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Consistent Navy still has bowl left after Army

Consistent Navy still has bowl left after Army

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Army vs. Navy always ranks as the five-star game on the schedule for each service academy.

Nothing tops the regular season finale in pride, pageantry and prestige.

The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy is indeed up for grabs, too, and Army has serious incentive - other than the obvious motivation - to beat Navy this season in the annual game. But win or lose, Army's season ends on Saturday. For Navy - like it has for most of the Ken Niumatalolo Era - there is another game to play. A bowl game and another opportunity to fine-tune an ultra-consistent program.

The Midshipmen come to Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL's Eagles, on Saturday looking to extend their series-record winning streak with their 11th straight victory over the Black Knights. Before Navy started its run, the longest winning streak in the series, started in 1890, was only five games. Navy opened as an 8 1/2-point favorite over the Black Knights in their 113th meeting, putting win No. 11 firmly on the horizon.

But there is more to every Navy season than just this game. Under Niumatalolo, a postseason berth has become almost automatic.

The Midshipmen (7-4) rebounded from a 5-7 season last year to play Arizona State in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29 in San Francisco. Niumatalolo took over for Paul Johnson in 2007 in time to coach in the Poinsettia Bowl, then led the Midshipmen to three straight bowl games on his own. In fact, Navy had made a bowl game from 2003-2010 until last season's stumble, solidifying itself as the class of the service academies, and earning bragging rights for more than the CIC trophy.

It wasn't always this way, of course. When Johnson was hired in 2002, in fact, Navy was coming off the worst two-year span in its 123-year history (1-20) and had only two winning seasons in the previous 20 years. Navy plays an independent schedule and has no automatic tie-in to any of the bowls. But the Midshipmen have earned credibility and a recruiting boost with regular wins over the Black Knights and yearly holiday-time trips to sunny destinations.

``I don't really know what the formula is, we just continue to try and win,'' Niumatalolo said. ``We just try and work hard. We've got hard-nosed kids, some good kids, just like Army does. Our biggest thing is play into the intangibles of teamwork, work ethic, discipline, all those things to overcome lack of size and speed.''

Last season's backslide trickled into this season after a 1-3 start that included a 50-10 loss to Notre Dame. But a 28-21 overtime win over Air Force on Oct. 28 was the start of a five-game win streak that led to the Mids winning six of their final seven.

Beat Army, and the season becomes a special one.

``This is not a game you want to lose,'' Navy receiver Bo Snelson said. ``It's not something I want to have happen for our senior class.''

Army is tired of ending its season against Navy. Like the Midshipmen, the Black Knights want to keep playing and get to a bowl game. Army won the Armed Forces Bowl in 2010 - its only bowl game since 1996 and second since 1988. But the Mids are somehow finding it easier to play into late December.

It wasn't easy. Niumatalolo has built a winning tradition under the toughest of recruiting pitches: Football is the easiest thing to do in Annapolis, Md. No dreams of first-round, draft-pick stardom and multimillion dollar contracts here. Last week, Navy's 28 seniors received their service assignments. Graduates of the Naval Academy serve a minimum of five years in the Navy or Marine Corps, while pilots serve eight years upon earning their wings.

There are day-to-day rules and traditions at the Naval Academy that supersede anything that happens on the football field, too. More than games lie ahead for Navy's football players.

``We're not trying to detract from any of the missions of what our great institution stands for,'' Niumatalolo said. ``That's been the biggest battle. I think a lot of people understand it and embrace it. But there's some people (at the academy) that think we're just a football machine, trying to create a football powerhouse.

``And that's not who we are.''

Maybe not in the traditional college football landscape. But on one Saturday each December, at least for a long while, there's no team in the land better than Navy.

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Follow Dan Gelston on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APGelston

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5 takeaways from the neutral arbitrator’s ruling on Tom Wilson

5 takeaways from the neutral arbitrator’s ruling on Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson finally made his season debut on Tuesday after his 20-game suspension was reduced to 14 games. The suspension was reduced by neutral arbitrator Shyam Das, who issued his decision Tuesday in a 42-page ruling.

Wilson was originally suspended for a hit he delivered to St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist.

Just as Bettman did in the first appeal, Das sheds light on several fascinating aspects of the process and various arguments used. Here are my five biggest takeaways from Tuesday’s ruling.

Think Sundqvist hit shows that Wilson is a dirty player? No one else seems to

Wilson has developed a bit of a reputation among some fans for being a dirty player and many have used this incident as evidence of that. Behind closed doors, however, it seems like everyone is in agreement that Wilson was making a hockey play and just missed.

Das wrote, “The NHLPA stresses that Wilson had no intent to injure or target Sundqvist's head, as [head of the Department of Player Safety George Parros] acknowledged. It is agreed that he was making a hockey play. His hit, even assuming it was a violation of Rule 48 -- which the NHLPA disputes -- was off ‘by inches,’ as recognized by the DPS.”

It used to be fairly common for a player who cut across the middle in the offensive zone to get blown up by the opposition. It’s not that way anymore, but there’s nobody seems to question that Wilson was simply back checking and going after the puck carrier and not simply head-hunting.

Careful what you put in an email

In a footnote, Das detailed how the NHLPA tried to argue both Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly attempted to influence the DPS’s decision of whether or not to suspend Wilson.

The NHLPA cites an email Daly sent to Parros at 5:05 p.m. on September 30, 2018 stating: "Looks like a big one. The Emergency Assistance Fund [which receives forfeited salary of penalized players] is going to be happy." Immediately prior to sending this email, Daly had been copied on five emails sent to Parros by other DPS personnel all stating that in their opinion Wilson had violated Rule 48. The NHLPA also cites Parros' testimony that the day before the DPS hearing on this incident he was at an unrelated meeting at which the Commissioner said something to the effect: "You're going to do the right thing or Do the right thing.

Conspiracy theorists are going to run away with this as proof that the NHL is somehow out to get the Caps, but I think it is important to note that the neutral arbitrator—the key word being neutral—did not buy the NHLPA’s argument. Das wrote, “The evidence as a whole, including Parros’ testimony, does not establish that the DPS was improperly influenced by the cited comments of League officials.”

Patrick Kaleta mattered a lota

Who is Patrick Kaleta? Kaleta is former player with an extensive history of supplementary discipline. His name appears 34 times in Das’ ruling so you know he must be important.

The NHLPA argued Kaleta was the “most appropriate comparison” to Wilson because he was suspended three times and fined once over the course of 94 games and with less total ice time. Despite his extensive history, the DPS issued a suspension of only 10 games in 2013 for a hit he delivered to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. That 10-game suspension was reached by doubling his prior suspension of five games.

The DPS made a point of saying that because Wilson was facing discipline for the fourth time in 105 games, his history was “unprecedented.” The reason why the DPS felt that way was because it drew a distinction Wilson was suspended all four times whereas Kaleta was fined once in his four violations during the comparable period and it was not taking the fine into account. Once you add that in, it is easy to see the argument as to why the length of Wilson’s suspension seems extreme in comparison.

How the suspension went from 20 to 14

How the DPS reached 20 games for the suspension was detailed in Bettman’s ruling, but here’s a quick refresher. Parros took Wilson’s last suspension of three games and doubled it to account for the weight of a playoff game (6), tripled that number because Wilson is a repeat offender (18) and added two more games because the hit caused an injury (20).

The sticking point for Das was tripling the last suspension which Das said there was no precedent of the league doing in the past.

“I conclude that Wilson's suspension should be reduced to 14 games,” Das wrote. “I have arrived at this length by treating his most recent prior 3 playoff game suspension as the equivalent of 6 regular season games, as Parros did, doubling that based on all relevant circumstances to 12 games -- which certainly constitutes more severe punishment consistent with the CBA -- and adding 2 games, as Parros did, based on the injury to Sundqvist.”

The change was that instead of multiplying the past suspension by three, Das though it appropriate to double it instead just as the league did with Kaleta.

This wasn’t a win for Wilson

Getting Wilson back was good news for the Caps and it saves him $378,048.78 that he would have otherwise had to forfeit, but let’s be clear, this was not a win for Wilson.

A 14-game suspension is still a significant suspension and it would have felt massive had the league originally given him 14 games on Oct. 3. It just doesn’t seem that way now because the original suspension was for 20 games.

The neutral arbitrator ruled that Wilson’s hit was illegal and worthy of a significant suspension. The only issue was basically that he didn’t like the NHL’s math. Das’ ruling should in no way be considered vindication for Wilson. Everything that has been said about Wilson in the wake of the suspension remains true. He still has to change the way he plays because the next suspension will be greater. Even if the NHL is beholden to the double modifier Das determined to reach 14 games, the best case scenario for the next suspension will be 24 to 28 games depending on if the DPS takes into account the extra two games tacked on for injury or not. That’s the best case scenario. Neither he nor the team can afford that.

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3 things to watch for improved Wizards vs. Cavs

3 things to watch for improved Wizards vs. Cavs

The Washington Wizards still have John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. The Cleveland Cavaliers no longer employ LeBron James. That makes Wednesday’s first meeting of the season between the Eastern Conference foes curious. The radical change for the visitors also requires a preview. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Sustaining the surge

Monday’s 117-109 victory over the Orlando Magic extended the Wizards’ winning streak to a season-high two. Don't knock the modest uptick after a 2-9 start. John Wall’s stat line took a big leap over the last three games: 24.0 points, 10.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 45.5 percent on 3-pointers. Beyond the numbers, the point guard appears to have knocked off the remaining rust physically. We’re used to his aggressive end-to-end pushes, but now Wall is firing up the court immediately after makes or misses, helping Washington quickly enter its offensive sets. Another strong outing from the five-time All-Star could propel the Wizards to their first three-game winning streak since Feb. 10-22.

Bench support

Starters Wall, Beal, Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris had solid games against the Magic, but it was the Wizards’ second unit playing above previous season norms. All five reserves finished with a plus-minus of plus-8 or better. Jeff Green continued his sizzling shooting, sinking 4 of 5 from beyond the arc en route to 18 points. The 6-foot-9 forward is 9 of 13 from beyond the arc overall during the last four games, and 21 of 28 overall. Backcourt partners Austin Rivers and Tomas Satoransky, slow to develop chemistry this season, showed increased comfort during the winning streak. Washington needs more from the pair to help keep minutes for Wall and Beal at reasonable levels. That Green and Rivers, in particular, have provided steady help has contributed to Porter sitting out the fourth quarter in three consecutive games.

Cleveland doesn’t rock

From four consecutive NBA Finals appearances to the NBA’s worst record (2-11, tied with Phoenix). Yeah, the Cavaliers miss LeBron James just a little. They also are down Kevin Love (toe surgery), leaving Jordan Clarkson (15.2) and Rodney Hood (12.9) as Cleveland’s top scorers. That’s not ideal. The Cavaliers are 27th in scoring (103.3) while giving up 113.1 points per game, which is better than Washington’s league-worst 118.5. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, is filling in for the injured George Hill. Sexton is averaging 17.0 points over the last three games.

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