Sunday, November 27, 2016

Inside Access: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Calgary Flames



(Image via PhiladelphiaFlyers.com)



Philadelphia Flyers vs. Calgary Flames
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
November 27, 2016
Game Time – 7:30 p.m.

Anthony Stolarz will be making his NHL debut tonight. He'll also become the first goaltender born in New Jersey to play in the League. The soon-to-be 23-year-old (January 20) was selected by the Flyers in the second round (45th overall) of the 2012 draft. His complete amateur and professional resume is offered through eliteprospects.

Future Starter?

Scouts put the 6-foot-6-inch netminder with the better Flyers' prospects, though all fans know that this organization hasn't developed an impact goalie (who stuck with the team) since it's current general manager (Ron Hextall) debuted between the pipes in 1986. The goal posts were referenced because that's the area hockeysfuture tags as one of Stolarz' weaknesses. Fans should watch his post-to-post work during games.

The butterfly style goalie's overall positional play in the American Hockey League has been solid. He debuted with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in 2014-15 (31 games), followed by 47 AHL starts last season and eight more this season.

Sean Burke was the last goaltender to wear number 41 for Philadelphia, having done so in 2004. Andrej Meszaros wore number 41 for the longest period of time (2011-14) and center Blair Jones wore the number last (2015).

Game Time

Nerves weren't apparent during warmups, but that's what masks are for, right?

The Flyers are celebrating their milestone 50th season in the NHL and are going beyond the normally terrific pre-, in- and postgame presentations. An on-ice visual delight before Lauren Hart's evergreen solos showed segments of Flyers' history through various video games that were synced to each era. Then, Stolarz name and image and those of his other starting teammates were individually projected onto the ice.

First Period

D-man T.J. Brodie beat Stolarz on the short side to give Calgary a 1-0 lead at 7:42 in the first. Assists to Michael Backlund and Sam Bennett. Brodie's goal came on the Flames second shot of the game.

Exactly 10 minutes later (17:42) Michael Raffl tapped in a rebound of Jake Voracek's wraparound attempt. That was Raffl's fourth goal of the year. Assists to Voracek and Andrew MacDonald.

Second Period

Voracek scored his eighth goal at 52 seconds into the period. Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds got the assists.

At 7:20 into the frame Chris Vandevelde redirected a shot into the net. His fourth goal of the season was assisted by Roman Lyubimov. Moments later (7:44), Simmonds broke in from the blue line and lifted a shot past Flames goalie Chad Johnson, who had played well in recent games leading into this contest. That tally came on the Flyers 24th shot of the game. Assists to Nick Cousins and Michael Del Zotto. 

Through two-thirds of this game Stolarz hasn't been tested. Few rebound shots, if any, are recalled. But he's been good on the basics and therefore his outing is surely a success so far.

4-1 heading into the last frame of the game, unless the Flames mount a comeback and tie the Thanksgiving weekend post-turkey tilt.

Third Period

Matthew Tkachuck (6th of the season) tipped in a Dougie Hamilton shot at 8:05. Mark Giordano got the other assist. The power play goal narrowed the game's gap to two goals.

Lyubimov (2nd goal of the season) put a nice rebound shot past Johnson at 9:55. Assists to Del Zotto and Vandevelde.

A late-game highlight saw rookie Travis Konecny throw them with Tkachuk (the rookie who turns 19 on Dec 11), who was tossed from the game. Tkachuck's father (Keith) threw them on various occasions when he was in the League (1991-2010).

Konecny received a 2-minute minor for cross-checking. This was the second consecutive game where the 19-year old wasn't afraid to mix it up physically.

Alex Chiasson (4th of the season) shorthanded goal came at 18:10. Assists to Hamilton and Brodie. This last goal line breaker completed the scoring, as the Flyers won 5-3.

Stolarz stopped 29 shots in a generally well-played game. Philadelphia had 43 shots. Michal Neuvirth's presence on the injured reserve list means that Philadelphia's young goalie should get other opportunities to prove himself next month and possibly, early next year. 

Postgame 

Stolarz responded to media questions after the game:


Any thoughts there? (Regarding the start of the game)

“Kind of. Lot of thinking. They didn’t have any shots for a couple minutes there and didn’t want to give up that first goal. But you know, it happens and I guess you can say I got it out of the way early.”

It seemed like after that goal, you kind of settled in.

“Yeah, I think to the guys, I kind of settled in after that first goal. Calmed down a little bit. The jitters went away and was just able to go out there and play.”

How did it feel to get that ovation from the crowd at the end of the game there?

“It was great. It’s a very passionate city. Just being able to watch a couple games here and obviously back up a couple, it’s pretty exciting. Finally being able to play a game in front of this crowd there, one of the loudest crowds in the league. For them to give me an ovation like that, it means a lot.”

How did it feel going up against Chad Johnson, the guy whose been lights out, and you kind of bested him?

“Obviously looking at the stats the past couple games, he’s on a little bit of a roll, but I think I owe a lot of credit to the guys in front of me. They did a great job of blocking shots and clearing any rebounds that I gave up.”

Couple saves there late in the first period.   Was that the period when you felt like you found your stride?

“Obviously, a player like that you kind of get into it. The biggest thing I thought was the traffic in front. It’s a lot different compared to the American League. Guys are a lot bigger. Plays happen a lot faster. So for me, once I was able to fight through that and make a couple of saves, I kind of got on a roll.”

Self-Assessment. Did it go as well as you could have thought tonight?

“I think, for me, going out there and just giving the team a chance to win. I didn’t care if I gave up one, two, three, four, six, you know what I mean. Well, obviously you don’t want to give up six, but I think the biggest thing for me was just getting the win. I just want to go out there, stop the puck and do my job. The guys in front of me did theirs. They did a great job with clearing shots, blocking them. Getting a 4-1 lead kind of helps you relax a little bit.”

Did that help you, put some goals on the board and gave you little bit of a cushion?

“Yeah, I think so. I was able to settle in and not press a little bit. Just relax and play my game.”

What did Mason say?

“He said congrats. It was been a long time coming. Mason has been a great support for the past couple weeks. Really helping me with things. Obviously being a big goalie, like me, I am able to watch him and kind of pick up a few things from him. He’s been a big mentor for me.”

Your hometown is not that far from here. How many friends and family did you have at the game tonight?

“I probably had about 30, 40 friends and family in the arena. A lot of my buddies were buying tickets and coming down. Like I said, it was exciting to share a moment with them. Right now after this, I am going to go see my family and it’s going to be a great experience for all of us.”

How many notifications on your phone? How many texts have you gotten?

“I haven’t even looked yet. I haven’t had the chance to get changed.”

What do you think you will remember most about tonight?

“I think definitely winning. To be able to win your first start, it’s huge. It kind of gets you little more comfortable. In my premiere in the American League, I don’t think I won in the first 5 games, so you kind of press a little bit. It’s in the back of your head, when are you going to win one, when are you going to win one?  So to be able to win this game, the first one, it’s huge for me and my confidence.”

Was the crowd wooing at you or what?

“Oh, I have no idea, but it’s pretty cool that they were able to make some noise. Got everyone fired up and kind of fired up our team a little bit.”

I think a lot of guys probably get a kick out of playing in somebody’s debut. Do you get the sense they were pulling a little bit extra for you, 26 games you sat on the bench?

“I think so. The guys were talking before the game about how they just want to go out there and work. With the team being in a little bit of a skid here, we want to go out there and play a complete 60 minutes. Tonight, we did a very good job of that. Obviously, myself, looking back, I would like to have 1 and 3 back. A little sloppiness of me, but I think our team played fantastic tonight.”

Those first 10 minutes, they only let 2 shots on goal. Do you think that was kind of an extra effort for you?
“You just got to stay sharp mentally. That’s the biggest thing. You don’t want to start thinking too much. For me, I kind of just continued to focus on just stopping that next shot. That first one goes in. It’s little bit of a downer but the biggest thing is my maturity over the last few years, I have been able to put that in the back of my head. Go out there, forget about it and just worry about the next shot.”

You come from the middle of the state, were you a Devils’ fan growing up?

“I was a Devils fan growing up. My parents were from North Jersey. Once I got drafted by the Flyers, that all changed. I am proud to be wearing that jersey and able to play.”

Were there any goalies you looked up to as a kid?

“Martin Brodeur, for sure. Obviously, his style was a little different than what I play, but playing the puck, I kind of idolized him in that regard. Being able to have him to look up to as a guide is a huge key piece in today’s game.  A goalie being able to play the puck and I just try to take that from him.”

Head coach Dave Hakstol replied to two media questions about Stolarz in the post-game presser:


As far as NHL debuts go can you talk about what you liked about Stolarz’s game?

“He worked his way and he settled in. There are some real good saves during the sixty minutes. It can be tough when that first one goes in. So if there is one thing that I like I really like his poise and presents and focus just to worry about the next save, and that is exactly what he did all night long. So, heck of a night for the young man.”

How conducive was that energy for sixty minutes? You said keeping your foot on the gas, two young goalies debut, those things happening at the same time. That seemed to be conducive.

“Yeah I have no question the guys were playing hard for Stolly. It is a special night for a young guy to get his first start in the National Hockey League. Along with that there is a lot more to it. We are coming off of a couple of pretty good performances where we have nothing to show for it. Pretty good wasn’t going to be good enough tonight. I think we came pretty close to playing a full sixty minute hard hockey game.”

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Philadelphia Flyers: Bernie Parent Reflects on Pelle Lindbergh's Life



The paragraphs shown below were cut from a one-on-one interview I conducted with Bernie Parent at his office in New Jersey in the fall of 2010. His comments about Pelle Lindbergh continue to reasonate in my mind, as I'm sure they will in yours. Lindbergh died tragically in November 1985. He was 26-years-old. 

***
Thomas Tynander and Bill Meltzer's book Behind the White Mask, contains a sharply detailed description of Lindbergh's life, career, and the father-son type relationship that he had with Parent. We discussed the book and his remembrances of Lindbergh.

Pelle was here on Earth for a brief moment that was cut a little bit short. We are spiritual people and
I believe that when someone passes away they move onto a new place in their eternal life,” Parent reflected.

During the 1981-82 season, Lindbergh was struggling. When he was sent to the Flyers minor league team in Maine, Parent suggested that he go with him. Through his guidance, Lindbergh returned to the Flyers during that season. He went on to win the Vezina trophy in 1984-85, which Parent presented to him at the awards ceremony.

I opened the envelope and his name was listed as the winner. He came up on stage and gave me hug. It was a big moment,” Parent fondly recalled.

I was very grateful that I was a part of his life. A paradigm was passed from Plante, the master, to me and then I passed what I had learned on to Pelle. He had a lot of good qualities that could benefit us today,” Parent said of his former protege.
***
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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Xtreme Cage Combat: MMA Warriors Battle Before Overflow Crowd in Hatfield

Xtreme Caged Combat, the longest-running MMA promotion in Pennsylvania, presented an electric 10-card event (XCC 25) to an overflow crowd in Hatfield at the BucksMont Indoor Sports Center.

“I am extremely pleased with the direction of the promotion. We are consistently selling out each show and the depth of our roster is as deep as its ever been. We have one more show in 2016 and at the beginning of 2017 we are going back into Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA. I expect next year to be the biggest year in the company's 7-year history," XCC Promoter Ryan Kerwin said.



The main event saw Alexandre Bezerra (Training facility: G-13 BJJ) use a rear naked choke hold to defeat Dimitre Ivy (Texas Powerhouse Gym) in the first round. The battle of 145-pounders ended a raucous night of Friday fights in the southeastern section of the state. Bezerra (19-4) is a nine-time Bellator veteran and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt. He's also a former Cage Fury Fighting Championships Featherweight Champion.



After a ferocious first round, BJ Young (Ricardo Almeida BJJ) applied a rear naked choke in the second round to defeat William Dill (Martinez BJJ), thereby capturing the XCC Featherweight Championship belt. 


Another professional bout (155-pounds) saw Jack Cordero (Modern Martial Arts) defeat Joe Schick (Dante Rivera BJJ) in the second round through a triangle choke tapout. Cordero had overcome a fierce first round when Schick drew significant blood. 

When asked how he felt after the match Cordero said, “I'm alive and I won.” That statement captured the intense atmosphere in the arena, as Mixed Martial Arts continues to expand its reach in Pennsylvania and around the world.

Troy Wittman (Premiere Fight Center) defeated Justin Lesko (Revolution Academy) by technical knockout (TKO) in the first round in an additional pro bout (155 pounds). This fight rivaled the amateur contest that was deemed 'Fight of the Evening' by the judges on the seven-bout undercard.



UFC fighters: Frankie Perez, Frankie Edgar, Dante Rivera, Wilson Reis, and Matt Rizzo, were introduced to the crowd in between matches from inside the cage at the best MMA event in PA this weekend



(155 pounds) Scott Clymer (Renzo Gracie PA) defeated Jerome Klumb (Kioto BJJ) in a unanimous decision (29-28 on all judge's scorecards). Terrific action by both fighters was seen in the second round, but Clymer's sheer will to win earned him XCC honors in addition to his victory.

In other action: (135 pounds) Andrew Smith (Modern Martial Arts) applied a rear naked choke in the first round to defeat Thaigo Brito (G 13 BJJ). 

(155-pound contests) Cody Russell (Balance Studios) applied vicious blows to Josh Sachetti's (Dauntless MMA) face and eventually beat him by unanimous decision (30-27 on all scorecards); And, a series of reverse pin attempts were used by each fighter, but Vinny Oristaglio (UFC Gym, Springfield) defeated Craig Alexander (Tiger Schulman's MMA) by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28). 

(160 pounds) Back-and-forth action peppered the first two rounds, before Hakief Phillips (Fight Firm) defeated Shane LaRocca (Daddis Fight Camps) by unanimous decision (30-27 on all judge's scorecards).

(205 pounds) Russell Korbul (Gracie New Jersey) used a North-South choke to defeat Michael Ford (Stay Fly Muay Thai) in the second round. 

"Since joining forces with Ryan in 2015, we have been consistent in having successful shows and XCC 25 was no exception. It is an honor to work with some of the top schools and fighters of the area, and I look forward to watching all the fighters progress in their careers in this sport," XCC Matchmaker Helen Locura said.


Original reporting by Sean O'Brien. 
All photos were provided by XCC and used with permission.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The night Lenny Dykstra was swinging in the rain


(Photo credit: masslive.com)

(I'm reading Dkystra's recently published book House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge. Lenny's tale inspired me to republish one of my favorite baseball pieces that I wrote five years ago for Yahoo Sports.)  

****************** 

Lenny Dykstra's every move has been easy to track during these past few years. The questions about steroids or the details of his financial rise and fall have also been voluminous. His association with Charlie Sheen and indictment for bankruptcy fraud are just the latest in a series of media flashes.

If we reflect on our scrubbed memories, we will see a smiling, gritty guy who would do anything to win. Dykstra channeled his personality traits through a baseball diamond, while the fans couldn't help but love the luster.

1993 World Series, Game 4

The Philadelphia Phillies were trailing the Toronto Blue Jays two games to one, when Game 4 got underway on a rainy night at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

Tommy Greene, who went 16-4 in the regular season, yielded three runs in top of the first. Dykstra initiated the Phillies' counter attack when he worked a walk off Todd Stottlemyre to lead off the bottom half of the inning. He stole second base and later scored on the Blue Jays starter's fourth walk of the inning. The Phillies exited that first frame with a 4-3 lead.
After Greene singled to center field to lead off the bottom of the second inning, Dykstra stepped to the plate. 'The Dude' tattooed Stottlemyre when he hit a two-run home run to deep right field.
The Phillies' 6-3 margin wouldn't last long, as the Blue Jays regained the lead with four runs in the top of the third inning causing Greene's departure.

Up and Down

Al Leiter took over for Stottlemyre in the third inning and was still pitching in the fourth, when Dykstra hit a line-drive double to center field. Mariano Duncan followed with a single that tied the score at 7-7.

In the bottom of the fifth, Leiter yielded a two-run home run to Darren Daulton. Milt Thompson then doubled home a run and was standing on second base, when Dykstra hit another two-run home run to right field that gave the Phillies a 12-7 lead.
The Phillies' bullpen later surrendered a six spot in the top of the eighth. That offensive barrage proved to be too much to overcome, as the Blue Jays won the game 15-14 to take a 3 games to 1 series lead.
Dykstra's three-hit, four-run, four-RBI performance was just one part of what proved to be the best season of his career.

Nailing it

Everyone has the right to question the types of decisions that 'Nails' made during his playing days, or how he has handled his subsequently loud retirement. But, everyone who values a red light player will always remember the night 'The Dude' was swinging in the rain.


(I hold all copyrights to this article which originally appeared on Yahoo's Voices platform in 2011.)

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Philadelphia Phillies: Cody Asche trade decision looms

                                                                                                                       (Photo via Zimbio.com)

Cody Asche had the potential to be part of a renewed Philadelphia Phillies core as of 2013. As the 26-year-old works through his fourth major league season it's become possible that he's entered his last calendar year as a member of the organization. Encouraging evidence in the rebuild has dramatically increased the number of good young players who could become part of the next Phillies' playoff team, which directly affects Asche's tenure.

Platoon Player?

Strictly playing left field this year has helped Asche to up his defensive game. He had been an exclusive third baseman until the spring of 2015, when the Phillies assigned him a left fielder's glove. Maikel Franco, one of the aforementioned youthful position players, took over the hot corner at the start of last season, which necessitated Asche's move.

The Phillies didn't cut ties with Asche, via trade or some other transaction last year. Philadelphia hasn't done that so far this season either. That's because the former fourth round 2011 draft selection is still seen in a positive light. A spring training oblique strain, ongoing questions surrounding whether he's strictly a platoon player and at what position, have prevented him from starting regularly for the Phillies throughout the current campaign.

Auditioning

General manager Matt Klentak was open about using this season to audition various players for the future. Asche's charge is to prove that he can produce at the plate and therefore justify an everyday spot in the outfield. Defensively, he's proven to be a competent, though not an outstanding fielder. However, Asche plays left, where Greg Luzinski and Pat Burrell were part of World Series championship squads in 1980 and 2008, respectively. So, a Gold Glove isn't required in left field on a winner, as long as that player's bat sings consistently.

Tyler Goeddel, who played in Double-A for the Tampa Bay Rays last season, has already demonstrated a strong arm when playing in left field. Offensively, he hasn't been given enough at bats for the Phillies to gauge whether he can play in the outfield regularly. However, his ongoing Rule 5 status indicates that Philadelphia may want him to be part of its long-term plans.

Clock Ticks


Then, there's All-Star Odubel Herrera. His roster spot is fully secured, which means that there's only two, or three, available outfield spots moving forward. Asche won't return to third, unless Franco is shelved, for the season. Plus, the volume of prospects in the upper-minor league system that includes: Nick Williams, possibly Cam Perkins, Dylan Cozens, Andrew Pullin and Roman Quinn, if he can ever stay healthy, leads one to believe that at least a few of those players will earn a shot in the Phillies' major league outfield soon. So, Asche must convince the front office that he's a core piece, or he'll probably be traded this summer, or in the upcoming off-season.
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Friday, June 10, 2016

All hail the life of Gordie Howe!


(Photo - nymag.com)

Gordie Howe and his son Mark, who is also a Hall of Famer, were kind enough to spend an entire intermission period talking with me (off the record) while I was covering a Flyers' game three years ago. We had a very pleasant conversation that will always be personally memorable. God's speed Gordie. And, condolences to the Howe family.

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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Behind the NHL scenes: Philadelphia Flyers verses Ottawa Senators



(The Zamboni prepares the ice at the Wells Fargo Center approximately an hour before game time.)

Introductions

Most preseason predictions didn't have the Philadelphia Flyers making the playoffs this season. Rookie head coach Dave Hakstol was an unknown factor, having left the college ranks in North Dakota to work in a high-profile East Coast hockey town. His impressive collegiate career and demeanor convinced the Flyers' brass that he deserved a shot.

There's no way to know how a Craig Berube-coached team would have performed this year. Would the addition of Shayne Gostisbehere in the early part of the season and the increased masked differential that Michal Neuvirth offered, verses Ray Emery, have resulted in a similar playoff push reality this April? It's debatable. However, the very unusual move of removing 'Chief', while retaining his entire staff, to assist Hakstol's National Hockey League transition, can't be overlooked.

General manager Ron Hextall, who worked through his first year last season, evaluated everything and made a gutsy decision. An organization that has been known and harshly criticized for its loyalty, changed direction, replacing a Flyer with an outsider. Hextall's patient approach defies the on-ice demeanor that he exhibited when he embodied number 27 in and around the crease during a 13-year hockey career.

Philadelphia's short-term future may include a playoff appearance this spring, but even if it doesn't, depth within the lower levels is real. Similar to the 1980's teams, continued infusions of youth will repopulate the roster for cascading future seasons. And with that, it appears that the Flyers are building toward perpetual contention and therefore, a realistic chance at the ever-elusive third Stanley Cup ring.

First period

Steve Mason started in goal, again. Andrew Hammond led the Senators, who were recently eliminated from playoff contention, as were all of the Canadian teams. That rare seasonal distinction, among non-United States teams, was last realized during the 1969-70 campaign.

This period wasn't flat, but the teams basically took turns appearing in each other's end of the ice, with little sustained high-percentage opportunities. Each goalie made a few decent saves, but the shot total (Flyers 10 - Senators 9) reflected an even frame and produced a double goose egg on the scoreboard.

Second period

Wayne Simmonds tipped Jake Voracek's intentionally aimed blue line shot past Hammond at 1:30 into the period. It was his twenty-seventh of the season. The power play goal gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead.

Then, on a another man-advantage, Sean Couturier poked in a puck that Brayden Schenn initially attempted to push past Ottawa's goal line. Assists went to Schenn and Simmonds. It was Coot's eleventh of the season.

Chris Neil was assessed with a 10-minute misconduct penalty (17:35) just prior to Mike Zibanejad blowing a shot past Mason's left pad, at close range, with 2:12 left in frame. His nineteenth goal was assisted by Mike Hoffman and Cody Ceci.

The Flyers headed into the final period of their last game of this season against the Senators with the thinnest of leads. The two-period result wasn't surprising, as these Eastern Conference occupants split their first two games earlier in the hockey year, both of which were played at the Canadian Tire Centre north of the border.

Third period

Simmonds scored his second power play goal of the game (and twenty-eighth overall) at 7:15, with assists to Voracek and Schenn. This important tally gave the Flyers breathing room, putting them up by two over the Sens. Ceci's earlier penalty enabled his team to fall into this 3-1 hole. Will Simmer break the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career? With five games to go, it's surely possible that he reaches that impressive mark.

Radko Gudas earned two-minute minor penalties (11:34) for interference and slashing during a scrum that saw Neil tagged with two minutes of roughing time. Hoffman subsequently scored his twenty-eighth of the season 12:28 on the ensuing power play, with assists to Erik Karlsson and Bobby Ryan. However, it wasn't enough as the Flyers held on to win 3-2. Ottawa's 36-35 shot advantage underscored the evenness of the battled that ensued.

The win pushed the Flyers (91) to within two points of the New York Islanders (93), who were shutout by the Pittsburgh Penguins (98 points). Philadelphia, the eighth-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, and New York (seventh-ranked) have five games remaining on their schedules. These longtime rivals play each other at the Wells Fargo Center in the last game of the season on April 10, which is a makeup of an earlier snowed-out contest.

After the horn sounded



Hakstol was his normal disciplined self in the post-game presser. With his daughter and a member of the Flyers' PR staff, Joe Seville, standing off to the side, the first-year head coach reviewed the game with the preciseness of a grizzled bench boss. Hextall's man clearly has implemented a team-wide style that plays shift-by-shift, period-by-period and game-by-game. A playoff berth is in the offing with ten possible points to gain. Detroit, ninth in the Conference, sits just outside Wild Card position, with 89 points and four games showing on its 2015-16 docket, and Boston, who lags just behind the Red Wings as of today.

When asked by the media about defending a one-goal lead late in a game, Hakstol said, “Mentality and the ability to stay aggressive and stay on your toes. That’s exactly what that shift says. We kept it in the offensive zone, we kept the clock winding without a whole lot of whistles as we went down the stretch. Because of that we were able to stay on our toes and stay aggressive and that’s exactly what Belley’s line did on that shift.”

Mason's play has been key to the Flyers' surge. After the game he said, “A lot of what I’m doing has to do with the guys in front. I think overall we’re playing real solid hockey and in turns makes my job a lot easier. We’re scoring goals at probably our best clip of the year too, so that also helps. We’re still in tight games, but we’re having the confidence for guys that they’re going to find the back of the net and that’s a nice thing for a goaltender to have, knowing that the guys are going to come through for you and more than anything like I said earlier it’s fun coming to the rink and expecting to play.”

Speaking about the playoff push, Giroux said, “I think we’ve been doing a good job. We were maybe what eight points off maybe two months ago. We told ourselves to focus on our game, how we play, and we’ve been doing that so I’m not too sure what the game was with Pittsburgh and the Islanders, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter to us, so we just have to be ready for next game.”

Philadelphia's relentless push since February has earned the organization kudos across the League. Their opportunity to play post-season hockey isn't an accident. No, Hextall, Hakstol, his coaching staff and the orange iced boys have earned a chance to shine. Next up is tomorrow's game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

How concussions may be linked to ALS: An interview with former NFL player Kevin Turner

(Kevin Turner passed away on March 24, 2016. ALS was originally believed to be the cause of his death. However, per a Boston Globe report Turner appears to have died from CTE.

Of particular importance in report cited is the following - 

"Former Patriots fullback Kevin Turner lived the last six years of his life believing he was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In fact, Turner, who died in March at age 46, spent his excruciating final years stricken with a severe case of football-related chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which caused a motor neuron disease similar to ALS, researchers at Boston University announced Thursday."
and...
"The BU CTE Center has diagnosed the disease in 91 deceased football players (CTE can only be diagnosed through postmortem brain autopsies) and dozens of athletes who played other contact sports, as well as military veterans."

(The text of the feature shown below was originally published on June 23, 2011.
"What does anyone want to do with their life, other than to make a positive difference in this world?" - Kevin Turner
I had a chance to speak with former NFL fullback Kevin Turner recently. We discussed a wide range of issues, including the progress that he has made since he first announced that he had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Information about Turner's foundation can be found at: www.kevinturnerfoundation.org
Role models Our role models are people who inspire us to be strong and to pursue our dreams.
Beyond family members and friends, there are other sources of inspiration. Athletes stand on a stage that has been built by our modern society. They play a role in influencing who we are and who we want to be. Their choices strongly impact our culture.
The traits that we hope our heroes have lie within 42-year-old Kevin Turner. More than a year ago, the former football player learned that he also had something else inside of him, ALS.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It is a progressive, neurodegenerative, disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
Each person is affected differently by it. In some individuals the disease slows, or seems to stop. In others, paralysis and a degeneration of motor neurons eventually leads to death.
Old school days
"I remember being in the fourth grade, telling my teacher that I was going to play in the NFL. After I got there, she sent me a letter that I had written about wanting to become a football player," Turner said.
After high school, Turner played college football for Alabama. He was then selected by the Patriots in the third round of the 1992 NFL draft.
Former Patriot teammate Sam Gash
Sam Gash was drafted out of college the same year that Turner was. Their professional association and friendship began when both rookies made the New England Patriots roster in 1992.
"We fed off each other and it helped both of us in our careers. Kevin was smart player who was always looking for the big play," Gash said.
The Penn State alumni played with Turner for three seasons in New England and has remained friends with him ever since.
"He exalted God because he put forth everything he had whenever he stepped on the field, whether it was practice or in games.
"He rightfully got a big contract with Philadelphia, because he was one of the best all-around fullbacks in the League at the time," Gash said.
The two-time Pro-Bowl fullback went onto to play for the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens before retiring after the 2003 season.
In mid-June, Turners foundation held a charitable event in Tennessee. Gash was one of many people who was happy to help Turner in that cause.
"He is really an inspiration to me. Kevin won't back down from a challenge. I still hear the same spunk in his voice when I talk to him.
"Kevin is the type of guy who will give you the shirt off his back. He has my friendship for life," Gash said.
Turner played for the Patriots until, as Gash referenced, the Eagles signed him as a free agent in 1995.
Reflections from Eagles Coach Juan Castillo
"Kevin always handled himself in a professional manner on the field. I saw how smart he was when I became a position coach," Castillo said.
Castillo played outside linebacker for Texas A&I and then played inside linebacker for the USFL's San Antonio Gunslingers in the mid-1980's. After his playing career ended, he began to coach full-time.
In 1995, he was hired as an Offensive Assistant by then-Eagles Head Coach Ray Rhodes and eventually became the team's Offensive Line Coach. Current Eagles Head Coach, Andy Reid, named him Defensive Coordinator during this off-season.
"As we grew, there were some things that I think we did because of Kevin. I thought it was amazing how he understood protections and blocking schemes. We also had Deuce Staley at that time. Both guys were smart.
"Kevin loved and understood the game. He would stay after practice and work on run blocking, pass protection and cut technique. He would also always help the young guys with their development and in the classroom," Castillo said.
After retirement
In 2001, Turner accepted an offer to be an Offensive Coordinator at Wetumpta High School in Alabama.
"I absolutely loved it. I got a thank you note from the quarterback of that team back then. Recently, I received another note from him. He thanked me for all of the things I taught him. Those notes mean the world to me," Turner said.
After coaching, Turner worked for three years with a real estate development company in Birmingham, AL.
He then formed his own development company in 2005 and worked with retail corporations, including Dollar General, on land development deals. While his business had been very successful, the collapse of the real estate market forced him to declare bankruptcy in 2009.
Ever resilient and adaptable, he smoothly transitioned into medical sales before being diagnosed with ALS. Within the last year, Turner's physical condition has left him unable to function well enough to continue working.
Dr. Sponaugle
Shortly after his retirement in 1999, Turner continued to feel the physical effects of his football career. That is when he became addicted to pain medication. 
In 2000, he first met Dr. Marvin 'Rick' Sponaugle, who heads the Florida Detox and Wellness Institute in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Dr. Sponaugle's program helped him to break his habit and allowed him maintain a healthy lifestyle for approximately five years.
"In 2006, when I started taking pills again, I went and saw Dr. Sponaugle. He was the first doctor that did a blood work up. He told me then that my brain was not functioning properly.
"I got off the pain pills, but had not taken the prescription that Dr. Sponaugle had given me. Eight months later I was in his office again, because I had relapsed. That is when he told me again that my brain was not functioning properly."
ALS diagnosis in 2010
Four years passed. In May, 2010, Turner was diagnosed with ALS by a number of different Neurologists that he met with. The condition was mostly affecting his upper extremities and back at that time.
"I first noticed that something wasn't right when I was playing my guitar one day. My fingers weren't going where they were suppose to go and I had played the guitar for 20 years."
"I think that, over time, the hits that I took to the head changed a lot about how my brain worked." - Kevin Turner
Sports Legacy Institute
It must seem as though the Alabama graduate is back in college, because his experiences in the last year have been similar to enrolling in a medical degree program.
Dr. Robert Cantu is a concussion expert and a clinical professor of Neurosurgery at the Boston University School of Medicine. He is one of the prominent doctors that Turner has met with and is also the founder of the Sports Legacy Institute. Cantu believes that Turner may have a version of ALS.
"I decided to go public about my condition (in August, 2010) because of the encouragement of Chris Nowinski and Dr. Ann McKee," Turner said.
Both are also connected to the Sports Legacy Institute. Nowinski is the President and CEO and Dr. Ann McKee is a Neuropathologist.
"I called Chris back in June, to let him know that I had just been diagnosed. He told me that Dr. McKee was going to publish a paper in August that linked head trauma with ALS."
Foundation formed and music video recorded
Tamara Alan, an attorney and friend from college, helped him to establish the Kevin Turner Foundation. The foundation helps to raise funds and awareness about the disease.
Country music star, Ty Herndon, contributed to Turner's charitable efforts in a unique way. 'Journey On', the title song to his Grammy nominated album, was written about Turner and dedicated by Herndon to his foundation. The accompanying music video also featured Turner and his children.
"I had always wanted to do something like that and was glad that we had the chance to. It is so great."
New protocol
Turner could have chosen to remain silent and to fight his health battle in private. But, the former NFL player transformed his passion from one public field to another when he decided to go public about his condition.
Turner worked throughout the spring of 2011 on a new health protocol. Doing so allowed him to maintain his football playing weight of 235 pounds.
Medical science is making progress in the area of head trauma, but it is still a developing issue. Cutting edge treatments are being tested, but true solutions are not yet available to the general public.
"Dr. Sponaugle called me on November, 1, 2010, and said that I needed to see him. So, every month I go to the Institute for at least a week. I get intravenous medications that are mostly vitamins and all-natural supplements that help get rid of toxins in my body."
He said that he is not aware of any Doctor who is involved in the type of work that Sponaugle is involved in.
Turner undergoes significant testing at the institute. He reviews his results and is informed of any recommended treatment adjustments. He was at the Institute in Florida at the end of April and didn't felt himself regressing after he received his treatments.
"I didn't go there in May and I noticed that since then some things had changed. Recently, I was trying to put gas into my car and I couldn't pull the trigger on the pump with my fingers. That was the first time that had happened."
Dr. Sponaugle has worked with Parkinson's and Multiple Sclerosis patients, but Turner is the first person with ALS that he has worked with.
Turner has considered many potential surrounding causes that may have affected the development of his condition. He has also been told that he has a highly abnormal marker point for Lyme disease.
Testing for a concussion through a thumb print
"Head trauma leads to ALS-like symptoms. I say that because it has been documented in so many other people.
"I think that, over time, the hits that I took to my head changed a lot about how my brain worked. If you look at the football players who have been diagnosed with ALS, all of them have come from collision positions. Fullbacks, strong safeties, linebackers, special team guys, they are the ones that have this disease."
Dr. McKee taught Turner about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Her work at the Brain Bank at Boston University allows her to study the brains of many individuals who have suffered various forms of head trauma.
"I learned through a meeting with doctors, that there is such a thing as a neurofilament that is released into the blood stream when the head is traumatized. I believe that we will get to a point where people will be able to be tested genetically so they can know what conditions they are predisposed to."
Turner wants to raise money to help fund various innovative ideas that are currently being explored.
Developing technology would allow players to be tested on the sidelines, immediately after they have suffered a hit, through the simple prick of a finger. Doing so would allow neurofilaments in the blood to be measured to gauge the severity of any head trauma that has occurred and to determine if remnants of a concussion existed.
Moving forward
Turner has overcome some financial and personal challenges within the last year that were unrelated to his health concerns. He refused to relent as he worked through bankruptcy and a divorce. His determination helped him to weather those storms and has taken him to a better place in life.
"I'm as happy now as I have been in years. I know that I have gotten ALS for a reason. I think God has a plan and this is part of his plan. I have the right circumstances to make a difference in this world. What does anyone want to do with their life, other than to make a positive difference in this world?"
Turner and his former wife have maintained a connection that benefits their children. As a result, his relationship with them has remained strong. His three children just completed a good year in school, earning A's on their report cards.
His oldest son, Nolan is 13 and has played football for a number of years.
His daughter Natalie is 10 and is a cheerleader. She is also especially attentive to her Dad's health needs and helps him with any household tasks that he finds difficult to perform.
"Certain days I can do things better than others, like button my shirt. My daughter helps me with things like that."
Cole, his youngest child, is 8.
Going back to Philly
On January 2, 2011, Turner traveled with Nolan to Philadelphia to see the Eagles host the Dallas Cowboys. The trip allowed him to talk with players and spend time with old friends, including Juan Castillo.
"We spent some time together and I got to see his son move around a little bit and catch the ball. He is a hard worker like Kevin was.
"When you work together, it's important for people to know that you care about them. It's a game, but it's also about relationships and trusting each other. I have a lot of respect for Kevin," Castillo said.
Connecting with the fans and with former colleagues has continued to play a vital role in Turner's life. Whether it be a former Alabama fan, New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton, or a current player who also has the condition, he offers advice to all who seek his input.
Working on solutions
Turner had only been aware of two concussions that happened during his career. One came in 1994, with the Patriots and the other in 1997, with the Eagles.
In recent years the NFL has been addressing the issue of head trauma through a number of rules changes, by placing informative posters in locker rooms and through the creation of 'return to play' guidelines. Turner knows the eduction process is key to awareness.
"This month we have partnered with the ALS therapy alliance. At every CVS store in the country, people will be able to make a $1 donation to ALS research. On June 18, we had a fund raiser in Tennessee with former players," Turner said.
When asked what advice he would offer to football players of any age, he responded with a comment about his youngest son.
"Based on what I know now, I'm thinking about holding Cole back from playing football this year. Maybe it's not the best thing to play Pee-Wee football and I've been coaching it for the past six years."
Turner, Turner, Turner!
Fans of the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles heard Turner's name mentioned many times when he was on their team back in the day. These days, the father of three is out in front of an issue that deserves focused attention.
When medical breakthroughs happen, in the hopefully not-too-distant future, certain prominent individuals will be recognized for their positive efforts.
At that time, the name Kevin Turner will be mentioned as one of the people who helped to create solutions for a problem that needed to be solved. That is what heroes generally do.
Information about Turner's foundation can be found at: www.kevinturnerfoundation.org
(All rights to this feature, which was originally published by the Yahoo Sports Contributor Network, are owned by the author, Sean O'Brien.)
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