Capitals

Air Force faces Rice in Armed Forces Bowl

Air Force faces Rice in Armed Forces Bowl

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Troy Calhoun remembers the day almost six years ago when he returned to Air Force as the first academy graduate to become the head coach.

The Falcons were coming off three consecutive losing seasons, and Calhoun recalls what he was told after taking the job.

``Somebody said, `Hey, realistically, these first five years, if you can catch lightning in a bottle one time, maybe you get to a bowl game,''' Calhoun said Friday.

Try six bowls in six seasons.

Air Force (6-6) makes its school-record sixth consecutive bowl appearance Saturday against Rice (6-6) of Conference USA in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Calhoun's first season ended with a loss to California in the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl, where the Falcons played three consecutive years before going to the Independence and Military bowls the last two years. They are back in Fort Worth after overcoming the loss of 17 senior starters from last season.

``I first found out about this opportunity back in the summer. We knew it would be really a goal for our squad,'' said Calhoun, whose team is the Mountain West Conference representative in the game. ``We had only five starters coming back into this season. ... The first two weeks in August, we were a long, long ways away from being a bowl team.''

Even with the huge turnover in the starting lineup, the Falcons still do well what they have for so long. They run. Air Force is second nationally with 329 yards rushing per game, and won against Hawaii - the victory that got them bowl eligible - without throwing a single pass.

``They are a very disciplined team,'' Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines said. ``You can't try to do too much against this team because that's when they break the big plays. So you just have to be sound, and everything else will take care of itself.''

Gaines broke up 18 passes during the regular season, tying for the national lead. Only four NCAA players have had 20 in a season, the last in 2006. Against Air Force, Gaines may not get many chances to reach that mark, though he knows he has stay focused on the receiver he's covering.

With only seven seniors (three of them tight ends), Rice is in its first bowl game since 2008. The Owls, who lost three games by four points or less, were 1-5 after a 14-10 loss at Memphis the first weekend of October.

``We set our goals to go to a bowl game this season. It was one where we were 1-5 at one point and had to get on a roll,'' coach David Bailiff said. ``It's a tribute to our seniors who every day when our football team came over there, we would not let them have bad days. We drew a line in the sand. We used a lot of the hard lessons early that put us on a roll late.''

Like Calhoun at Air Force, Bailiff is in his sixth season at Rice. The Owls made it to the Texas Bowl in Bailiff's second season, but this is only their third bowl since two postseason games during the 1961 calendar year - the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 and the Bluebonnet Bowl in December of that year.

Since the Falcons' last game, senior quarterback Connor Dietz has graduated from the academy and been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.

``He's an officer now, so we have to take orders from him and actually listen to him now,'' senior defensive lineman Nick DeJulio said with a chuckle. ``He's one of our influential leaders.''

Dietz, who followed a pair of four-year starting quarterbacks, is feeling healthy after being banged up toward the end of the regular season, when Air Force lost three of its last four games. He has thrown for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns and run for 658 yards with five scores.

While Dietz only attempted four passes in the regular season finale after the zero-pass game against Hawaii, he expects the Falcons to mix in a few more passing plays against Rice - if needed.

``We're not the same offense every year, we're not the same offense every game,'' Dietz said. ``When we have to throw, we throw. When we have to run, we run. It's kind of one of those things, where if it's working, why change it? That's kind of how we approach every game. We go in with a big game plan, but if a certain little thing is working, why get away from it?''

Quick Links

Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

michal-kempny-blackhawks-usati.png
USA Today Sports Images

Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

On Monday, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, the Washington Capitals addressed a need for blue line depth by acquiring Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

But before you begin to analyze how the move impacts the Capitals' outlook heading forward, lets take some time to get to know the newest member of the Caps.

Who is Michal Kempny?

Michal Kempny is a 27-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic. He was born on Sept. 8, 1990 in Hodonin, a small town in southwestern Czech Republic near the border of Austria and Slovakia. Kempny began his hockey career playing for SHK Hodonin. Kempny knew very little english upon arriving to the NHL, but credited his girlfriend Showtime shows to helping him become more comfortable speaking the language. 

RELATED: UPDATED NHL POWER RANKINGS

What International Experience Does Michal Kempny Have?

Michal Kempny played professionally for HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga and Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kempny was a standout player on the international stage, playing for the Czech Republic U18, U20 and Men's National teams.

MORE ON THE TRADE: WHERE DOES KEMPNY FIT IN THE CAPS ROSTER

When Did Michal Kempny Make His NHL Debut?

Michal Kempny was signed to a one-year contract as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks in May, 2016 and made his NHL debut in October, 2016. Kempny scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30, 2016 against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Kempny appeared in 50 games for the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season, recording two goals and six assists. The Blackhawks re-signed Kempny to a one-year extension during the offseason. Kempny played in 31 games this season before being traded to the Capitals.

What Type of Hockey Player is Michal Kempny?

Kempny is a 6-0, 194-pound defenseman with a strong left-handed shot. Known for his play on the offensive end, Kempny was never able to gain the trust of Joel Quenneville on the defensive end. But Kempny has a good bit of offensive upside, thanks to his passing skills and strong shot, which is why the Blackhawks took a flier on him in the first place and why he was an ideal trade candidate for the Capitals. But again, Kempny's size is less than ideal for a top-tier blue-liner and while he doesn't shy away from contact, he is rarely much of a physical presence. 

What Does Michal Kempny's Contract Look Like?

Michael Kempny is set to become an unrestricted free agent the the end of the 2017-18 season and has a cap hit of just $900,000.

RELATED: TROTZ REACTS TO RACIAL COMMENTS MADE BY CHICAGO FANS

Quick Links

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE