• If NHL players are allowed at the Sochi Games, look for the U.S. to make a run

    They won gold in 1960. It took a miracle to win it again in 1980. They came within minutes of victory in 2008. But 2014 might be U.S. hockey’s best chance ever to bring home the gold – that is, if its NHL stars are allowed to play again.

    We are just about a year away from the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and one major question remains unanswered: Will NHL players be allowed to represent their countries at the games?

    For the past few days, representatives of the NHL, the Players’ Association, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee have been meeting to discuss this question. Talks are scheduled to continue Friday.

    As they always do, several concerns have surfaced: If NHL players are allowed to go overseas for a month to represent their countries, will league television ratings suffer? Many of these departing players are all-star caliber, so how does that affect attendance? These are all legitimate questions to consider.

    The fact remains that NHL players have participated in the last four Winter Games. Despite their absences, league-wide revenue has increased in each of the past six years. So it’s safe to assume that the NHL players should be allowed to participate in next year’s winter games, right?

    We’ll have to leave that up to the negotiators, but for now, let’s assume that the NHL players will be attending the 2014 winter games. This US squad might be America’s most talented team ever. There are a number of great players that the US can select from, and that number has been growing since 2008. Here is the US team I’d like to see on the ice for the 2014 games.

    Line 1:
    C: Joe Pavelski (San Jose)​​​​
    RW: Patrick Kane (Chicago)
    LW: Zach Parise (Minnesota)
    This is a world-class scoring line.

    Line 2:
    C: David Backes​ (St. Louis)
    RW: Phil Kessel (Toronto)
    LW: Max Pacioretti (Montreal)
    All three of these guys can easily score 30+ goals this season.

    Line 3:
    C: Derek Stepan (New York Rangers)
    RW: Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings)
    LW: James Van Riemsdyk (Toronto)
    Van Riemsdyk is currently the Leafs’ (8-6-0) leading scorer. An NHL team-leading scorer on the US third line is a testament to the depth this squad would have.

    Line 4:
    C: David Legwand (Nashville)
    RW: Jamie Langenbrunner (St. Louis)
    LW: Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay)​
    Old-timer Jamie Langenbrunner will provide invaluable leadership and international experience.

    Defenseman:
    Jack Johnson (Columbus)
    Alex Goligoski (Dallas)
    Ryan Suter (Minnesota)
    Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg)
    Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis)
    Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles Kings)
    Keith Yandle (Phoenix) ​
    This is an elite defensive staff – they are all physically-imposing two-way defensemen.​​​​

    Goaltenders:
    Craig Anderson (Ottowa) – arguably the best goalie in the league right now. Has a .949 save percentage.
    Ryan Miller (Buffalo) – 40+ saves vs. Canada twice in the 2008 winter games. Currently holds a .915 save percentage on weak defensive team.
    Those are two of the league’s best between the pipes.
    This proposed US squad would be supremely talented and competitive. There aren’t any holes and each player contributes a great deal to the team. The 2014 US team should look something like this proposed team. If so, I expect them to play very well against the world next year. Not all of these players will make the team, but as American hockey fans, we can hope.

  • Five non-conference baseball series to follow in the Big 12

    1. (5) UCLA vs. (27) Baylor, Feb. 22-24, Waco - UCLA visits Waco in the second weekend of the college baseball season. The Bruins will be led by starting pitcher Adam Plutko, a preseason All-American who went 12-3 last season with a 2.48 ERA. The Bruins also have relief pitcher David Berg, a preseason second-team All-American, who returns after a 2012 campaign in which he posted a 1.46 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 74 innings pitched. The Bears will counter with 2012 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Nathan Orf at the plate. Orf had a .453 on-base percentage throughout last season, and struck out as many times as he walked (33). Max Garner, Baylor’s closer, is another guy to watch for if the Bears have a lead late in games.

    2. (26) Texas vs. (7) Stanford, Mar. 1-3, Palo Alto, California - The Texas Longhorns will travel back to Palo Alto, looking to avenge last season’s embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Cardinal. During that series, the Longhorns were outscored 28-5 over a three-game span in which they never led. Stanford returns Mark Appel, who won the 2012 NCBWA Pitcher of the Year Award with a 10-2 record, a 2.56 ERA, and 130 strikeouts in only 123 innings pitched. Texas returns most of its squad, and the Appel vs. Erich Weiss battle will be intrigued. Weiss batted .350 with 38 RBIs playing in every game last season should be more intriguing than Weiss’ 1-for-4 against Appel last season. The Longhorns also return Corey Knebel, who is lights out in close ballgames. If Texas can get ahead late in any games of this series, Knebel (career 1.67 ERA and 28 saves) should be able to bring home a "W" for the ‘Horns.

    3. (13) TCU vs. (25) Ole Miss, Feb. 15-17, Oxford, Miss. - TCU opens up its 2013 campaign on the road at a talented Ole Miss team. Mississippi is expecting big things this season, with a preseason rank of No. 13 by Baseball America, its highest ranking ever. The Rebels have senior Tanner Mathis, who hit .359 last season and transfer catcher Stuart Turner Jr., who should help carry the lineup. The stud of TCU’s lineup is Kevin Cron, who hit .338 and drove in 34 RBIs as a freshman in 2012.

    4. (23) Cal State Fullerton vs (13) TCU, Feb. 22-24, Fort Worth - The Titans have perhaps the most versatile player in the college game in junior outfielder/relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen. Lorenzen hit .297 last season with 43 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. On top of all of this he was a stud on the mound, pitching 22 innings with a 1.23 ERA and 16 saves. For TCU, Preston Morrison is the Friday starter having gone 9-2 with a 2.08 ERA as a freshman last season.

    5. Oral Roberts vs. (17) Oklahoma on March 19-20 in Norman, Oklahoma and on March 26th in Tulsa, Oklahoma - Drew Bowden returns as a senior for Oral Roberts as a preseason third team All-American, having posted a 7-2 record and a 1.95 ERA for the Golden Eagles in 2012. If he gets to face off against OU’s Dillon Overton (6-3 record, 3.15 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 122.7 innings last season) their appearance could turn into a pitchers' duel.

  • Violent assaults at Alabama, Pistorius murder case among week’s most disheartening events

    It’s too bad we won’t see any more of Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel this year. The guy has one of the best names in college basketball, and who doesn’t like blurting out “Nerlens!” when he throws down a dunk in some dude’s face. You’ll be missed, Nerlens.

    Alabama may have won the last two BCS National Championships, but its football program’s image took a big hit this week after four freshmen were accused of assaulting and robbing a student on campus. It’s scary that even non-essential players at a school like Alabama can commit serious crimes and face fewer repercussions than if a regular student were to overtly beat someone, steal their belongings and drive off as if they were in some mob movie. One of the players is also facing a weapons charge, and I’d wager that this won’t be the last we hear about this incident. The best-case scenario would see the players involved kicked off the football team, perhaps even out of the university altogether and punished so that something similar never happens again. There’s plenty of violence on display during a normal football game, and there’s no excuse for a head coach at a major football school to allow these actions to transpire. I don’t think this is what Tupac Shakur envisioned when he coined the phrase “Thug Life.”

    South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius' girlfriend was found dead at his home this week, shot multiple times because, Pistorius says, he thought she was an intruder. He has since been arrested and charged with premeditated murder in Pretoria Magistrates' Court, with prosecutors citing previous domestic disturbances at Pistorius’ home. Nike has since pulled an ad featuring Pistorius that ran on his personal website. The text of the ad? “I am the bullet in the chamber.”

    I’ve got a question about cases similar to Pistorius and other athletes that find themselves in and out of court after achieving success in their sport of choice: If the trial of any athlete were to be televised on a regular basis, would you watch? I might just have to sneak a few minutes of the Pistorius trial if it was being aired.

    Michael Jordan turns 50 on Sunday and told LeBron James that he would take Kobe Bryant over James any day of the week. Classic basketball sentence. The greatest of all-time telling the guy who’s on pace to steal that very moniker that another all-time great player is good enough to beat him one-on-one. James must have realized it’s not too outlandish a statement. It just so happens James is on one of the hottest streaks in the history of basketball. Seven straight games with 30 or more points while shooting through the roof and LeBron is essentially offering an elongated shrug to Jordan’s comments. No one has ever played basketball on a professional level as well as LeBron James is playing in the month of February. His team is winning, too. He’ll get a chance to relax with everyone else over the All-Star break and pick up where he left off next week.