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Lynch at Media Day: 'I'm here so I don't get fined'

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 5:17pm

PHOENIX (AP) Marshawn Lynch smiled politely, waved at the crowd and answered every question the same.

"I'm here so I don't get fined," the Seattle Seahawks' star running back constantly repeated for five minutes before leaving the podium at Media Day on Tuesday. It's not clear if his plan will work.

About 200 reporters crowded around Lynch's podium for at least 15 minutes before he arrived. But the media-shy Lynch made it clear right from the start he wasn't saying anything except variations of his scripted answer.

Lynch set a timer on his phone and told everyone he showed up just to avoid a fine. Lynch caught a bag of Skittles tossed from Olympic gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson and stopped to pick up a reporter's recorder off the floor before he walked away.

Lynch later spoke to "Entertainment Tonight" about his foundation, the "Fam 1st Family Foundation."

The Professional Football Writers of America was talking to the league about the session and Lynch had been apprised of a potential fine. He is also required to be at media sessions Wednesday and Thursday.

In November, the NFL fined Lynch $50,000 for violations of the league's media policy in addition to collecting the $50,000 fine that was imposed against Lynch for violations last season. The fine from 2013 was held in anticipation of future cooperation from Lynch.

"I'm fine sitting up here, but not everybody is comfortable with it so I don't think he should be forced to do it," All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said.

Lynch has much more to say when the price is right. Insurance company Progressive and candy maker Skittles released commercials featuring Lynch saying a bit more than his usual: "Yeah" and "Nope" and "Thanks for asking."

At Media Day last year, Lynch's reclusiveness became a major story. Lynch appeared for 6 1/2 minutes, left the arena, and then returned to a "mixed zone" the NFL created for players not on podiums or in microphone-equipped speaking areas at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

With the exception of briefly speaking with the NFL Network's Deion Sanders, to the Seahawks' website, and to Armed Forces Network, he did not deal with reporters that day.

Sanders, the Hall of Fame cornerback, tried again to interview Lynch, but got nowhere this time and left laughing.

Teammates defended Lynch's behavior.

"This is who he is. I don't nitpick or judge, so I just accept a person for who they are," All-Pro safety Earl Thomas said. "I just love who he is. He is so random."

Sherman even continued answering questions after the 60-minute session ended.

"I don't think (players) should be obligated any more than the commissioner is obligated to speak to the media," Sherman said. "I think that if players are going to be obligated to speak to the media then every one of the NFL personnel should be obligated to speak to the media weekly, and that's not the case.

"It's unfortunate, but I think that every team should be forced to present certain players, obviously a few of them. Obviously, if someone is uncomfortable in front of the media and uncomfortable answering questions, then you have to find a way to accommodate the NFL. This is a game; you find a way to accommodate everyone else who's uncomfortable."

Lynch was fined $20,000 for making an obscene gesture during Seattle's overtime win over Green Bay in the NFC championship game. The league did not specify what the gesture was, but Lynch grabbed his crotch after scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Lynch was fined $11,000 for a similar gesture in Seattle's win over Arizona on Dec. 21.

Lynch also was told before the last game he could not wear gold shoes because they were a violation of the NFL's on-field dress code, and that he could be ejected from the game if he wore them.

"He's a guy that cares about everyone in that locker room," assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tom Cable said. "Anytime you hand it to him, he's carrying them. He's not carrying the football, he's carrying his team. That's who he is. That's what he does."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

Jury convicts 2 ex-Vanderbilt players of raping woman

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 4:59pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) A jury convicted two ex-Vanderbilt football players on Tuesday of raping a former student, rejecting claims that they were too drunk to know what they were doing and that a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex should be blamed for the attack.

The jury deliberated for three hours before announcing that Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey were guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery.

Batey was stoic, staring ahead and Vandenburg shook his head "no," appearing stunned. His father had an outburst and abruptly left the courtroom.

The victim, a 21-year-old neuroscience and economics major at the time of the June 2013 attack, cried as each guilty verdict was announced. The men face decades in prison when they are sentenced March 6.

The jury heard two weeks of dramatic testimony from a parade of witnesses, including police, former and current Vanderbilt students and the woman, who said she didn't remember what happened that night, only that she woke up in a strange dorm room. They also saw cellphone images from the night of the attack that Vandenburg sent to his friends as it was happening.

Despite the photos and video, and witnesses seeing the woman unconscious and at least partially naked in a dorm hallway, no one reported it.

The victim said in a statement she was hopeful the publicity from the case would lead to a discussion of how to end sexual violence on college campuses. In Nashville, where the prestigious private university is located, hundreds of college officials from across the state were meeting this week to discuss exactly that.

"Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame," she said.

Vandenburg and Batey were on trial together, but represented by different attorneys. Attorneys for Vandenburg, who had been seeing the woman, said he did not assault her.

Testimony showed Vandenburg passed out condoms to the other players, slapped her buttocks and said he couldn't have sex with the woman because he was high on cocaine.

Batey raped the woman and urinated on her, prosecutors said. His attorneys argued the images didn't show that.

Defense lawyers argued that Vandenburg and Batey were too drunk to know what they were doing and that a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex should be partly to blame.

During closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman told jurors that the college culture argument was a "red herring" and that the athletes thought the law didn't apply to them.

"That's the culture that you really saw here," Thurman said. "Their mindset that they can get away with anything."

Earlier, one of the defense attorneys conceded that Vandenburg took "deplorable" photos, but shouldn't be convicted of rape because he didn't take part in it.

"He took photographs that he never should have taken," attorney Fletcher Long said.

Batey, of Nashville, turned 21 on Tuesday. Vandenburg, 21, is from Indio, Calif.

Vandenburg's roommate at the time testified that he had been on the top bunk and saw the woman face down on the floor. He said he heard one of the players say he was going to have sex with her, but didn't do anything because he was afraid.

Rumors about what happened quickly spread around campus, and the assault might have gone unnoticed had the university not stumbled onto the closed-circuit TV images several days later in an unrelated attempt to learn who damaged a dormitory door. The images showed players carrying an unconscious woman into an elevator and down a hallway, taking compromising pictures of her and then dragging her into the room.

School authorities contacted police, who found the digital trail of images.

The university said after the verdict that they had kicked the players off the team many months ago, expelled them from school and were confident they acted appropriately.

"We will also continue our comprehensive ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of every Vanderbilt student intervening when another student is at risk or in distress," the school said in a statement.

Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, who is also charged in the case, testified he did not touch the woman himself but also took pictures.

No trial date has been set for him and Brandon Banks, the fourth former player accused in the assault. Banks did not testify.

Brodeur to retire, join St. Louis Blues front office

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 3:58pm

ST. LOUIS (AP) Martin Brodeur is retiring to take a front office job with the St. Louis Blues. The New Jersey Devils have a spot waiting for one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history whenever he is ready to come back home.

"Absolutely. He is aware of that and has always been aware of that," Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said Tuesday. "He could have come back even now if he wanted to."

The 10-time All-Star and four-time Vezina Trophy winner finished his career with St. Louis after a standout, two-decade run with New Jersey. A news conference was set for Thursday morning before the Blues return from the All-Star break to play Nashville.

"It's kind of sad to see a guy like him hang `em up," said Brian Elliott, the Blues' All-Star goalie. "I'm sure it's a tough decision, but I was grateful to be on the same team with him if only for a little bit."

The 42-year-old Brodeur wrapped up his 22-year career with St. Louis after signing as a free agent on Dec. 2. He was 3-3 with a 2.87 goals-against average and in his final victory became the fifth-oldest goalie to post a shutout in a 3-0 win over Colorado on Dec. 29.

He last played on Jan. 2 in a loss at Anaheim and had not returned since being granted a one-week leave of absence on Jan. 14. Brodeur had dropped to third on the depth chart after Elliott returned from a knee injury, with 24-year-old Jake Allen sharing the position, but teammates are happy he'll still be around to help.

"It's an extremely smart move," forward Alexander Steen said. "All the experience and all that stuff is so valuable to have in an organization. That stuff spreads."

Lamoriello said he's been talking with the Brodeur the last several weeks, so the announcement was not a surprise. Lamoriello said it won't be long before the Devils retire his No. 30 and that there are no hard feelings Brodeur is sticking with St. Louis for now.

"It's something that he feels he would like to try and see," Lamoriello said. "He might even find out whether he likes this business or not. Who knows? There is no issue whatsoever."

Brodeur played his first 21 seasons with the Devils, who did not re-sign him after committing to Cory Schneider as the No. 1 goalie. Schneider said he was a little surprised about the announcement, calling it the end of an iconic career.

"Those kinds of players, like Marty and Jaromir (Jagr), they only come along so often," Schneider said. "The things that Marty did, I don't know if we will ever see again or it probably won't be for a long, long time."

The Montreal native was 691-397-176 with a 2.24 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and 125 shutouts in 1,266 career appearances. He holds regular-season NHL records for wins, games and minutes.

"I don't think he has to worry about losing those anytime soon," Elliott said. "It's just awesome to be able to stand on the same ice as a guy like that, especially when you look at the record books probably 50 years from now and you can be like, `I played with that guy,' so it's cool."

Brodeur also holds postseason records for starts (204) and shutouts (24), and is second in wins (113). He appeared in 70 or more games in 10 consecutive seasons from 1997-98 to 2007-08.

He won three Stanley Cups with the Devils and was a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada in 2002 and 2010.

Devils center Scott Gomez won two Stanley Cups with Brodeur and remembered a player so handy with the stick it prompted an NHL rule change. Jagr said having Brodeur in goal was like having an extra half defenseman who could start breakouts.

"So many new goaltenders come in the league and it's kind of incredible for him to adjust and stay in that game for such a long time," Jagr said. "I don't think anybody can do that again, in any sport. Maybe (Peyton) Manning if he keeps playing, because quarterback is that type of position."

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AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.

Super Bowl, Tiger make Phoenix center of sports universe

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 2:18pm

PHOENIX (AP) Tiger Woods will tee off his season in front of 200,000 golf fans and an estimated million people will flock to a revived Phoenix downtown for NFL events.

A pair of NBA games will be played in the heart of it all. Concerts abound and there will be parties galore.

Oh yes, there's a football game, too. Although the Super Bowl is actually being played 30 minutes away in suburban Glendale.

Super Bowl week is always a spectacle. With the addition of golf's biggest name in its most raucous tournament, the scene in and around Phoenix this week should be even crazier. For a few days, what once was a desert wasteland is the center of the sports and entertainment world.

"It kind of puts us on the map," Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "It kind of gives us that networking that we don't have like other teams - the Dallas Cowboys or the New York teams. Everybody can see what the state is all about."

The fun will stretch from Glendale to the west to Scottsdale in the east.

The epicenter is downtown Phoenix, where 12 blocks have been cordoned off for a myriad of Super Bowl activities and displays. Thanks to a temporary law change, fans can wander through with open containers of alcohol.

A few steps away is the NFL Experience, billed as the league's interactive theme park, set up in the Phoenix Convention Center.

Walk a block or so, and there's US Airways Center, where the ever-entertaining, often-bizarre Media Day was held on Tuesday, with fans able to witness it for $28.50 a pop. The arena swings back into its usual purpose on Wednesday night, when the Washington Wizards play the Suns. Friday night, the Chicago Bulls are in town.

Scottsdale has a party scene any weekend. Super Bowl weekend it goes over the top. Streets around the clubs will be blocked off with Maxim and Rolling Stone among those hosting gatherings.

In north Scottsdale there will be a giant party that happens to have a golf tournament running through the middle of it.

The Waste Management Phoenix Open, played on the spacious TPC Scottsdale course, has by far the biggest crowds on the PGA tour, with Saturday always the party day. Now that Woods is playing in the tournament for the first time in 14 years, it should be even more crowded, as hard as that is to imagine. Tournament officials have said more than 200,000 are expected this Saturday.

Among those performing somewhere around town will be Lil Wayne, Kid Rock, Darius Rucker, Imagine Dragons and Kevin Hart. Rihanna has an invitation-only gig in Glendale on Saturday night.

And, of course, Katy Perry will perform at halftime on Sunday.

The Pro Bowl kicked everything off.

Usually played in Hawaii, it was moved for this one season to the site of the Super Bowl. A sellout crowd of 63,225 packed the Sunday night event.

This will be the third Super Bowl for the Phoenix area. The first was in 1996 at Sun Devil Stadium on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe. In 2008, the game was played at University of Phoenix Stadium, with the New York Giants stunning previously unbeaten New England.

At the time, downtown Phoenix was entangled in scaffolding for one project after another.

For the Super Bowl to return, it's an upgrade that was essential.

"It's really been the $44 billion development to the downtown Phoenix area," said Devney Preuss, senior director off the Arizona Super Bowl host committee. "That created a downtown area that's primed and ready for an event like this."

Hotels and restaurants were built. The convention center was expanded. A light rail line opened from Mesa to downtown.

Now more big games are on the way.

Next January, the college football championship game is in Glendale. The following year, it's a college football playoff semifinal game. And in spring of 2017, the stadium hosts the Final Four.

For the Phoenix area, it seems, the party's just begun.

Golfer Allenby stands by story, says truth will come out

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 1:23pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) A defiant and at times angry Robert Allenby stood by his story Tuesday that he was robbed and beaten in Honolulu, basing the account on what he remembered and what he was told by a homeless woman who came to his aid.

"There has definitely been a lot of confusion," Allenby said. "But I think the No. 1 thing that you should all remember is that my story stays exactly the same as the way I told it. I told you what I knew, and I told you what someone told me. That's the bottom line. I never lied to anyone."

Honolulu police are investigating the Jan. 16 incident as second-degree robbery. No arrests have been made.

Allenby says he was at Amuse Wine Bar with his caddie and a friend from Australia on the night he missed the cut at the Sony Open. He said surveillance tape shows him leaving the bar with three people he doesn't recognize, and that his next memory is being in a park. He said a homeless woman told him he had been thrown out of a trunk, which he said caused his injuries.

Allenby posted a photo of his bloodied forehead and a swollen eye to his private Facebook account. He said he was robbed of wallet and phone, though the credit card he used to pay for dinner and wine was still in his front pocket.

In the last week, however, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser quoted the homeless woman, Charade Keane, as saying she never told Allenby she saw him in a trunk and did not how he was injured. The newspaper quoted another homeless man in the park, Chris Khamis, as saying Allenby told him he was depressed and drugged at a strip club and that he passed out and hit his head on a lava rock.

Exactly what happened remains a mystery, even for Allenby. He said Tuesday he has "no memory in my brain" from about 11:06 p.m. to 1:27 a.m. on that date.

"I have been trying and overlooking and going backward and forward, and there is just nothing," he said. "I can't tell you how frustrating that is because we all want to know the truth."

The 43-year-old Australian said headaches subsided a few days ago and he chose to play in the Phoenix Open to try to get his life back on track.

His face looked relatively clean as he spoke to reporters - his injuries drew more attention than any of his 22 wins around the world - and the crowd was even larger because the podium was in front of the caddie hospitality tent.

Allenby saved his anger for the media, whom he sarcastically claimed to be "amazing experts at investigations."

"I was a victim, and all of a sudden you're putting all the blame on me," Allenby said. "I take full responsibility if I did do something wrong. ... At the end of the day, I was in a place having a nice dinner and having a nice night, and then I became a victim. And now, it's all been turned around.

"The police will come out with the right story."

Pressed for details, Allenby kept referring to the 2 1/2-hour stretch where he blanked out. He previously told The Associated Press he had two receipts in his front pocket - along with his credit card used to pay for dinner and win - that were time stamped at 10:06 p.m. and 10:48 p.m.

Allenby said he was not drunk. "There's no way in the world what I drank could do what was done to me - not a chance in the world," he said. He also said he had blood tests to see if anything was detected in his system. He told the AP last week that doctors chose not to do a drug test the day after the incident because whatever was in his system likely would not be there for more than a few hours.

The photo, first shown on Golf Channel during the third round of the Sony Open, is what generated so much attention. Allenby said he posted it as a way to reach his family - he is divorced with a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter - because he was so disoriented he couldn't remember his phone number.

Tiger Woods, returning from his own dose of a photograph gone viral, was asked about Allenby before anyone quizzed him on how he lost his front tooth.

"I know he got beat up. I don't know much about it. I just saw a quick headline," Woods said. "I saw a photo. He didn't look very good."

Allenby has had a contentious relationship with the media throughout his career. He got into a public argument with fellow Melbourne native Geoff Ogilvy that Australian media said was close to a fight. And at the Presidents Cup in 2009 in San Francisco, he accused Anthony Kim of being out partying until the wee hours of the Sunday matches - this after Kim beat him in a singles match, 5 and 3.

The reception is gets at the TPC Scottsdale could be brutal. This is the rowdiest tournament of the year, especially at the par-3 16th that is set up like an arena.

"Mentally, I'm preparing myself for probably one of the toughest weeks of my life," Allenby said. "It hasn't been an easy week last week, and it wasn't an easy decision to come to this tournament. But I thought that I need to get my life back on track. I'm a professional golfer. And why should I let controversy put me out of the game that I love?"

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Kraft takes the offensive, defends team, seeks NFL apology

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 8:41am

CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) The New England Patriots came out swinging upon their arrival at the Super Bowl.

Not star quarterback Tom Brady or All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. Not coach Bill Belichick, either.

Robert Kraft.

The team owner on Monday night demanded an apology from the league once the Patriots are found to be not guilty of breaking any rules regarding using under-inflated footballs in the AFC championship game.

A conclusion Kraft is certain will occur.

In an unscheduled statement, Kraft strongly defended his team's actions and integrity, growing more fiery with each sentence.

"I want to make it clear that I believe, unconditionally, that the New England Patriots have done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of NFL rules," Kraft said at the team's first media availability in Arizona.

"If the (Ted) Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope the league would apologize to our entire team, and in particular to coach (Bill) Belichick and Tom Brady, for what they've had to endure this week."

NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash and Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul Weiss are leading the probe. Wells was the investigator in the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal and has said the current investigation could last a while.

Kraft welcomes a thorough search.

"I'm disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon," Kraft said, pointing directly to reports citing anonymous sources. "We expect hard facts rather than circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation."

The NFL has said evidence shows the Patriots used underinflated footballs during the first half of the AFC title game victory over Indianapolis. The league is still determining why the balls were underinflated.

"I am confident that this investigation will uncover whatever the facts were that took place last Sunday and the science of how game balls react to changes in the environment," Kraft added. "This would be in direct contrast to the public discourse, which has been driven by media leaks as opposed to actual data and facts. Because of this, many jumped to conclusions and made scarring accusations against our coach, quarterback and staff questioning the integrity of all involved."

Belichick and Brady followed Kraft to the podium, but basically left any comments on the investigation to their boss.

When asked if he was upset by the accusations and jokes of which he was the subject, Brady said: "I've moved past those initial feelings and I want to move forward."

But moving away from the deflated footballs theme will be particularly difficult on media day, when just about any question has been fair game in the past.

So Kraft came out swinging before then with a speech tinged with emotion - and fire.

"Tom, Bill and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys," said Kraft, who has three Super Bowl titles and three other trips to the big game since 2001.

"They are part of my family. Bill, Tom and I have had many difficult discussions over the years. I've never known them to lie to me. That's why I'm confident in saying what I just said.

"It bothers me greatly their reputations and integrity - and by association that of our team - has been called into question this week."

This hardly is the first time the Patriots have been under such scrutiny. Most famously was 2007, their undefeated regular season. Revelations that New England videotaped New York Jets coaches' signals during a game cost Belichick a $500,000 fine, and the team was fined $250,000 and stripped of its 2008 first-round draft choice by the NFL.

During this year's playoffs, Ravens coach John Harbaugh accused the Patriots of being deceitful with some alignments on offense. The NFL exonerated Kraft's team of any wrongdoing.

Now, Kraft has taken the offensive.

"I, and our entire organization," he said, "believe strongly in the integrity of the game and the rules of fair play are properly, equitably and fairly enforced."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Hope Solo could be left off US World Cup roster

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 9:09pm

Goalkeeper Hope Solo faces the possibility of being left off the American roster for this year's Women's World Cup if she fails to complete tasks set for her by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which may include alcohol counseling.

The 33-year-old was suspended for 30 days last Wednesday for what the U.S. Soccer Federation called "an incident that occurred during the current WNT training camp" in Carson, California.

Asked whether she could be omitted from the team's World Cup roster, USSF President Sunil Gulati said Monday: "Look, that's possible. We hope that's not the case. We hope she's making progress and joins the team. That's certainly the goal, hers and ours."

Jerramy Stevens, Solo's husband, was driving a team vehicle when he was arrested last week on suspicion of driving under the influence, a person familiar with the details of the arrest told The Associated Press last week. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they could not discuss the case publicly.

Solo was ordered to refrain from drinking alcohol last June after she was arrested on domestic violence charges at her sister's home in Kirkland, Washington. The charge was dropped this month.

Speaking on a conference call with U.S. coach Jill Ellis, Gulati said he had to speak carefully because of the involvement of "health-related issues." Asked whether Solo had been asked to undergo alcohol counseling, Gulati said "I think neither of us denied or confirmed that."

"She's been given time to deal with some issues, and we think that in this period she'll certainly start that process, and we'll evaluate," he said.

Gulati said the length of the suspension was determined during conversations he had with Ellis and USSF Secretary General Dan Flynn.

"Thirty days seemed to be the appropriate suspension under our rules and given the circumstances," he said. "So there are a number of things that Hope is being asked to do in that 30 days. We're not going to get into the specifics of that. And then we'll evaluate where things stand at the end of that period and make the decision going forward."

Solo will miss exhibition games at France (Feb. 8) and at England (Feb. 13). She could return for the Algarve Cup tournament in Portugal in March.

"The situation warranted a consequence, and we thought it was reasonable," Ellis said. "This is important for us to be able to focus the players that we have on these games and then allow Hope some time to sort of reflect on some things. So I think as far as the specifics, like Sunil said, we're not going to get into those, but Hope and I had some very good conversations and I'm optimistic about moving forward."

Ellis said forward Alex Morgan was "fully integrated back into this training camp" reinjuring her left ankle Oct. 17 during a game against Guatemala at the CONCACAF Women's Championship. Morgan, who has 49 goals in 77 international appearances, was sidelined for seven months after injuring the same ankle during training in October 2013.

"She's coming along great. We're very excited about where she is," Ellis said.

Kobe Bryant to have shoulder surgery, likely out for season

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 7:14pm

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Kobe Bryant will have surgery Wednesday on his torn right rotator cuff, likely ending his 19th season with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Bryant seriously aggravated a lingering shoulder ache while dunking last week in New Orleans. The star guard and the Lakers decided Monday on surgery, which typically requires several months of rehabilitation.

The Lakers will announce a timetable for Bryant's recovery after surgery, but coach Byron Scott anticipates losing the third-leading scorer in NBA history for the rest of the year.

"Kobe is probably not going to play" again this season, Scott said.

"We all know how tough he is," Scott added after Monday's practice. "He's a trooper, so we pray for him that his return will be sooner rather than later."

The 36-year-old Bryant's torn rotator cuff is likely his third straight season-ending injury. He missed the 2013 playoffs with a torn Achilles tendon, and he played just six games last season before breaking a bone near his left knee. His famously resilient body has finally worn down from the accumulated grind of nearly two decades and several lengthy postseasons with the Lakers, including five NBA title runs.

After returning at nearly full strength in training camp, Bryant sat out eight games to rest in the last month and played on a strict minutes limit. He still dealt with assorted aches and setbacks before he injured his shoulder.

Bryant met with Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic on Monday, determining his injury's extent and deciding on surgery. He is averaging 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 35 games this season, but shooting a career-worst 37.3 percent in a wildly inconsistent season.

The Lakers reacted to the news with disappointment and respect for Bryant, who was selected to the All-Star game for the 17th time last week.

"Kobe is a warrior," Lakers forward Carlos Boozer said. "He's strong, and he's going to attack rehab like he always has."

The Lakers also discouraged speculation that Bryant's career might be over. He is the NBA's highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season, and he is under contract for $25 million next year.

"I think he's done everything that you can possibly do in this league, and I think at times, we don't appreciate all the stuff that he's been able to accomplish," Scott said. "I don't think we appreciate how tough he is, all the injuries and other things that he's played with, to be able to come back the way that he's come back. I don't see Kobe as the type of guy that wants to leave his legacy on (these) terms. I think he wants to go out on his own terms. We'll just have to wait and see."

The Lakers (12-33) are in the midst of another aimless season, losing eight straight heading into Tuesday's visit from Washington. The 16-time NBA champion franchise is almost certain to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1976.

The Lakers also owe a first-round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns to complete their disastrous trade for Steve Nash, who played just 65 games in the last three years and never suited up this season. But Los Angeles will keep the pick this summer if it lands in the top five, providing ample incentive for fans to hope the Lakers' collapse is total.

Bryant wasn't at the Lakers' training complex Monday, and he didn't attend their loss to Houston on Sunday night. Scott plans to speak with Bryant throughout the week to see what he's thinking about his future, but he hopes Bryant isn't ready to quit.

"With the Achilles last year, everybody said he was done," Scott said. "He came back and I think the first month of the season, he proved to everybody that he still has a lot left in the tank. I think he still has that hunger and that competitive nature to come out and prove it again. After the surgery, I'll talk to him and see how it is. We'll talk and we'll go from there."

Patriots owner makes strong defense of team

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 7:11pm

CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft demanded an apology from the league once the Patriots are found to be not guilty of breaking any rules regarding using under-inflated footballs in the AFC championship game.

A conclusion Kraft is certain will occur.

In an unscheduled statement, Kraft strongly defended his team's actions and integrity Monday night.

"I believe unconditionally that the New England Patriots did nothing wrong in this process that was in violation of NFL rules," Kraft said at the team's first media availability in Arizona.

"If the (Ted) Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope the league would apologize to our entire team, and in particular to coach (Bill) Belichick and Tom Brady, for what they've had to endure this week," Kraft added, at times sounding angry.

"I'm disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon. We expect hard facts rather than circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation."

The NFL has said evidence shows the Patriots used underinflated footballs during the first half of the AFC title game victory over Indianapolis. The league is still determining why the balls were underinflated.

NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash and Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul Weiss are leading the probe. Wells was the investigator in the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal and has said the current investigation could last a while.

Belichick and Brady followed Kraft to the podium, but basically left any comments on the investigation to their boss.

When asked if he was upset by the accusations and jokes of which he was the subject, Brady said: "I've moved past those initial feelings and I want to move forward."

But moving away from the deflated footballs theme will be particularly difficult on Tuesday, which is media day, when just about any question has been fair game in the past.

So Kraft came out swinging before then with a speech tinged with emotion - and fire.

"Tom, Bill and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys," said Kraft, who has three Super Bowl titles and three other trips to the big game since 2001.

"They are part of my family. Bill, Tom and I have had many difficult discussions over the years. I've never known them to lie to me. That's why I'm confident in saying what I just said.

"It bothers me greatly their reputations and integrity - and by association that of our team - has been called into question this week."

This hardly is the first time the Patriots have been under such scrutiny. Most famously was 2007, their undefeated regular season. Revelations that New England videotaped New York Jets coaches' signals during a game cost Belichick a $500,000 fine, and the team was fined $250,000 and stripped of its 2008 first-round draft choice by the NFL.

During this year's playoffs, Ravens coach John Harbaugh accused the Patriots of being deceitful with some alignments on offense. The NFL exonerated Kraft's team of any wrongdoing.

Now, Kraft has taken the offensive.

"I, and our entire organization," he said, "believe strongly in the integrity of the game and the rules of fair play are properly, equitably and fairly enforced."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

AP source: Yanks thinking of not making $6M payment to A-Rod

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 5:16pm

NEW YORK (AP) The New York Yankees are thinking about not making a $6 million payment to Alex Rodriguez if he hits six home runs and ties Willie Mays at 660 for fourth place on the career list.

Rodriguez signed a $275 million, 10-year contract with the team in December 2007 and a separate marketing agreement that called for $6 million payments for up to five milestone accomplishments designated by the Yankees. Each payment is due within 15 days of designation and is in exchange for rights such as using Rodriguez's name and image in selling licensed goods.

At the time of the marketing agreement, those accomplishments were contemplated to be tying the home run totals of Mays, Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds, (762), and breaking Bonds' major league record.

Rodriguez returns to the team next month after a season-long drug suspension and has three seasons and $61 million in guaranteed money remaining in his contract.

New York's thought process on the $6 million payment, first reported by the Daily News, was described to The Associated Press on Monday by a person familiar with the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because no public statements were authorized. The Yankees are thinking of letting any accomplishment pass without declaring it a milestone.

A failure to declare a milestone and make a payment likely would trigger a grievance on Rodriguez's behalf by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Barring a settlement, the case would be heard by an arbitrator.

Rodriguez's spokesman, Ron Berkowitz, declined comment.

A-Rod met last week with Rob Manfred, who headed the investigation of the Biogenesis of the America clinic that led to the player's suspension for violation of baseball's drug agreement and labor contract.

"Occasionally when players have an issue, they have asked me for advice, come to see me, wanted to talk to me about something," Manfred said Monday. "I don't put a particular significance on this meeting. It was one of those things. A player wanted to come in. We had a brief meeting."

Rodriguez, a three-time AL MVP, turns 40 in July, and the Yankees have said they plan to shift him from third base to designated hitter.

Visitation, memorial service set for Hall of Famer Banks

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 4:46pm

CHICAGO (AP) The Chicago Cubs say a public visitation and memorial service for Hall of Fame slugger Ernie Banks will be held Friday and Saturday in the city.

The visitation is scheduled for noon to 8 p.m. on Friday, with the memorial service at 10 a.m. Saturday at Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church. Limited public seating will be available.

Banks died Friday at 83 after a heart attack, according to an attorney representing his family. Known as "Mr. Cub," Banks is remembered as much for his boundless enthusiasm despite playing on mostly losing teams as his 512 home runs and two MVP awards.

AP Source: Browns WR Josh Gordon fails another drug test

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 9:42pm

CLEVELAND (AP) Josh Gordon's troubles have deepened. He may be out of chances - and time.

The wide receiver for the Browns has failed yet another drug test, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Sunday. Gordon, who has twice been suspended by the NFL for drug violations, could be banned for one year, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidentiality of the testing.

ESPN, citing anonymous sources, first reported Gordon's failed test.

Cleveland's patience with Gordon has been pushed to its limits.

"Clearly we are very disappointed to hear the latest report regarding Josh," a Browns spokesman said Sunday in a release. "At this point, due to the confidential nature of the NFL's substance-abuse policy, we have not been made aware by the league of a failed test. We are in the process of gathering more information and will provide further comment at the appropriate time."

Agent Drew Rosenhaus said he could not comment on his client's situation. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined comment.

"I keep in touch with Josh a lot," Browns cornerback Joe Haden said Sunday night at the Pro Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. "He's actually renting my spot right now back in Cleveland. But I don't know about that. I'll find out about that in a little bit.

"I don't really know what the situation is, but I'm going to figure it out."

Gordon's latest misstep could lead to the team releasing the talented 23-year-old.

A Pro Bowl selection in 2013, he was suspended 10 games last season because he tested positive for marijuana. He returned for five games but failed to deliver the spark the Browns had hoped. He was then suspended by the Browns for violating team rules before the Dec. 28 season finale at Baltimore.

Gordon had missed the team's walk-through the previous day, and following the season coach Mike Pettine revealed that Gordon had been guilty of multiple violations during the season.

Gordon missed the first two games in 2013 but still led the league with 1,646 yards receiving and emerged as the one of the league's top playmakers.

Last year, he received a one-year suspension that was reduced to 10 games after the league and Player's Association revised its drug policies.

A second-round pick in the 2012 supplemental draft, Gordon signed a four-year contract worth $5.3 million as a rookie. He figured to cash in with a bigger contract following his monster '13 season, but Gordon's legal issues - he was arrested for drunken driving during his suspension last season - have clouded a bright future.

Gordon failed several drug tests while in college, but the Browns couldn't ignore his talent and gave up a second-round pick to select him three years ago. It seemed like an ingenious move when he was shredding defensive backfields, but now Gordon's days as a pro could be over.

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AP Sports Writer Rob Maaddi and AP freelance writer Mike Cranston contributed to this report.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Johansen gets hometown nod in NHL All-Star game MVP vote

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 7:07pm

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Blue Jackets forward Ryan Johansen spent the past few days showing off Columbus to his fellow NHL All-Stars.

On Sunday, Johansen did some showing off of his own by winning an online fan vote to be named the game's MVP.

"It's been really cool. It hasn't hit me yet for sure," he said. "This is something I'll remember for a very long time."

The fourth-year forward, and first-time All-Star won despite being on the short end of Team Foligno's 17-12 loss to Team Toews. Johansen led the team captained by Blue Jackets teammate Nick Foligno with four points (two goals and two assists) and won a new car to go with the honor.

He beat out two Team Toews players - New York Islanders forward John Tavares and Boston's Patrice Bergeron. The three were announced as the MVP finalists early in the third period, when the vote on Twitter began in the first time fans have determined the winner.

Though the vote amounted to a popularity contest, Johansen's fellow All-Stars called the honor deserving.

"Ryan played great," said Bergeron, who had a goal and four assists. "There were a lot of guys who had great nights."

That included Philadelphia's Jakub Voracek, who had a game-leading six points (three goals, three assists) to tie the All-Star record set by Mario Lemieux in 1988.

"Joey deserved it, the way he handled the weekend overall," Voracek said, referring to Johansen. "Him and Nick Foligno, I'm sure, have been under a lot of the spotlight. They did a great job. It was well deserved."

Tavares, meanwhile, matched an All-Star record in becoming the sixth player to score four goals.

Johansen has emerged as a fan favorite in Columbus after getting off to an uncertain start to the season. As a restricted free agent, he held out the first two-plus weeks of training camp before signing a three-year, $12 million contract in October.

The 2010 first-round draft pick has since delivered on that potential by leading the Blue Jackets with 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) in 45 games.

On Sunday, Johansen's first goal tied the game at 2 at 11:05 of the first period, when he skated out of the left corner and snapped a shot in off the far post. Johansen scored his second goal 5 minutes later, when he one-timed in a pass from Alex Ovechkin.

Johansen then capped off his night by setting up goals by Foligno and Brent Burns.

"This weekend is definitely a confidence booster," Johansen said. "But it's important to not get too high, not get too low."

Then there is the challenge he and the Blue Jackets face when they resume the season on Tuesday. That is when Johansen and Foligno will go from playing on the same line as Ovechkin to hosting him and the Washington Capitals.

At 20-22-3, the Blue Jackets are 13th in the Eastern Conference - 14 points out of a playoff spot. They also have numerous injuries to overcome, including the loss of Sergie Bobrovsky, who is out indefinitely after he hurt his groin last week.

"I think we have a good focus for when we get back, and knowing that we have a job to do," Johansen said. "We've enjoyed this weekend a lot. But after tonight, we'll refocus on playing Washington."

Pistons G Jennings to miss rest of season with injury

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 5:18pm

TORONTO (AP) Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Jennings will miss the rest of the season after he ruptured his left Achilles tendon.

Jennings was injured in the third quarter of Saturday night's 101-86 loss at Milwaukee. He averaged 15.4 points and 6.6 assists in 41 games this season.

"It's definitely a tough loss for us," Pistons forward Greg Monroe said before Sunday night's game at Toronto. "He's a huge part of the success we've had recently."

Coming into the day, Detroit had won 12 of 16 to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race after a terrible start. But it will be difficult to maintain that pace without the 25-year-old Jennings.

Detroit has not reached the postseason since 2009. It's the longest active drought in the East.

The Pistons said there is no timetable for Jennings' return, but the guard tweeted a message earlier Sunday saying "6/9 months."

"Not being able to play basketball is the worst thing," Jennings tweeted in a separate message.

Coach Stan Van Gundy said he feels bad for Jennings, who loves playing "probably as much as anybody I've been around."

"He plays all summer, he loves being in the gym," Van Gundy said. "On top of that, he was having the best season of his career, particularly lately, so it's really tough. It's tough for us but it's even tougher for him and I feel real bad for him because he was playing so well and then to have it end when he was on such a run is really unfortunate."

D.J. Augustin will take Jennings' spot in the starting lineup, with rookie Spencer Dinwiddie coming off the bench.

"We've got confidence in D.J.," Van Gundy said. "He's played very well this year."

Van Gundy spoke to general manager Jeff Bower on the telephone Sunday morning and said he'll look to add a third point guard to the roster "fairly soon."

"We'll meet tomorrow and look at our options and see what it is we think we should pursue," Van Gundy said.

The Pistons have had an open roster spot since waiving Josh Smith last month, but still could apply to the league for a hardship exception, Van Gundy said.

Just as difficult for Detroit will be replacing the swagger and confidence provided by Jennings, whom Van Gundy described as having the "natural personality" of a locker room leader.

"Guys are sort of in that shock time right now," Van Gundy said. "He really thought we were going to kick everybody's butt every night and showed that on the floor. I think that gave his teammates more belief. We're going to need guys to play with that kind of confidence."

Dinwiddie has only played nine games with Detroit this season, and recently spent seven games with Grand Rapids of the NBA Development League.

"This is the opportunity he's been looking for all year," Van Gundy said. "Let's see what he's got."

Dinwiddie, whose final season of college basketball at Colorado was cut short by a knee injury last January, said he was conflicted by way his opportunity arrived.

"It's definitely a laundry list of emotions," he said. "BJ obviously was a really good vet and one of my friends. Obviously anybody is happy to play, you just don't want it ever to happen like that."

Tavares scores 4, Team Toews outscores Team Foligno, 17-12

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 5:12pm

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) John Tavares of the New York Islanders matched a record with four goals, and Team Toews beat Team Foligno 17-12 on Sunday night in the highest-scoring NHL All-Star game.

The wild, no-defense exhibition even featured a fake fight along with goals in bunches.

The 29 goals were the most in the event's 60-year history, eclipsing the 26-goal burst in North America's 14-12 victory over the World in 2001.

Ryan Johansen, of the hometown Columbus Blue Jackets, had two goals for the losing team but still won the MVP award in voting by fans on Twitter.

The NHL has determined the teams by a number of geographic and divisional setups over the 60 years. Just like on ponds around the globe, these lineups were determined by a player draft on Friday night.

Sherman doubts any punishment ahead for Patriots

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 4:34pm

PHOENIX (AP) Relishing no longer being in the "villain" role, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is painting his team's Super Bowl opponent as occupying that position.

He also doubts that the Patriots will be punished by the NFL if they are found guilty of doctoring footballs in the AFC championship game.

"I think the perception is the reality," Sherman said Sunday after the defending champions arrived in Phoenix. "It is what it is. Their resume speaks for itself. The past is what the past is. Their present is what their present is. And, will they be punished? Probably not."

The All-Pro cited NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's close relationship with New England owner Robert Kraft as his main reason for being skeptical.

"Not as long as Robert Kraft and Roger Goodell are still taking pictures at their respective homes. He was just at Kraft's house last week for the AFC championship," Sherman added. "You talk about conflict of interest.

"But as long as that happens, it won't affect them at all. Nothing will."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Saturday the team "followed every rule to the letter" in preparing footballs on game day. New England arrives in Phoenix on Monday as the league's investigation into under-inflated balls continues.

This is the second Super Bowl in which accusations of cheating have followed the Patriots. During their unbeaten 2007 regular season, they were fined $250,000 and Belichick was docked $500,000 for spying on New York Jets coaches' signals. New England lost to the New York Giants in that Super Bowl.

For many of the Seahawks, the focus on football deflation is a non-topic. Quarterback Russell Wilson brushed aside questions about the subject the way he escapes onrushing defenders. All-Pro safety Earl Thomas admitted he knew nothing at all about it: "I've been in my own little world. I don't watch TV too much."

Sherman, as always, was not reticent about discussing it.

"I think more people might be inclined to root for us, to see history made," Sherman said, noting the Seahawks are seeking to become the first repeat champions in a decade - when the Patriots did it. "I guess the controversy gives us a little edge in that respect."

When it was revealed that some of the Patriots' footballs were under-inflated in the AFC championship, Sherman said "I didn't think it was a big deal at the time."

"It's a big deal," Sherman added, laughing.

The edge that Sherman plays with has helped him become one of the premier players in pro football. It also catapulted him into that "villain" role last year after his rant against 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree following the NFC title game.

He didn't understand the reaction.

"To be painted villains I guess you need to do something heinous," he said, "and I didn't. You learn a lot about people around you and about society."

While he was at it, Sherman also criticized the NFL for not coming through on the booty he is entitled to for being selected to the Pro Bowl. Players who make the Super Bowl are replaced for the Pro Bowl.

"Only thing I'm disappointed about is that we didn't get our gifts from the Pro Bowl," he said. "Which is kind of dumb; the NFL is the only league that punishes the players who actually make the all-stars by not giving them their gifts."

He believed the gifts included "watches and stuff."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Coach K gets 1,000th win as No. 5 Duke tops St. John's 77-68

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 1:44pm

NEW YORK (AP) Mike Krzyzewski earned his 1,000th career win Sunday, making him the first NCAA Division I men's coach to reach the milestone, when No. 5 Duke surged past St. John's in the second half for a 77-68 victory at Madison Square Garden.

Tyus Jones scored 22 points and the Blue Devils (17-2) went on an 18-2 run down the stretch to put Krzyzewski in four figures on his first try.

Jahlil Okafor had 17 points and 10 rebounds, combining with Jones and Quinn Cook (17 points) to fuel the decisive spurt after Duke trailed by 10 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining.

When the final horn sounded, Blue Devils players engulfed Krzyzewski in front of their bench, and he received a bear hug from assistant Jeff Capel. Players were given T-shirts that read "1,000 and Kounting."

Blazers' Aldridge puts thumb surgery on hold, scores 26

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 11:23pm

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) In a span of just 48 hours, LaMarcus Aldridge resigned himself to thumb surgery, reversed himself and decided to play through the pain, then led the Portland Trail Blazers to victory over the Washington Wizards.

"He can't sit out. He doesn't want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he's got something to give, he's going to give," teammate Wesley Matthews said.

The Blazers surprised many on Saturday when the team announced on Twitter that Aldridge had decided to put off surgery and would play that night against Washington.

He responded with a team-high 26 points and nine rebounds in a 103-96 win to snap a two-game losing streak.

He was sore after the game but said he was OK.

"I'll just play until it's intolerable. Tonight, I thought it was tolerable," he said. "It was hurting a little but it wasn't too much. I'll just keep going until I feel like I'm not playing as good as I can, or I can't take it."

The 6-foot-11 power forward leads Portland with averages of 23.3 points and 10.2 rebounds. He's one of just three NBA players averaging at least 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Aldridge had said on Thursday that he needed surgery to repair a ligament in his left thumb and was expected to miss from six to eight weeks.

He hurt his thumb when his hand came down on the knee of Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins in the second quarter of the Blazers' 98-95 victory on Monday night.

"You can't say enough," coach Terry Stotts said about Aldridge's return. "That was big time. Not only coming back and playing through the injury but then not favoring it, going hard, not shying away from contact, being aggressive on both ends of the court - I mean, that was big time."

The injury looked like a big blow to the Blazers, who were already dealing with a depleted front line. Center Robin Lopez is out with a fractured right hand and center Joel Freeland is sidelined with a strained right shoulder.

Starting small forward Nicolas Batum left Thursday night's 90-89 loss at home to the Boston Celtics after he aggravated a right wrist injury that had been bothering him. Batum did not play against Washington.

Going into Saturday's victory, Portland had lost five of six games.

Aldridge said the close loss to the Celtics impacted his decision, and that his doctors told him there was "no harm in giving it a shot." In the past two days he'd been able to move his thumb, which also factored into the decision.

"My idea now is to play the rest of the season," he said. "But if it gets too much where I can't handle it or I'm not playing at a very good level then I'll stop. But hopefully it goes well for us."

If he gets through the season, he'll have the surgery in the offseason, he said.

In his ninth NBA season, all with Portland, Aldridge recently moved into second on the franchise list for both points (11,782) and rebounds (5,095). He trails only Clyde Drexler with 18,050 points and 5,339 rebounds.

Blazers guard Damian Lillard said he greeted Aldridge with applause when he came into the locker room after his return was announced.

"I can't even sit here and tell you how big it is just for him to be out there," Lillard said. "Sixty percent, 70 percent LaMarcus Aldridge is better than no LaMarcus at all."

The Blazers embark on a four-game road trip that starts Monday against the Nets.

Weber's 108.5-mph blast gives him hardest shot at NHL skills

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 7:35pm

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Not that they did before, but it's official now: No one wants to get in front of Shea Weber's shot.

The Nashville Predators defenseman fired the hardest shot of 108.5 mph at the NHL All-Stars skills competition on Saturday night, taking advantage of five-time champion Zdeno Chara's absence.

"I knew I got it," Weber said. "But it's tough. You never know how hard it is until it registers on the gun. But it felt like I got pretty much all I could into it, and (you) just kind of hope for the best."

Fighting his nerves since he doesn't practice high-velocity shots, Weber missed the entire net on a 101.8-mph drive with his first attempt. That nullified that try.

Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin - who stole the show at Friday night's draft by pleading to be picked last so he would win a new car - had led the competition with a pair of 101.4-mph drives.

But then Weber stepped into his final shot to win the event.

He said it felt strange with the 6-foot-9 Chara - who holds the record of 108.8 mph set in 2012 - not participating.

"Obviously, he's the guy to beat all the time," Weber said. "He's got the big shot. Honestly, I was nervous because there's some guys out there that can rip it."

The team captained by Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno defeated one led by Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, 25-19. The teams meet in the 60th All-Star game on Sunday.

A capacity crowd roared with laughter, booed former Columbus players such as New York Rangers star Rick Nash, and gave Weber a standing ovation.

"We had a blast," Foligno said. "The boys did awesome. I wasn't sure how it was going to go but we got off to a great start."

The other premier event at the skills competition featured Ryan Johansen of the hometown Blue Jackets winning the breakaway challenge.

Johansen pulled Blue Jackets trainer Mike Vogt's 7-year-old son, Cole, out of the stands to score a goal to the delight of the crowd. In addition, the center endeared himself to Ohio State fans by pulling off his Blue Jackets sweater to reveal a No. 5 Ohio State football jersey - similar to one worn by injured star quarterback Braxton Miller - on his first shot.

Johansen also employed a star-laden V-formation to the net on his third and final attempt.

"On the ice we're out there goofing around, having fun, making each other laugh while showing our moves and skills - things we don't normally do on the ice," Johansen said. "I've really enjoyed meeting these guys off the ice. It's amazing how similar we all are."

Moments after Johansen and Cole Vogt scored their tandem goal, Philadelphia's Jake Voracek did exactly what Johansen did - except instead of a little boy he grabbed diminutive Calgary rookie Johnny Gaudreau and guided him toward scoring a goal.

The breakaway event began with St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott turning his back on an opposing player - Blues teammate Vladimir Tarasenko - and then taking a selfie of the two as the puck went into the net. The crowd again roared with laughter.

Ovechkin, who won the first three of the five times the breakaway has been held, struck out on three baseball swings off high passes from Tarasenko. Patrick Kane, who won in 2012 after donning Clark Kent glasses and a red Superman cape, didn't compete in the breakaway but had the fastest time in accuracy shooting.

In the fastest skater event, in which players were paired off and raced around the perimeter of the rink against the clock, Team Foligno went 5-0 - winning all four races and pocketing an extra point for Tampa Bay's Jonathan Drouin posting the fastest time of 13.103 seconds.

Toronto's Phil Kessel, who was dealt by Team Toews for Tyler Seguin on Friday in a duplicate of a real 2009 deal between Boston and Toronto, surprised many by edging the Dallas Stars star in the first speed pairing of the event.

In a matchup of Blackhawks teammates, Kane beat Toews by breaking four plates at the corners of a net almost 3 seconds faster - in a time of 13.529 - to push Team Foligno to a 10-1 lead through three events.

The two close friends shared a laugh later when they met at mid-ice.

"We're always competitive with each other in all aspects of the game," Toews said. "Tonight, he got the best of me. I had the chance to take it from him, and it just slipped away. It happens."

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP

Belichick on deflated balls: 'We try to do everything right'

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 7:30pm

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Saying his team "followed every rule to the letter," New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick described in detail how his team prepares its footballs on game day and defended his players from chatter that they made it to the Super Bowl by cheating.

"At no time was there any intent whatsoever to try to compromise the integrity of the game or to gain an advantage," Belichick said in an unscheduled availability on Saturday afternoon, eight days before the Patriots will play the Seattle Seahawks for the NFL championship.

"Quite the opposite: we feel like we followed the rules of the game to the letter," he said. "We try to do everything right. We err on the side of caution. It's been that way now for many years. Anything that's close, we stay as far away from the line as we can."

Speaking once again with authority on a topic he previously professed ignorance of, Belichick said the team conducted an internal study on the process of getting game balls ready.

Most of the steps are designed to make them tackier, which has a noticeable effect on how it feels, he said, but the process could also affect the pressure inside the ball, which is harder to tell by touch.

"I'm not a scientist. I'm not an expert in footballs; I'm not an expert in football measurements," Belichick said. "I'm just telling you what I know."

The Patriots reached the Super Bowl for the sixth time in Belichick's tenure when they beat the Colts 45-7 in the AFC championship game on Sunday. But later that night, Indianapolis TV station WTHR reported that some of the game balls provided by New England for the use of its offense weren't sufficiently inflated.

The NFL said its initial investigation confirmed that some of the footballs used in the first half of the conference title game were underinflated. On Thursday, Belichick deferred questions on the game balls to Brady; the quarterback also denied any impropriety.

Wide receiver Matthew Slater, who also serves as the team's union rep, said Saturday that the players had been instructed by the NFLPA not to comment on the situation.

But in the slow news off-days before Super Bowl week, the allegations received disproportionate attention - and Twitter hashtags such as "Deflategate" and "Ballghazi" - along with comparisons to the videotaping scandal of 2007, when the Patriots were hit with unprecedented penalties after Belichick was caught recording opposing coaches sending in signals from the sidelines.

Belichick denied that there is a pattern of rule-breaking, or even of pushing the rules to their limit.

"It was wrong. We were disciplined for it. That's it. We never did it again. We're never going to do it again," Belichick said of the scandal that came to be known as "Spygate." "And anything else that's close, we're not going to do either."

A football lifer who only seems happy on the sidelines, if at all, Belichick is known for an absolute attention to detail that prepares his team for every imaginable situation.

But instead of getting ready for the Super Bowl, he said he has spent far too much time the past week studying the science and learning about "bladders, air gauges, stitching, pressure, game day football preparation, rubdowns and so forth."

"I'm embarrassed to talk about the amount of time that I've put into this relative to the other important challenge in front of us," he said. "It sounds simple, and I'm not trying to say that we're trying to land a guy on the moon, but there are a lot of things here that are a little hard to get a handle on."

But Belichick seemed most emotional when he came to the defense of his team. Among the questions he and his players have been asked this week is whether they cheated to get to the Super Bowl.

Belichick praised his players, who went 12-4 in the regular season, won an 11th division title in 12 years, made a fourth straight trip - and ninth overall - to the conference championship game, and have a chance for a fourth NFL title in his tenure.

"They're a physically and mentally tough team that works hard, that trains hard, that prepares hard and have met every challenge that I put in front of them," he said.

"This team was the best team in the AFC in the regular season. ... The best team in the postseason, that's what this team is. I know that because I've been with them every day. And I'm proud of this team."

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Follow Jimmy Golen on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/jgolen .

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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