Thornton vs. Kesler promises heavyweight battle


Thornton vs. Kesler promises heavyweight battle

Tim Panaccio

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Joe Thornton doesnt drop the gloves very often.

He has all of 24 career fights in 13 years in the National Hockey League, according to hockeyfights.com.

So what was going through his mind in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final when he asked Ryan Kesler to fight on the opening faceoff, after he got tossed out for trading head butts?

You channeling Dave Schultz there?

No, I'm not that tough, Thornton replied, laughing. Let's fight. Let's start the series off with a bang. That's about it.

It seems a bit disingenuous. Thornton isnt a fighter. Hes been under the microscope his whole career -- especially in the playoffs the past two years -- as a player who doesnt need to score more goals. He's expected to get his team to the Stanley Cup Final by making a difference.

Hes been in a few scraps, teammate Ben Eager said. Joes a big guy. When he gets fired up, I dont know if Id like to be fighting him. Hes got long reach and hes a strong guy."

And of the matchup with Kesler?

I didnt know what they were going to do with each other," Eager said. "Thought maybe theyd head butt each other for five minutes.

And what did Sharks coach Todd McLellan think?

That's between two players on the ice, McLellan said. That's where it stays.

You cant create toughness in a series. You have to bring it.

Chances are, Thorntons actions were premeditated like they were two years ago in the playoffs during Game 6 at Anaheim.

Thornton took the opening faceoff against the Ducks Ryan Getzlaf and dropped the gloves immediately.

Kesler said he laughed at the idea of throwing down with Thornton.

He asked me to fight and Im not going to engage in that, said Kesler, whos been wearing a face that blares intensity for days now and saw no humor whatsoever in the topic. He can talk all he wants. He wont get anything from me ... It takes energy away from you, too.

Obviously, Thornton wanted to get Kesler off his game right away. Kesler had an assist in Game 1, while Thornton scored a goal.

Hes smart, Kesler said. He uses his size to protect the puck. Once he gets position, you cant move him. Its useless. You have to worry about his stick then and go from there.

Thornton said there isnt much of a rivalry, even if you go back to 2010 Olympic Games, with Kesler on Team USA in the gold medal game against Team Canada.

Yeah, I don't know if it was a rivalry really, Thornton said. I don't really recall playing against him in the past, to be honest with you. I think just this year. He's competitive. I like playing against competitive guys. Yeah, it makes you elevate your game. You want to win every inch out there. It's a great battle all series long.

And maybe before this series ends, theyll have a go at it when it really means something.
Tim Panaccio is the NHL Insider for CSNPhilly.com E-mail him at tpanotch@comcast.net

Young Warriors fan brought to tears after getting surprised with tickets


Young Warriors fan brought to tears after getting surprised with tickets

Christmas came early for one young Warriors fan. 

Posting a video to Twitter, Charles Hinkle Jr. surprised his nephew with Warriors tickets on Friday. Hinkle's Twitter location shows the family is from Hollywood, Fla.

The reaction says it all. 

And the smile confirms it: best Black Friday ever.

The Warriors play the Heat in Miami on December 3 at 4 p.m. PT. The Warriors played the Heat twice last season. They won their first contest in Oakland and then later fell in Miami.

Remember me? Raiders face Broncos with offensive architect on other sideline


Remember me? Raiders face Broncos with offensive architect on other sideline

ALAMEDA – Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing is running a system Bill Musgrave installed in 2015.

Downing has put his stamp on it since being promoted from quarterbacks coach last winter and certainly has a different play calling style, but he didn’t burn it to the ground and start fresh.

“Honestly tweak-wise, there’s not a lot of tweaks,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “Game plan wise and things, we do things a little different. We call things differently now obviously because he’s in the division. But route concept-wise and things like that, we do a lot of the same similar stuff. Any time there’s a change, a coach is always going to have their tweaks.”

Even so, Musgrave might feel like he’s looking into a mirror Sunday afternoon when the Raiders play Denver at Oakland Coliseum. He’ll watch his offense work from the other sideline, calling plays from Mike McCoy’s selections.

This odd arrangement stems from Jack Del Rio’s decision to let Musgrave’s contract expire after two years as Raiders offensive coordinator. He promoted the in-demand Downing to that post, which left Musgrave to gain employment as Denver’s quarterbacks coach. He was promoted to OC on Monday, when McCoy got fired after Denver lost its sixth straight.

Fans didn't love Musgrave when he was in Oakland. They long for him now. The Raiders ranked sixth in total offense and seventh in scoring last year. Now they're 21st and 20th, respectively, in those categories. 

Having Musgrave calling plays for the enemy adds some intrigue to the matchup, though this isn’t a mentor-protégé matchup. Count Scott Linehan and Mike Tice as Downing’s primary professors. Those influences stand out most in Downing’s style, but Musgrave’s influence as a play caller exists in a small dose.

“I think there are elements of it. I won’t say personality traits, but maybe nuances of the game that you naturally talk to through as a coordinator and quarterback coach,” Downing said. “So, those experiences are kind of lived through the other coordinator. We were together for two years. I have some other influences that probably shape my play calling more than that.”

There’s a high level of respect between the two men, and Downing certainly appreciates his time working under Musgrave.

“He’s a very detailed guy. He likes to simplify and let the guys go execute. That was certainly something that I respected about the way he went through a game plan process. If there was something that wasn’t working itself out through the course of the practice week, we’d eliminate it or not run it on Sunday. Definitely picked that up.

“He has a broad scope understanding of offense. Being a quarterback as he is, or a former quarterback as he is, he’s not just a pass game guy. He has a good understanding of the run game and a good respect for the guys upfront being able to move the line of scrimmage. Definitely something that I admire and wanted to emulate.”

Downing and Musgrave won’t face each other directly. That’ll be new Raiders play caller John Pagano.

He took over Tuesday after Ken Norton’s firing, but doesn’t mean he’s new to the matchup. Pagano was the Chargers' defensive coordinator from 2012-16, and faced Musgrave twice a year the past two seasons. Musgrave won every matchup.

Pagano might look at Denver’s scheme and Musgrave’s tendencies when trying to silence the Broncos on Sunday.

“You always have to understand what he’s about and what little things pop into my head from seeing him, but you still have to go based off of what you’re seeing right now, the film that you’re seeing, the plays you’re going off of,” Pagano said. “You have to be prepared for everything. He does a great job and he always has those guys ready to play and there is always going to be something new.”