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Kentucky's 'Camp Cal': early risings, hard work

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Kentucky's 'Camp Cal': early risings, hard work

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach John Calipari hopes ``Camp Cal'' yields a better-conditioned and more committed team.

Two days in, the intense workouts have at least gotten the Wildcats' attention.

With no early risers on the roster, Kentucky players have found it harder to awake for the 7 a.m. workouts than the exercises. Not that basic training has been easy, what with strength coach Ray ``Rock'' Oliver screaming at them as they run.

Then comes afternoon practice with Calipari, who instituted the routine after Tuesday's victory over Samford. Despite a rout of the Bulldogs, he was unhappy with the Wildcats' second-half effort and vowed to change their attitude and fitness.

Kentucky's response Saturday against Portland (3-5) could determine whether Camp Cal lasts a few days or continues into the Christmas break.

What's important is that everyone is on board with the program.

``We weren't in shape,'' junior guard Jarrod Polson said Friday. ``Coach saw that and we needed something to get us off our feet, I guess. Going in there in the mornings as a team is a good way to start your day off and I think it's going to help not only get us in shape but create more team bonding, stuff like that.''

Calipari hopes the extra workouts result in 40 minutes of basketball from his young team.

He believes that Kentucky's 5-3 start is because his players have taken minutes off during games. The Wildcats' lack of effort was exposed Saturday in 64-55 loss to Baylor in which Calipari called out his team for failing to challenge the Bears on shots and for rebounds.

That loss was Kentucky's second straight, ending its 55-game home winning streak and knocking the Wildcats from No. 8 to out of the Top 25 after 61 consecutive weeks. Tuesday night's 88-56 drumming of Samford should have pleased Calipari, considering they shot 56 percent and outrebounded the Bulldogs 41-25.

And he was pleased, at least with the first half. Kentucky outscored Samford just 43-42 in the second and allowed the Bulldogs to shoot 52 percent, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range.

What bothered Calipari most was what he considered his team's lack of fitness and immediately challenged his players to shape up or be shipped out of the lineup.

On Friday, he seemed encouraged by his team's response to his back-to-basics approach.

``We've got a good group of guys, we really do,'' Calipari said. ``They just don't know how hard you've got to work or what kind of investment you have to make in this sport. I've always had a couple of guys on the team that could drag others. We're still trying to find that mix.''

Calipari's biggest issue has been with players' failure to work on shooting and conditioning on their own. Last year's title squad didn't have that problem, spending much off time in the gym.

Tuesday's uneven effort, coming off a two-game slide, led Calipari to create a ``forced breakfast club'' in which players begin their days with training. With classes done and finals beginning on Monday, the Wildcats have more time for extra workouts.

``I worked out like three times on Thursday,'' sophomore guard Ryan Harrow said. ``I was just trying to get a workout in and I'll work out tonight. ... We want to be in shape. We need something.''

Harrow has extra motivation to exercise. He's working hard to get back in the rotation after missing two games because of illness and two more while taking care of a family matter in Georgia.

Harrow has only a basket in each of the past three games but has averaged nearly 20 minutes the past two contests. That's more than he expected and his development could help address Kentucky's point guard issue.

Freshman and leading scorer Archie Goodwin (16.6 points per game) has played there most of the season but is better suited at shooting guard. Fifth-year senior Julius Mays (9.6 points) has been solid there but the 6-foot-2 Harrow appears to be a natural fit.

Eventually, Calipari hopes that fit becomes the operative word for Kentucky.

``I've gone back to more roughhouse practices which I normally don't like to do,'' Calipari said, ``and gone through the conditioning to get them in here and work on them mentally. When you start working and you go for five or six days and think `I need results now.' No.

``It may be a month and half before you really see. It won't change overnight.''

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The Dougie Hamilton-Alex Ovechkin drama continued in Game 6 and the internet has thoughts

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NBC Sports

The Dougie Hamilton-Alex Ovechkin drama continued in Game 6 and the internet has thoughts

Alex Ovechkin's assist to Brett Connolly in Game 5 started when Carolina Hurricanes defender Dougie Hamilton shied away from Ovechkin's imminent check.

To start Game 6, Ovechkin tried to ram Hamilton along the boards again, but Hamilton sidestepped him to get the puck to safety.

After Ovechkin tumbled to the ice when he missed the hit, he made his way back to the bench, when he appeared to, well, you decide.

Ovechkin's mocking did not go unnoticed by the broadcast crew on NBC Sports Network or by fans on Twitter. "And there it is, that's what Eddie was talking about," chuckled Pierre McGuire as Ovechkin appeared to raise his arms like a clucking chicken.

The Hurricanes would respond with a goal to even the game 1-1, but Ovechkin answered back at 15:12 of the first period on an assist from Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen to make it 2-1 Capitals.

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The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

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USA TODAY Sports

The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

The finalists for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position – were unveiled on Sunday. Somehow, John Carlson was not among them.

This is the second consecutive year Carlson was a deserving candidate and the second year he will not even be among the top three.

The Norris Trophy is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- of which I am a member so I guess you can blame us -- but make no mistake, this is a snub in every sense of the word and a major oversight that Carlson cannot get the recognition he deserves.

Ballots will be made public after the awards are given out. Until then, we are not supposed to divulge exactly how we voted, but I will tell you that Carlson was in my top three, and he absolutely should have been a finalist this year.

If you had asked me prior to the 2017-18 season who the most important defenseman on the Caps was, I would have told you it was Matt Niskanen. I saw Carlson as an offensive-heavy player whose skills in his own zone were lacking. I had to eat those words later as Niskanen was injured in mid-October and missed the next month of the season. During that month, Carlson averaged 27:47 of ice-time per game, which led the entire league. He showed he could contribute offensively, defensively, on the power play and penalty kill. There was nothing he could not do.

Suddenly, the Caps’ top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen was replaced by Carlson and whoever he was paired with. That continued into this season.

But while Carlson has reshaped his image in Washington, his reputation as an offensive first player instead of an all-around defenseman persists, and it cost him.

There is no set standard every voter sticks to when it comes to evaluating players for the Norris. You can look at whatever stats you want whether it is Corsi, Fenwick, points, PDO, defensive zone starts, high-danger chances for -- the list goes on. Here’s why Carlson was in the top three of my ballot: Not only did he play exceptionally well, but the Capitals relied on him more in more situations than any other team relied on a single defenseman.

Carlson finished the season ranked eighth in the NHL in time on ice per game at 25:04. Burns finished just ahead of him with 25:06. Both Giordano (24:14) and Hedman (22:46) played less.

Carlson was among the top 40 defensemen in shorthanded time on ice per game with 2:35, something only Giordano (2:40) could boast among the other finalists. Carlson was also first among all defensemen in power play time on ice per game with 4:05, significantly more than Hedman (3:19), Giordano (3:19) or Burns (3:17).

There is no situation in which the Caps are not comfortable putting Carlson out on the ice and no situation in which he is not expected to play heavy minutes. He has taken a bigger role defensively as the team’s top shutdown pair of Orlov-Niskanen has had a down year. Despite the heavier defensive workload, Carlson still managed to finish in the top four in points among defensemen with 70, a career-high.

I am not here saying that Burns, Giordano or Hedman are not deserving of being finalists. In fact, Carlson did not finish first on my ballot. It seems crazy to me, however, that he did not finish in the top three this season or last. All three finalists had strong seasons, but Carlson’s season was just as good and he was more heavily relied upon. He is one of the top offensive blueliners, but that’s not all he is.

Until he manages to overcome that reputation, which persists through no fault of his own, he will continue to be on the outside of the Norris race looking in. And that’s a shame considering how good he has been.

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