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Vikings lead NFL with 5 players from Notre Dame

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Vikings lead NFL with 5 players from Notre Dame

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Notre Dame is one of the few college football teams that truly can boast a national following.

Why, there's even an alumni chapter in the Minnesota Vikings locker room.

``It's really fun to be able to talk trash to everybody,'' said center John Sullivan, who has a leprechaun tattoo on his left shoulder.

Sullivan is one of five ex-Notre Dame players on the Vikings, the most of any NFL team. There are currently 26 former Fighting Irish on active rosters around the league, and the next-closest team is Indianapolis with three, according to STATS LLC.

So not only do Notre Dame alumni make up nearly 10 percent of Minnesota's roster but the Vikings have almost 20 percent of the NFL's, well, Irish heritage. After drafting Sullivan in the sixth round in 2008, they took tight end Kyle Rudolph in the second round in 2011. This year, they selected safety Harrison Smith in the first round and safety Robert Blanton in the fifth round. They also signed tight end John Carlson, a second-round pick by Seattle in 2008, as a free agent.

With the Fighting Irish undefeated and set to play Alabama for the BCS championship on Jan. 7, there's no doubt which school colors have been the brightest around the Vikings this season. Bragging rights were clear after Notre Dame beat Stanford (running back Toby Gerhart), Oklahoma (running back Adrian Peterson and right tackle Phil Loadholt) and of course rival USC (left tackle Matt Kalil, defensive end Everson Griffen and tight end Rhett Ellison).

``We're always coming in here after their games saying, `We told you so.' So far it's been a good year,'' Smith said.

They've even roughed out a plan to fly to Miami for the big game, as long as a potential practice - should the Vikings make the playoffs - doesn't interfere.

Regular season games are typically tough to watch, with Saturday afternoon travel on weeks with road games or meetings in the hotel at night. But Blanton and Smith tried to watch together when the Vikings were on the road and Notre Dame had a prime-time kickoff. Sullivan chartered a flight with Rudolph and Loadholt to watch the game at Oklahoma on Oct. 27, a weekend the Vikings had off.

``Afterward, Phil came up to us and said, `You guys just physically dominated the game,''' Rudolph recalled. ``It's been a long time since Notre Dame's gone on the road to a top-10 team and just dominated the game.''

That's true. None of these five teammates lost fewer than three times in any season they were at Notre Dame. Some years, they didn't even play in a bowl game.

Jealousy of the current team isn't part of their mindset, though.

``Pretty proud of those guys,'' Blanton said.

Just as proud of the traditionally strict academic standards, as they all noted, as the success on the field.

``They follow the rules there. It's one of those places where you don't get away with stuff. They expect you to go to class. They make sure everyone graduates,'' said Carlson, who met his wife, Danielle, at Notre Dame.

The Vikings didn't exactly make a conscious effort to create such a high concentration of former Fighting Irish.

``I think it was more coincidence because we're always going to stack our draft board according to a player's ability, and our rating system is building on upside and potential,'' general manager Rick Spielman said. ``I don't know that we've honed in, just because they go to a Notre Dame or a USC or an Ohio State or something like that.''

The Vikings, though, have shaped their roster philosophy around a stated desire for tough, smart, passionate players, attributes that Notre Dame products often possess, even during some of the down years they've had in the last decade.

``Clearly there's something about that school that our front office and the people making our personnel decisions like, but at the same time it really comes down to a case by case basis,'' Sullivan said. ``You can find great people from a whole lot of schools. I think we've got a lot of great people here. That can come from the whole spectrum of college football.''

Only the Notre Dame guys will be able to cheer for their team in the national championship game next month, however. The Vikings don't have any Alabama players on the roster now.

``We have to make sure that while we're on top,'' Rudolph said, ``we let everyone else know.''

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AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.

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How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

Hockey is a game of organized chaos.

Sure, pucks can take some unexpected bounces, but a lot of what you see on the ice doesn’t happen by accident.

Trailing 2-0 early in the third period of Game 1, Patric Hornqvist got the Pittsburgh Penguins on the board with a deflection that scuttled past Braden Holtby. You may dismiss the play at first glance as a lucky deflection off a wide shot, but it actually was much more coordinated than that.

The play starts with defenseman Justin Schultz holding the puck at the blue line. He buys time, sees Hornqvist and fires a wrister at the net. The shot is not going on net, but the net isn’t the target.

You can see the play here:

Schultz is specifically aiming to put the puck in a position for Hornqvist to deflect it on goal.

“Justin does a great job just changing his angle, having some patience and just delivering pucks down to the net that gives our forwards an opportunity to get a stick on it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

According to the coach, it is a play the Penguins practice daily and one that is reminiscent of former Capital Sergei Gonchar who routinely made smart plays from the blue line to set up his teammates.

Gonchar was one of the top offensive defensemen in the league over a playing career that spanned from 1994 to 2015. He recorded 811 points in his NHL career, 416 of which came during his 10 seasons with Washington.

Now, however, he serves as an assistant coach for the Penguins helping the defensemen practice plays just like the one Schultz made to set up Hornqvist.

“Sergei is so good at helping those guys with the subtleties of the game and just those little skill sets along the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said. "I don't know that there was anybody better in his generation than Sergei was and he does a great job at relaying some of those subtitles to our guys and those guys, they work at it daily.”

Deflections are obviously very difficult for a goalie to handle. It is nearly impossible to react to the puck’s mid-air change of direction. A goalie has to be positioned perfectly to make the save. It also gives shooters at the blue line more targets. Rather than shooting just at the 42x78 inches of the net, players can shoot on net or in the shooting lane of any of their teammates anywhere on the ice. Essentially, the entire offensive zone becomes a potential target.

There’s a reason the Penguins have been as good as they are for as long as they have. They are not getting lucky bounces, they are creating their own deflections thanks in part to the expertise of the former Cap.

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Da'Ron Payne's first reaction after being drafted No. 13 by the Redskins

Da'Ron Payne's first reaction after being drafted No. 13 by the Redskins

Many top draft choices chose to head to the NFL Draft, hear their name be called, and get the pomp and circumstance that comes with all that is the NFL Draft. 

The Washington Reskins' No. 13 pick Da'Ron Payne was not one of those prospects. 

Instead Payne watched the draft surronded by close friends and family.

The reaction was memorable: 

Some draft picks choose not to  come for fear of slidding down draft boards, or worse not being picked in the First Round. 

So he doesn't get to meet Roger Goodell. He doesn't get a Redskins' jersey on draft night.

But this video wouldn't exist if the defensive tackle from Alabama chose to go to Dallas, Texas on draft night. 

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