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Athletes from college to pro offer help in Newtown

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Athletes from college to pro offer help in Newtown

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) Newtown first-grader Katelyn Sullivan has been sleeping in her parents' bed since last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

Katelyn, who attends another school in town, knew seven of the victims. They were in her Sunday school or dance class, or just friends. But on this day, the 6-year-old wasn't thinking about bad men or death. She was meeting soccer stars such as Mia Hamm and Landon Donovan, and kicking a ball around the field at the Newtown Youth Academy, a nonprofit sports center.

``The best part was probably playing soccer,'' she said. ``I was playing with professional players, but I don't know who they were.''

She just shrugged when her parents mentioned that one was Alexi Lalas, the retired star of the U.S. national team.

Since the tragedy, Katelyn and her two older brothers also have met members of the Harlem Globetrotters and the UConn men's basketball team. Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries picked Katelyn up at one event to help her dunk a basketball.

But what mattered to her parents was their children were having fun.

``It's just been huge,'' said Joe Sullivan, Katelyn's father. ``It's a pick-me-up for the community and the kids to get back to a little bit of a sense of normalcy and to kind of take their minds off of everything that has happened.''

The sports world began responding shortly after the 20 children and six adults were killed inside the school Dec. 14.

New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz came to play tag football and video games with the family and friends of victim Jack Pinto, after learning the 6-year-old shooting victim was to be buried in a replica of Cruz's jersey. The Giants later hosted families from Sandy Hook at a game.

``I didn't want to go in there and make a speech,'' Cruz said. ``I just wanted to go and spend some time with them and be someone they could talk to, and be someone they can vent to, talk about how much of a fan they are of the team, or different times they watched the Super Bowl.''

Later in the month, NBA and NHL stars helped lead a series of clinics and games for Newtown children at the Chelsea Piers sports center in nearby Stamford. Pro Lacrosse players did the same in Newtown.

And college hockey players from the University of New Haven came to help staff the center when it opened its doors to Newtown children to come in and play.

The media has been barred from most of the events.

``We made sure everyone understood that if they were coming, they had to be playing with the kids,'' said Kaki Taylor, who helped organize the events at the youth academy. ``This isn't a public relations opportunity. It's about the kids. Everyone has been great about that.''

Gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman visited the center and a local gymnastics school, where one little girl told her it was the best day of her life.

``A lot of the kids who died were young gymnasts, so I felt like I had connection to them,'' Raisman said. ``It was such an easy thing to do to go and hang out with them. It made me feel really good to do something for them.''

Peter D'Amico, who owns the youth center, said he's taken calls from pro and college teams from all over. Some have offered free equipment, others want to invite the kids to games, still others want to come to town to hold events such as last week's MLS-sponsored Soccer Day in Newtown. The evening of autographs and games included 40 players and more than 1,000 kids.

Many others have sent money.

The Orange Bowl Committee, host of the BCS Championship, donated $80,120 to a scholarship fund for Sandy Hook children being set up by the University of Connecticut.

The New England Patriots donated $25,000 to the town. Patriots owner Robert Kraft's family also owns a corrugated box plant in Newtown.

``What we are trying to ensure is this doesn't end in a couple of weeks,'' D'Amico said. ``The Yankees, Mets and Red Sox might be doing something this summer with the Little League. The Patriots are talking about something next football season.''

Nathan Grube, the director of the PGA Tour's Connecticut stop, the Travelers Championship, said they are keeping that message in mind and are making plans to do something during the tournament in June. Officials at Madison Square Garden say they are planning something big that will be announced in the near future.

Hamm, the retired soccer star, said nobody in the sports world is under an illusion that they can make all the pain and suffering go away. But athletes remember what it was like to be a young child and have a sports hero, she said. If they can show the kids that their heroes care about them, well, that might just be a little something.

``If you're a kid, you shouldn't have to be thinking about these things,'' Lalas said. ``You should be having fun. You should be kicking me in the shins and trying to put the ball through my legs and making fun of my hair. Making them smile, that's what this is all about.''

Dr. Marian Moca, a child psychiatrist at the UConn Health Center, said what the athletes are doing is important, and creates a sense of caring, support and safety the kids need at this time.

``They also play an important role as role models for these kids,'' he said, ``and are teaching them empathy and altruism, which I think is important too.''

UConn basketball coach Kevin Ollie said it's not just the kids who benefit.

``They are inspiring us in the way they are overcoming this,'' he said. ``It's been a blessing and a privilege for me. It's a life lesson for us too.''

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AP sports writers Nancy Armour, Tom Canavan and Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

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USA TODAY Sports

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise. Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Towes intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. Toews' interception led to a 2-on-0 in the second period. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal. He also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board. Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.

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4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Blackhawks

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USA TODAY Sports

4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Blackhawks

The Caps were outplayed in just about every facet of the game on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. It is hard to narrow it down to just a few reasons they ultimately lost this game, but here are the most glaring.

The first period

The opening 20 minutes of this game was, to be blunt, awful. The Caps managed only nine shots attempts, six of which went on net. Chicago, meanwhile, fired 21 shots on goal with 29 total shot attempts. Washington was held to 21 shots on goal or less six times this season, so to allow 21 to an opponent in 20 minutes is not a good start. Of course, you can’t allow that many shots and escape unscathed and Washington found themselves down 3-1 at the end of the first. The Caps were outskated and sloppy with the puck and thoroughly dominated by the Blackhawks.

A bad early goal

Chicago did not need any help scoring in this one. The first goal of the game came when Jonathan Toews just threw a quick shot from the corner on net that caught Braden Holtby off guard. Holtby allowed six goals on the night, but only two of them looked soft. It was an inauspicious start to the game and a save Holtby really needed to make.

Two breakaways in the second period

A breakaway represents a breakdown in the defense. When you give up two in a span of 1:10, including a 2-on-0, that means you're not having a good night. In the second period, Brooks Orpik tried a cross-ice pass that was easily picked off by Toews that launched a 2-on-0 with him and Patrick Kane. There may not be a worse tandem in hockey to give up a 2-on-0 against than that. Just about a minute later, Ryan Hartman weaved his way through the defense to spark his own breakaway. It wasn't a good pass that launched him or a bad line change. Hartman's feet were moving and the Caps' were not. As bad as the first period was, it looked as if the Caps had stopped the bleeding as the score remained 3-1 with less than four minutes remaining in the second which is in no way is an insurmountable deficit. In the remaining four minutes, Chicago extended its lead to 6-1.

Defense

Holtby allowed six goals in this game before he was replaced by Philipp Grubauer for the start of the third period. Of those six, only two were "soft" goals Holtby should have had. The other four were the result of poor defense. The breakaways were already described in detail above. The second goal of the game came when Orpik and Madison Bowey both challenge Brandon Saad as he drove into the Caps' zone, leaving Vinnie Hinostroza to go in on net unimpeded. When Saad got the pass to him, Holtby did well to stop the initial shot, but could not get the Saad rebound shot. In the closing seconds of the first period, Holtby stopped a Carl Dahlstrom shot, but the rebound went to a wide open Nick Schmaltz who had all the space he could want to shoot in the rebound. John Carlson finished the game with a minus-3, Orpik, Bowey and Christian Djoos were minus-2 and Matt Niskanen was a minus-1.