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SEC schools hear fans frustrated over cell service

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SEC schools hear fans frustrated over cell service

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) A popular question asked during SEC games this season has been: Do you have any service?

The increasing number of fans unhappy their smartphones and tablets aren't working has become a priority for the mighty Southeastern Conference. The need for more bandwidth at stadiums is a hot-button issue being studied by a fan experience group approved by league presidents and chancellors earlier this year.

The league is trying to take action before fans do.

``I've kind of resigned myself to the fact that checking scores and all that is not possible,'' said Alabama fan Chad Gilbert. ``It really kind of negatively impacts your experience and almost makes it not even fun to go ... You want to follow your other teams' scores or post a picture of your seats. You're kind of shut off from society for a few hours. Obviously, the main reason you're there is to watch the game, but you'd like to communicate with people and share your experience.''

Gilbert from Memphis, Tenn., has been a Crimson Tide season-ticket holder since graduating from Alabama nearly a decade ago. He said he's heard before each of the last couple of seasons that getting a connection on his smartphone would be easier - only to be disappointed. He said checking Twitter, Facebook or scores becomes impossible at Alabama's 101,821-seat stadium about three hours before kickoff until about an hour after the game ends.

``I can't do anything on my mobile device because it's so bogged down, and it's mostly people who have my carrier who have that issue. I pretty much know on game day after a certain time it's almost useless to even try,'' Gilbert said.

The fix seems to be more equipment - antennas, mobile boosters and cell towers.

The challenge for the SEC is coming up with a uniform solution.

The league has its own wireless contract with AT&T, which gives officials control over championship events. But each SEC school has individual deals with wireless providers, so reception varies from stadium to stadium. SEC officials have even talked to the NFL for tips on how to resolve the issue.

``Quite frankly, a lot of that is the cell carriers are trying to keep up as much as they can, and I know we've had some additional strength added from the companies that service our area,'' said Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin, chairman of the SEC fan experience study group.

Several other schools have also added equipment.

Alabama and Florida added antennas before this season to improve the strength and capacity of wireless networks at their football stadiums. Tennessee announced new installations to help cell reception at Neyland Stadium in 2012. South Carolina worked with Verizon to bring in a mobile cell site called Cell on Wheels to double capacity around Williams-Brice Stadium.

While that's made the situation better, schools can't keep up with the technology.

Herb Vincent, LSU's associate vice chancellor for communications, said there is not ``an easy fix.''

Alabama found that out that not even the new antenna network was enough and added more cell servers before hosting Mississippi State on Oct. 27. Milton Overton, who oversees technology for Alabama, said they found text messages didn't go through sometimes until an hour two after games, and Tide officials will survey fans again at the end of the season to check for issues.

``Any sports venue today, they expect it to be connected,'' Overton said.

The SEC's popularity only adds to the problem.

SEC games create mini-cities: Tennessee's capacity is 102,455 with Georgia and LSU both over 92,000. Gilbert said he managed to connect when his Crimson Tide played at Missouri in October - but only after a big rain storm sent thousands of fans home early in the second quarter.

Not even Vanderbilt, the SEC's smallest stadium seating 40,350, is immune.

Chris Cashwell, 43, of Franklin, Tenn., uses Twitter to enhance his game-day experience at Vanderbilt with injury updates, notes and opinions from others on plays he couldn't see. Cashwell said he quickly got dependent on Twitter and had no issues against teams like Presbyterian or Massachusetts only to be unable to connect against any SEC opponent. Luckily, his son's new 4G iPhone helped him check Twitter when Tennessee benched Tyler Bray last weekend.

Cashwell's 14-year-old son also pointed out why his cell battery was nearly dead after a game.

``He said, `That's because you were trying to post to Twitter and Facebook the whole time so it was looking for that signal and running it down,''' Cashwell said.

Vanderbilt asked its wireless providers to test their systems for weaknesses during home games this fall so they can add enough equipment to meet demand next season. Steve Walsh, Vanderbilt's associate director of athletics and director of sales and marketing, said the Commodores want to make better use of their new video board to post Twitter comments and Facebook updates to expand on the replays already being shown to meet fan demand.

Alabama already does that with Facebook posts - when they go through.

``We definitely recognize it as an issue that's not going away anytime soon,'' Walsh said. ``It's going to continue to become a larger story.''

SEC fans should stay tuned - if they can stay connected.

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AP Sports Writers John Zenor in Birmingham, Ala., Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., David Brandt in Starkville, Miss., Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn., Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., and Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this report.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/teresamwalker

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Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson stayed on brand in his return from a long suspension.

The Capitals’ big man scored a goal and took a penalty on the same play in his first game of the season, a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. 

Wilson won’t get the 16 games back he missed for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. But he tried to make up for it in his debut. 

Wilson scored Washington’s second goal at 19:32 of the first period when he drove the net hard and deflected a pass from teammate Dmitry Orlov past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. But this being Wilson, nothing is totally uncontroversial.  

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was moving fast. There was no stopping him. Wilson, with some help from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, collided with Dubnyk. The puck was already in the net, but the referee decided Wilson needed to go think about what he’d done after Dubnyk got clocked in the head. It was a two-minute goalie interference call. 

That’s an odd play rarely called. Either the goal counts or it doesn’t, but maybe because Wilson had already scored before running into Dubnyk both calls could stand. 

“It was a first for me to score and get a penalty on the same play,” Wilson told reporters in St. Paul. “I was just going hard to the net and Snarls [Orlov] put it right on my tape. It was a great pass at full speed. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of the way. I’ll take the goal and the kill went out there and got it done. It was good to see.”

It was far from Wilson’s only contribution in his first game back. He also fought Marcus Foligno at 11:58 of the second period on the faceoff after Minnesota cut a Washington lead to 3-1. He didn’t back down when asked to go by Foligno. 

“He’s a key player for our team, brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice,” forward Andre Burakovsky said. “Huge lift for the team to get him back earlier. Didn’t expect that and I think he had a really strong game today. Obviously, he got the goal in his first game back and then some dirty works. Obviously, I think he’s a huge guy for us in PK and it showed today.”

Wilson didn’t get the assist on the goal that put the game away. Alex Ovechkin found Orlov for a one-timer on a pass from the left faceoff circle to the right. But it was Wilson driving hard toward the goal that kept a Wild defenseman with him and allowed Orlov the space to finish Ovechkin’s pass. Those little things have been missed in the 16 games Wilson was suspended. He was relentless. 

One big issue for the Capitals: The penalty kill. Wilson has been a big part of that group in recent years and without him – and, to be fair the departed Jay Beagle and the injured Brooks Orpik – Washington entered the game 29thin the NHL in penalty kill percentage (71.7 percent). Wilson wasn’t eased into anything. He played 5:23 on the penalty kill and the Capitals killed five of six Wild power plays. 

[Wilson] does a lot not just on the ice, but in our room. Adds a ton of energy. Well respected player for how he trains,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “Going through a tough time and obviously kind of a surprise for us to get him back today. We were hoping to at any point here and we were able to take advantage of a fortunate bounce for our team before even the game started. But I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did." 

"Obviously able to convert on a great play on a line rush, but just the other things he did. Our penalty kill, the opposition scores a goal and, you talk about shifts after goals, not giving the team any more momentum than they’ve already gotten and he gets in a fight there. There’s a lot to like about Tom Wilson and I thought he had a strong game. It was great to have him back.”

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

Think the Caps missed Tom Wilson? It sure looked like it.

Washington looked like a completely different team with Wilson back in the lineup Tuesday in a dominant 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Here are four reasons the Caps won:

Tom Wilson

Wilson made his season debut Tuesday after his suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator earlier in the day. Wilson’s addition to the lineup had two effects. One, it made the lineup a lot deeper. Without Wilson, Todd Reirden was having trouble putting together the right lineup. Several players cycled on the top line and every line behind the top had to shuffle. Wilson came back onto the top line and immediately the rest of the lineup fell into place.

The top line looked better, the second line looked better and the third line looked better with their regular lineups back intact.

Wilson’s return also brought a lot of energy to the team and that was evident from the very start of the game. The Caps outshot Minnesota 12-6 and took the 2-0 lead in the first period of the game. Compare that to the rather lethargic game we saw on Sunday, clearly, Wilson brought a spark.

Oh, yeah, Wilson has also had a pretty darn good game too. He scored in the first period of the game in a typical Wilson play. He completely blew past Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and tipped in a pass from Dmitry Orlov as he crashed the net on goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Somehow Wilson was also given a goalie interference penalty… but the goal still counted? Regardless of what was an obvious reputation penalty, it was a good return for Wilson, who also had a fight with Marcus Foligno and helped set up Orlov’s second goal by crashing again and drawing the defense over to him.

Dmitry Orlov

Orlov broke a 19-game goal drought with a goal just 7:23 into the game.

Lars Eller had the puck and cut to the blue line in the offensive zone turning to the middle. Minnesota got caught puck watching as the defense shifted with Eller, leaving Orlov open on the left. Eller found him and Orlov took advantage of the extra space to score his first goal of the season.

Orlov would add an assist on Wilson’s goal and a second goal in the third period off a beautiful pass from Alex Ovechkin.

The typically reliable defensive pairing of Orlov and Matt Niskanen struggled at the start of the season prompting Todd Reirden to switch up the pairs and place Orlov with John Carlson. Clearly, the move had the desired effect in Tuesday’s game.

The schedule

Tuesday’s game was the Wild’s first at home since Oct. 27. Minnesota was coming off a seven-game road swing and they looked a bit weary at the start of the game. As mentioned above, the Wild were outshot 12-6 in the first period and then 15-8 in the second.

Really, this game was a perfect storm. Not only were the Wild tired from a lengthy road trip, but they also were dealing with a Caps team that was pumped up by the return of Wilson.

Part of what made Sunday’s loss to Arizona so disappointing was the fact that the Coyotes were on the second leg of a back-to-back with their starting goalie on IR. The Caps were not able to take advantage, but they certainly took it to a vulnerable, road-weary team on Tuesday.

The penalty kill

Washington’s porous penalty kill was the reason the Caps lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday and a major reason they fell to Arizona. The PK finally stood tall on Tuesday as the Caps were able to kill off four out of five penalties on the night. The lone power play goal the team gave up came in the third period when the Caps were already up 5-1 and the game was no longer in doubt.

You can add the penalty kill to the long list of things that Wilson instantly improved in his return. Wilson logged 16:47 of total ice time on Tuesday and 5:23 of that came on the penalty kill.

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