Felger: Odds are NHL made a good choice in picking Vegas

Felger: Odds are NHL made a good choice in picking Vegas

A few midweek thoughts for your perusal:

-- I don't mind the current round of NHL expansion. Las Vegas was bound to be cracked by some sport at some point, so hockey might as well be the test pilot. I don't treat it as a true part of the Sun Belt, an area of the country the NHL spent way, way too much time and energy exploring over the past three decades. Vegas is a special town with a special set of circumstances, and it's worth a shot.

This is a far cry from the 1990s, when the NHL got stupid in expanding from 22 to 30 teams and, between expansion and relocation, went to too many places that had/have little true interest in the sport -- Florida, Tampa, Anaheim, San Jose, Dallas, Phoenix, Carolina, Nashville, Atlanta, etc. While some of those markets have turned into strong spots, the league still spread itself too thin too quickly, and paid the price as the quality of play and overall interest suffered. It has only recently recovered.

But now the NHL needs to even out the conferences, as there's a disparity between the 16 teams in the East and the 14 in the West. This has led to the confusing and distracting wild-card system. The NHL would be best served with 32 teams, 16 in each conference and 8 in each division. Then the top four in each division make the postseason and play each other over the first two rounds. No more wild cards, no more crossing over.

So one more team is needed, and if it goes to Quebec City then someone needs to move west. (Columbus?) It also wouldn't hurt to get out of those places where it still doesn't matter and move to some more places where it does. Seattle or Portland should have a team. The Toronto area could probably handle another club, as well. The NHL has never worked in Phoenix, and why is it necessary to have a team in Tennessee or North Carolina? 

Anyway, the league can go wherever it wants just so long as Kevan Miller and his contract gets picked in the expansion draft.

-- LeBron James doesn't need to win these NBA Finals to save face. He only needs to do what he has done far too rarely over his career -- go down fighting. Of course, James finally did just that in Game 5 Monday night in Oakland. 

If James ultimately comes up short, most everyone will understand. Golden State is the better team. They have home-court advantage. There's no shame in losing to them.

But this series now needs to go seven games. And James needs to play well the rest of the way. If he doesn't, his reputation takes another hit. In other words, Monday can't be a one-off situation.

-- If I'm the Jets at this point, I just go with Geno Smith at quarterback. Seriously. The Ryan Fitzpatrick thing isn't going to work; I find it hard to imagine everyone can kiss and make up and put it all behind them when it matters. Besides -- and this seems to be getting lost in the shuffle -- Fitzpatrick isn't that good! He's never put together two good seasons, back-to-back. And there's no reason to believe that's going to happen now. Heck, he's barely had two good seasons, period. Only once has he had a QB rating above 90 -- and last year wasn't even it (he was at 88 in his ``breakout'' season).

So, really, what's all the fuss about? Smith can chuck the ball down the field and let Brandon Marshall go get it, too. And while Smith may be a tad more mistake prone, it's not like he needs to improve much in that area to catch Fitzpatrick and his 154-116 career TD-Int ratio. All Smith needs to do is improve his accuracy a bit (Fitzgerald completed 59.6 percent of his passes last year; Smith has a career mark of 57.9) and not puke on himself at the end of games as much as Fitzgerald. If he does, the Jets will be just fine.

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U.S. women's hockey team beats Canada in shootout thriller for gold medal

AP Photo

U.S. women's hockey team beats Canada in shootout thriller for gold medal

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson skated slowly back and forth toward the net, showing forehand, then leaning quickly to the left to fake a backhand that pulled Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados out of the crease.

On the sport’s biggest stage, against the Americans’ greatest rival, with all her teammates leaning eagerly over the boards watching her every move, the three-time Olympian came back to her forehand to finish off a dazzling, triple-deke move by sliding the puck into the net past the outstretched glove of Szabados for the deciding goal in the sixth round of a shootout thriller.


“I knew when that went in that Maddie was going to stop the next one,” Lamoureux-Davidson said.

That would be 20-year-old goalie Maddie Rooney, who stuffed the last two Canadian shooters to wrap up a 3-2 victory Thursday that snapped the Americans’ 20-year gold medal drought and ended Canada’s bid for a fifth straight title in the first shootout in an Olympic women’s final.

The Americans piled over the boards, throwing gloves in the air before piling on top of Rooney on the ice — 20 years after their last gold medal in women’s hockey and 38 years to the day after the men’s famous “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet team in group play at Lake Placid.

“Joy’s the only word that comes to mind,” said Gigi Marvin, a three-time Olympian and at 30 the oldest American on the roster.

This victory capped a year that started with the Americans threatening a boycott of the world championships to secure more money and the same kind of treatment that USA Hockey gives to the men’s team.

“They should make a movie on it,” forward Hilary Knight said. “We had all the drama and everything. It’s sort of a storybook ending to an incredible series of accomplishments.”

Nothing was more incredible than the move by Lamoureux-Davidson, who decided to use the deke called “Oops, I did it again ” — something she had practiced uncounted times in practice, skating around tires set up on open ice to mimic defenders.


“I’m just thrilled beyond words,” the beaming Lamoureux-Davidson said with a U.S. flag draped around her shoulders and gold hanging on her chest. “I’ve butchered it a thousand times, just ran into tires, tripped over tires just working on my hands. Just glad it worked out this time.”

Her twin, Monique Lamoureux-Morando , said coach Peter Elander, now at Ohio State, had taught the sisters the shootout move when the three were at the University of North Dakota.

“Not everyone can take the pressure like that, and she took it like a champ,” she said.

Marvin and Amanda Kessel also scored in the shootout, another nail-biter ending four years after Canada won its fourth-straight gold medal in Sochi after rallying to stun the Americans in overtime.

Knight gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead with 25.4 seconds left in the first, redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin through Szabados’ pads to give the Americans a jolt of energy.

That lasted only 2 minutes into the second when Irwin tipped a midair pass from Blayre Turnbull over Rooney’s left leg for Canada. And when Morin lost the puck, Daoust grabbed it and passed to Agosta who hit Poulin for the wrister into the left side of the net at 6:55 for a 2-1 lead.

Lamoureux-Morando tied it up with a breakaway with 6:21 left in regulation . Knight also had a goal and Rooney was spectacular, making 29 saves for the win. Rooney stopped the last two Canadian shooters in the shootout in Brianne Jenner and then Meghan Agosta on her second attempt.

Pressure? Rooney’s grin was clear to see throughout the shootout.

“Right before she came down, I just looked over at the bench and saw my teammates like pointing at me, just one more,” Rooney said. “And to have their support made it a whole lot easier. I just reacted to her, and then everything kind of went into a blur.”

It was sweet redemption for the 10 Americans who watched the Canadians snatch gold away in Sochi. Not only did the Americans end the Canadians’ stranglehold on Olympic gold, they ended a skid of five straight against their rival coming into this game, including a 2-1 loss in the tournament a week ago.

“It is everything for our country,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said. “I am just so thankful for the outcome. It was a thrilling final. It was unreal.”

Marie-Philip Poulin and Haley Irwin each scored goals for Canada. Agosta and Melodie Daoust scored in the shootout.

The Canadians, who had pushed the Americans around for much of the game and taken penalties for it, wept on the ice as they accepted their silver medals. Jocelyne Larocque took hers off immediately and held it in her hands as the Americans stood nearby awaiting their gold.

“It’s just hard,” Larocque said. “You work so hard. We wanted gold but didn’t get it.”

The Canadians said they didn’t like the shootout format , preferring overtime to settle a game of such magnitude.

“We’ve trained so hard,” Agosta said. “It’s unfortunate this had to come down to a shootout. When it comes down to a shootout it can be anybody’s game.”

Added Canada coach Laura Schuler: “There’s not a lot of words that can describe how you feel. It was a great game of hockey. It’s what we expected: back and forth hockey.”

The Americans had dominated the women’s game in non-Olympic years, winning the last four and eight of the last 10 world championships, including a 3-2 overtime victory over Canada last spring.

It only made the lack of gold at the Olympics all the more noticeable, and Canada has been in their way since losing the inaugural gold in Nagano in 1998. Canada had won 24 straight Olympic games to go along with those four consecutive gold medals — a streak of success in a women’s team sport second only to the U.S. basketball team’s current streak of six straight gold.

This was the eighth time these North American rivals had met in the Olympics and the fifth with gold on the line. None have been decided by more than two goals.

Stauber went with Rooney in net after she won the only three games the U.S. took from Canada last fall during a pre-Olympic exhibition tour.

And like Lamoureux-Davidson, the youngster delivered in the biggest moment.

“Everything got into a blur, seeing my teammates sprinting at me ,” Rooney said. “It’s an indescribable feeling.”