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Penguins Bring Excitement, But Senators Are Real Contenders
BINGHAMTON -- Fans crossing the border to follow their favorite team showed why the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are one of the strongest franchises in the American Hockey League in their fourth season.
On the ice, however, the Senators showed Saturday night why they are making Binghamton one of the top teams in the city's first season back in the AHL.
The Penguins, despite having more than 8,000 seats to fill at the First Union Arena in Wilkes-Barre, have set a series of league attendance records. They are on a sellout streak that started in the 2000-01 season, carried all the way through last season and continues past the halfway mark this season.
Those fans followed the team, many in their Penguins jerseys, filling up about a third of the Broome County Arena and boosting the Senators' home attendance by 917 from the previous night's home game by creating another sellout.
The Penguins fans appear to have a playoff team to cheer on for the second time in four seasons.
Binghamton, however, is looking like a legitimate title contender after running its unbeaten streak to eight games with Saturday's 5-2 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
The Senators have 11 short-handed goals, fourth-best in the 28-team league, after Chris Kelly's score late in the second period against the Penguins.
Binghamton killed all 11 Penguins power plays, went 3-for-6 when it had the advantage and added the short-handed goal.
The Senators are 24-14-7-1 to lead the East Division, with the Eastern Conference's fourth-best and the league's seventh-best record overall.
The Penguins are 20-21-3-3, good for third in the South Division, tied for ninth in the Western Conference and tied for 17th overall.
How dangerous Binghamton is in the playoffs could depend on whether Jason Spezza is still part of the team.
Spezza, a former Canadian National Team player who was the second-pick overall in the 2001 National Hockey League draft, spent some time with Ottawa in the NHL earlier this season. He leads the team in scoring and has 15 points while scoring in all eight games of the current unbeaten streak.
Goalie Ray Emery, who has also spent some time in Ottawa, has four shutouts.
The Senators also have one of the league's most respected coaches in John Paddock, who has won three AHL titles and took the Binghamton Rangers to the 1991 Calder Cup semifinals.
"There is no coach in the AHL that has the pedigree of a John Paddock," Ottawa Senators general manager John Muckler said. "John has a keen understanding of our priority on winning and in the continued development of our prospects."
Muckler was in Binghamton during the weekend to watch the team.
While Spezza's current and future brilliance makes the Senators an exciting team, a former No. 1 pick who is trying to rebuild a once promising career is one of the keys for the Penguins.
Alexandre Daigle, the first player taken in the 1993 NHL draft, was the latest AHL Player of the Week. Daigle, in his first year back after a two-year retirement, missed the game at Binghamton because of a hip flexor injury.
Since ending a six-game losing streak in November, the Penguins have gone 16-10-2-3. They have not, however, been able to put together any more than two games without a loss.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has gone 0-6 in its attempts to extend a two-game winning streak and 0-7-1 in its efforts trying to climb from one to two games above .500.
"I won't mention three in a row anymore," Penguins coach Glenn Patrick said. "Every time I do, we lose."
WEEK IN REVIEW
Montrose senior Coleen Walsh reached the 1,000-point mark for her career Saturday night and did so in style.
Walsh scored a career-high 27 points to finish the night with 1,001 career points while leading Montrose to a 58-31 victory over Carbondale Sacred Heart.
Walsh reached the milestone by scoring off a Tiffany Palmer pass with 2:01 left in the third quarter. She also had 10 rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot.
Chelsey Parvin grabbed 10 rebounds and Kate LaBarbera made five steals in the win.
Montrose finished the week with a 2-0 record in the second half, one of three teams a half-game behind Mountain View in the Lackawanna League Division 2 North.
The Lady Meteors won their other league game, 39-23, over Susquehanna. Walsh had 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against the Lady Sabers. Parvin added six points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots. LaBarbera had six points and six steals.
Montrose started the week with a 41-35 non-league loss to West Scranton. Walsh had 19 points, Parvin had 10 rebounds and LaBarbera had five assists in the loss.
Bettylou Mihal and Ashley Twining led the offense as defending champion Mountain View jumped out to a 3-0 start in the half by beating Lackawanna Trail, 66-30; Blue Ridge, 46-31, and Susquehanna, 68-35.
First-half champion Forest City joined Carbondale and Montrose at 2-0.
Forest City defeated Susquehanna, 63-30, and Elk Lake, 63-42.
Blue Ridge matched its first-half total of one win when, after playing Mountain View tough, the Lady Raiders rallied to 53-51 victory over Lackawanna Trail.
Brooke Hinkley led the team with 11 points against Mountain View and 17 against Lackawanna Trail. Katie Bayly added 14 against Trail when Blue Ridge rallied from a 26-13 half-time deficit by scoring 40 points in the second half.
Elk Lake beat Sacred Heart, 57-39, before losing twice later in the week.
In boys' basketball, first-half champion Elk Lake jumped right into the second-half lead. The Lions struggled past Lackawanna Trail, 62-56, then handled one of their top challengers, Carbondale, 51-39.
Forest City and Mountain View each started the half 1-1.
Forest City beat Susquehanna, 55-48, but lost to Mountain View, 68-62.
Blue Ridge, which was in contention until the last night of the first half, started the second half with two straight losses.
Montrose lost its second-half opener in the Division I North before winning a crossover game from Valley View, 64-46.
Matt Hornak, who scored 19 points in the 72-56 loss to Scranton Prep, led the win with 14 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. Dylan Maxey added 13 points and Mike Bennett had 10 in the win.
In wrestling, Mountain View saw its Division 2 championship hopes fizzle with losses to the top two teams. The Eagles fell to Scranton Prep, 40-38, before losing to first-place Delaware Valley, 59-12.
Susquehanna handled Montrose, 54-18, and Elk Lake won a tie-breaker from Susquehanna after a 42-42 match for the only wins by county schools during the week.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The Zurn-Bush Wrestling Tournament has been rescheduled for Saturday at Elk Lake. The tournament will be the same day as the District 2 Dual Meet finals, meaning that if any of those teams advance in districts they will have to pull out of the Zurn-Bush Tournament.
Elk Lake was scheduled to host Sacred Heart, the only other second-half unbeaten in the division Tuesday in boys' basketball.
Forest City (2-0) is at Montrose (2-0) Thursday in girls' basketball.
Jesse Graytock and Adam Graytock of Forest City are distance runners on the Bucknell University men's indoor track and field team.
Jesse is a senior while Adam is a junior.
During his career at Bucknell, Jesse has earned three letters in cross country and one in track. He was 34th in the Patriot League cross country championships earlier this school year.
Adam is also a member of the cross country team.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached on-line at RobbyTR@aol.com.
Can RUDD Rejuvenate His Career This Season Can Ricky Rudd and his single car, veteran team find success among all the younger drivers and multi-car operations?
Rudd will begin a new era as he moves over to a Virginian team, the Wood Brothers.
This should be a pivotal year for the 25-year veteran. At the beginning of last year's season, Rudd told his car owner, Robert Yates that he would retire at the end of the year, only to change his mind as the season wound down.
There was a lot of confusion among his team, but he still managed to finish 10th in Winston Cup points. This year he is with one of NASCAR's oldest teams-The Wood Brothers.
Like all drivers prior to the season, Rudd presented an optimistic picture of the upcoming year. At the Winston Cup Preview in Winston-Salem, NC, Rudd gave reporters his views.
"We came back from Daytona, where things went good," said Rudd. "Communication was good. Cars ran pretty good. Ran really good in the draft. We had two cars that sort of surprised me, I knew we had one good car, and the other car was mediocre at best; we put them in the draft and we had already ruled out that one of them was not going to be brought back to the race track, but after drafting so well, we might have a Bud Shootout car, too. It was a good test in the fact that things went smooth, we were able to get three hours of draft practice, which to me is the top priority when we go to Daytona because few cars are going to win the pole, but you spend all winter getting ready for one or two laps. Very happy with the way things went."
Hopefully, Rudd's experience can offset some of the things that would be problems for some single-car teams.
"I think if it was a true single-car team in that sense where you had no help from anybody, I think experience would really help on that," continued Rudd. "That's probably the disadvantage of being a single-car team if you have got a young driver- the Woods are a single-car team, I guess technically I bring experience in the driver seat which I can tell them the car is good or bad without having to look at a stop watch. It's not really a true single-car operation. The Roush camp is very open to these guys. We run Roush chassis. All of that information is available. So it's sort of a unique situation. Experience in this situation certainly couldn't hurt and consistency is the biggest thing these guys need. They've had a second at Daytona 500 and Darlington, but they had a lot of times where they didn't finish because of accidents and hopefully they could eliminate those problems."
Rudd had said that after the way things played out last year between him and Robert Yates, he was mentally drained at times.
"I think the biggest word for last year was frustration," he said. "I can set aside differences, it was not the most pleasant situation in the world to be going through. Usually teams that don't run well or are having trouble making races or whatever, they come apart. It was kind of hard to have a team that was so rock steady. Really thought would be a Championship contender. Mathematically we were a contender up until Charlotte raceweek. Just trying to get these guys to understand hey, whatever is going to happen next year forget it, that is next year. Let's go right now and pull together. We got mathematical chances of winning the Winston Cup Championship. Whatever differences, whatever they might be outside let's go out and work on these race cars and try to win races and work as a group.
"That being said, a lot of that group has never been in that position to challenge for a Championship. They don't realize how few times those opportunities come along. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't get it pulled together and it grew farther and farther apart. The crew chief ("Fatback" McSwain) cut a deal with Bobby Labonte. He left at the end of the season It was by no means the most ideal circumstances at the end of the year, and I was looking for a breather. But by-golly, I was going to get through that last race and finish in the top-10. We were able to do that. It was nice to be able to put that year behind us."
Nothing To Prove, Says WALLACE Another veteran who needs to have a good showing this season is Rusty Wallace. His Penske team has switched from a Ford to a Dodge for the 2003 season.
"It's not that I have anything to prove," said Wallace. "All I can tell you is going into this particular race, I have come close to winning the Daytona 500 many times and that is all that is in my mind right now; to win that big race. I would love to win that big Daytona 500. And I was in total disbelief that we didn't win last year being the way we ran. We had a good second-place finish so it didn't happen. We had a real strong run and lot of seconds. When it was all said and done we were 220 points out of the Winston Cup Championship. I don't have anything to prove. I think I have proved everything I got to prove so far in my career. I think I have won enough races that I don't really have anything else to prove. I do have things I want to do. I want to win Daytona, win the Brickyard, things like that."
Soft Walls Still Being Studied NASCAR president Mike Helton said the sanctioning body is also continuing its research into energy-absorbing barriers for race track walls.
Such barriers were installed in the outside of turns at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and on the inside of turns at Talladega Superspeedway last year. Helton said the barriers have not been added at any other tracks because Dr. Dean Sicking, the leader of the group doing the development at the University of Nebraska, still has concerns about its application on tighter-radius turns found at other tracks.
Racing Trivia Question: How old must a driver be before they can drive in a NASCAR series?
Answer To Last Week's Question: Winston Cup driver Jerry Nadeau will drive for MB2 Motorsports in 2003.
Gerald Hodges/the Racing Reporter is a syndicated NASCAR columnist. If you have a racing question that you would like answered send it to The Racing Reporter, P.O. Box 160711, Mobile, AL, 36616, or e-mail it to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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