East Oregonian : E.O. (Pendleton, OR) 1888-current, January 19, 2018, Page Page 2B, Image 21

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East Oregonian
Friday, January 19, 2018
NFL Conference Championships
The final four all overcame injuries to star players
Associated Press
The list of players sitting
out this weekend’s confer-
ence championships is almost
as impressive as the starting
lineups: Julian Edelman.
Carson Wentz. Dalvin Cook.
Dont’a Hightower. Allen
Robinson. Sam Bradford.
Following the NFL’s
season of carnage that claimed
the likes of, among others,
Aaron Rodgers, Richard
Sherman, Kam Chancellor,
J.J. Watt, DeShaun Watson,
Odell Beckham Jr. and Joe
Thomas, this year’s final
four all overcame not only
the odds — “Minneapolis
Miracle , anyone?” — but
devastating injuries to key
“We have a tough and
resilient team,” Philadelphia
Eagles defensive end Chris
Long said of the NFC’s top
seed , which is missing its
second-year QB in Wentz, an
MVP hopeful when he blew
out a knee in December.
Even before Wentz’s
injury thrust backup Nick
Foles into the starting job
for the playoffs, the Eagles
lost nine-time Pro Bowl left
tackle Jason Peters, play-
making middle linebacker
Jordan Hicks, versatile return
specialist Darren Sproles,
and special teams captain
Chris Maragos.
Yet, here they are, 60
minutes from Minneapolis
and Super Bowl 52.
“I think that starts at the
top with Doug, because
he sets the tone for being
resilient and even keeled,”
Long said of his coach, Doug
Pederson. “At the end of the
day, we have a tough group
of guys.”
So do the Minnesota
Vikings, who are trying to
reach their first Super Bowl
in more than four decades
and fulfill mantra to “Bring it
Home” and become the first
NFL team to play the title
game in its own stadium.
And they’re doing so
behind Case Keenum, who
crashed Tom Brady’s playoff
party along with fellow
perennial backup Foles and
Jacksonville Jaguars QB
Blake Bortles.
Together, the four quar-
terbacks left standing have
a combined five Super Bowl
rings, two NFL MVP awards
and four Super Bowl MVP
trophies. Brady, of course,
owns all of that hardware
Such is the panorama
of these playoffs following
a season of pain in which
so many superstars were
rendered sideline spectators
with broken bones, snapped
ligaments, torn muscles.
Keenum replaced an
injured Bradford, who had
replaced an injured Teddy
Bridgewater. Bradford, now
back in uniform as Keenum’s
backup, blew out a knee in
the first month of the season,
as did rookie running back
in Cook, who needed recon-
structive surgery to repair a
torn ACL.
Behind resilient coach
Mike Zimmer , who resisted
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
In this Jan. 14, 2018, file photo, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, left,
celebrates after a 29-24 win over the New Orleans Saints during the second half of
an NFL divisional football playoff game in Minneapolis. Keenum replaced an injured
Sam Bradford, who had replaced an injured Teddy Bridgewater, all three of whom
have expiring contracts after the Super Bowl.
the urge to quit just before
he got the Vikings’ head
coaching gig in 2014,
Minnesota rolled right along.
Keenum deftly took over
for Bradford, and Jerick
McKinnon and Latavius
Murray became a productive
backfield tandem.
“We’ve got a bunch
of fighters on this team,”
Zimmer said. “They’ve been
a resilient bunch all year
long. I expect it to continue
to be that way.”
The Patriots are also
a bunch of fighters; they
reached their seventh straight
AFC title game despite
losing Edelman, Brady’s top
target, to a torn ACL in the
preseason, and Hightower
to a torn chest muscle in
Play caller Josh McDan-
iels and Brady, who led New
England to a fifth Super
Bowl title last year despite
the absence of Rob Gron-
kowski, adjusted accordingly
to Edelman’s absence with
another terrific year.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy
stepped in for Hightower and
ranked third on the team with
73 tackles and second with
5½ sacks despite missing
three of the final five games
with a calf injury.
Van Noy’s sack total
was just a half-sack shy of
Hightower’s career high set
in 2014.
“The thing about K.V.
is he’s very versatile,” said
Patriots safety and defensive
captain Devin McCourty.
“So we’ve used him a bunch
of different ways. ... He’s
been a big asset to our team.”
The Jaguars are the
healthiest of the remaining
playoff teams. They have
only one opening-day starter
on injured reserve: former
Pro Bowl receiver Robinson,
who tore his left ACL on
Jacksonville’s opener.
Four months removed
from reconstructive surgery,
Robinson is now traveling
with the team, so he’ll be on
the sideline Sunday at New
England, serving as a mentor
to a raw receiving corps.
“Every person in this
locker room put in a lot of
work to get to this point, with
me being one of them,” said
Robinson, who was poised
for another big year after
dominating the league’s best
secondary in training camp.
His injury on Jackson-
ville’s third offensive snap
created a huge void for the
offense. Marqise Lee and
Allen Hurns tried to pick up
the slack, but they ended up
on the sideline at one point
with injuries, too, leaving
rookies Keelan Cole and
Dede Westbrook to assume
bigger roles.
rookie from tiny Kentucky
Wesleyan, had 42 catches for
748 yards and three scores in
the regular season. He added
a clutch 45-yard catch that set
up a late TD in Jacksonville’s
45-42 stunner at Pittsburgh
last week.
“I wish I could just wake
up tomorrow and feel like I
did Sept. 9,” Robinson said,
“but I understand it’s going
to be a process. I know I’ll be
back to that point and better.”
Like so many other stars,
Robinson will be in street
clothes Sunday, cheering on
his teammates in hopes of
getting a sideline pass to the
Super Bowl.
Auto Racing
Robert Yates’ lifetime dedication to NASCAR to be honored
Associated Press
took four times on the ballot
for Robert Yates to be elected
to NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.
When he finally
received enough
votes, the champi-
onship-winning car
owner and engine
builder burst into
“He gave up his
life for this sport.
That was his choice
but that was what it
takes to be great at Yates
something and he
did that,” said Doug Yates,
who succeeded his father in
their engine business.
Yates was in a grueling
fight with liver cancer
when he was elected last
May following a vote
at the NASCAR Hall of
Fame. When his name was
announced, he was mobbed
by supporters thrilled for
another tribute for one of
NASCAR’s stalwarts.
“It was the most
gratifying moment
Yates said.
Yates died five
months later at the
age of 74, and his
family will repre-
sent him Friday
night as he’s post-
humously inducted
into the NASCAR
Hall of Fame along with Red
Byron, Ray Evernham, Ron
Hornaday Jr. and Ken Squier.
Yates started as an engine
builder who learned from
Waddell Wilson and Junior
Johnson. He built the power-
plants for Bobby Allison’s
1983 Cup championship
team, and the engines used
when Richard Petty drove to
the 199th and 200th victories
— his last — of his career.
As a team owner, Yates
won a championship with
Dale Jarrett in 1999. Davey
Allison won Yates his first
race as a car owner in 1989.
Yates won 57 Cup races as
an owner, including three
Daytona 500 victories with
Allison and Jarrett.
“I’d say my dad felt very
blessed to be involved in the
sport of NASCAR and the
time he was involved really
lent itself to opportunities,”
Doug Yates said.
Also going into the Hall
of Fame on Friday night are:
He was NASCAR’s first
crowned champion in the
Modified Series and Strictly
Stock Series, which is now
called the Monster Energy
NASCAR Cup Series. Byron
served in the Army Air Corps
in the Pacific during World
War II. He suffered a severe
injury to his left leg while
flying in a combat mission
and later had to wear a
specially created steel leg
brace while racing. A version
of the brace, which had to be
attached to the clutch pedal
of his race cars, is mounted
in one of his cars displayed in
the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
He led Jeff Gordon to
three of Gordon’s four
championships and changed
NASCAR with innovation,
a focus on fast pit stops and
engineering. Evernham was
crew chief of the famed
“Rainbow Warriors” when
Gordon won 47 races in
seven seasons. Evernham
then transitioned into a team
owner and spearheaded
Dodge Motorsports’ return
to NASCAR in 2001. Hall
of Famer Bill Elliott earned
Evernham Motorsports its
inaugural victory that season,
and Evernham collected 15
wins as a team owner.
He is a four-time
NASCAR Camping World
Truck Series champion.
He also won four times
in the Xfinity Series and
finished third in that series’
2004 championship. He is
known for helping young
racers make their way to
North Carolina to attempt a
career in NASCAR. Many
racers, including future Cup
champions Jimmie Johnson
and Kevin Harvick, came
from California and lived on
Hornaday’s couch as they
chased rides.
The co-founder of the
Motor Racing Network and
a longtime voice of the sport,
Squier is the first broadcaster
to be elected to NASCAR’s
Hall of Fame. He worked
network television debut
in the 1979 Daytona 500.
He had co-founded MRN
in 1969 before moving to
television. He’s also credited
with helping develop the
sport’s first “in-car camera”
now widely used in today’s
2018 Winter Games
No-NHL 2018 Olympics makes for unique preparation strategies
Associated Press
When Brian Gionta last
played in the Olympics in
2006, his final NHL game
before the break allowed him
just three days to fly to Italy
and get acclimated before
suiting up for Team USA.
This time around, the
semi-retired U.S. captain
and his Olympic teammates
will get four whole practice
days before opening the
tournament against Slovenia
on Feb. 14.
“With the NHL setup,
you fly over there, you have
a small window to practice
in and then you’re right into
the games,” Gionta said.
“We’ve had the added benefit
of being able to go over to
the Deutschland Cup and be
together for that week. A lot
of the guys that were there
are on the team and have a
good understanding of each
other. But I think that’s a
nice change, I guess, from
previous Olympics.”
Still, the U.S. lost all three
games at that tournament in
November and didn’t score
more than two goals in any
of them. Preparation under
a new coach, learning the
nuances and habits of new
teammates are certainly key,
but every men’s hockey team
going to South Korea is in a
much different situation from
any previous Olympics.
Before NHL players
1998, national teams were
months together — much
like women’s teams do now.
In contrast, the past five
Olympics featured quick
turnarounds when it came
to training because so many
players were also in the
NHL, which decided this
time around not to pause its
82-game regular season.
However, no NHL didn’t
automatically translate into
more practice time as the
teams were put together.
Almost everyone on an
Olympic roster is playing
professionally or in college,
so there isn’t much of an
opportunity for training
camps — though Canada,
Russia and other countries
are making the most of any
time they have to get together.
Russia’s Kontinental Hockey
League has its final games
before the Olympic break
Jan. 28, and other European
leagues will release players
shortly after that so they can
Chock full of stars from
the KHL, including former
NHL players Ilya Kovalchuk
and Pavel Datsyuk, Russia
should be the first to have
its full team together and
will play exhibition games
in Moscow on Jan. 30 and
AP Photo
In this Feb. 24, 1988, file photo, a loose puck lies out-
side of the Canadian goal as Canadian goaltender Sean
Burke and Soviet Union’s Sergei Svetlov, left, go for it
during an Olympic ice hockey medal round match at
the Saddledome in Calgary.
Feb. 4. Canada is gathering
as many players as possible
in Latvia on Jan. 28 and will
play two exhibition games
there and one more in South
Korea before the Olympics
begin as it tries to win a third
consecutive gold medal.
“We have access to our
players very early, and we’re
going to take advantage of
that,” said Scott Salmond,
Hockey Canada’s vice pres-
ident of hockey operations
and national teams. “We’re
actually going to simulate
the first two games of the
Olympics with the ice times
and the game times and try
to get used to that kind of
quick turnaround from a 9
p.m. game and a day off and
a noon game.”
Sweden, which has a
handful of former NHL
players and projected 2018
No. 1 draft pick Rasmus
Dahlin , will gather in Seoul
for four days of practice
before facing Canada on Feb.
12. The Czech Republic will
hold training camp in Prague
from Jan. 29-Feb. 6 before
practicing in Seoul and
playing an exhibition game
against Finland on Feb. 11,
while the Swiss are sched-
uled to play Germany in
Kloten, Switzerland, on Feb.
6 and Norway in Goyang,
South Korea, five days later.
USA Hockey general
manager Jim Johannson
said his team won’t play
any exhibition games with
most U.S. players arriving
in South Korea on Feb. 8.
Johannson said the U.S. will
practice Feb. 10-13 and get
in a game-day skate Feb. 14,
which coach Tony Granato
feels will be enough prepa-
“We’ve all been parts of
multiple tournaments like
this, so we’re not unfamiliar
with them,” said Granato,
who played 49 games with
the U.S. national team prior
to the 1988 Olympics and
currently coaches at the
University of Wisconsin.
“A lot of the excitement
and build-up leading up to
it makes it that much better
— you’re going to get there,
we’re going to jump on the
ice, we’re going to practice
and then a few days later
we’ll be center stage and
ready to play.”
Seventeen of the 25
U.S. players were at
the Deutschland Cup in
November and won’t be
back on the ice together until
nearly three months later.
The U.S. women’s team?
They gathered in Florida in
September, played a series of
games against top Olympic
rival Canada and have been
together since.
“It’s a huge bonus and a
huge advantage to be together
all year,” forward Meghan
Duggan said. “(It’s ) a differ-
ence from a world champi-
onship year, a non-Olympic
year where we play with
our pro teams and our club
teams or college teams
and get together for certain
periods of time whether it be
for world championships or
Four Nations Cup or training
Canada’s men’s team
took part in several Olympic
tune-up tournaments for
evaluation purposes. GM
Sean Burke, who played in
goal for Canada in the 1988
and 1992 Olympics, is trying
to make the most of this
hybrid schedule to put coach
Willie Desjardins and his
team in the best position to
“We’ve had a lot of time to
not only evaluate our players
but have them together to
do some team-building and
we’re going to get a good
two-week training camp.
I like the process,” Burke
said. “Our coaching staff can
really get down to working
on our systems and having
everything in place that
they’re comfortable with.
That’s a real nice luxury to