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Wilfs take low-profile route to leading Vikings

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Wilfs take low-profile route to leading Vikings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) For Minnesota Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, leadership isn't about doing interviews about the state of the organization.

It's about placing a symbolic arm around a heartbroken defensive end who suddenly and unexpectedly lost his mother during the season.

It's not about breaking down film and deciding which prospect should be chosen with the team's first-round draft pick. It's about sitting quietly in the room and listening while the people they hired to do that job debate the decision.

It's not about standing on the sideline in full view of the television cameras, so the country can see them slapping the backs of their players and congratulating the head coach. It's about retreating to the privacy of the locker room after the game and handing a necktie to the star of the day.

The understated approach has paid off this season with their Vikings surprising almost everyone to rebound from 3-13 to make the playoffs.

``Their approach works. It's good that they trust the people they hire to do their job as opposed to micromanaging the situation,'' Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said on Thursday. ``It's refreshing in a lot of ways.''

The Vikings (10-6) head to Lambeau Field on Saturday night for Episode III of their heated rivalry with the Green Bay Packers (11-5), less than a week after a 37-34 victory at the Metrodome that thrust them into the playoffs.

It's been a heck of a ride, with a 5-2 start preceding a stretch of four losses in five games that made every week a must-win in December.

The Vikings never panicked, taking cues from an ownership group that values patience and perspective in a league where the pendulum of emotion can swing wildly from one week to the next.

You won't see Zygi Wilf on the sideline on Saturday night and you won't hear him in the media during the frenetic buildup to this highly anticipated game - both Wilfs politely declined to speak for this story.

Now is not the time for them to be doing the talking, they said. It's the time when the focus should be on the players and coaches who have spearheaded this revival after two straight last-place finishes in the NFC North.

``Just like any family, when you go through ups and downs or different crises, it's unbelievable the relationship we have to discuss things openly and candidly,'' general manager Rick Spielman said. ``That's so important to how you get through things. It's not a business, even though it is a business. You can attribute a lot of success we're having to the atmosphere we get to work in.''

The gestures have been big and small this season, starting with sending Spielman and other members of the Vikings organization to Ohio when cornerback Antoine Winfield's brother was killed in September.

They did the same for defensive end Everson Griffen when his mother died at Griffen's home in October, making sure the distraught 25-year-old had every resource available to get through it.

``It showed me a lot,'' Griffen said. ``It showed me they really care about their players. It showed me that I had a home here and that really helped.''

Zygi Wilf also had several conversations with star running back Adrian Peterson over the summer when he was in the middle of his long and difficult rehabilitation from two torn ligaments in his left knee.

While many doubted if Peterson would be able to make it back, he said Wilf remained confident in his franchise player's recovery.

``I got to know him a lot better this past offseason,'' Peterson said. ``We built a bigger bond. We had a couple of really good conversations while I was going through it. I trust him.''

On the football side, the Wilfs approved spending for a set of officials to be at every practice after the Vikings struggled the previous season with penalties.

They also heeded calls from veterans and Frazier to install new turf in the practice facility, a surprise that was waiting for the team when it returned from the bye week in November.

They also provided a bigger, more comfortable private plane for the team's longer road trips to Seattle and Houston this season in addition to sparing no expense when Spielman set his sights on an important free agent or re-signing a core player.

``It's just so unique to have ownership that are in the background but are a lot more heavily involved than it's known in the public,'' Spielman said. ``They also let people do their jobs.''

The season appeared to be taking an ominous turn with a demoralizing loss at Green Bay that dropped them to 6-6.

A promising start seemed to be slipping away, so Wilf addressed the team on the Friday before a home game against the Chicago Bears to try to relieve some of the tension.

``He's passionate and genuine,'' Peterson said. ``It don't get no better than that. He said, `I got your back.'''

The Vikings haven't lost since.

``They treat our players more than just players. They're people they care about,'' Frazier said. ``Our players sense that. That's why when Zygi came in and talked about the passion he has for this team and this organization, that resonated with them. They've seen tangible evidence in the way he treats our players.

``When some owners talk about it being a family atmosphere, you take it with a grain of salt. Our players know it for a fact. When they deal with certain issues, Zygi, Mark and the Wilf family really care about what's going on in their lives.''

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Trade to Caps potentially offers Jerabek what he never got in Montreal

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USA TODAY Sports

Trade to Caps potentially offers Jerabek what he never got in Montreal

Defenseman Jakub Jerabek is really happy about the opportunity to play with the Washington Capitals, but it could have come at a better time. The trade came with his parents already on their way from the Czech Republic to visit him.

“It was crazy days past three days because I had my parents on the way to Montreal and they didn't know so it was a big surprise for them,” Jerabek told reporters Saturday after his first skate with the team.

A native of the Czech Republic, Jerabek signed his first NHL contract with the Montreal Canadiens in May 2017. After spending some time in the AHL and struggling to consistently earn a spot in the Canadiens’ lineup, he knew a trade was possible.

“My family, maybe we expected some trade. When its come with Caps and it was Washington, I was really happy.”

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Jerabek said he came into the NHL with no expectations and was simply happy for the opportunity, but it is fair to wonder if he was not just the least bit frustrated with how he was utilized by Montreal.

For a player with experience playing for the national team, the Czech league and the KHL, getting only 25 games with a bad Montreal team seems a bit low.

“In first two weeks, I didn't know what's going on because the coaches just told me that I played well, but we just make some competition between the [defensemen] and that I have to wait for my next chance,” Jerabek said. “It was hard, but now I'm happy down here.”

Washington now offers a very different opportunity. In need of help on the blue line, Jeraebek has the chance to earn consistent playing time for a team on pace to reach the postseason.

Jerabek will not play in Saturday’s game against Buffalo, but he was hopeful he would be in the lineup for Monday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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For now, Jerabek and head coach Barry Trotz are unclear as to what his ultimate role on the team will be. With eight defensemen now on the roster, Trotz cautioned any lineup decision could not be rushed because of the trickle-down effect it will have on the other players.

“You always look at chemistry and all that with your group depending how high that player goes up the lineup, it affects different people,” Trotz said. “In a forward group, if you get a guy that you all of a sudden stick on the first line, there's four other guys that are bumped down and one guy's bumped out.”

The addition of Jerabek, however, offers the Caps another defenseman who can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone, something the team has struggled with immensely throughout the season. Though he shoots left, he also said he is comfortable playing on the right said and has played there regularly over the past few years. That provides the lineup with some flexibility on the third pair behind Matt Niskanen and John Carlson.

As for Jerabek’s parents, they will be arriving in Washington on Saturday.

“I tried to figure out the situation with them to get them to here and they will come today,” he said. “So I'm really happy.”

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

Instead of visiting the White House when they come to Washington this week to play the Wizards, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors plan to hold an event with D.C.-area kids.

Their invitation was rescinded by president Donald Trump following a back-and-forth between the two sides last year. After the Warriors won the title, they openly questioned whether they should follow the tradition given many of the players and coaches disagree with his policies. Trump took the opportunity away before they came to a final decision.

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The Warriors' event will be closed off to the media and held at an undisclosed location. It is set for Tuesday, the day before they play the Wizards at Capital One Arena. The Warriors had the option of holding a ceremony with other politicians in the Democratic party, but decided that would send the wrong message. 

"It's their championship. They got disinvited to the White House, so it's up to them what they wanted to do. So they made their plans," coach Steve Kerr said. "I want the players to have a good day and to do something positive and to enjoy what they're doing."

The Warriors are the first NBA team to make this choice since Trump was elected president. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers held their celebration with president Barack Obama in November. They did so just days after Trump was elected and LeBron James questioned at the time whether he would visit the White House with Trump in office.

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Sports teams visiting the White House goes back to the mid-1800s. The first World Series title team to visit was the 1924 Washington Senators. By the 1960s, NBA teams were going and by the 1980s NFL and NHL teams made it a tradition.

Entire teams snubbing the White House is unusual, but many players have turned down the opportunity. In the NBA, some famous cases include Larry Bird in 1984 and Michael Jordan in 1991, according to Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the Warriors start a trend, or maybe it will be a one-off thing. Regardless, the alternative they chose is a respectable one. 

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