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After rocky start, Zeigler blossoming for Panthers

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After rocky start, Zeigler blossoming for Panthers

PITTSBURGH (AP) Trey Zeigler thought he had it all figured out. On paper, it looked so obvious.

When the former Central Michigan guard transferred to Pitt over the summer and was granted a waiver by the NCAA that allowed him to play for the Panthers right away, Zeigler just assumed he'd be inserted right into the starting lineup alongside point guard Tray Woodall.

``That's how I had it in my head,'' Zeigler said.

Jamie Dixon's head, however, had other plans.

A couple days before the team's first exhibition game, Dixon sat Zeigler down and told him freshman James Robinson would start at the point and Woodall would be the shooting guard, leaving the player who averaged 16.0 points a game in two years at Central Michigan somewhat stunned.

Asked if his initial reaction was something along the lines of ``for real?'' and Zeigler laughed.

``Once I figured out I was going to be coming off the bench, it was just growing up,'' he said. ``I had to grow up and deal with the new role and that's just part of life.''

The adjustment period proved rockier than expected.

Though Zeigler was productive when given playing time early in the season, things changed when the 21-year-old was charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence in late November. Dixon suspended Zeigler two games. It gave Zeigler time to re-evaluate his outlook.

Did he wonder if he'd made a mistake by coming ``home'' to Pittsburgh - where his father Ernie, served as an assistant coach under Ben Howland from 2001-03 - instead of accepting transfer offers from Duke and UCLA? Did he think maybe he should have sat out a year to get acclimated instead of trying to immerse himself in an entirely new system in a few short months?

``All kinds of thoughts went through my head when I was going through it,'' Zeigler said. ``The biggest thing was having my family here, that really helped. Having my mom and dad here, talking me through it. If I was here by myself, it might have been even worse.''

Ernie and Seantelle Zeigler moved to Pittsburgh to be with the oldest of their two children when Central Michigan fired Ernie as head coach following six uneven seasons. Though he's out of coaching for the moment, Ernie is still getting his fix by breaking down tape with Trey into the wee hours of the morning.

Lately, dad's been a little busier than usual thanks to a decided uptick in play - and in playing time - for his son.

Zeigler is averaging 9.0 points over his last three games for Pitt (16-4, 4-3 Big East), which hosts DePaul (10-8, 1-4) on Saturday. It helps that he's playing about 22 minutes a game since Dixon made him the first guard off the bench before a loss to Marquette two weeks ago.

``I'm playing a lot more so I feel more comfortable on the court and doing what coach wants me to do, rebounding and defense,'' he said. ``I'm just trying to bring positive energy out there.''

The most direct route to getting into the lineup when playing for Dixon is crashing the boards, a point of emphasis since the beginning of the season.

The 6-foot-5 Zeigler is unlike most shooting guards in that he's not big on chucking 3-pointers - he's taken just three all year - and instead relies on slashing to the rim or pulling up for a midrange jumper. That means he's around the basket quite a bit, making him an effective rebounder. Nearly half (14) of his 34 boards have come off the offensive glass and he's shown a knack for tipping a ball to a teammate for an easy putback.

``It's just about reading the ball, reading it coming off the rim,'' he said. ``I'm not as big as other guys but I can sneak in there and try and get one or two a game.''

Zeigler's increased role has coincided with a three-game winning streak that has Pitt in the thick of a muddled middle in the Big East. A win on Saturday would clear the way for the most pivotal week of the season. Pitt plays at No. 5 Louisville on Monday and hosts No. 3 Syracuse next weekend.

At some point, Zeigler knows the Panthers will have to knock off a team they're not supposed to if they want to bolster their NCAA tournament credentials.

``We know we're good enough to beat anybody, but we need to do it,'' he said. ``We've got some opportunities coming up, hopefully we take advantage of it.''

It's something Zeigler believes he's done following a rough start. While Dixon said there are plans to put Cameron Wright - who Zeigler replaced as the top player off the bench - back into the mix, the coach is also well aware that Zeigler needs to be on the floor.

``I think he's making better decisions with the basketball,'' Dixon said. ``He's now been with us for half a year and I think that's only natural. It's something that we expected and hoped for and we're seeing it. So it's not surprising.''

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A Capital doesn't win Hardest Shot at NHL Skills for the first time in 3 years

A Capital doesn't win Hardest Shot at NHL Skills for the first time in 3 years

ST. LOUIS -- John Carlson did a valiant job trying to defend his title for the hardest shot, but Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber took home the prize with a blistering 106.5 MPH shot at the NHL Skills on Friday.

Alex Ovechkin won the Hardest Shot in 2018 and Carlson won it in 2019. He looked to be in good position to win it again after taking the lead with only one shooter left to go.

As Carlson skated up for his turn, the number to beat was 102.4 from Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson. Carlson shattered that with a shot of 104.5, beating his own winning shot from last year of 102.8.

The only problem? Weber was the last shooter.

"With Webs going behind him you kind of just expect him to go put up some big numbers," T.J. Oshie said. "But when John put up 104.5, you thought maybe there was a chance, but obviously Shea stepped up and took care of business."

Weber had Carlson beat on his very first shot. Weber smashed the puck for 105.9 MPH on his first attempt. As he was the last shooter, he had already won, but took his second shot anyway and beat his own mark, finishing with a 106.5 MPH shot.

While the Caps had won the event in each of the past two seasons, Weber had won it three straight times before Ovechkin took the title in 2018.

Even when Carlson took the lead, he still did not believe he would win knowing Weber still had to go.

"I think I knew all along we were all just a part of the show," Carlson said.

Braden Holtby also fell short in his attempt to win the Save Streak event. Frederik Anderson had the number to beat of seven when Holtby went between the pipes. He faced shooters from the Atlantic Division and made a run at seven when he stopped David Pastrnak’s shot. A goalie's round could not end on a save. As the captain, Pastrnak was the last shooter unless Holtby saved his shot. When Holtby stopped Pastrnak, that meant he would continue facing shots until he was beaten. With two straight saves, Holtby denied Shea Weber and Brady Tkachuk to get his streak up to five saves before he was finally beaten by Jack Eichel.

"I was just hoping Shea Weber wouldn't come down and take a slap shot on me,” Holtby told the NBCSN broadcast.

St. Louis Blues Jordan Binnington ended up winning the event, much to the delight of the home crowd. Andrei Vasilevskiy raised the save streak up to nine with Binnington as the last goalie to go. In dramatic fashion, Binnington went on to deny 10 straight shots to take the win.

Other highlights of the All-Star Skills:

Ryan O’Reilly’s football helmet

Next week is the Super Bowl Sunday and Ryan O’Reilly showed who he is cheering for in warmups as he came onto the ice wearing a Kansas City Chiefs' helmet.


Connor McDavid is not the fastest skater?

We all know who the fastest skater in the NHL is. It’s Connor McDavid. You might as well just declare the race over, right?

Not so fast. (See what I did there?)

Stunningly, McDavid did not win the event and was edged out by New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal who completed the event in 13.175 seconds, just 0.03 seconds away from the record.

The Justin Bieber mask

San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl decided to have some fun during the save streak. Before his shot attempt on Binnington, he busted out a Justin Bieber mask and put it on before shooting.

No, he did not score. Yes, the mask was terrifying.


The women’s 3-on-3 game was awesome

If there is one complaint about the All-Star Skills and All-Star Game, is that it is not competitive enough. Players have fun with it, as they should, but they aren’t exactly going 100-percent like they would in an actual game. That was certainly not the case for the 3-on-3 women’s game between Canada and USA.

The women’s teams put on a great display of skill in what was an incredibly fun game to watch. Canada took a 1-0 lead in the first period off a goal from Rebecca Johnston. Melodie Daoust made it 2-0 in the second period and Hilary Knight finally put USA on the board putting them to within one.

But really it was the goalies who stole the show. With plenty of room to work, there were a number of breakaways and odd-man rushes. Both Alex Cavallini for the USA and Ann-Renee Desbiens for Canada were strong in net to keep it a three-goal game.

"It was pretty impressive," Oshie said. "The goalies stood on their head, but the girls were making some awesome plays, some great moves. It's always fun cheering on the Americans."

Desbiens had a drop the mic moment with a glove save just as time expired to maintain the 2-1 win for Canada.

Shooting Stars

You have to credit the NHL for trying. One of the new events featured players on a raised platform in the crowd shooting at targets on the ice. It was...different. The biggest issue with it was that the players could not hit most of the targets and the one that seemed the easiest to get was worth the most points. This one will need some tweaking if they want to bring it back again next year.

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Ryan Zimmerman’s return to the Nationals is finally happening

Ryan Zimmerman’s return to the Nationals is finally happening

If Ryan Zimmerman did not return to the Nationals, he at least would have a future teaching how not to negotiate.

Zimmerman openly drove down his bargaining leverage for almost a year before signing a one-year deal on Friday to return to the only professional team he’s known, a source confirmed. The deal is reported at $2 million.

Throughout the season, Zimmerman openly discussed his interest in returning and understanding it would be at a low rate. As if his stance wasn’t already clear, Zimmerman explained at a screening of the Nationals’ championship video he would return or play more golf.

“So, we’ll be good to go,” Zimmerman said.

It’s baseball for now. Zimmerman rejoins the defending World Series champions to play his 16th season. He’s a 35-year-old platoon player this season. Zimmerman’s money and legacy have been established. He’s back in the fold to pursue another title. 

And he makes an already old Nationals team older. Zimmerman turns 36 years old the day after the 2020 regular season ends. Howie Kendrick will be 37 years old by midseason. Asdrúbal Cabrera is 34 years old. Eric Thames is 33 years old. Will Harris is 35, Daniel Hudson 32, Sean Doolittle 33, Max Scherzer 35, Kurt Suzuki 36. Yan Gomes will be 33 just after the All-Star break. 

Zimmerman will share first base with Thames and, occasionally, Howie Kendrick. They provide an intriguing splits-based platoon. Thames hits right-handers well -- 23 of his 25 2019 home runs came against them, as did much of his opportunity in Milwaukee -- and Zimmerman has a .917 career OPS against left-handed pitchers. Zimmerman is the much better defender.

He’s back because he -- and the Nationals -- believe Zimmerman’s production remains directly tied to his health. His September and postseason work showed Zimmerman’s bat speed remains intact. He is quietly one of the better defensive first baseman in the league. They think they can protect him. Overall, the Nationals are so comfortable with an expanse of older players because they plan to shield them with limited usage. Also, Josh Donaldson went to Minnesota, clearing the cash and providing a need for Zimmerman. 

Kendrick, Cabrera and Starlin Castro can play various infield spots. Thames and Zimmerman will reduce the other’s role, as well as pinch-hit when not starting. Davey Martinez has options. He also has the challenge of rotating players. One thing on his side: older players know they are just that. Grousing about playing time should not be an issue with the group, the majority of which played as role players last year on the way to a World Series title. 

One other thing to note about Zimmerman: he’s 30 home runs short of 300. Can he get there with another two years on the field? He has at least one more to add to his total, assuring his driver has another lonely summer.

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