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3rd year's the charm for successful Irish coaches

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3rd year's the charm for successful Irish coaches

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) The old saying goes that the third time's the charm. At Notre Dame, historically the third time's been the national championship. Or else.

Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won their first national championships in their third seasons as coach of the Fighting Irish, while Knute Rockne finished his second straight undefeated season. The combined record of the five in their third season: 50-2-1.

Coach Brian Kelly has the unbeaten Fighting Irish in the national championship discussion in his third season with their best start in a decade at 7-0 and a big game Saturday at eighth-ranked Oklahoma (5-1). So is it coincidence that successful coaches at Notre Dame have won titles in Year 3, or is three years how long it takes a successful coach to get his players in place and put his imprint on Notre Dame?

``Maybe it's a combination of both,'' Parseghian said. ``It could be a coincidence. But I think it reflects on your recruiting capabilities and abilities and recognizing what you need after your first year there and then being able to fill those. I think Brian Kelly has done that masterfully.''

For the other six men who have coached Notre Dame in the post Leahy era and haven't won a national championship, the third season was the beginning of the end. They posted a combined record of 28-39. Terry Brennan, Bob Davie and Charlie Weis all had their first losing records, while Tyrone Willingham went 6-5 and was fired.

All were gone after five seasons or sooner.

Parseghian said he's not surprised by Kelly's success this season.

``He's been a winner everywhere he's been,'' he said.

Kelly, who has one losing season in 22 years as head coach, has a history of getting things done in third seasons since moving up to Division I after winning a pair of Division II national championships at Grand Valley State. In his third season at Central Michigan he led the Chippewas to their first Mid-American Conference title in 12 years. In his third season at Cincinnati he led the Bearcats to their second straight Big East title and their second straight Bowl Championship Series berth, narrowly missing out on the national championship game with a 12-0 record.

Kelly said he hasn't given much thought to the history of Notre Dame coaches winning national championships in three seasons. But Kelly, who said at his introduction that he had a five-minute plan for turning things around, knows Notre Dame fans are impatient.

``Three years is pushing it in today's society. So I would say that today you better get the thing moving in three years, because there's not a lot of patience out there. But we're on schedule for everything that we need to do and our program to continue to win,'' he said.

Kelly started the process when he arrived at South Bend by trying to change the mindset of the team, working to make them mentally and physical tougher, and by trying to cut down on mistakes, such as turnovers. He said the first step in winning is to stop losing.

``There are so many things that you have to eradicate first before you can even get to that level of talking about a championship mentality,'' Kelly said. ``You have to be able to make sure that you've patched all the areas where the air is coming out of the tire, so to speak.''

Kelly, who arrived at Notre Dame touted as an offensive-minded coach, is doing it in South Bend with defense. Led by linebacker Manti Te'o, the Irish are sixth in the nation in total defense, giving up 281 yards a game. The Irish haven't finished a season rated in the top 10 defensively in three decades. Kelly said he knew at Notre Dame he didn't want to be as reliant on offense as he had in the past.

``I felt the best blueprint that we could put together for a national championship here was through our defense,'' he said.

The Irish are 10.5-point underdogs against the Sooners, largely because of questions about their offense, which is ranked 74th nationally.

A win against the Sooners and the Irish will be favored to make it to their season-finale against No. 10 Southern California (6-1) undefeated.

But Kelly is looking at beyond his third season. He looks at what Bob Stoops has done at Oklahoma and seeks to emulate it. Stoops has posted 10 10-win seasons at Oklahoma and led the Sooners to 13 straight bowl games, including eight BCS games. Stoops has a record of 144-35 and is 79-4 at home.

``That's where we want to be. I mean, we want that consistency. Year in and year out you know Oklahoma is going to be part of the conversation,'' Kelly said. ``And that's where we want to get our football program. We're nowhere near that yet. We think we're moving in the right direction. We're trending the right way.''

At Notre Dame, that's essential in a coach's third season.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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