the Reading Royals in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Forward Jarret Burton recorded two assists for Wheeling. The best-of-seven series is tied, 1-1.

-Highlights:

-After the Jump: The Flames fire Bob Hartley.

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A farewell

Written by Craig Meyer on .

Anyone who has followed Duquesne for any amount of time is accustomed to turnover. Things can only remain the same for so long in college athletics and at a school whose marquee program hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1977, things really don’t stay intact for very long.

While I’m not delusional about my own importance – newspaper writers are probably 279th on a list of fans’ concerns about their team behind athletic directors, coaches, ball boys, clock operators and that baton twirler who performs during media timeouts -- I now get to add to that turnover.

I have been offered and have accepted a position at the Post-Gazette covering Pitt basketball while also helping write about all things Pitt athletics, including football. I’m excited about what should be an incredible opportunity, but there’s also a certain disappointment leaving a beat that I’ve really enjoyed working.

When I first took over about a year and a half ago, I said that while I couldn’t predict our future staff movement, I would do my best to provide as outstanding of coverage as I could. I hope I was able to do that for you all, lending a unique perspective from a beat that, in your eyes, has probably seemed like something of a revolving door the past six or seven years.

In covering the team, I always tried digging beneath the surface of a trend or problem to get a better understanding of what it means, even if it meant using non-traditional stats that maybe seemed a little weird at first. Of course, there was also breaking news whenever it arose. Most of all, I got the opportunity to tell the stories of the people who play and coach these games, from how Micah Mason’s father developed him into the shooter he is today and how John Rhodes and Derrick Colter each survived cancer through the strength of one another.

If you read anything I wrote over this time, I sincerely appreciate it. And if you didn’t happen to like the coverage I provided, well, this is probably a nice dose of news for you.

Regardless, your interest in the program and the coverage surrounding it has meant a lot. I’m not a religious person at all, so this is far from a clean comparison, but Duquesne basketball fans, or those that remain, are a lot like Job, people who have been put through all kinds of torment only to hold out some kind of hope that what they cherish may one day come to fruition. I respect that.

There were the occasional disagreements with things I wrote, but everybody who I ever dealt with at Duquesne was incredibly fair and friendly to me, from Jim Ferry to the assistant coaches to the players to the sports information staff. I only got the chance to know Dave Harper over these past eight months and while I certainly won’t try to predict the future, I think Duquesne has a personable leader with an ambitious vision for the athletic department’s future while not being oblivious to the numerous and sizable hurdles he faces.

Taking over for me will be Brian Batko, who covers high school sports for us and has covered local college basketball, including Pitt, for other outlets. Brian is an incredibly knowledgeable basketball mind and he will no doubt do an excellent job. If nothing else, he’s probably the best pick-up player on the Post-Gazette’s sports staff. You can follow him on Twitter @BrianBatko and if you ever have a question or comment, his email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

As with a lot of my posts on this blog, this goodbye has gone on way longer than I would have hoped. If you ever want to get in touch with me, never hesitate to email me or hit me up on Twitter.

It has been a pleasure.

 

Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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