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First-year coaches ready for Arizona state rivalry

First-year coaches ready for Arizona state rivalry

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State's Todd Graham have had successful debuts in the desert, overcoming some adversity to get their teams bowl eligible.

All the success they've had so far sets them up for the most important goal of the season: beating each other.

The Territorial Cup takes on added significance Friday night at Arizona Stadium when the two first-year coaches try to establish a foothold in the heated rivalry.

``It's the biggest game of the year, every year,'' Graham said.

This year's matchup will feature new coaches on both sidelines for the sixth time in the series' 85-year history, and first since John Mackovic took over at Arizona and Dirk Koetter at Arizona State in 2001.

Those coaches had rough first seasons in the desert; the Wildcats won five games under Mackovic, the Sun Devils four as the teams finished eighth and ninth in the Pac-10.

Rodriguez and Graham have had better starts.

Coming off a disappointing stint at Michigan, Rodriguez took over an Arizona program that had plenty of offensive weapons, but not a lot of depth.

The combination led to some wild games for the Wildcats, who are among the most prolific offensive teams in the country - and need to be with the defense often giving up yards and points in bunches.

Arizona (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) opened the season with three victories, lost three straight to ranked opponents - two in shootouts - and has won four of five after beating Utah 34-24 last weekend.

``I enjoy coaching these guys,'' Rodriguez said. ``You never really know what you have until you start coaching them. We had a lot of concerns coming in and I still have those concerns. But I like the way that our players have responded.''

Graham has faced some adversity of his own.

Bolting Pittsburgh after one season to take over at Arizona State, Graham vowed to get the Sun Devils to play fast and add a level of discipline that had been missing in the program.

It worked early in the season, when Arizona State opened with five wins in six games. Starting with a 43-21 loss to then-No. 2 Oregon, the Sun Devils started bogging down on offense and lost four straight.

Arizona State (6-5, 4-4) finally broke through the bowl-eligibility barrier in its fifth try last weekend, sending its seniors off in style in their final home game with a 46-7 win over Washington State.

The Sun Devils have maintained their discipline for the most part all season and will need to dig down to keep their composure in what will be the most volatile road environment of the year.

``What I tell my players is, you are not going to remember what some person said to you hanging over the rail. You're not going to remember who had the best tweets or who talked the most trash. You are going to remember who won the game,'' Graham said. ``That is one of the things that is always a challenge when going on the road, especially in a rivalry game.''

Friday night's game will be a reunion of sorts for Rodriguez and Graham.

The two coaches crossed paths during the 1993 NAIA national championship game when East Central, with Graham as its defensive coordinator, beat Glenville State in its fourth season with Rodriguez as head coach.

The coaches crossed paths a few times on the recruiting trail after that when Graham was a high school coach, and when Rodriguez took over at West Virginia, he brought in Graham as an assistant.

Graham spent two seasons with Rodriguez, the second as co-defensive coordinator, before leaving in 2003 to become the defensive coordinator at Tulsa, where he later became head coach after a stint at Rice.

Once they became coaches at rival schools in Arizona, they remained cordial but haven't exactly been calling each other on the phone every week.

``I don't have a whole lot of interaction with a lot of people other than the people who I work with every day. It's just the way that the coaching profession is,'' Rodriguez said.

Friday night, they'll be on opposite sidelines as the two former co-workers try to get a head start in what will be the biggest game of the season every season they're in the desert.

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

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"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

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Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS