Welcome to the finest Philadelphia sports blog ran from within Temple University. This blog's focus is local sports, including Temple sports as well as news and opinions regarding the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, and Sixers.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ice Hockey Goalie Neifeld Wins Two Awards

The exceptional season that Temple ice hockey has had just keeps getting better.
Owls’ junior goalie Will Neifeld won the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association conference award for Best Goalie and League MVP last weekend. Neifeld holds a tie for first in the MACHA conference with three shutouts and is third in the country in minutes (1473.77). He had a goals against average of 2.69 to go along with a save percentage of .92 in 26 games played for the Owls this year.

Neifeld led the Owls to a 20-11 record this season and a 5th place ranking in the American Collegiate Hockey Association southeastern conference. The Owls will play Bowling Green University tomorrow in the ACHA Regional playoffs at the Northeast Skate Zone at 4:50 p.m.
The playoffs are a single-elimination tournament in which the final two teams advance to the National playoffs in San Jose, CA. If the Owls win tomorrow and win in the finals on Sunday, they will earn their first trip to Nationals in the program’s history.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spotlight: Blake Griffin

The rookie having the most success in the NBA this year isn’t even from the class of 2010.
Blake Griffin, of the LA Clippers, has established himself as the most exciting young player in the NBA. His impressive stats and unforgettable slam-dunks almost every game make him a bona fide superstar – and at only 22 years old. 
Griffin cemented his superstar status on Saturday night when he won the NBA Slam Dunk Competition. He pulled off one of the most incredible feats in the event’s history during the final round when he dunked over a car parked in the paint.
It is clear Griffin knows how to put on a show. At his home arena of his Los Angeles Clippers, the Staples Center, his gravity defying dunks every night fill the seats. And his slam-dunk competition repertoire was a pre-meditated work of art.
His two dunks in the first round single-handedly were more impressive than the collective body of work that the Slam Dunk contest has seen in the past few years, in which Boston Celtics guard Nate Robinson has undeservingly won two out of three times.
The Slam Dunk contest used to be where legends were made. In the past, it has been home to some of the most iconic moments in NBA history. This is where Doctor J dunked from the foul line only to be matched by Michael Jordan twenty years later. This is where Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb built their legacy.
But the once-historic event has been demoted to a mockery the past few years; with capes, props, and 17 missed attempts on his final dunk by the eventually crowned Robinson.
Griffin brought the event back to its glory days in the very first round. In his event-opening dunk, Griffin executed a 360, two-handed slam. He followed that up by throwing the ball off the side of the backboard, catching it in midair, and slamming it home to advance to the next round.
He then literally evoked a legend of the event with his first dunk of the final round, in which he executed a one handed dunk and dangled from the rim by his elbow a la Vince Carter in the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest.
Then came the car.
In addition to the 2011 Kia Shark that he eventually leapt over, Griffin brought out a gospel choir to half court to sing “I Believe I Can Fly”.
Griffin’s car-defying dunk will most certainly go down in history as one of the greatest dunks in the contest’s history, but more importantly, it resurrected what should be one of basketball’s most exciting events.

Manuel Wants Contract Extension Before Regular Season

Charlie Manuel is one of only two managers in Phillies history to win a World Series. If the Phillies win 103 games this season, he will be the winningest manager in Phillies’ history.

Given his already solidified spot in Phillies’ lore, it would seem obvious that the Phillies front office would do 
everything they can to lock Manuel down in the red and white pinstripes for many years to come. However, the Phillies and Manuel still have not reached an agreement for a contract extension for beyond the 2011 season.

"We've been working at it since December, and hopefully we'll get something done," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said. "I would view it as a fluid process from our standpoint.”

Amaro’s lack of urgency is unavoidably unnerving. To delay on Manuel’s extension would be to insult the integrity of who could be the greatest manager in Phillies’ history by the time his career is over. That is if he even gets to stay here past this season.

"I went through a situation a few years ago the same way, and every now and then you might think about something, but at the same time you stay focused on where you are going," Manuel said. "You stay busy, and if you do your job right, then things will work out."

But this isn’t just about getting an extension for Manuel; the timeliness of the extension is exponentially important. The Phillies and Manuel were expected to make an agreement prior to spring training, but the extension never came. And now that the Phillies have reported to Clearwater, Manuel’s contract becomes an unneeded distraction.

"Hopefully something happens in spring training," Manuel said. "My contract, I definitely don't want it to be a 
distraction for our team because I definitely put my team first. The players, that's why I get a contract. That's the 
whole purpose of me doing what I do."

Manuel has rightfully requested for the contract dispute to be settled sometime before the regular season starts.

"Once the season starts, I don't want to talk about my contract," Manuel said.

But the contract isn’t just a distraction for Manuel and the team, but also for the Phillies’ front office who as of right now will be paying Joe Blanton way too much money this year and won’t have a stable situation in right field. Signing Manuel prior to the regular season should be Amaro and the Phillies’ front office top responsibility.

"We want him to be our manager," Amaro said. "And we're hopeful we can make that happen."

"I'm not worried about that," Manuel added. "It wouldn't be the first time in the world where a manager goes into the season without a contract extension. There's a lot of those, actually."

Manuel, who turned 67 in January, is expected to earn around $3 million this year. He has a 544-428 record in his six years with the team, including four division titles, two National League pennants, and a World Series championship.

Temple Ice Hockey Loses in MACHA Tournament Finals

Temple ice hockey had three matchups this past weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association conference tournament. However, it took 12 periods of hockey to finish them off.
After winning on Friday, 4-1, against St. Joseph’s and Saturday, 3-2, in double-overtime versus Penn State, Temple lost to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in overtime at the MACHA conference final on Sunday, 3-2.
It was the first time in the ice hockey program’s history the team reached the MACHA conference tournament final. The team won three straight Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference championships from 2003-2005, but the MACHA is a much more well-regarded and competitive conference.
“Our goal for this season was to win the MACHA,” coach Jerry Roberts said. “Falling short, even though we made it further than we’ve ever made it before … it kind of hurt.”
The tournament consisted of the Top 6 teams in the MACHA conference, which is a sub-conference of American Collegiate Hockey Association, the overall governing body of club hockey. It is the same structure as NCAA basketball, in which there are conference tournaments before the National March Madness tournament.
The tournament works just like the National Football League playoffs do, in which the Top 2 seeds get a bye, the third seed plays the sixth seed, and the fourth seed plays the fifth seed in the opening rounds of the single-elimination tournament.
Temple was the third seed, and it got off to a good start to the tournament on Friday against sixth-seeded St. Joe’s, which Temple beat both times it faced in the regular season. Senior forward Ryan Frain scored two goals to lead the Owls to a 4-1 quarterfinal victory.
“We’re playing the best hockey that we’ve played all season,” Roberts said.
But Saturday’s matchup against second-seeded Penn State proved to be much more difficult.
The Nittany Lions took one-goal leads into both the second and third period before the Owls tied the score back up both times. Junior goalie Will Neifeld kept the Owls in it with 32 saves in regulation, and the game went into sudden death overtime.
After a tense period in which both goalies were forced to make multiple saves, the game was sent into a second sudden death period. Following another 19 minutes of back-and-forth action, senior forward George Rutter ended the suspense by netting the game winner with just nine seconds left in the period, sending the Owls to the finals.
“[Frain] made a great pass over to me,” Rutter said. “I just wanted to bring the goalie over to my side, and then just put it where he wasn’t.”
“I honestly just take [overtime] like it’s any other period,” Neifeld said. “The only difference is you get a little sluggish, you’re a little tired. But if your focus is there, you can block it out.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” Rutter added. “Obviously it’s nerve-wracking, but once you get out there playing, and your adrenaline kicks in, you really don’t think about it. It’s just about playing as hard as you can.”
The Owls met the top-seeded Retrievers in the final. After the Owls took a one-goal lead on a Frain breakaway in the first, the Retrievers scored consecutive goals and took the lead into the third period. Owls senior forward Steve Danno tied the game with 12 minutes left in the third, and the Owls yet again went into overtime.
In what proved to be an evenly matched fourth period, the Retrievers ended the tournament on a goal by sophomore forward Andrew Ojeda that gave the team the 3-2 victory and the MACHA title.
“It hurts a little bit,” Roberts said. “Even though we fell a little short, the bright side is what we’re looking at here is that we’re playing the best hockey that we’ve played all year.”
“I can’t stress it enough – it’s a team effort,” Neifeld said. “If we’re down we pick each other up. We win as a team and lose as a team.”
Now that their in-conference play is complete, the Owls carry the fifth-overall ranking in the ACHA Southeastern division into the regional playoffs this weekend at home at the Flyers Skate Zone. If the Owls win the regional tournament, it would earn them a trip to the National ACHA playoffs in San Jose, Calif., which would be another first in the program’s history.
“We have all the momentum that we need,” Roberts said. “We have not played this well at any point in the season. We really think we’re lining ourselves up for a trip to San Jose.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The History of Temple Ice Hockey

The Temple News takes a look back at the past 70 years of Temple’s ice hockey team.
Courtesy the 1941 Templar Yearbook
(Left) Players George Sutch and Frank Moister pose
with Mary Jane Byerly. (Above)
Jerry Roberts is a Temple man to the “T.” He attended Temple from 2002-2006, played on the Temple ice hockey team from 2002-2007, was a Temple employee and currently coaches the ice hockey team.
Temple has provided Roberts with an education, a profession and, like so many other young men before him, an opportunity to continue to be involved in his life’s passion of ice hockey.
“Being a part of this club as players was the greatest experience of our lives, and we can never pay back all of the people who helped us along the way,” Roberts said. “The only thing we can do is ensure that current and future players at Temple have the same experiences we had.”
Over the past 70 years, ice hockey at Temple has seen more than a thousand players. Since the team’s inception, players have had to provide their own equipment, pay team dues to cover uniforms and transportation and deal with a lack of a close-to-campus home ice rink.
Despite having to be self-sufficient, it is a commonality for all members of the ice hockey team, which has proven the experience can be rewarding, exciting and life-altering.
“Temple ice hockey provided me with the best five years of my life,” Roberts said. “The experiences, combined with the guidance from the administrative personnel at Temple, helped mold me into the person that I am today.”
The ice hockey program began in 1940 with the creation of the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Hockey League. At the time, Temple made no appropriations of funds for the team, which began the long history of fundraising for the team.
The 1941 team was coached by the boy’s freshman football coach Chet Messervey. The team was made up mostly of football players and was forced to practice at 6:15 a.m. because the only available ice rink, the Philadelphia Gardens rink, was open to the public during the day.
Although there has been a significant change in the background of the players since the team’s birth, the idea of being cost-effective and searching for “ice time” is something all Temple ice hockey players can relate to.
“To say that we were behind the eight ball was putting it mildly,” said former player and Temple league representative John Vaccarelli, who played from 1982-1984. “We didn’t have a coach until maybe the second or third game of the season.
“The lines were set and the backup goalie was responsible for making the line changes,” Vaccarelli added. “Temple could have made it better with an influx of cash. It would have life a lot easier for us in regard to the running of the team. Hockey is expensive.”
“The team was well organized within the structure of a club sport at that time,” said former player Chris Powala, who played with Vaccarelli. “What could have been done to make my playing experience better was eventually done, and that was the creation of the [American Collegiate Hockey Association] with a governance with minimum team criteria for membership at various levels/divisions.”
Vaccarelli (right) and Powala (left) shake hands following
a game against La Salle in 1983.
The ACHA was created seven years after Powala and Vaccarelli graduated to provide organizational structure to club teams that aren’t officially sanctioned by the NCAA.
“There are only 100 NCAA ice hockey teams [From Division I – Division III],” Roberts said. “ACHA came into existence in 1990 in order to provide an opportunity for players outside of that elite group to play competitive ice hockey while in college.”
After entering the ACHA, the team experienced some hardship that led to it going dormant for a few years.
In 1993, club teams followed the same funding model as it does today with Campus Recreation paying one-third of the team’s cost, and the team covered the other two-thirds. At the time, the team’s treasurer, president and coach were co-signers of a local bank account that held all the team’s funds.
Director of Campus Recreation Steve Young, who had been working with Temple club sports since 1984 and assumed his current job in 1990, said the team had always been in good standing.
Before each season, Young and the team would meet to discuss what costs would be covered by Campus Rec. and the team. One such topic was ice time at the Class of 1923 Arena located on Penn’s main campus that had served as Temple’s home arena. Campus Rec. agreed to pay for ice time for the first half of the year, and the team would pay for the second half.
When it came time for the second-half payments to be made, Young started receiving calls from officials at the 1923 Arena asking where the payment was.
Around the same time, the team’s head coach left the team in the middle of the season to go participate in Operation Desert Storm. He had only been with the team for two-and-a-half seasons.
Young and the team soon learned the coach had bolted with all of the team’s money.
“He left the kids hanging,” Young said. “It was shocking that he took the money, and that he up and left coaching. People were just getting over the idea that their coach left.”
Young reported the incident to Temple’s financial affairs, which decided not to recoup the team’s losses because the money was not a part of university funds. There wasn’t much they could do to the former coach who was not a university employee and left no contact information behind.
The team would finish the 1993-1994 season with Campus Rec. covering the rest of the costs. The following year, Campus Rec. decided the team could stay together as an organization but would be suspended from playing games until the team could pay back its debts.
“Most of the club members were so frustrated and so angry that they gave up and the club folded for four years,” Young said. “The reason the club took a hit for it was because the treasurer and officers have to have that responsibility of knowing what’s going on with their club.”
“Our feeling was that they had a core group that was irresponsible for not keeping a closer eye on things,” Young added.
The team returned for the 1996-1997 season after all of the players involved in the 1993 incident had moved on from Temple, but 1993 would still impact the team.
The club’s relationship with the 1923 Arena soured to the point where the team searched elsewhere for a new home arena.
Through a connection a student had, the team would play its home games in Pennsauken, N.J., until 2002 when the Flyers Northeast Skatezone opened, and the team became its first tenant. The team still plays there and receives priority for ice time.
The stolen funds affected how all club teams’ budgets are currently managed. Now, every monetary decision a club team makes must be co-signed by Campus Rec.
“We’re tightly involved, and the treasurer doesn’t work with a coach or a president. They work with our full-time personnel just so such a thing doesn’t happen again,” Young said.
Today, all players pay team dues that cover transportation and uniforms, but players are responsible for their own with equipment. Players carpool to some away games, but if the destination is more than an hour away, Roberts requires the team to take a bus.
The team receives $20,300 from Campus Rec. and collects a total of $47,600 in player dues at a rate of $1,700 per player. They also raise a few thousand dollars through fundraising. Whatever Campus Rec. does not pay for, the players and coaches are responsible for coming up with the rest.
This is the current model for funding for all club sports.
“We would not exist without the support and efforts of Sarah Newton [the sports club coordinator], Steve Young and the rest of [Campus Recreation],” Roberts said. “They do far more for us than most other schools do for their club hockey teams.”
Even given the support the ice hockey team receives from Temple, most of the organizational work is done by the players.
“On the ice we were well-organized, and off the ice we were self-organized,” former player Craig Ungaro, who played with Roberts, said. “Although we received a great deal of support from our club [representative], the success or direction of the club was left up to the members and players.”
“In my opinion, nothing could have been done to make it better,” Roberts added. “We did the most we could with the resources we had available to us.”
The storied history of Temple ice hockey team has inadvertently created a sense of bonding among the players in which brotherhood trumps adversity. As a result, the Temple Ice Hockey Alumni Association is currently in its groundwork.
“We have decided to tackle the alumni association slowly,” Roberts said. “We all keep in touch and get together once a year but have never established a formal organization. This year, we’re sending them occasional e-mails, inviting them to games [and] hosting the occasional reunion. Next year, we’re going to try to set something up with a little more structure.”
Although life as a Temple ice hockey player may seem challenging, the ice hockey team has provided opportunities for more than a thousand students who, if nothing more, want to continue doing what they love for as long as possible.
“At the time, the tradeoff was the opportunity to continue playing a sport we loved at a collegiate level,” Ungaro said. “In addition to the on-ice benefit, off the ice, we were creating life-long friendships, and we share a fraternity-like bond that couldn’t be duplicated.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Matt Anderson's Comeback

The journey back to the Major League stage has been difficult for Matt Anderson, but his tenaciousness may have landed him another opportunity for success at the big league level.   

Six years removed from his last appearance in the Majors, Anderson’s newest destination is Philadelphia. The 34-year-old inked a Minor League contract with the Phillies in January and will report to minor league camp next month in Clearwater, Fla.

“Quite honestly, I don’t think there are any expectations on our part,” Phillies director of professional scouting Mike Ondo told Baseball America earlier this month. “This is a guy who has put his time in and dedicated himself to getting back, and we’re going to give him a shot and see where it goes.”

A prized prospect out of Rice University, Anderson was selected by the Detroit Tigers as the first overall pick in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft and made his professional debut a year later. In 42 appearances that season he went 5-1 with a 3.27 while flashing a fastball that regularly reached triple digits.

Success, however, was short lived and a once promising career entered a tailspin.

Despite modest success in 2001 as a closer, Anderson struggled to throw strikes in 2002 and missed a portion of the season with a torn arm muscle sustained while throwing in the bullpen. He returned in 2003 but his arm never was the same. He bounced around with the Rockies and Giants before the White Sox cut him loose in 2008.

To Anderson’s credit, he never gave up. He moved to Phoenix in September and began working with former Chicago Cubs strength and conditioning coach Brett Fischer. The velocity on his fastball improved to the 90-94 mph range and scouts began showing a tempered interest, including the Phillies’ Del Unser who watched Anderson throw on three occasions.

“I was going to parade Matt in front of all 30 clubs but right away he said, ‘Try to focus on the Phillies. This team has a real shot to win a World Series, and I know I can help,” Anderson’s representative Joe Longo told Baseball America.

Anderson will earn $500,000 if he reaches Philadelphia this season.

"Whatever happens, I'm cool with it," Anderson said. "But there's no doubt in my mind that I'll pitch in the big leagues again."

Spotlight: Jordan Taylor

After the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers had dealt the top team in the country, the Ohio State Buckeyes, their first loss of the season, the Badger faithful stormed the court and lifted junior point guard Jordan Taylor on to their shoulders.

The celebration was both the product of an exuberant student section and an unintentional symbolic gesture of the rise of one of the most prominent, yet unheralded stars in college basketball.
Taylor scored 27 points, collected four rebounds, and dished out seven assists while turning the ball over just once in leading Wisconsin to a 71-67 victory over the previously undefeated Buckeyes.
He proved to be extremely clutch down the stretch of the game, scoring 21 points in the second half alone to lead the Badgers to their comeback win.
Taylor’s run began when Ohio State took their biggest lead of the game, 47-32 with thirteen minutes left to play in the second half. Taylor responded by leading the Badgers on a 15-0 run in which he scored 10 of the points himself and assisted on the other five.
Ohio State retook the lead with back-to-back scores, but Taylor responded again. Wisconsin made two three-point-shots in a throw – one by Taylor, one assisted by Taylor. He went on to score five of the Badgers’ next nine points to give Wisconsin a six-point lead with just under two minutes left to play.
But the Buckeyes made four free throws in the span of a minute, and suddenly it was a two-point game with a minute left to play.
On Wisconsin’s key next possession Taylor converted the most important play of the game.
As the Ohio State defense converged on Taylor, he passed the ball to sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz who hit a three-pointer that struck a dagger into the hearts of Ohio State and sent Wisconsin fans into a state of unbridled excitement.
As Ohio State scrambled in the final thirty seconds, Taylor sank two more free throws to ice the victory and put a cap on what is one of the most extraordinary performances of the year in college basketball.
Overall, Taylor hit six of seven shots and assisted on four baskets in the final 13 minutes of the game. He was directly involved in 34 of Wisconsin’s 39 final points.
But this was nothing out of the ordinary for those who have been paying attention to Taylor this season. He averages over 18 points per game, has a three-point percentage of .424, and lead’s the nation in assists to turnover ratio with 3.89 to 1.
Taylor’s performance against the best team in the country cements him as one of the best and players in the game today.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Spotlight: Aaron Rodgers

After years of unfavorable comparisons to his great predecessor, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers is a champion at last.
Rodgers threw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns to lead his Green Bay Packers to a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, 31-25.
Rodgers, who joined Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jake Delhomme as the only quarterbacks to throw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns without throwing an interception in the Super Bowl, was named game MVP.
The game marks a turning point in what had to have been a difficult, pressure-filled tenure for Rodgers, who has played in the shadow of the legendary Packer, Favre, throughout the beginning of his career. The Super Bowl victory and subsequent MVP award (which Favre never won) cements Rodgers as his own player and breaks him free from the chains of comparisons for good.
Rodger’s career began on draft day, 2005. He’d had an impressive career in college at the University of California, during which he set several school records. He was projected to be an early first-round pick and potentially the first overall. However, Rodgers had to wait an excruciating 23 picks before being drafted by the Packers at 24th overall, just the second quarterback off the board. It was a sign of things to come of what would be an initially painful career.
Rodgers then was forced to play backup to Favre for the first three years of his career, watching from the sidelines as his team suffered disappointment season after season. After the final game of the 2007 season, Favre unofficially announced his retirement to sideline reporter Andrea Kramer. After three years of waiting, it was finally Rodgers time to shine.
Favre reneged his announcement and returned as the starter for the 2007 season. Rodgers was relegated to the sidelines again as the most durable player in the game’s history started every single game of the season. In what seemed like his last hurrah, Favre’s Packers lost in the NFC Championship to the New York Giants. Favre officially announced his retirement the following spring to clear the way for the start of Rodgers’ career.
But it wasn’t over yet.
Rodgers had been given the starting job for the Packers, but news lingered during spring training that Favre wanted to come back. Rodgers had to deal with the press all summer with reporters questioning him on how he’d react if Favre decided to return as the starter. Like he has done throughout this whole process, Rodgers always responded as a true professional, repeating the mantra of “just focusing on what he has to do.”
Favre did end up returning in 2008, but he went to the New York Jets instead. Rodgers’ opportunity had finally come.
After an impressive individually statistical first season, Rodgers broke out in 2009. He led the Packers to an 11-5 record and a playoff birth in addition to being named to the Pro Bowl. It was mere foreshadowing for what would come in 2010.
This year, the Packers got off to a 9-4 start before a concussion sidelined Rodgers for Weeks 14 and 15, which both resulted in losses for the Packers. Following the injury, Rodgers led the Packers to wins in Weeks 16 and 17 and a playoff birth as a sixth seed.
Rodgers led the Packers to upsets in the Wild Card playoffs, divisional round, and NFC championship game before becoming just the second sixth seed to ever win the Super Bowl.
Rodgers has come a long way since his days in the shadow of Brett Favre. But his win in the Super Bowl doesn’t merely vindicate his troubled past; it also marks the beginning of a potential legend.