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Athletes from college to pro offer help in Newtown

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Athletes from college to pro offer help in Newtown

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) Newtown first-grader Katelyn Sullivan has been sleeping in her parents' bed since last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

Katelyn, who attends another school in town, knew seven of the victims. They were in her Sunday school or dance class, or just friends. But on this day, the 6-year-old wasn't thinking about bad men or death. She was meeting soccer stars such as Mia Hamm and Landon Donovan, and kicking a ball around the field at the Newtown Youth Academy, a nonprofit sports center.

``The best part was probably playing soccer,'' she said. ``I was playing with professional players, but I don't know who they were.''

She just shrugged when her parents mentioned that one was Alexi Lalas, the retired star of the U.S. national team.

Since the tragedy, Katelyn and her two older brothers also have met members of the Harlem Globetrotters and the UConn men's basketball team. Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries picked Katelyn up at one event to help her dunk a basketball.

But what mattered to her parents was their children were having fun.

``It's just been huge,'' said Joe Sullivan, Katelyn's father. ``It's a pick-me-up for the community and the kids to get back to a little bit of a sense of normalcy and to kind of take their minds off of everything that has happened.''

The sports world began responding shortly after the 20 children and six adults were killed inside the school Dec. 14.

New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz came to play tag football and video games with the family and friends of victim Jack Pinto, after learning the 6-year-old shooting victim was to be buried in a replica of Cruz's jersey. The Giants later hosted families from Sandy Hook at a game.

``I didn't want to go in there and make a speech,'' Cruz said. ``I just wanted to go and spend some time with them and be someone they could talk to, and be someone they can vent to, talk about how much of a fan they are of the team, or different times they watched the Super Bowl.''

Later in the month, NBA and NHL stars helped lead a series of clinics and games for Newtown children at the Chelsea Piers sports center in nearby Stamford. Pro Lacrosse players did the same in Newtown.

And college hockey players from the University of New Haven came to help staff the center when it opened its doors to Newtown children to come in and play.

The media has been barred from most of the events.

``We made sure everyone understood that if they were coming, they had to be playing with the kids,'' said Kaki Taylor, who helped organize the events at the youth academy. ``This isn't a public relations opportunity. It's about the kids. Everyone has been great about that.''

Gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman visited the center and a local gymnastics school, where one little girl told her it was the best day of her life.

``A lot of the kids who died were young gymnasts, so I felt like I had connection to them,'' Raisman said. ``It was such an easy thing to do to go and hang out with them. It made me feel really good to do something for them.''

Peter D'Amico, who owns the youth center, said he's taken calls from pro and college teams from all over. Some have offered free equipment, others want to invite the kids to games, still others want to come to town to hold events such as last week's MLS-sponsored Soccer Day in Newtown. The evening of autographs and games included 40 players and more than 1,000 kids.

Many others have sent money.

The Orange Bowl Committee, host of the BCS Championship, donated $80,120 to a scholarship fund for Sandy Hook children being set up by the University of Connecticut.

The New England Patriots donated $25,000 to the town. Patriots owner Robert Kraft's family also owns a corrugated box plant in Newtown.

``What we are trying to ensure is this doesn't end in a couple of weeks,'' D'Amico said. ``The Yankees, Mets and Red Sox might be doing something this summer with the Little League. The Patriots are talking about something next football season.''

Nathan Grube, the director of the PGA Tour's Connecticut stop, the Travelers Championship, said they are keeping that message in mind and are making plans to do something during the tournament in June. Officials at Madison Square Garden say they are planning something big that will be announced in the near future.

Hamm, the retired soccer star, said nobody in the sports world is under an illusion that they can make all the pain and suffering go away. But athletes remember what it was like to be a young child and have a sports hero, she said. If they can show the kids that their heroes care about them, well, that might just be a little something.

``If you're a kid, you shouldn't have to be thinking about these things,'' Lalas said. ``You should be having fun. You should be kicking me in the shins and trying to put the ball through my legs and making fun of my hair. Making them smile, that's what this is all about.''

Dr. Marian Moca, a child psychiatrist at the UConn Health Center, said what the athletes are doing is important, and creates a sense of caring, support and safety the kids need at this time.

``They also play an important role as role models for these kids,'' he said, ``and are teaching them empathy and altruism, which I think is important too.''

UConn basketball coach Kevin Ollie said it's not just the kids who benefit.

``They are inspiring us in the way they are overcoming this,'' he said. ``It's been a blessing and a privilege for me. It's a life lesson for us too.''

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AP sports writers Nancy Armour, Tom Canavan and Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

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