Troy Polamalu, the Tasmanian Devil of the Steelers secondary, has retired. Steelers fans everywhere (not to mention fans of hair products) are mourning his retirement.
The past two days have been a time for WPIAL coaches and individuals to get some national attention.
On Monday, Mt. Lebanon's girls basketball coach Dori Oldaker was named the coach of the USA Basketball Under 16 National Team. It is quite an honor for Oldaker, who will coach some of the top girls high school players in the country. Oldaker (picture from USA Basketball) has won five PIAA titles in her years as coach at Blackhawk and Mt. Lebanon, but she has experience coaching USA Basketball. She coached the USA to a gold medal in the 2014 U.S. Youth Olympic Games Women's Three on Three Tournament.
Then today, Franklin Regional wrestling coach Eric Mausser was named the all-USA Coach of the Year by USA Today. Mausser had one of the best teams in WPIAL history this past season. The Panthers won a second consecutive PIAA team championship and also repeated as dual meet state champion. Four Franklin Regional wrestlers won state championships this year.
Two of Franklin Regional's wrestlers were named to the all-USA first team - sophomore Spencer Lee and senior Michael Kemerer. Devin Brown was named second-team all-USA and Josh Shields third team.
The WPIAL had its spring meeting with all of its athletic directors today. As part of the meeting, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi addressed the athletic directors about some subjects, some of them interesting.
First, one of the hot subjects in Pennsylvania athletics these days is the possibility of the PIAA going to six classifications for football. It is questionable whether it will happen. But in May, the PIAA board of directors will further discuss the idea and could possibly vote for the first time on one of the proposals. A new rule must pass three readings (votes) before it goes into effect for the 2016-17 school year.
Basically, there are four proposals: One is to go with the current four proposals, where the classes are split evenly, depending on school enrollments. In other words, the top 25 percent of schools, in terms of enrollment, are Class AAAA, the next 25 percent AAA and so on.
A second proposal is for six classes, split evenly in terms of enrollment. In other words, the top 16.6 percent of teams in terms of enrollment would be 6A, the next 16.6 percent 5A, and so on.
Two other proposals are interesting and both would be for six classes. They are called the Super 700 and Super 800 proposals. Under the Super 700 proposal, those schools that have 700 or more boys in the top three grades would be placed in 6A. The rest of the schools in the state would be divided up evenly in the remaining five classes, based on enrollment.
In the Super 800 proposal, those schools with more than 800 boys in the top three grades would be in 6A. The remaining schools in the state would be divided up evenly in the remaining five classes, based on enrollment. How would the Super 700 and Super 800 proposals affect the WPIAL? Well, if you go by the most recent enrollment figures made available to the PIAA, only three schools would play 6A football in either proposal - Seneca Valley, North Allegheny and Butler. They all have more than 900 boys in the top three grades. No other WPIAL school has more than 700 boys in the top three grades.
One other thing the PIAA will consider in May is how charter school, cyber charter and home school students are counted. Currently, schools must count all of these students in their enrollment figures. The PIAA will consider a proposal where schools will have to only count 10 percent of charter, cyber charter and home school students.
The 6A idea will certainly be debated at the PIAA level. The WPIAL is against it, and one of the main reasons is because the league probably will not be able to play all of its football title games at Heinz Field like it does with four classes. But the other main reason is because the WPIAL believes if the PIAA wants to change the number of classifications, it should do so in all sports. It's a good point. If the PIAA goes to six classes in football, why not in basketball and baseball? Why not change volleyball to more classifications?
Who knows what will happen with the 6A idea. But what is a little baffling is that while the 6A subject is debated, the PIAA still ignores what is really a hot-button topic for many schools these days - and that is public vs. non-public schools and also the proliferation of student-athlete transfers in the Philadelphia area. The more success that private, parochial and charter schools have in sports - especially basketball - the more the public vs. non-public becomes an issue.
And the loads of transfers in the Philadelphia area has many teams crying foul. Yet, the transfers continue to occur and Philadelphia athletic committees don't seem bothered by them.
Heat acclimatization rule
The PIAA changed its heat acclimatization rule this year for football. The official start of football practice in full pads with contact is Aug. 17. But all teams must go through five heat acclimatization practices before they can start contact practices in full pads.
However, there is an exception to the rule and a few athletic directors questioned Lombardi about it today. The exception does create a little confusion. Although the PIAA says teams must go through five days of heat acclimatization practices, there can be exceptions made where a player or players have to go through only three consecutive days of heat acclimatization practices.
Confused? Join the club.
WPIAL scholar athletes
The WPIAL today announced its 20 scholar-athlete winners. Each will receive a $1,000 check for college. Every school in the WPIAL can nominate a boy and a girl. A committee then picks the winners.
The girls winners are: Mohawk's Maria Fleck, Hempfield's Madeline Holmberg, Montour's Victoria Kocsuta, Ringgold's Kirsten McMichael, Yough's Theresa Merlino, Shaler's Brianna Schwartz, Penn-Trafford's Isabel Siergiej, Blackhawk's Courtney Vannoy, Freeport's Grace Ward and Quaker Valley's Caroline Westwood.
Boys winners were Jeannette's Zachary Allen, Ringgold's Jacob Gerard, West Allegheny's Sean Orsini, Seneca Valley's Tanner Quiggle, Quaker Valley's John Regueiro, Franklin Regional's Jacob Roberge, Freeport's Andrew Romanchak, Chartiers Valley's Joshua Rosato, Indiana's Cole Rosenberger and Upper St. Clair's Brooks Wilding.
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The ink was barely dry on the newly minted 2015 NFL schedule when the mathematical modeling mad men at Numberfire sent out their very first postseason probability projections albeit with an appropraitely large caveat:
"Keep in mind, these are extremely early projections, so a lot will change with player movement, the draft, injuries, etc."
So where do the Steelers stand? Just under a coin flip for playoff football.
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With the Penguins' defense ravaged by injuries, they have turned to a duo with history and chemistry to form their third defensive pairing.
Through three games of their first-round series, defensemen Taylor Chorney (above) and Brian Dumoulin (below) have averaged 16:14 and 12:40 of ice time respectively thus far this series.
Having served as one of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins' top defensive pairings during the regular season, reuniting them at the NHL level was a fairly easy decision for head coach Mike Johnston and staff given the current state of the Penguins blue line.
Recently, Chorney, who at 27 is the veteran of the pair, talked about their season together.
How many games did you play with him in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton?
"More than 50 probably. Yeah... 50 for sure."
What have you noticed with his development this season?
"[Dumoulin] is a really smooth skater. He's confident with the puck. I think that you can tell when' he's feeling it, he hangs onto the puck and makes nice plays. I think as a partner, his ability to skate and cover a lot of ice both offensively and defensively makes him a nice guy to play with. I think we can kind of feed off each other in that way."
He can move for someone with some size (6-foot-4, 207 pounds).
"Yeah. He's a smooth skater. He gets around the ice pretty easily. That's his game. He makes smart plays and handles the puck well and skates very well too."
Why did you two click in the AHL?
"Obviously he's a quite a bit taller than me but the just way we're both mobile. We probably think the game similar. The way that we play and our style of play is pretty similar. We can both can cover the ice pretty well with our feet and using using our mobility on offense and defense, I think we can feed off each other in that way."
Do you feel your chemistry at the AHL level has translated to the NHL level?
"I think so. It's obviously a different league and different players and there's obviously certain thing that are different. But it's still hockey. The rules are the same. The ice sheet is the same size. All those things are the same. I think the chemistry we've developed there could definitely serve us well [in the NHL]. ... We're making confident plays with the puck and breaking the puck out of our end pretty well. I definitely think it helps having a little familiarity with somebody."
As a veteran, do you have to communicate more with a younger player like him more than you would a more experienced player?
"He's played a long-time pro. It's not like he's a rookie or anything. He's played a lot of games in the [AHL]. He's played some games in the NHL. I don't have to treat him differently than I treat any other player."
For you personally, this is your first taste of playoff hockey at the NHL level. You spent the past two seasons exclusively in the AHL. This has to be a thrill.
"It's pretty awesome for a guy like me. Everyone's situation is a little bit different but I've been grinding pretty hard the last couple of years. I feel like I've been doing a lot of the right things. Developing, getting better as a player. To get reward with an opportunity to play, even with the last five games [of the regular season] when it's so important trying to clinch a [playoff] spot.
(Photos: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images and Elsa/Getty Images)
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Ben Lovejoy knew exactly what he was doing.
With 4:50 left in the first period, he air mailed a slapper from the neutral zone on the Rangers' net. New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist easily glove the long-distance shot.
It was an otherwise unremarkable play but it drew a Bronx cheer from the fans at Consol Energy Center as it represented the Penguins' first shot of the game.
“Well aware," Lovejoy said. "I had the opportunity to break that zero and it had no chance of beating Lundqvist from there and we needed any sort of lift we could get. I was trying to hit the net and get a 'one' on the 'shot clock' so we could get that going and get that momentum going for us."
As it turned out, it was one of only three shots the Penguins generated in the first period and it continued a common theme for the Penguins. They have had immense trouble in putting shots on net during the first period of their first-round series:
Following their practice at Consol Energy Center today, members of the Penguins were asked if there was a common theme or reason as to why they haven't been able to generate many first period shots.
Ian Cole, defneseman - “I don't know if there's one common theme that contributes to a lack of shots in the first period. Obviously we want to start better. Obviously we do want to get more pucks on net without a doubt. You see how efficient and how hectic we can make their [defensive] zone when we do get pucks on net just in the last 10 minutes of the third period when we really funneled pucks often, we created a lot of havoc. I thought that was a really good thing. Without a doubt, we certainly want to start that earlier in the game then waiting for the last 10 minutes of the third period."
Patric Hornqvist, right winger - “No. I don't think so. It's just how it goes. They played good in the first. We didn't play our best. That's probably the thing. We have to be better at the start and go from there.”
Daniel Winnik, center - “I think we've missed a lot of shots and they block a lot. It was pretty evident the last game. The series, it's been tight for for both teams. … We need to generate more, that's for sure."
Ben Lovejoy, defenseman - “I think Game 1, they came out and hit us in the mouth and we were struggling that whole first period. Game 2, I think it was a very even period and it was a bit of a chess match. No one wanted to make that first mistake. I think yesterday, we came out and they were playing well. We had opportunities to shoot pucks. They were blocked. We missed the net. We made a couple of fancy plays that were turned over and turned the other way and the shots mounted against us. Sometimes, they don't matter but it does matter when you look up at the [shot totals on the scoreboard] you see the other team is seemingly carrying the play because they have far more shots. It takes the life out of the team. You feel like you're in a hole even if you're tied, 0-0."
Brandon Sutter, center - “We should do a better job of getting pucks there [on net] and going there. We're playing a good defensive team. We can't expect to put up 50 shots a game. We've just to find ways to get more. I think if we can get over 30 each night, we'll have a good chance. That's got to be our goal moving forward."
Rob Scuderi, defneseman - “I can't remember exactly, but I know we had some zone time. We were taking shots. A lot of shots were getting blocked. A lot of times we missed the net when we had the opportunity. If you want to get some dirty playoff goals, you've just got to put it there. Whether it be in the crease or at the goalie, whether it be in the crease or at the goalie, whatever it happens to be, usually good things happen when you get pucks to the net."
(Photos: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)