Friday, August 29, 2014

Gillick takes over as Montgomery continues cancer battle

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies made a surprising announcement Thursday afternoon when they revealed general partner and president David Montgomery is taking an immediate medical leave of absence while he recovers from jaw cancer surgery.

Pat Gillick has assumed Montgomery's responsibilities.

Gillick, who served as the organization's general manager from 2005-08 and continued to work as a senior advisor, issued a statement that said, "I have the highest regard for David Montgomery, as does everyone in our industry. I am glad to be of assistance to the Phillies."

The team added in its statement: "The club looks forward to David returning to his roles as General Partner, President and Chief Executive Officer when he is fully recovered."

Montgomery, 68, had surgery May 19 to remove cancer from his right jaw bone. He had been undergoing treatment following the surgery. Montgomery has kept a low profile since, although he was first in line Wednesday to shake hands on the field with the Taney Little League team during a pregame ceremony at Citizens Bank Park.

Montgomery had been unavailable to reporters in recent weeks, although he spoke to a fan group last week at the ballpark. He also recently made the team's road trip to Washington before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Montgomery has been the public face of the Phils' ownership group since 1997, when he became president. He started in the organization in 1971, when he sold season and group tickets. Montgomery advanced to marketing director and director of sales, before becoming executive vice president following the 1981 season.

Montgomery became chief operating officer in 1992. He acquired an ownership interest in the team in 1994.

Montgomery is very popular with his employees. Former players often cite the organization's "family atmosphere," and it is something that starts with Montgomery, who makes a point to know everybody in the organization, regardless of their stature or importance.

Montgomery grew up in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia. He graduated from William Penn Charter School in 1964 and the University of Pennsylvania in '68. Montgomery received his MBA from the Wharton School in '70.

Montgomery and his wife Lyn have three children: Harry, Sam and Susa. They have two grandchildren: Elizabeth and Cameron.

Former Wildcats head coach Kraft dies

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Jack Kraft, who guided the Villanova Wildcats to 238 victories and an appearance in the 1971 NCAA Championship game as head coach from 1961-73, died on Thursday in Cape May Court House, N.J. He was 93 and a resident of Stone Harbor, N.J. since the late 1970s.

"The Villanova community mourns the loss of Jack Kraft," said the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, University president. "His leadership style inspired great play and nurtured the development of skills and interests off the court that contributed to successful and rewarding lives. This inspired great loyalty and love among those he coached, and created a rich legacy that will endure at Villanova."

"Coach Kraft was a winner, a gentleman and an outstanding coach," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "His players loved and respected him. They stayed in touch with him until his final days. Everyone in the Villanova family will miss Coach Kraft. He is a beloved member of the Villanova community."

Kraft came to Villanova in 1961 from nearby Malvern Prep as the successor to Al Severance. In his first season he guided the Wildcats to a 21-7 mark and appearance in the NCAA Tournament - the first of six such appearances VU would make over the course of his tenure.

Among the standouts Kraft tutored were such Wildcats legends as Hubie White, Wali Jones, Jim Washington, Bill Melchionni, Johnny Jones, Fran O'Hanlon, Howard Porter, Chris Ford, Hank Siemiontkowski and Tom Ingelsby. His teams in the late 1960's helped bring Villanova to national prominence, highlighted by a 23-6 campaign that delivered the `Cats to the NCAA Final Four in 1971 for the first time since 1939.

In the NCAA Tournament that year Villanova defeated Saint Joseph's and Fordham at the Palestra before downing Penn 90-47 in the East Regional final in Raleigh, N.C. The Wildcats then staged an epic Final Four duel with Western Kentucky, ultimately prevailing in double overtime 92-89 at the Houston Astrodome. Villanova then dueled UCLA to the wire in a 68-62 loss in the title game.


Kraft, whose winning percentage of .715 is the highest of any Wildcats' coach, was honored 50 years to the month of his first Villanova victory at the Pavilion in 2011 with many of his former players in attendance. Survivors include Coach's three daughters (Janice Callaghan, Cheryl Rule, and June Hilton), a brother (Joseph Kraft), four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Birds finish up preseason by strafing Jets

Philadelphia, PA -- Former Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez sat against his old team, his new role as a high-profile backup settled.

The same was true for former Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, except for what amounted to a ceremonial snap and handoff at the beginning of the game to give the Philly crowd a chance to cheer him if they wished.

So forgive this preseason finale for producing a storyline no more interesting than a kicking competition between teammates.

Rookie Cody Parkey showed a strong foot with three field goals, including two over 50 yards as Philadelphia beat New York 37-7 on Thursday night.

Acquired by the Eagles from the Colts last week to compete with Alex Henery, Parkey took every field goal attempt for his new team and two of the four extra-point attempts.

He was good from 54, 53 and 25 yards and added some booming kickoffs to give the competition some heat. Henery, who has made just two of his five attempts over 50 yards in three NFL seasons, was called on for one extra point and a few kickoffs.

Matt Barkley, taking most of the snaps with starter Nick Foles and Sanchez both sitting out, passed for 253 yards with a 43-yard touchdown to Arrelious Benn. He threw one interception, in the end zone, and also rushed for a score.

The Eagles scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away -- on Barkley's 7-yard run, Trey Burton's 21-yard catch from G.J. Kinne and Damaris Johnson's 46-yard run. They won their last two games to finish the preseason 2-2 and will open the regular season against Jacksonville at home on Sept. 7.

Starters LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper also sat so the Eagles were led by Henry Josey's 121 yards rushing on 22 carries and Jeff Maehl's 84 yards receiving on four catches.

New York named Geno Smith their starting quarterback last week, leaving Vick as the backup. Matt Simms took most of the snaps, passing for 121 yards on 7- of-17 completions. Rookie Tajh Boyd was 7-of-12 for 92 yards and a 42-yard touchdown pass to Clyde Gates.

The Jets lost their last two preseason games to end 2-2 and will play Oakland at home on Sept. 7.

Eagles running backs Kenjon Barner (ankle) and Matthew Tucker (shoulder) were banged up during the game. X-rays on Barner's ankle were negative.

Temple's defense fuels shocking win at Vandy in season opener

Nashville, TN -- The Temple defense forced seven turnovers as the Owls crushed the Vanderbilt Commodores, 37-7, in non-conference action at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Temple (1-0), which finished a mere 2-10 last season, held the Commodores to just 278 yards of total offense on the night. On offense, it was P.J. Walker who made the biggest impact as the quarterback converted 23-of-34 for 207 yards and two touchdowns, adding another 21 yards and a score on eight rushing attempts as well.

Stephen Rivers handled the majority of the quarterback duties for the Commodores (0-1), converting 12-of-25 for 186 yards and an interception. While Rivers was sacked only once, fellow signal caller Patton Robinette, who hit on 4-of-6 passes for 38 yards, was sacked three times.

The first points of the night were tallied by the Owls as Walker hooked up with Brandon Shippen on a 35-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-down play late in the first quarter.

Deep in their own end, the Owls were forced to punt from the end zone with just over 10 minutes to play in the second quarter. However, the snap went over the head of punter Alex Starzyk and instead of falling on it for a safety, he failed to make the recovery and it was eventually pounced on by Oren Burks for a Vandy touchdown.

It took a little time for the Owls to respond to their miscue, but with just over two minutes to play in the first half Walker found Jalen Fitzpatrick with a short screen out to the left side and Fitzpatrick did all the rest as he slipped down the sideline and into the end zone from 18 yards away.

The Temple defense then went on the attack, sacking Stephen Rivers and stripping him of the ball, which Averee Robinson then scooped up and rumbled with 55 yards for the score to give the visitors a commanding 21-7 edge at the break.

In the third the Owls extended their lead to 24 points thanks to a 19-yard field goal by Austin Jones and a three-yard TD run from Walker.

On the next Vandy possession, Johnny McCrary had a pass picked off near midfield by Tavon Young, the defensive back returning it to the 14-yard line, but the visitors had to settle for a 28-yard field goal. Young had to INTs on the night, while Robinson was credited with a pair of fumble returns.

The Owls had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Jones, who later gave way to Tyler Mayes who booted a 25-yard field goal for the visitors for the only points tallied in the fourth quarter.

Last season Temple was tied for 97th nationally in turnover margin (minus-0.50), forcing a total of just 13 miscues in 12 games.

The start of the game was delayed more than an hour and a half due to lightning in the area.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Extra Points: Two wrongs don't make a right for Goodell |

Extra Points: Two wrongs don't make a right for Goodell |

Royals hanging tough in ECHL's long game

Reading's 2013 Kelly Cup champs
The Reading Royals have staying power.

Nestled in the Schuylkill Valley, the 2013 Kelly Cup champions have stayed in one place for nearly a decade and a half, holding court on Penn Avenue between 7th and 8th Streets since the Autumn of 2001.

Since the franchise's arrival, only three other teams have matched the Royals' longevity in the ECHL: the South Carolina Stingrays, Florida Everblades and Wheeling Nailers.

The Cincinnati Cyclones disappeared and were resurrected, while one Toledo franchise went under and another arrived to take its place. All other teams -- Trenton, Atlantic City, Johnstown, Charlotte, Roanoke, Richmond, Greensboro, Greenville, Pee Dee, Columbia, Augusta, Macon, Columbus, Pensacola, Mobile, Jackson, Mississippi, New Orleans, Louisiana, Baton Rouge, Arkansas, Peoria, and Dayton have disappeared from the landscape. Lexington has come and gone, Long Beach and San Diego from the WCHL were absorbed then disbanded, and the league continued to drift Westward, necessitating a brand shift from "East Coast Hockey League" to the acronym we know today.

If there's one thing we can thank Columbus' NHL entry for, it's that there has been high level minor-league hockey just an hour up the road from Philadelphia. If not for the Ohio capital's successful bid to earn an expansion franchise, the Chill might still be there.

Instead, once the Blue Jackets gained entry into the highest level of the game in North America, the Chill packed up for good in 1999, laid dormant for two seasons, before relocating to Pennsylvania. In the 14 years since, the Royals have welcomed the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals as NHL affiliates, and it's under the banner of the latter one where the franchise claimed its first title two seasons back.

However, in a move that makes geographic sense with the demise of the Titans in 2013 and the shenanigans surrounding the Greenville Road Warriors dropping the Orange and Black mid-season and signing on with the Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers agreed to a two-year affiliation beginning this year. It could have been a joint affiliation had the Capitals not decided to divest their interest.

Reading are winners. The club has posted a record of .500 or better in nine of their last 11 seasons, after spending their first two years under two separate head coaches getting their bearings and finishing out of playoff contention. The Royals have posted five consecutive seasons of 30-or-more victories and three of the last four have been 40-or-more win campaigns, culminating in back-to-back franchise record 46-win seasons the last two years.

That run of on-ice success stands in sharp contrast to the actual fan support, which has slipped to the tune of almost 2,000 per game since the club's first year of existence and inversely proportionate to their win-loss record. Ron Hextall and his front office have a prime opportunity to boost the profile of all the Flyers' affiliates, but it looks to be easier with a new building in the Lehigh Valley than it will in a 15-year-old edifice located literally on the other side of the tracks.

Architect of this renaissance at the on-ice level is Larry Courville. Courville, who will turn 40 towards the end of the regular season, took over in the middle of the 2008-09 season for Jason Nobili and has completely reversed the fortunes of the Purple and Black. A former draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1993 who suited up for 33 games over parts of three seasons in the late 90s with the Vancouver Canucks, the Ontario native has a connection to the early days of his team. Though not one of the first Royals to take the ice in the club's inaugural contest, Courville arrived in Reading late in the 2001-02 season from Hershey. Despite brief stops with Johnstown and Cincinnati, Courville returned to Reading in 2004 and ended his career there in 2008.

Courville's method of coaching and the way he constructs a roster are revealed in greater depth over here by Reading Eagle beat writer Jason Guarente. It's been enough to warrant the club's trust in the long term.

Like their new parent club in Philadelphia, the Royals have also been a part of an historic playoff comeback, albeit at their expense. In the 2010 Kelly Cup semifinals, Reading jumped out to a 3-0 series lead against Cincinnati, only to see it implode into a Game 7, 1-0 road loss to end the series. After back-sliding in the postseason the next two years by being eliminated in the second round and then the first, Courville and his charges finally put it all together in a five-game defeat of the Stockton Thunder two Junes ago.

Old League, New Goals

The ECHL itself is a completely different animal in 2014 than it was in 2001 when the Royals came onto the
Courtesy of the ECHL

Its footprint just after the turn of the Millennium was defined as the East Coast ad Central Midwest, generally East of the Mississippi River with a few exceptions, featuring more clubs in the South -- due to the rush to emulate the NHL's arrival in the Sun Belt -- than in the Northeast. Back then, the "E" was one of three leagues at, for lack of any better comparison than with professional baseball, North America's Double-A level.

Included in that mix were the West Coast Hockey League and the Central Hockey League. From the bones of those two late, lamented businesses, the ECHL gained Alaska, Idaho and Bakersfield, while the CHL offered up Colorado and Evansville to the current ranks.

With only seven franchises left after Denver and Arizona abruptly announced they were folding last week, the CHL appears to be on the brink of either ruin or absorption. That falls in line with the NHL's plan to tier their farm systems with just one league per level, as in Major League Baseball. At one time, the IHL existed parallel to the AHL and NHL parent clubs found affiliates in each until the 2001 shuttering of the former which resulted in several clubs jumping to the AHL.

If that plan comes to fruition, and it appears likely that next season would be the target, there will be just one league servicing the top two levels in minor hockey acting as feeder systems. There are 22 ECHL clubs at present, and if the health of all seven CHL franchises is deemed well enough to be folded in, then simple math tells us only one more franchise is required to bump the Double-A level up to 30 so that each NHL franchise can claim affiliation with one ECHL and one AHL team.

Since the Trenton Titans and Johnstown Chiefs have folded, Reading's natural rival is Wheeling -- the Penguins' farm club -- 300 miles away, while its closest rival is Elmira, approximately 210 miles to the North. Should absorption of the CHL be off the table, there aren't many smaller towns left that haven't either failed at the ECHL level or already support an AHL team. A potential franchise earmarked for Burlington, Vermont never materialized, and somehow the E was skipped over before legitimate minor-league hockey returned to Glens Falls five years ago.

Roll Call

Ryan Flinn was the first member of the Royals to make it to the Show, debuting in late January of 2002 with the Kings, after a rocket ride of 57 games between Reading and Manchester. His fourth career fight occurred against the Philadelphia Flyers' Todd Fedoruk in LA.

Over the years, Jeff Finger, Barry Brust, George Parros, Rich Peverley, Deryk Engelland, Jonathan Quick, Ben Scrivens and Philipp Grubauer have also risen from Reading to the NHL for various clubs. Chris Bala, a Hill School graduate and Harvard product who was a second-round pick of the Senators in 1998, also spent several years at the end of his career with the Royals.

Reading's season opener takes place in Wheeling on October 18, and its home opener one week later to complete a home-and-home set with the Elmira Jackals.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Phantoms, AHL unveil 2014-15 schedule

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms will commence their inaugural season in Allentown on October 11 on the road against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Six days later, the nascent franchise opens up at home against the club which took over their former residence, the Adirondack Flames.

The following are a series of tweets from Phantoms broadcaster Bob Rotruck - entering his fifth season calling the action home and road for the club -- describing the ins and outs of the 76-game slate:

Hit the link for the breakdown of all 30 teams from the AHL's website.