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Future of cleared Mankato football coach uncertain

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Future of cleared Mankato football coach uncertain

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) A Minnesota college football coach said he wants to return to work now that a judge has dismissed prosecutors' claims that video he took of his children playing after a bath amounted to pornography.

A judge sided with Todd Hoffner, head coach at Minnesota State-Mankato, by throwing out the child porn charges against him on Friday. The judge said the cellphone video was nothing more than children playfully dancing naked after a bath.

``I'm just so thankful to be waking up from this nightmare,'' Hoffner said after the ruling, which came more than three months after the coach was escorted off a practice field and later arrested.

Now, Hoffner said, he wants to get back on the sideline. But it's unclear when that may happen.

Hoffner remains on administrative leave and won't be on the field Saturday when his undefeated Mavericks host Missouri Western in the Division II quarterfinals.

The university said he would remain on leave until its own investigation was complete, and school spokesman Don Benson said he had no timetable as to when that might happen.

Hoffner's attorney, Jim Fleming, said he believes that university officials ``know everything they need to know.''

Hoffner was charged after a school employee found the video on his university-issued cellphone and notified authorities. Hoffner had taken his problematic phone to work to be checked out.

Hoffner testified earlier that his three young children asked him to videotape a skit they had concocted after taking a bubble bath. His wife has defended him, as have supporters who even held candlelight vigils on his behalf.

A search of his home computer found no evidence of child porn, and social workers found no evidence that the couple's children had been abused. Hoffner said he had never even watched the video.

In her 24-page ruling Friday, Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass said she didn't find any evidence that the videos amounted to pornography.

``The videos under consideration here contain nude images of Defendant's minor children dancing and acting playful after a bath. That is all they contain,'' Jass wrote.

Fleming singled out the assistant county prosecutor who brought the charges, Mike Hanson, saying he ``essentially argued that this was child pornography because he knows it when he sees it.''

But Hanson said his office was only trying to enforce a law enacted to protect children.

``No matter what the prosecutor does in a controversial case with a high-profile suspect, they will be criticized. We do not go looking for cases like this, they are brought to us,'' the prosecutor said in a statement.

Hoffner, 46, of Eagle Lake, had been charged with one count of using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work and one count of possessing child pornography.

The circumstances of the case, close on the heels of the Penn State scandal involving sexually abused children and authority figures who didn't intervene, invited questions about whether the school overreacted.

Fleming said it was for ``others to decide'' whether the Penn State case played a part in how Hoffner's case was handled.

``In light of all that's happened, it would be hard for me to say it wasn't at least a factor,'' the defense attorney said.

This was Hoffner's fifth year as head football coach at the school, where he had a 34-13 record. He led the Mavericks to the playoffs in 2008 and 2009, and a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title in 2011. He was named NSIC coach of the year in 2009.

Word of the case's dismissal was starting to spread Friday night on campus the school of about 15,000 students that's among the state's largest universities. Sam Moyer, a senior from the Rochester area, said the charges were not a frequent topic of discussion among students.

Still, he said, ``I know quite a few people who thought this was just him making family memories - not a sexual act ... It's such a big conclusion to jump to, that he was some sexual predator. That ruins someone's life.''

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Associated Press writer Amy Forliti contributed to this report from Minneapolis.

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

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NBC Sports Washington

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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

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 after the opening frame. 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 Toews 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. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane 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.