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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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Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

The Carolina Hurricanes ended the Capitals’ season in the first round of the playoffs and quite possibly Brooks Orpik’s career with it. The 38-year-old defenseman said at the team’s breakdown day that the decision for what comes next, whether retirement or playing another season in the NHL, would have to wait.

“I'm in no rush in terms of deciding on my future in terms of hockey,” Orpik said. “That'll be a more health-related decision down the road."

Whether Orpik wants to come back for one more year in the NHL will be up to him, but the decision on whether to re-sign with the Caps may have just been decided for him.

On Friday, the Caps traded defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Radko Gudas. Most people hear the name Gudas and think of him as a dirty player who can’t play the position, but he is actually a decent defenseman. The media in Philadelphia selected Gudas as the most outstanding defenseman for the Flyers in 2018-19. Plus, his penalty minutes have decreased in each of the past four seasons from 116 all the way down to 63 last season. For reference, Tom Wilson had 128 and Michal Kempny had 60. It’s still high, but it signals a player making a conscious effort to stay out of the penalty box.

Gudas has been suspended four times in his career and he certainly will be watched very closely by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. One big hit could mean a lengthy suspension. That is a definite concern, but in terms of just his play, there is value there as a third-pair defenseman.

With Gudas in, that will almost certainly push Orpik out.

The move gives Washington six defenseman under contract for next season. Teams will usually keep seven for the regular season, enough for three pairs and one extra. Christian Djoos is a restricted free agent and will presumably be back as well, giving Washington seven blue liners.

Djoos had a down year last season, but he did play a third-pair role on the team’s Cup run and he is only 24. It does not make sense to give up on Djoos after one bad year just for one more year with Orpik who will be 39 at the start of next season.

Given Washington’s salary cap situation, the Caps do not have room for an eighth defenseman. If Orpik were to return, it would mean pushing someone else out. The only of those seven defensemen that would make sense to even consider moving for Orpik would be Gudas.

Gudas would not be the first player in the world to be traded and then flipped or bought out soon after. Ironically, the same thing happened to Orpik last season when he was traded to and then quickly bought out by the Colorado Avalanche.

A buyout here, however, would make no sense. According to CapFriendly’s buyout calculator, a buyout would only give Washington $1,166,667 of cap relief and most of that would go to a new Orpik deal making it pointless. Yes, you still have the $3.405 million of cap space the team would have opened up in the trade, but if the plan all along was to re-sign Orpik and ship out Niskanen, then why not just trade Niskanen for draft picks? Then you get his full cap off the books instead of having to go through the trouble of buying out Gudas and having him count against the cap for the next two seasons. That would make no sense.

As for flipping him and trading him to another team, what would the team get for him that would make it worthwhile? You cannot bring on salary or it defeats the purpose so the Caps’ options for a return would likely be limited to players of the same caliber and cap hit. What would be the point of that?

Prior to this deal, Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler were the most likely candidates to play on the third pair next season. Both are left shots. Gudas is a right-shot defenseman which now gives Washington three with John Carlson and Nick Jensen. Gudas also plays with a physical edge. Sometimes he goes too far with it, but so long as he can control himself, he would add the physical presence to the blue line that the team stands to lose with Orpik gone.

There is no reason to trade for Gudas unless the team intended for Gudas to play a role next season. General manager Brian MacLellan chose to trade for a player who is a right-shot, physical, third-pair defenseman which is pretty much exactly the hole they needed to fill on their blue line and essentially the spot Orpik will be vacating. That did not just happen by accident.

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Nationals calling up Adrian Sanchez, corresponding roster move pending

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Nationals calling up Adrian Sanchez, corresponding roster move pending

WASHINGTON -- Manager Davey Martinez wasn’t sure postgame Saturday what’s wrong with reliever Kyle Barraclough.

The right-hander’s velocity is down, his slider flat and too true, his results poor. Barraclough left the mound Saturday at dusk with a 6.39 ERA. He’s allowed seven home runs in 25 ⅓ innings this season. Little he has tried has worked. And his time on the team may be short.

Utility infielder Adrian Sanchez will join the team Sunday, according to a source. Sanchez’s likely departure from Double-A Harrisburg was reported Saturday night by Mick Reinhard, who covers the Senators, and noted Sanchez’s early removal from the game.

The question is who will be leaving to make room for him

Barraclough seems the logical choice. He has options remaining, so the Nationals could send him to Triple-A Fresno to try and work things out. They could also place him on the 10-day injured list, then send him on an extended rehabilitation in the minor leagues, as they did with Trevor Rosenthal. At a minimum, Washington will go from an eight-man bullpen to a five-man bench, finally delivering Martinez more versatility at the plate and in the field.

Barraclough and left-hander Tony Sipp were rarely used in the last three weeks. A week passed between appearances for Barraclough from the end of May to the start of June. Sipp pitched Sunday for just the fifth time since May 24.

If the Nationals do remove Barraclough from the roster -- in whatever fashion -- it will be another layer of indictment for their offseason bullpen plan. They acquired Barraclough via trade with Miami for international slot money. He was supposed to pitch the seventh inning on a regular basis, Rosenthal the eighth and Sean Doolittle the ninth. That lineup has been disastrous outside of Doolittle, compromising the entire season.

Rosenthal’s travails are well-documented. He pitched again Saturday, walked the first batter on four pitches, walked the second batter, then allowing a single to load the bases with no outs. He eventually allowed just a run. His ERA is 19.50 following the outing. It’s the first time this season Rosenthal’s ERA is under 20.00.

While trying to fix Rosenthal, and trying to hang on with Barraclough, the Nationals have turned to Wander Suero and Tanner Rainey to handle the seventh and eighth innings ahead of Doolittle. Few would have predicted that combination before the season began. Despite the relative concern, no one would have predicted the Nationals’ bullpen to be among the worst in the league for much of the season, but has turned out to be just that.

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