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American Hockey League teams, in particular the Binghamton Senators, benefited from last year's National Hockey League lockout by being able to consistently put a higher level of talent on the ice each night.
It will be back to business as usual in the upcoming season, but the preparation for the NHL's return will again put the sport's most talented players on display regionally.
When the NHL released its preseason schedule last week, it showed seven games being played in AHL cities, including three in the two cities that draw some of their fans from Susquehanna County.
Wilkes-Barre is the only AHL city that will have two NHL exhibitions while Binghamton also has a game.
The Binghamton rivalry with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton could get another boost when the two parent clubs meet on back-to-back nights in each other's minor-league city. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators will play September 23 in Binghamton then have a rematch the next night in Wilkes-Barre.
Professional hockey's greatest active player and its two hottest prospects could be on display in those games.
Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby, the top pick in the recent National Hockey League draft, are with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will hold six days of their training camp in Wilkes-Barre, September 20-25.
"We are thrilled for our fans to have a chance to see NHL hockey and some familiar faces from last season's East Division champs back at the Arena along with the possibility of Sidney Crosby playing one of his early professional contests right here in Binghamton," Binghamton Senators executive vice president of operations Tom Mitchell said in a press release.
Pittsburgh will also play the Boston Bruins in Wilkes-Barre September 21.
"Local fans will get to see a legend and, hopefully, a future legend skate on the ice together," Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins CEO Jeff Barrett said during a press conference in Wilkes-Barre last week. "The people of Northeastern Pennsylvania will be among the first to witness that."
The Ottawa Senators counter Crosby, the best player in Canadian Junior hockey last season, with Jason Spezza, last season's AHL Most Valuable Player.
Lemieux is a six-time NHL scoring champion and three-time league Most Valuable Player. He was also playoff MVP twice after leading Pittsburgh to its two Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992. He was inducted into hockey's Hall of Fame before coming out of retirement.
Crosby won the last two Quebec Major Junior Hockey League scoring titles and led Team Canada to the gold medal in the 2005 World Junior Championships.
Spezza's presence during the NHL lockout made Binghamton the favorite going into the Calder Cup playoffs, but they were upset by the rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Spezza was the second overall pick in the 2001 draft.
The Pittsburgh Penguins feature the top picks from two of the last three drafts, including 2003 first pick Marc-Andre Fleury.
The players who did not spend last season in the AHL will also be getting their first tastes of a variety of rule changes. The NHL, in an effort to open up the game which has been dominated by defenses in recent years, made several changes. Many of the changes were tested in the AHL last season.
Among other changes, the return of the NHL will include shootouts to break ties after five minutes of sudden-death overtime.
The AHL recently announced its schedule for the upcoming season.
Binghamton opens on the road October 8 against the defending Calder Cup champion Philadelphia Phantoms. The team is home for the first time October 15 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
The Senators' complete home schedule is:
October: 15, Bridgeport; 21, Hershey. November: 5, Rochester; 11, Hartford, 12, Philadelphia; 18, Toronto; 24, Syracuse; 26, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton; 27, Philadelphia. December: 9, Hershey; 10, Rochester; 16, Norfolk; 17, Providence; 21, Norfolk; 23, Lowell; 26, Albany; 31, Syracuse. January: 6, Rochester; 7, Hershey; 13, Springfield; 14, Bridgeport; 20, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton; 21, Norfolk. February: 8, Portland; 12, Albany; 18, Philadelphia; 19, Syracuse; 24, Toronto; 25, Hamilton. March: 5, Manchester; 8, Norfolk; 15, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton; 17, Hershey; 18, Philadelphia; 31, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. April: 1, Norfolk; 7, Bridgeport; 8, Rochester; 16, Albany.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton again hosts the league opener when it plays Bridgeport October 5.
The Penguins' complete home schedule is:
October: 5, Bridgeport; 8, Hershey; 22, Binghamton; 28, Hershey; 29, Syracuse. November: 4, Springfield; 5, Philadelphia; 19, Norfolk; 23, Providence. December: 9, Manitoba; 10, Manitoba; 16, Syracuse; 17, Norfolk; 23, Philadelphia; 26, Hershey; 28, Hartford; 31, Norfolk. January: 7, Philadelphia; 18, Syracuse; 21, Bridgeport; 25, Bridgeport; 28, Norfolk; 29, Binghamton. February: 3, Bridgeport; 4, Rochester; 10, Hershey; 11, Albany. March: 3, Toronto; 4, Manchester; 8, Syracuse; 12, Bridgeport; 22, Portland; 24, Hershey; 25, Albany. April: 1, Lowell; 5, Binghamton; 7, Norfolk; 8, Philadelphia; 14, Bridgeport; 15, Philadelphia.
The Albany River Rats have been moved out of the East Division. With the AHL shrinking from 28 teams to 27, the East will be the only division with only six teams.
There will still be three divisions with seven teams. Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Philadelphia Bridgeport, the Hershey Bears, and Norfolk Admirals all remain in the East Division.
Because of the change in divisional alignment, the East Division is the only one that will not be guaranteed of four playoff teams. If the Atlantic Division's fifth-place team has more points than the East Division's fourth-place team, it will move into the East Division's playoff bracket.
Albany moves to the Atlantic Division where it replaces Worcester.
Grand Rapids remains in the Western Conference but switches from the West to the North Division. The Toronto Marlies, a franchise which was moved by the part Toronto Maple Leafs from St. John's to Toronto, will also be in the North Division.
The West faces the biggest changes. New teams are in place in Iowa, Omaha and Peoria. Peoria was moved from Worcester by the parent St. Louis Blues.
Cincinnati's franchise, which had been in the North Division, is dormant.
The Hershey Bears will now be affiliated with the Washington Capitals.
Anaheim, which had sent players to Cincinnati, will replace Hershey in Portland.
Colorado, which had supplied players to Hershey, will put players in Lowell along with Carolina.
Omaha will be the AHL affiliate of Calgary, which had been sending some players to Lowell for the past two seasons.
Edmonton is likely to return to a joint affiliation in Hamilton with Montreal.
Dallas, which had its players in Utah, will now place them in Iowa.
Binghamton Senators defenseman Brian Pothier was one of four AHL all-stars among the 39 players invited to participate in the U.S. Olympic Team Orientation Camp September 5-8 in Colorado. The camp is the first step toward creating a roster for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy February 10-26.
Albany's Zach Parise, Manchester's Dustin Brown and Manitoba's Ryan Kesler were the other AHL all-stars who were invited.
Dennis Bonvie, the AHL's all-time leader in career penalty minutes, has signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Bonvie, who spent part of the 2003-04 season with the Binghamton Senators, was in Wilkes-Barre during the team's first two seasons.
"I'm obviously a little older now, but I know I can do the job and, in some aspects, do it better because of what I know and what I've learned along the way," Bonvie said.
Legal practices began Monday for fall sports teams around District 2 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Competition can begin in golf August 22 and in tennis August 29. The football, cross country, field hockey, soccer and girls' volleyball seasons can begin September 2.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
TONY STEWART Is Smoking
Watkins Glen, NY – Tony Stewart blew away the competition Sunday in the Nextel Cup Sirius at the Glen as he led 83 laps of the 92-lap race for his fifth win in the last seven races.
“He’s the best right now,” said Boris Said, the third place finisher.
Stewart started on the pole since rain forced cancellation of qualifying, and according to NASCAR rules, the starting lineup was determined according to the drivers points position.
The only time Stewart lost the lead was when he pitted for tires and fuel.
“The good Lord has been smiling on us,” said Stewart’s crew chief, Greg Zippadelli. “This means we’ve got to work even harder, because a lot of them are gunning for us now.”
Robby Gordon came all the way from his 39th starting position to finish second.
“Tony is a heck of a race car driver,” said Gordon. “I just wish we could have gotten there a little earlier, we might have had something for him.
“Being second is the first loser.”
Several of the top-10 points leaders did not fare well.
Greg Biffle lost a transmission in his No. 16 Roush Ford and came in 38th. His teammate Kurt Busch had his own problems and wound up 39th.
It appears time has run out for Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make this year’s Chase. With just four races left before the points are adjusted, Gordon is 14th, 523 points behind the leader, while Junior 16th, 627 back. Gordon would have to make up 123 points, with Junior needing 227.
Top ten finishing order: 1. Tony Stewart, 2. Robby Gordon, 3. Boris Said, 4. Scott Pruett, 5. Jimmie Johnson, 6. Rusty Wallace, 7. Mark Martin, 8. Brian Vickers, 9. Joe Nemechek, 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Current Chase for the Cup Contenders: 1. Stewart-3113, 2. Johnson-3008, 3. Biffle-2861, 4. R. Wallace-2855, 5. Martin-2782, 6. Busch-2692, 7. Mayfield-2684, 8. Newman-2646, 9. McMurray-2599, 10. Edwards-2593.
Note: In order for a driver to be eligible for the 10-race Chase for the Championship which begins after race 26, he must be 10th or higher in the points, or be within 400 points of the leader.
Watch Out For The Weedeater – Defending Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch won’t be going anywhere next year. Busch had sought a release from Jack Roush after he had signed a deal for 2007 with Penske Racing. Busch’s current contract with Roush is through 2006, and he wanted out a year early.
“We’ll have to work our way through this,” Roush said he told Busch. “But the thing I’ll give you today is that you shouldn’t expect a release for 2006.”
Less than a month ago, Jamie McMurray signed a contract to drive for Roush Racing in 2007, and asked to be released from his driving duties at Ganassi Racing after the end of the 2005 season.
Ganassi has no intention of letting him leave before 2007. But in the four weeks since announcing his intent, the Ganassi team has been scrutinized and criticized for holding McMurray to his original contract.
So when Roush signed McMurray more than a year before his current contract expired, many NASCAR insiders viewed it as a sneaky back-room deal.
In a shocking case of what goes around, comes around, Roush Racing now finds itself in the same position after Busch signed with Penske.
While NASCAR operates as a dictatorship when it comes to on track racing, it has no policing authority over driver wages or contracts. Drivers are independent operators as far as the sanctioning body is concerned.
With the tables turned on Roush, fans are getting a clearer picture of the dog-eat-dog world of big-time NASCAR racing.
And it’s only going to get worse.
"What I've been telling people is, when you conduct your business from the weeds, sooner or later the weedeater will run over you," said Felix Sabates, a co-owner of Jamie McMurray's car at Ganassi Racing.
Has STEWART Finally Grown Up – Remember just a couple years ago when Stewart would go into a rage if someone he didn’t like crossed his path?
During the fall race at Martinsville in 2003, Stewart told reporters, “It’s NASCAR’s way or no way, and I might be hitting the highway.”
That was his way of saying, “I’m not going to change.”
But he did.
Somewhere between the end of the 2003 season and midway of this year, he experienced a metamorphosis of sorts.
He no longer displays the surly, get off my back before I punch your lights out attitude. Instead, he now talks and acts like a respectable person.
With this new mental adjustment has come a new focus towards racing, which means bad news for his NASCAR rivals.
Fresh off emotional victories at the Brickyard and Watkins Glen; Stewart will be the one to beat in the foreseeable future.
If he can maintain his roll during the last ten races, it means he might get his second NASCAR championship.
As long as he keeps this new approach to life and racing, he will be the one to beat, at least for the remainder of this season.
The Nextel Cup and Busch teams will be at Brooklyn, MI, while the Craftsman Trucks have an off weekend.
Top-10 Busch Series leaders; 1. Truex-3441, 2. Bowyer-3319, 3. Sorenson-3222, 4. Edwards-3085, 5. K. Wallace-2969, 6. Hamlin-2911, 7. D. Green-2726, 8. Stremme-2705, 9. Menard-2697, 10. Lewis-2643.
Top-10 Craftsman Truck Series leaders: 1. Setzer-2400, 2. Musgrave-2222, 3. Hamilton-2188, 4. Hornaday-2133, 5. Reutimann-2114, 6. Spencer-2089, 7. Crafton-2017, 8. Skinner-1996, 9. Craven-1982, 10. Starr-1976.
Saturday, August 20, Busch Series Michigan 250, race 25 of 35, 125 laps/250 miles, 3 p.m. TV: TNT.
Sunday, August 21, GFS Marketplace 400, race 23 of 36, 200 laps/400 miles, 1:30 p.m. TV: TNT.
Racing Trivia Question: Greg Biffle currently drives the No. 16 Nextel Cup Ford. What other NASCAR series championships has he won?
Last Week’s Question: What is the home state of Jeff Burton? Answer: Jeff is from South Boston, Virginia.
You may read additional stories by the Racing Reporter at www.race500.com. You may write him at P. O. Box 160711, Mobile, AL 36616.
The night of July 26, 2005 brought home to the Blue Ridge Little League a title that had eluded them for all their recorded history – a boys’ baseball district championship.
The 9-10 year old boys’ All-Star team was comprised of players from various teams who came together under the direction of manager Randy Fekette, and coaches Ted Loomis and Mike Gathany. The boys began pool play on July 1 and earned a second place seeding by defeating B & M, Susco East, and Tri-Boro. A 3-1 game against Tunkhannock was the only loss for the Blue Ridge boys prior to elimination play.
Elimination play began with Blue Ridge facing RTL at home, to which they came away a 11-3 victor. The boys then traveled to Athens and defeated the number one seeded team from the Mid-East by a close score of 9-7. This moved the Blue Ridge boys into the semifinals against the number two seeded team from Susquehanna County. Another close game between the two teams had Blue Ridge coming out on top by a score of 11-9, putting them in the District Championship, double elimination final against the Canton All-Stars, again a number one seed, this time from the Mid-West.
District 15 Champions (pictured) are: Riley Fekette, Sawyer Dearborn, Adam Collins, TJ Loomis, Brad Palmatier, Joey Zawiski, Devin Hawk, Mike Gathany II, Zach Edwards, Chris Carlsen, and Lyle Lawson.
Game one found the Blue Ridge boys struggling in LeRoy, PA, where they were defeated by the Canton team 11-1. On Sunday, July 24 the Canton team traveled to Blue Ridge where the All-Stars battled back to a 7-6 victory, squaring the series at one game apiece and forcing a third game to be played at a neutral field to determine the District Champions.
On Tuesday, July 26 both teams traveled to Athens for the Championship game with a great showing of support from family and friends. The teams were introduced and the game began with Canton taking an early, one run lead. Blue Ridge then proceeded to go ahead of the Canton All-Stars until the top of the fifth inning when Canton mounted a comeback tying the score at 7-7. Blue Ridge then came back in the bottom of the fifth and went ahead of Canton 11-7. The top of the sixth brought more excitement and the true spirit of the game with Canton continuing to battle, closing the gap to 11-9, loading the bases with two outs. Mother Nature then entered the game. Thunder, lightning, and heavy rain drove the teams to take cover in the dugouts, the fans to scramble to get undercover and everyone to wait for the storm to pass. After an approximate two-hour delay, both teams took the field and resumed the game. It was a quick finish when the Canton batter who had been at the plate prior to the delay stepped up and struck out, giving the Blue Ridge boys their first ever District Championship.
Congratulations Blue Ridge 9-10 Boys All-Stars on a great season!
Season passes for Susquehanna Community High School are now being sold in the high school office, at the cost of $10.00 per student, and $20.00 per adult. Senior Citizen passes are also available at no cost.
Passes are for all regular season home sporting events.
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