Friday, July 20, 2012

Top 10 Most Captivating Competitors of the 2012 London Games

By: Keenan Bailey
1.      Usain Bolt
We all remember Usain Bolt breaking shattering world records in both the 100m and 200m sprints four years ago, we remember him easing to the finish line multiple strides ahead of his competition and we remember his flashy, celebratory, God-like pose after each race. This time around, the world expects perfection from the Jamaican track star, and will be disappointed with anything short of 2 new world records. Since catching the attention of the planet, Bolt has somewhat faulted in his world dominance, especially when he false started at last year’s world championships. With an increased amount of attention, unfairly high expectations and a teammate in Yohan Blake who plans on winning gold, the 2012 Olympic Games may be more demanding on Usain Bolt than any other athlete.
2.      Andy Murray
Not Lebron, not Neymar, not either Gasol, not even Bolt feels the weight of carrying an entire nation the way Andy Murray does. 1924…the last time a British tennis player has won an Olympic gold medal and no man since then is more ready to do so than Scottish-born Andy Murray. It will be a super-eerie déjà if the nation’s gem makes his way back to the finals at the All England Club, the site that hosted his emotional Wimbledon run. Although Murray was defeated by Roger Federer last month in the Wimbledon final, the match and Murray’s extremely emotional post-match ‘thank you’ speech addressed to Great Britain lit a flame of support for the classy competitor. A gold medal for Murray would mean so much more than just that, a proud history and an entire nation rides on his every forehand, backhand, serve and return.
3.      Ryan Lochte
No, I didn’t mean to insert Michael Phelps here. More captivating than the 16 Olympic medalist is his longtime teammate, friend, and rival Ryan Lochte, who in London will dominate the swimming megastar. Don’t be fooled by the two swimmer’s companionship during relays, when it comes time for the individual races both men will not spare the other to say the least: Phelps is competing to become the most decorated Olympian of all time, Lochte is looking to defend his 2011 World Championship.
4.      Lebron James
No one will accept anything short of gold. No one cares about injuries, fatigue, or lack of interest. As it has been since the Dream Team in 1992, the USA Men’s Basketball team is expected to not just win the gold at each Olympics, but is expected to do so with ease. By winning the ultra-elusive NBA Title this past June Lebron James put to rest many of his infinite critics, and by bringing a gold medal back to US soil the King has a chance to actually win them over! It will be a very unfamiliar tune, for James to be cheered on and be supported by the majority of American basketball fans, and it will be this warm feeling that’ll catapult the reigning Finals MVP to winning his second Olympic Gold Medal, the same number of gold medals won by this other guy, ummm…Jordan or something?
5.      Abby Wambach
The fact that our Men’s soccer team failed to qualify for the London games, and that the Women’s squad was defeated in the Championship Game of the 2011 World Cup puts pressure on the Soccer captain to bring home gold from London. Known for her powerful headers and her sheer competitiveness (and her awesome Gatorade commercial), Wambach will be more than ready to leave it all on the pitch this time around. At the Athens Games in 2004, her header in extra time secured a gold medal over the rival Brazilian squad, and in 2008 she broke her leg due to a dirty tackle against Brazil less than a month before the Beijing Opening Ceremonies, must I tell you that revenge will be on her mind if Team USA faces off against the Brazilians?
6.      Missy Franklin
Missy Franklin, who many refer to as the “Female Phelps” is a 17-year old with the chance of setting an American record for most medals by a female in a single Olympiad. Franklin has a shot to compete for gold in 7 swimming events in London and is likely to distinguish herself as one of, if not the most promising Olympian for future games.
7.      Neymar
Through Neymar, Brazil is letting the planet know that the country is a shoe-in to reassume its soccer dominance when it hosts the 2014 World Cup. The 20-year old soccer sensation will surely wow you with his flashy goals, on-ball moves and whacky hairstyle but overall will give a glimpse of the arsenal of young, talented Brazilian footballers that will be showcased in 2 years time. Brazil has surprisingly never won the Gold Medal for Men’s Soccer; that is bound to change this time around.
8.      Oscar Pistorius
Middle-distance runner Oscar Pistorius will not only be representing his home country of South Africa while participating in the 400 and 400x4 relays in London this summer but will be competing on behalf of the millions of amputees worldwide, becoming the first ever amputee to take part in an Olympic event. Pistorius, who is nicknamed “Blade Runner” due to his futuristic prosthetics lost his legs when he was only 11-months old due to a medical condition and is a long-shot to medal at the London Games, but will come away from these Olympic Games with a significant victory for all amputees.
9.       Caster Semanya
We’ve all heard pieces of “her” story: the South African female runner whose record-breaking spree was cut short only because of serious allegations regarding her actual sexuality. Semanya has been reinstated by the International Association of Athletics Federations after an 11-month investigation which revealed both male and female sexual organs belonging to the middle-distance runner. Despite an ease in criticism and a reinstation, Caster Semanya has failed to reach her 2009 shape and looks to use the London Games as a way back into the spotlight.
10.  Liu Xiang
Eight years ago he won the gold medal for his stunning 110 meter hurdles performance, four years ago the Olympics came to his home country of China, and an injury kept him off the track. Many Chinese claim the one reason the 2008 Beijing Games were not perfect was because the nation wasn’t able to watch its top athlete compete. Liu Xiang is considered among the best and most adored Chinese athletes, and is looking to provide a gold medal in London to make up for the one lost 4 years ago.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Cat's Meow: 2012 Development Camp

Ruchika Sharma covers the Florida Panthers for Teenlink.

Ahh. The smell of the rink. A smell I had truly missed since late April.

Yours truly was up and at it early this morning at the recently renamed JetBlue Training Facility located in the Iceplex for the Florida Panthers Development Camp. 36 players were invited to camp (24 forwards, eight defensemen and four goalies. A complete roster can be found here).

Camp officially started on July 2nd, and will run through Friday with the exception of the Fourth of July. (LW) Quinton Howden and (D) Erik Gudbranson were the two players not in attendance as they are both suffering from infections and are unable to fly.

The rink was filled with fans, young and old alike, taking in the sights of the future of the Florida Panthers. Kevin Dineen was in attendance, evaluating who would be able to make the jump to the pros next season.

Prospects were divided into two squads: White and Red. The White Squad was on the ice first; skating through drills run by Chuck Weber (Head coach of the Panthers AHL farm team, the San Antonio Rampage), Brian Skrudland (Director of Player Development) and Robb Tallas (Goaltending Coach) working with the goalies. A notable member of the White Squad: (D) Mike Matheson, a 2012 draft pick (23rd overall).

They finished up at around 10 AM, and that's when the Red Squad took the ice. Running through the exact same drills, the coaches had all the fans laughing at the 'one-legged' and 'skiing' laps they had the squads skating through. A notable member of the Red Squad: (C) Jonathan Huberdeau, a 2011 draft pick (3rd overall).

Although trade rumors were running rampant (which prospects would be traded for the return of Roberto Luongo?), the prospects were working their hearts out, all having something to prove.

After today's on-ice session, I was able to catch up with (D) Mike Matheson and (C) Jonathan Huberdeau.

(D) Mike Matheson

  • (Talking about adjusting to camp) "I worked a lot on skating, for sure, and working on the edges of and things like that. I'm definitely working on those areas of my game and just getting used to the speed and quickness of the advanced level."
  • (About improvement) "I think that everybody, no matter what their best asset is, there's still work to be done in that area; including me and skating. I'm being able to work on that area and hopefully become even better in my skating; it will help me along the way too."
  • (On what he's here to do) "I'm hoping to put a good impression on the organization and Mr. Tallon and just try to come in here and work hard and show them that I'm really dedicated to improving my game. And that I can show them some of the things I can bring to the team in the future."
  • (What it is that makes him different) "I don't know. I guess that my skating helps me in my play and helps me do things that maybe some guys would struggle in, so I'd say that kind of separates me from others. And I'd say off the ice, my dedication to get better is an area I pride myself on."
  • (On what he thinks he brings to the team) "Looking at a guy like Brian Campbell, obviously he's really good and he's established himself in the NHL and this organization. I just like to model my game after him. I'm not saying that I'm anywhere near as good as him. I just say that I'd be able to bring some of the things hopefully that he's able to do."

(C) Jonathan Huberdeau
  • (About his summer) "It was a great summer. Got a long season, I took some vacation and now I'm ready to work."
  • (Comparing his preparation for this year's camp to last year's) "I mean, for sure it was a great time last year. We learned a lot of things and this year is the same. You come here your second year; you get to meet the new guys and I think it's just great to see the guys that you met last year."
  • (Talking about his goals for this year) "For sure my goal is to play for the Panthers. I'm going to do everything to do it and I'm going to work hard through the summer to get stronger and come here [for Rookie] camp and be ready".
  • (On how he's going to lock up a roster spot) "Just work hard and do what it takes to make the team. I [have] got to play my game and that's why they drafted me. So I just need to play the way I play and hopefully I can make the team".
  • (What makes him different) "There are a lot of kinds of players here. There's differences, but I'm just a skilled player who tries to work hard two-way and I think both sides of the ice. I think everybody's different; you [have] just got to play your game like you do".

Thursday's session will consist of more drills and a scrimmage. Friday's session will be a full-on scrimmage: a true test of chemistry. On-ice sessions for Thursday and Friday both begin at 9 AM and end at 11 AM.

Be sure to catch the Panthers prospects in action at the JetBlue Training Facility located inside Iceplex!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Cat's Meow: Free Agent Frenzy

Ah, July 1st. The day that many hockey fans are glued to their TVs and phones, anxiously awaiting news. The day that many fans cheer with glee because their favorite team signed a highly-touted free agent. Or in the other case, begin to cope with the fact that one of their favorite players has left for another team.

For the Florida Panthers, this year's Free Agent Frenzy was much calmer than last year; choosing to dip their toes into the free agent pool rather than make a huge splash.

  • (D) Filip Kuba (Ottawa Senators): Signed a two-year, $8 million contract. His arrival assures the expected departure of defenseman Jason Garrison, who is an unrestricted free agent. He scored six goals, 26 assists, and was a +26 in 73 games with Senators last season. Kuba, 35, was drafted by the Panthers in 1995 and played 18 games over two seasons before being traded to the Minnesota Wild. 
  • (RW) George Parros (Anaheim Ducks): Signed a two-year $1.85 million contract. He brings grit to the team, having been an enforcer with the Anaheim Ducks. Parros, 32, had one goal, three assists and 85 PIM in 46 games with with the Ducks last season.
  • (RW) Mikael Samuelsson (Detroit Red Wings): Signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Samuelsson, 35, spent four seasons with the Red Wings and scored 67 goals during his time there. While with the Panthers, he scored 13 goals and collected 15 helpers in 46 games. 
  • (D) Jason Garrison (Vancouver Canucks): Signed a six-year, $27.6 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks. Garrison, 27, got a much-expected pay day. Highly touted this summer, he had 16 goals and 17 assists in 77 games last season. Despite showing some real spark this season, some experts say that the Canucks overpaid for a one-hit wonder defenseman.
  • (G) Scott Clemmensen: Signed a two-year contract. Financial terms of the contract are not available at the moment. Clemmensen, 34, went 14-6-6 in 30 games with a 2.57 GAA and one shutout. 

Other Notables
  • The Florida Panthers still seem to be in the hunt for (G) Roberto Luongo. After re-signing backup goalie Scott Clemmensen, there is still no logical reason to obtain Luongo. With the Canucks demanding one of the Panthers top prospects in exchange for Luongo, talks are still ongoing between the two camps. 
  • After deciding to test free agent waters, (G) Martin Brodeur is rumored to be in talks with the Panthers. As if re-signed backup Scott Clemmensen (two years), starter Jose Theodore (one year left) and up-and-coming goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom sitting in the minors is not enough in the crease. 
  • (D) Ryan Suter and (LW) Zach Parise still have not made their decisions. Parise was reportedly contacted by Sidney Crosby on behalf of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the two spending time at the famous Minnesota prep school, Shattucks St. Mary's. Reports surfaced that Suter and Parise are in talks for a "Big Three" type situation, as seen in the NBA with Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. Parise is rumored to make his decision tomorrow. 
  • (RW) Rick Nash's name had been nonexistent in the rumor circle since earlier in the season. But now that reports are surfacing that Nash has been in talks with the Philadelphia Flyers, expect to hear more of his name. 
And we are left to wait it all out...