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Feb. 22, 2018 — Not to be outdone, a 20-year streak falls by the wayside

Late last evening, the United States women’s Olympic ice hockey team won the gold medal at PyeongChang 2018, which is just about 500 miles and 20 years from where the United States last won Olympic gold in Nagano, Japan.

For much of the last 20 years, the rivalry between the U.S. and Canada in women’s ice hockey has been skillful, fierce, full of gamesmanship, and with a particular twist in terms of the tale. Whereas Canada was the dominant force in the early days of full international play under the aegis of the IIHF, winning the first eight titles, the United States could claim the biggest win in that time frame with its gold-medal win at Nagano.

But since Canada won at Salt Lake 2002, it has been the United States which has been winning at the World Championship level, winning eight titles to Canada’s three. But Canada has also been able to point to four consecutive wins at the Olympics — Salt Lake, Torino, Vancouver, and Sochi.

As is usual in Olympic play, one key was having a player who may have had less experience in goal, but who knew well enough what the stakes were. In 1998, it had been Sarah Teuting, who only played three more years with the team before starting her own life-coaching business in Utah. In this Olympics, it was Maddie Rooney, who had only learned a few days before the semifinal that she would be the starter for the final.

Rooney was magnificent throughout, making one impossible save in overtime when she flung her stick to her right and deflected the puck behind her, parallel to the goal line, and away to the far corner. It was that close to being Canada’s game-winner.

Instead, it was Rooney who came up trumps in the shootout, stopping perhaps the greatest women’s hockey player of all time in Meghan Agosta in the sixth round.

Rooney, a junior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, had the demeanor that head coach Robb Stauber has seen in some of the greats.

“She has a very good presence about her, a very good demeanor for a goalie,” Stauber tells The Duluth News-Tribune. “If something happens in a game and the puck goes in, whether it’s a great shot or not even a great shot and the puck still ends up in the net, she has the ability to let it go. You need that in critical moments and times.”

And Rooney certainly did the job.

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Feb. 21, 2018 — An 18-year streak falls by the wayside

Judging by some of the field hockey competitions that are happening later this year, Canada would appear to be in fine fettle heading towards the Commonwealth games, but the United States women have a bit of work to do before its appearance at the FIH World Cup.

That’s because Canada beat the U.S. in the first of a four-match Test series in Chula Vista, Calif. by a score of 4-3. It was the Maple Leafs’ first win over the States in some 18 years.

To be fair, this is very much an experimental U.S. lineup that is being rostered for the Canada series. Sitting out are veteran goalie Jackie Briggs, central midfielders Michelle Vittese and Katelyn Ginobli, and attacker Jill Witmer, and they will presumably be part of the action in future Tests this year leading up to the World Cup.

Then again, this is a chance for other players in the U.S. talent pool to gain experience. Mary Barham, who led the U.S. effort at the indoor World Cup, is in the mix along with the Duke wunderkind Margaux Paolino. Also in the U.S. pool is Syracuse senior Laura Hurff, who is also splitting time with the school’s women’s lacrosse team as it chases an elusive national championship.

But I think the person who make the biggest difference down the line is the inclusion of Tara Vittese. One of the top goal scorers in the history of scholastic field hockey, Vittese is a physical presence and a magician with a field hockey stick, and she is being asked to show what she can do on the international level.

Given what I have seen from some of the post-Bam boom in youth field hockey, I’m interested to see what she can do.

 

Feb. 20, 2018 — Another shoe drops at Louisville

There have been a number of embarrassing episodes within the athletics department at the University of Louisville lately. There were months of rumors overhanging the women’s lacrosse team, culminating in an exodus of players and the replacement of the head coach.

But those headlines were absolutely trumped by the scandal surrounding the men’s basketball team. The program was embroiled in allegations regarding prostitution, sexual misconduct on the part of head coach Rick Pitino, and corrupt behavior by four assistant coaches.

Today, the NCAA came down hard, stripping Louisville of its 2013 national championship and 123 wins between 2011 and 2015.

But the vacating of wins, frankly, doesn’t mean much when it comes to the business of college sports these days.

Think of this: back in 1986, the second-place vote-getter in the Heisman Trophy was a tailback from Temple University named Paul Palmer. But you won’t find part of his official records: everything he did during the 1986 season was vacated because he was found in violation of NCAA rules for signing with a sports agent.

And yet, despite having a good chunk of his record vacated, Palmer was recently elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Makes you wonder whether the NCAA punishment will have any effect whatsoever on the behavior of the people who run college basketball.

Feb. 19, 2018 — Feeding an enormous pool

This past weekend was the U-14 Division of the National Indoor Tournament, where 192 teams were entered in 32 pools at Spooky Nook.

And with an average of 10 players per indoor team, this is nearly 2,000 athletes in the U-14 Division.

That’s an eye-opening figure; I don’t remember a U-14 tournament so large on the indoor side.

Is this the product of what had been a heretofore untapped market? Or is it a groundswell of popularity for middle-school field hockey?

Makes me wonder.

 

Feb. 18, 2018 — Gabbe the unflappable

A couple of years ago, as the winning streak of Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) headed into record territory and beyond, the single most unaffected person on the entire team with all of the attention — both good and bad — was goalie Gabbe Cadoux.

Cadoux, whether it was a good win, an historic win, or a too-close-for-comfort win, always had a positive demeanor and a smile on her face after every game.

It has served her pretty well as a player for Duke University. She wrested the starting job away from Jamie Lockwood last year, and has been the starter this year in the cage for the Blue Devils. Her capstone came today with a 9-8 win over a tough Northwestern outfit, with 10 saves on shots which came from difficult angles and speeds borne of the team’s athletic and unorthodox offense.

Even when Northwestern was on the attack in the final two minutes of play, Cadoux was able to raise her level of play to match the Wildcats. She made three stops in the final minutes of play to keep the Blue Devils in front.

“I was trying not to think about, ‘Oh, this could go in,’ or, ‘Oh, what if something goes wrong,’ because that’s how mistakes are made,” she said after the contest to the assembled media. “We just played how we knew how to play.”

For her, the game is just that simple. And, in a game which is rapidly evolving to a point where it could very well be overmanaged by coaches, this is a refreshing outlook.

Feb. 17, 2018 — Lacrosse substitutions gone amuck

Women’s lacrosse used to have an interesting forms of substitution in the pre-boundary era. A substitute used to have to report to the scorer’s table, then take the position of the substituted player in 10 seconds. The substituted player, if she was on the opposite side of the field as the scorer’s table, was allowed to exit the effective playing area and walk all the way around the perimeter of the field back to her bench area.

With a hard boundary also came a defined interchange box and free substitution, which could occur at any time, though it was sometimes interesting watching whether a whistle would interrupt a key substitution because the player coming off was a yard or so short of the sideline.

For the last few years or so, there have been a number of teams which have begun to use substitution more liberally, deepening the bench and keeping the starters fresh for the last 10 minutes of the game.

I haven’t yet seen the platoon substitution that the men use, when the same group of players are used in certain situations — man-down, man-up, draw control, etc. But I saw something in the Division II showdown between Florida Southern and Adelphi that I don’t think I have ever seen before. After one goal, I saw a couple of Florida Southern jerseys come off the field, then more, then even more. I think the final count was seven.

Now, I’m not exactly sure what the Southern coaching staff was doing at that juncture of the game, but I’m sure there had to have been something beyond normal coaching strategy behind a wholesale move.

Then again, it was over 80 degrees at gametime. And it worked for the Mocs as they won a 17-16 thriller over the Panthers.

Feb. 16, 2018 — When a visit to a taco shop parallels a school shooting

This evening, as I’ve done about once a week since the last Presidential election, I visited an independent Mexican taqueria, just to put a little money in the Latinx economy and put a thumb in the eye of a xenophobic administration.

As I was sitting down with my bottle of Sidral Mundet (a delicious apple-flavored soda) awaiting the soft taco platter, I heard a man talking to someone in a serious tone.

I had seen this threesome in line behind me, an adult male with military-style close-cropped hair, an adult female, and a small child who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old.

While the adult female was in the bathroom, the following was said by the male:

“I see how you escalate things now. If you were an adult and did what you did to me, I would never talk to you again. I would have punched you in the face.”

This was a threat directed at a child. In public.

Now, there are are any number of people in our society who are called “mandatory reporters.” These can be teachers, police officers, clergy, and health care professionals. They are bound, by law, to make a report to law enforcement when abuse is observed or suspected.

Had one of these professionals been in the restaurant, the male would likely have been questioned if not reprimanded already, even though he had not done anything that was against the law.

Question is, how is this different from Nikolaus Cruz, the Lakeland school shooter who hadn’t done anything wrong in the eyes of the law until the moment he took out his assault rifle at the school last Wednesday and murdered 17 people?

Apparently, the FBI may have dropped the ball on an early report, but the thing is, politicians have prevented this kind of reporting on possible firearm use/abuse for decades, all in the name of the preservation of the Second Amendment.

There’s a phrase for the kind of behavior that both Cruz and the short-haired man in the taqueria exhibited.

“If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it is a duck.”

May we, as a society, get all our ducks in a row, flying in the right direction.