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  • 01/02/13--18:30: Dalton returns home— again
  • Times wires
    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton is getting a second chance to shine in a hometown playoff game. The first one didn't turn out well.

    A year ago, the Bengals quarterback had one of the worst games of his rookie season in front of a lot of family and friends in Houston. He threw three interceptions, one DE J.J. Watt returned for a touchdown, in the Texans' 31-10 wild-card victory.

    "It'll be fun," Dalton, a TCU alum from Katy, Texas, said Wednesday. "It's definitely cool to come back and play where I'm from."

    Those friends and relatives — and those Texans — will see a quarterback who has improved in almost every statistical category.

    He completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 3,669 yards, 27 touchdowns and an 87.4 rating. The only negative: his 16 interceptions compared with 13 as a rookie. "He's a guy that's grown," Bengals OT Andrew Whitworth said. "He's matured. I think he's ready for his opportunity."

    Ravens-Colts: Rookie quarterbacks are 2-6 against the Ravens since John Harbaugh became coach prior to the 2008 season. That includes last season's 20-13 division win over Houston and T.J. Yates. Sunday, it's the Colts' Andrew Luck.

    "I can't tell you any secrets," Baltimore DT Arthur Jones said. "But we've got a little niche going. We've definitely got something going that's … been working for us against rookie quarterbacks to isolate them and prevent them from performing at high levels."

    Under Harbaugh, Baltimore has allowed just two rookies, Dalton in 2011 and the Browns' Brandon Weeden in September, to throw for more than 300 yards. Overall, rookies have thrown four touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

    "I would hesitate to say that you worry about going up against a great defense like the Ravens," Luck said. "But you definitely have an incredibly healthy respect for what they do and how they can affect games and change the game so quickly."

    Texans: Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said he's "worried" about starting LB Tim Dobbins' availability for Saturday. Dobbins has been battling a shoulder problem over the last half of the season and was held out of practice Wednesday. Houston put starting LB Darryl Sharpton on injured reserve Tuesday with a hip injury. Dobbins' absence could mean more playing time for former Florida State LB Mister Alexander, who re-signed this week, and former Bucs LB Barrett Ruud.


    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Adrian Peterson has been Minnesota's most irreplaceable player since being drafted seventh overall in 2007. This season, he ran for 2,097 to be in the mix for the MVP award.

    But Peterson wants to play on special teams, too.

    "For the past two years, I've been trying to get in on field goal block; come in off the edge," Peterson said Wednesday. "Kickoff return, I wouldn't mind getting back there. I'm in it to win."

    Peterson was asked a few minutes after special teams coordinator Mike Priefer revealed his constant request to reporters.

    "Gunner, field goal block, returner," Priefer said. "I always say yes. And then I ask the head coach, and he says no."

    Peterson averaged 25.8 yards on 16 kickoffs as a rookie. The Vikings used him in that role once during the regular season in 2008 and again that season in the playoffs but never since.

    "I believe in having your best players on the field, especially in critical times," Peterson said. "You never know what can happen."

    More Vikings: QB Christian Ponder was limited at practice but is expected to play Saturday. The right elbow of the former FSU standout hit a helmet on a follow-through Sunday.

    Packers: WR Jordy Nelson and TE Jermichael Finley practiced a day after sitting. Coach Mike McCarthy said Nelson, who has a nagging knee injury, looked good running but the team doctor "has some concerns." Finley is expected to play.

    Redskins: Starting LG Kory Lichtensteiger sat with a sprained left ankle sustained Sunday. And nickel CB Cedric Griffin returned from a four-game ban for a performance-enhancing substance. Their status has not been determined.

    Seahawks: CB Brandon Browner returned from a four-game suspension for a performance-enhancing substance. And with fellow starting CB Richard Sherman winning his appeal of the same ban, the team is at full strength in the secondary. "We'll see how rusty (Brown­er) is," coach Pete Carroll said. "But we're very fortunate right now."


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    Times staff, wires
    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    CHICAGO — Edwin Jackson keeps bouncing around, and he thinks he knows why.

    "I think everybody likes me," he said.

    The former Rays right-hander might find some stability now that he has a four-year, $52 million deal with the Cubs.

    The team announced the move Wednesday after reaching an agreement last month, giving the Cubs a durable starter as they try to dig themselves out from a 101-loss season.

    Jackson, 29, is on his eighth team in 11 years, including a run with the crosstown White Sox, and is 70-71 lifetime with a 4.40 ERA. He made the All-Star team with the Tigers in 2009 and pitched a no-hitter (against the Rays) for the Diamondbacks in 2010. He has also played for the Dodgers, Cardinals and Nationals, going 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA for NL East champion Washington last season.

    He has made at least 31 starts in each of the past six seasons and exceeded 180 innings the past five.

    PRICE DEAL: The Rays officially announced they avoided arbitration with Cy Young-winning left-hander David Price by agreeing to a one-year, $10.1125 million deal.

    Price, 27, will earn more than double the $4.35 million he made last season, when he went 20-5 with a league-leading 2.56 ERA. Price, a three-time All-Star, was in his second year of arbitration eligibility and will be a free agent after the 2015 season.

    The deadline to exchange figures in arbitration cases is Jan. 18, with the Rays still having four such players remaining: right-hander Jeff Niemann, outfielders Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce and infielder Ryan Roberts.

    JONES DIVORCE: The wife of former Braves star Andruw Jones filed for divorce about a week after she accused him of grabbing her neck and saying he wanted to kill her, according to a court document. Nicole Jones said their 10-year marriage is "irretrievably broken," according to the divorce complaint.

    INDIANS: A one-year deal with right-hander Brett Myers is worth $7 million, cbssports.com reported.

    Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.


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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    CLEVELAND — The Browns, seeking a new coach, might try to strike quickly to get Chip Kelly. But they reportedly will have competition for the Oregon coach.

    Kelly, whose up-tempo offense has captured the attention of several NFL teams and maintained the Ducks' status as a national power, is near the top of Cleveland's list of candidates to replace the fired Pat Shurmur.

    Browns CEO Joe Banner already is in Arizona and intends to talk to Kelly, whose Ducks face Kansas State in tonight's Fiesta Bowl. The interview could happen as soon as Friday.

    However, the Bills and Eagles also have scheduled interviews with Kelly, USA Today reported. Dates were not reported.

    Banner and new Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam made it clear their next coach will have final say on the team's roster, a perk that could entice Kelly. Cleveland also must replace fired general manager Tom Heckert. But Banner said it's possible the Browns will hire a player personnel director instead.

    Kelly, who last offseason turned down an offer from the Bucs, has deflected questions about his future all week. He did so again Wednesday, when he was asked if he expects to be contacted by NFL teams in the days ahead.

    "I don't expect anything," said Kelly, 45-7 in four seasons at Oregon. "I said this a million times. I'm never surprised by anything. I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game (tonight), and I'm going to be there."

    The Browns on Tuesday interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, an African-American who said his meeting with the team was "fantastic."

    Horton's interview satisfies the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to speak with a minority candidates for coaching and senior football operation positions.

    More coaching: Reid also has options

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs courted former Eagles coach Andy Reid as they search for a replacement for the fired Romeo Crennel.

    Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt met with Reid in Philadelphia, the Associated Press and espn.com reported. The reports came a day after espn.com and Phoenix's KTVK-TV reported Reid could be hired as Cardinals coach as early as this weekend.

    The Cardinals have said only that Reid, fired Monday after 14 seasons as Philadelphia's coach, is scheduled to interview this week.

    Bears: Pete Carmichael, who ran the Saints offense in the absence of suspended coach Sean Payton, interviewed for the vacancy, profootballtalk.com.

    Bills: Horton was interviewed for the coaching vacancy Wednesday evening. It comes one day after the team interviewed Ken Whisenhunt, who was fired as Cardinals coach this week. And Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is scheduled to interview this weekend, the Associated Press reported.

    Falcons: Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, whose name surfaced as a coaching candidate for the Browns, Chiefs and Eagles, signed a contract extension. Terms were not disclosed, and Koetter was unavailable for comment.

    Jets: The team has not decided the status of offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, the Associated Press reported. New York media previously reported he would be fired after one season.

    Chargers GM search: Jimmy Raye, San Diego's director of player personnel, became the first to interview to replace the fired A.J. Smith.


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  • 01/02/13--19:06: Sports in brief
  • Times wires
    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    Hockey

    U.S. advances to semis at World juniors

    UFA, Russia — Boston College's John Gaudreau had a hat trick, Miami (Ohio's) Riley Barber scored twice and the United States beat the Czech Republic 7-0 to reach the semifinals of the world junior championship on Wednesday.

    The Americans play Canada in the semifinals today. Defending champion Sweden faces Russia, which beat Switzerland in a 4-3 shootout.

    In Russia's win, Lightning forward prospect Nikita Kucherov scored the goal that tied it at 3 and had the shootout winner, and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, a Lightning prospect, had 41 saves.

    Tennis

    No. 1 Azarenka starts season well

    Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka opened her season with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Sabine Lisicki to join No. 3 Serena Williams and fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber in the Brisbane International quarterfinals at Australia.

    American Sloane Stephens had a 6-3, 6-4 win over Sofia Arvidsson to set up a quarterfinal against Williams, who Stephens, 19, said is her idol. "Even if I go out there and lose, just bomb it, I don't win a game, at least if I'm able to focus on myself and do what's right for me, then it's not a loss," she said.

    Azarenka plays Kazakh qualifier Ksenia Pervak, who has ousted former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and Urszula Radwanska in matches decided by third-set tiebreakers.

    Azarenka won her first major at the Australian Open last year during a 26-match winning streak to start the season and spent most of 2012 atop the rankings.

    Azarenka said her focus ahead of her first major title defense is more about attacking than defending.

    "I actually don't really look at defending anything. I'm just looking to win," Azarenka said.

    hopman cup: Bernard Tomic upset top-ranked Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, but Australia lost to Serbia 2-1 at the mixed-team event in Perth, Australia. The U.S. team of Tampa resident John Isner and Venus Williams today plays Spain's Fernando Verdasco and Anabel Medina Garrigues for a place in Saturday's final. Australia faces Italy.

    Qatar Open: Nikolay Davydenko reached the quarterfinals in Doha by beating fourth-seeded Mikhail Youzhny 7-5, 6-3, and Gael Monfils upset third-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Top-seeded David Ferrer beat qualifier Tobias Kamke 6-3, 6-2. Second-seeded Richard Gasquet rallied past 55th-ranked Grega Zemlja 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 7-6.

    Shenzhen Open: Top-seeded Li Na advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-4 win over American Julia Cohen in China.

    Et cetera

    Basketball: LeBron James was chosen USA Basketball's male athlete of the year for 2012. He won the NBA's MVP and NBA Finals MVP awards in leading the Heat to the championship, and he led the United States to the Olympic gold medal in London. Michael Jordan is the only other player to accomplish that in a calendar year, in 1992.

    Bowling: Former tennis great Billie Jean King is the celebrity owner of the New York City WTT KingPins, joining Clippers guard Chris Paul and former NFL stars Jerome Bettis and Terrell Owens as celebrity owners in the Professional Bowlers Association's inaugural PBA League, which begins play Jan. 19.

    Times wires


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    By Rodney Page, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    . fast facts

    87th annual New Year's Invitational

    When/where: Today-Sunday; St. Petersburg Country Club

    Format: Four rounds of stroke play in championship flight. Three rounds of stroke play in mid amateur and senior flights.

    Field: 132 amateurs, including 40 college players

    Admission: Free

    2012 champion: Garland Green (Virginia Tech)

    Notables: Jim Liu, No. 1-ranked U.S. junior; Jack Maguire, Class 2A state champion from St. Petersburg High

    Noteworthy: Several current PGA Tour pros have won this tournament, including J.B. Holmes (2003), Brandt Snedeker (2004) and Jeff Overton (2005). … This is one of the oldest amateur invitational tournaments in the country. … Website: stpetecountryclub.com.


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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    NEW YORK — Negotiations to end the lockout faced a critical tipping point Wednesday, as the sides exchanged proposals again and the players union considered whether to dissolve.

    The union membership voted last month to authorize the leadership to disclaim interest, but only until midnight Wednesday. A disclaimer of interest would effectively dissolve the union and allow individual players to file antitrust suits against the NHL for continuing the lockout, which reached its 109th day Wednesday.

    Complicating matters was a hitch in the talks over the players' pension fund, which is of great importance to the union.

    But negotiations, which continued into Wednesday night, were going on at an unusually steady clip. The offers made by the union and then the league were the fourth and fifth exchanged by the sides since Dec. 27, when the NHL extended a proposal that jump-started the current round of talks.

    "All I've said, and all I will say, is that the players retain all their options and it's an internal matter," union executive director Donald Fehr said Wednesday afternoon.

    Even if the union declined to disclaim interest Wednesday, the leadership could still do so at a later date, but only if the rank and file authorized it in another vote.

    The pension issue could hold up a quick resolution to the lockout, which commissioner Gary Bettman has said he wants settled by Jan. 11 so a 48-game schedule could begin no later than Jan. 19.

    The union has proposed that players finance the pension plan but owners would be responsible for covering any potential shortfalls that might arise. The owners appeared to be balking at assuming that risk.

    "The way it works is the players are still funding the pension," Kings forward Kevin Westgarth, a member of the negotiating committee, said last month. "The only issue is if there is a possible underfunding at some point — owners don't want that on their books."

    Westgarth said last month an improved pension plan was the players' biggest gain in the negotiations. Westgarth, a key union negotiator on the pension issue, along with Chicago Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday from the New York Times.

    Under the collective bargaining agreement that expired in September, 75 percent of the players' pension fund was financed by the owners and 25 percent by the players.

    That negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement were reignited last week did not come as a complete shock to Lightning left wing Ryan Malone, who believes a stout players association forced owners to move some of their positions closer to those of the players.

    "They probably thought we were going to cave in and they would get everything," Malone said after Wednesday's skate at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. "Now they're like, 'Maybe we can get what we can get and move on.' "

    Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report.


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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On Nov. 17, Kansas State and Oregon were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the BCS standings, seemingly on course toward a national title game matchup.

    By day's end, the Wildcats had been run over at Baylor and the Ducks had lost in overtime to Stanford. And gone were their title hopes.

    But unlike many teams, Kansas State and Oregon ended up with a nice consolation prize: a matchup in tonight's Fiesta Bowl.

    "This game could have been for the national championship," Oregon linebacker Boseko Lokombo said. "A couple weeks ago, that's where we were both headed."

    The Ducks are in their fourth consecutive BCS game under coach Chip Kelly after playing in the 2010 Rose Bowl, 2011 title game and winning the Rose Bowl last season for the first time in 95 years.

    They fly fast, overwhelming opponents with where-did-they-all-come-from speed, their touchdown drives measured not in minutes but seconds. Running backs Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas are threats to score on every touch. And Marcus Mariota — the first freshman to start at quarterback for Oregon since 1991 — has played well beyond his years.

    The Ducks were second nationally with 50.8 points and 323.3 rushing yards per game and fourth in total offense at 550.1 yards per game.

    "Basically, only one team stopped them the entire year, and that was Stanford," Kansas State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes said. "It's a challenge. We need to meet the challenge if we have any wishes for a victory."

    It doesn't figure to be any easier for Oregon going against Kansas State. In the second season of his second stint as coach, Bill Snyder has — again— lifted the Wildcats out of the doldrums and into national prominence.

    Kansas State doesn't play nearly as fast as Oregon. But it can put up points in a hurry — ninth nationally at 40.7 per game — and is led by a Heisman Trophy finalist, do-everything senior quarterback Collin Klein.

    This is the Wildcats' 14th bowl under Snyder, and beating the Ducks means the program's first 12-win season.

    "You can't help as a coach admire what Coach Snyder has done," Kelly said. "He had an opportunity when he first got to K-State that he created a legacy that I don't think anybody could ever imagine when he first took over that program; what one man could do to a university. Retired for a couple years then came back and is building upon that legacy.

    "It's really a special story in college football that will (have him) go down, like I said, as one of the top coaches in the history of the game."


    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    Thanks to Boise State, the Mountain West must extend an invitation to San Diego State, scheduled to join the Big East for football in July, before it offers membership to any other school.

    The Broncos' contract with the Mountain West says it "will extend an option for San Diego State University to join the MWC on terms mutually agreed between SDSU and the MWC and to join or decline before offering membership to any other institution," the Idaho Statesman reported Wednesday.

    According to the contract, the Mountain West will hold a spot for the Aztecs for next season until Jan. 31. Big East commissioner Mike Aresco said Tuesday that he knows only that San Diego State is reconsidering its options.

    Boise State pulled out of its commitment to join the Big East on Monday. It cited a new deal with the Mountain West that allows it to make more TV money. It still must pay exit fees of $5 million to the Big East and $1.5 million to the Big West, where its other sports were going to play. The Mountain West said Wednesday that it will contribute up to $3 million toward the fees.

    Tide, Irish arrive

    FORT LAUDERDALE — Brian Kelly walked off the tarmac, hopped aboard one of Notre Dame's buses that bore his image on the side and grinned broadly as he sat in the driver's seat.

    Soon, the Irish coach will know if his team — or Alabama — will finish in that proverbial spot.

    The No. 1 Irish landed in South Florida not long before the arrival of the No. 2 Crimson Tide. The teams meet in the BCS title game Monday in Miami.

    "It's not like any trip that they've had before," Kelly said about his players. "It's not like any trip that I've had before. It's something that you dream about when you play this game and when you coach this game."

    For Alabama coach Nick Saban, it was a return to his former home. Saban coached the Dolphins before going to the Crimson Tide.

    "It's great to be back in South Florida," he said. "I'm sure these people here are going to do a great job of providing tremendous hospitality for our players and our entire family."

    Both teams are set to practice today with workouts scheduled throughout the rest of the week.

    More Alabama: First-team All-America center Barrett Jones is expected to be ready. He arrived in a walking boot a day after practicing for the first time since spraining his left foot during the SEC title game.

    Draft: Utah defensive end Joe Kruger will skip his senior season. The 6-foot-7, 280-pounder had a team-high six sacks.


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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Frankie Sullivan scored 24 points and Allen Payne added a career-high 17 as Auburn defeated Florida State 78-72 in the Tigers' nonconference finale Wednesday night.

    Auburn (6-7) trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half before outscoring the Seminoles (8-5) 21-10 down the back end of the first half to cut the Florida State lead to 36-35 by halftime.

    Sullivan scored 18 of his 24 points in the first half, keeping the Tigers alive as they battled back from the early deficit. Payne scored nine points in the second half for Auburn as the Tigers overtook the lead.

    Florida State's Michael Snaer recorded a double-double in the losing effort, scoring 18 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. Sophomore guard Terry Whisnant added another 16 points for the Seminoles.

    The Auburn victory avenged an 85-56 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee last season.

    After charging back to cut the lead to one at halftime, Auburn overtook the lead nearly 2 minutes into the second half when a Rob Chubb lay-in put Auburn up 42-40, giving the Tigers their first lead since Auburn was up 8-7 nearly 5 minutes into the game.

    Chubb finished with eight points and 10 rebounds for the Tigers. Noel Johnson scored all nine of his points in the second half as Auburn pulled away.

    Florida State's Aaron Thomas cut the Auburn lead to seven with 2:58 to play in the game, but the Tigers went 12 of 20 from the free-throw line in the last 2:01 of the game to seal the win.


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    By Darek Sharp, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    The Plant City Lancers soccer team was just hoping for a good showing at the Tampa Bay Sun Bowl, a prestigious tournament that draws entrants from around the country.

    Much like the Lancers players, that approach turned out to be a bit humble. To phrase it not so humbly: they absolutely destroyed everyone in their path.

    Playing against a team from Louisville, Ky., on New Year's Eve, the Lancers Premier Under 17 team rolled to a 9-3 victory. That would be 9-3 in the championship game of an elite-level tournament.

    "Some teams aren't used to playing against our style, it's pretty unique at this level," Stephen Rossiter, the team's head coach, said. "We play a possession game, sometimes we'll pass it 30 to 40 times before taking a shot. Combine that with going up against a less athletic team, and the result can tend to be 9-3."

    Plant City did run into some more athletic teams and those victims merely lost by scores of 4-0, 4-0 and 6-0. The event was at J.C. Handley Sports Complex in South Brandon Dec. 28-31.

    Omar Castro was named tournament MVP and it's no wonder. Castro, a junior at Plant City High School, and is coveted by none other than the U.S. Men's National Team.

    And he has turned them down. Castro's dream is to play professionally in Europe and, with the help of the Lancers, has spent time overseas taking in the pro game in various countries. Next up is a trip to Germany in a few weeks.

    "Omar is very humble too, he works hard, does a lot of community work. And he has a 3.8 GPA," Rossiter said.

    Though Castro is the unquestioned star he has plenty of talented cohorts with the Lancers. Aldo Lopez is the leading goal scorer and Simon Vue is a big playmaker.

    And if you're wondering, shouldn't the Plant City Raider boys soccer team have some of these players on it . . . the answer is tricky.

    "It's just too difficult to do both," Rossiter said. "We train five nights a week and so to play for both teams, and keep up on your school work it's tough. But they've all chosen not to play for the high school, we don't prevent them from it."

    Training is a high priority for the Under 17 boys, as evidenced by their demanding to practice on Thanksgiving Day despite Rossiter trying to give them the day off.

    They did take a whole two days off after the Sun Bowl, after all.

    In early March, the Lancers will try and earn a second consecutive impressive trophy when they take part in the State Cup.

    "We figured the Sun Bowl would be good competition and would allow us to see where we stand heading into the State Cup," said Rossiter. "So to win it like we did was not expected. But it wasn't completely shocking, either."

    The Plant City Football Club, or PCFC, as the Lancers organization has come to be known, has 11 boys and four girls teams.

    The full roster of the Sun Bowl champion squad: forwards Aldo Lopez, Arturo Rodriguez, Juan Rosales, Simon Vue; midfielders Omar and Ivan Castro, Gerardo Del Carmen, Fransisco Ramos, Saul Vergara; defenders Serbando Aguilar, Ivan Chavez, Alejando Duero, Pedro Espinal, Luis Morales-Rodriguez; goalkeeper Chase Story; utility players Ivan Cortez and Adolfo Peraza.

    Darek Sharp can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.


    DANIEL WALLACE   |   TimesDANIEL WALLACE | Times

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    By Derek J. LaRiviere, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    The Brooksville Department of Parks and Recreation Co-Ed Softball League wrapped up its winter season last week with Coney Island Drive-Inn emerging as the league champion over Print Shack.

    Coney Island (10-2) walked away with the Jerome Brown Cup over Print Shack and United Speed World, both of which finished 9-3.

    The 11-team league was sponsored by businesses in Hernando County. All games were played on Thursday nights at the softball fields behind the Jerome Brown Community Center in Brooksville.

    AMERICAN HEROES GOLF TOURNAMENT: Marine Corps League Detachment 1002 will be have its third annual American Heroes Golf Tournament on Jan. 29 at Silverthorn Country Club, Spring Hill.

    The entry fee is $75 per player or $300 per foursome, which includes golf, cart, an awards barbecue and prizes. Hole sponsorships are available for a cost of $100.

    Registration is at 12:30 p.m., with the shotgun start set for 1:30 p.m. Prizes will be awarded for holes-in-one, longest and straightest drives and closest to the pin. There will be a putting contest, a 50/50 raffle, an auction and door prizes.

    Proceeds go to injured veterans and families at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, scholarships for veterans' children, and other military benefits programs in Hernando County.

    Ed Morse Auto Plaza is sponsoring a $10,000 car gift certificate for a hole-in-one on the 11th hole, a Las Vegas golf vacation on the fifth hole, a set of new Razr X woods on the eighth hole and a set of new Razr X irons on the 15th hole.

    For information, call Rich Lee at (352) 650-0364.

    SPRING HILL DIXIE SOFTBALL: Spring Hill Dixie Softball has scheduled registration at Anderson Snow Park for its spring season.

    League officials will accept sign-ups under the pavilion at the park. Officials will be present from 6 to 9 p.m. Jan. 23 and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 19 and 26.

    Evaluation dates vary, depending on age divisions. The Darlings (ages 5 to 8) will try out Jan. 28. The Angels (9 and 10) will be on Jan. 29. The Ponies (11 and 12) will have evaluations on Jan. 30, and the Belles and Debs divisions (13 to 18) will take place Jan. 31. All evaluations are scheduled for 6 p.m.

    Player fees are $115 per child at the time of registration, with a $10 late fee for sign-ups at evaluations. A copy of a child's birth certificate is necessary for registration. The fees cover all games, insurance and trophies.

    Coaches and sponsors are still needed. Visit shdixiesoftball.com if interested.

    For information, contact Glenn Primavera at (352) 442-1957 or gaprimo22@hotmail.com.

    TOFTEGAARD JUNIOR TENNIS TOURNAMENT: The Nature Coast Tennis Foundation will host the seventh annual Simon Toftegaard Memorial Junior Tennis Tournament on Jan. 26 at Delta Woods Park in Spring Hill.

    The co-ed event is a singles tournament open to elementary, middle and high school players for an entry fee of $30 per person. Players do not need to be U.S. Tennis Association members to participate.

    Lunch and tournament T-shirts are included in the entry fee. The format will be best two of three-set matches with a seven-point tiebreaker. The winner advances, while the opponent moves to a consolation round. First- and second-place trophies will be awarded in each division.

    Named for a former Nature Coast Technical High School tennis standout, the tournament benefits the tennis foundation's scholarship program. Toftegaard died in an auto accident in 2009.

    For information, call Phil Zee at (352) 263-9546 or send email to nctf@tampabay.rr.com. To register, visit nctf.usta.com.

    DUNES WOMEN'S GOLF TOURNAMENT: The Dunes Women's Golf League will have its 20th annual Sweet & Simple Invitational on Jan. 17.

    Women golfers from Hernando and surrounding counties may participate. For information, call Eileen Ball at (352) 596-7880.

    SPRING HILL DIXIE BASEBALL: Spring Hill Dixie Baseball has scheduled registration at Anderson Snow Park for its spring season.

    League officials will accept sign-ups in the office at the park. Volunteers will be present from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Jan. 14, 18 and 25.

    The county has instituted a $3 player fee for park maintenance this year, and the league has gained control of the Little Red Schoolhouse field in Spring Hill. With Spring Hill Dixie handling all maintenance and costs for the field, there will be an increase in league fees this season.

    Cost varies depending on the age division. Junior Rookies (ages 5 and 6) is $80 per child, Rookies (7 and 8) is $90, Minors (9 and 10) is $110, Majors (11 and 12) is $115, O-Zone (12 and 13) is $125 and Boys (13 and 14) is $150. A copy of a child's birth certificate is necessary for registration. The fees cover all games, insurance and trophies.

    A $30 refundable deposit will also be required for all families. This will be returned to anyone who volunteers three hours in the concession stand during the season. In lieu of the deposit, a family may make a $30 donation to the league.

    For information, call Joe Abbadessa at (352) 263-4488 or send email to shdixiebaseball@gmail.com.

    UMPIRE CLINICS: The Hernando-Sumter Umpires Association has scheduled a set of baseball/softball umpiring clinics.

    The clinics are designed to train anyone who wants to become an umpire, and also can help seasoned umpires improve. Clinics will take place Jan. 20 and Feb. 17 at the Anderson Snow Sports Complex in Spring Hill, Jan. 27 at Ernie Wever Park in Brooksville, and Feb. 3 at Ridge Manor Park in Ridge Manor.

    The sessions are open to men and women age 16 and older. All clinics will start at 10 a.m.

    Visit hernandosumterumpire.com to register. For information, call (352) 593-6998 or send email to clinics@hernandosumterumpire.com.

    BROOKSVILLE BULLDOGS BASEBALL: The Brooksville Bulldogs youth recreation league will have sign-ups for the coming season on Jan. 19 and 26 at Kennedy Park in Brooksville.

    The Bulldogs compete in both the Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth leagues, with age groups from 9 to 18 years old. Registrations will be taken from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on each of the dates.

    For information, contact Bruce Price at (813) 714-1054 or bruce67price@hotmail.com.

    TOURETTE SYNDROME GOLF TOURNAMENT: The Plantation Golf Resort in Crystal River will host the inaugural Tee Off for Tourette Celebrity Golf Tournament on Feb. 1 and 2.

    Proceeds will benefit the Tourette Syndrome Association of Florida, a volunteer organization dedicated to helping individuals and families living with Tourette's syndrome. The money will help send children to an annual camp, where they can spend time with other children with Tourette syndrome.

    The basic entry fee is $500 per four-player team, which includes a hole sign and recognition in the tournament program, as well as greens fees and a cart. Other sponsorship levels include gold, platinum and event.

    For information, contact event chairman Gary D'Amico at (352) 527-2938 or gary78@tampabay.rr.com.

    Contact Derek J. LaRiviere at derekjlariviere@gmail.com or (352) 584-6337.


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    By Doug Hemmer, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    What's hot: Trout fishing is heating up. Most will be over the grass flats in depths of 2-4 feet. They like to hang out where the grass meets the sand. Larger trout are smart and stay near shallow water so they can move when the dolphins show up. Smaller trout will be farther out from the shallows. Topwater plugs and jigs worked while drifting is the fastest way to locate a school. Once you have found them, switch to live shrimp.

    Tackle: Lightweight spinning reels and 4- to 10-pound rods are best for feeling the strike of a trout. Braided lines don't stretch and will give a better feel than mono for the strike. Topwater plugs work best at sunup and during overcast days. Jigs should be worked slowly across the bottom. Most trout will have their bellies on the sand. If you work the jig too fast, they won't see it. Shrimp can be free-lined or fished under a cork. Rig the cork so the shrimp is near the bottom. Use a small splitshot close to the hook to keep the shrimp from jumping when a trout moves in. Use popping corks. They have a cupped top that will put out the most noise when popped. Pop the cork every minute to help the trout locate the shrimp.

    Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 347-1389.


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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    BRANDON — Lightning center Steven Stamkos said he had no idea teammate Matt Carle had a cameo role in the movie This Is 40.

    So when Stamkos this week took in the comedy, he did a double take.

    "I don't know if he actually had a cut on his face or they put it there," Stamkos said, "but he looked pretty tough."

    As for Carle's future on the big screen, Stamkos smiled and said simply, "No."

    Carle described acting as "awkward." What was cool, though, was going to Los Angeles for the December premiere and, as the defenseman said Wednesday at the Ice Sports Forum, "seeing the Hollywood lifestyle."

    The adventure was one of several for Lightning players during the lockout, from center Nate Thompson catching a 29-inch rainbow trout on a fishing trip in the Alaska wilderness to wings Teddy Purcell and Ryan Malone sitting down for a chat with rock star Eddie Vedder.

    Right wing Dana Tyrell, who played in Slovakia for Banska Bystrica, ate pigs knees — really — at a local restaurant.

    "It was huge," he said. "Three of us shared it."

    And defenseman Brendan Mikkelson had a 21-hour excursion to Tampa from Sweden, where he played for Vasteras. Mikkelson said that after a nine-hour flight from Stockholm, he almost missed his connecting flight from Chicago to Tampa. But a bride and her bridesmaids held up the departure because they couldn't stuff the wedding dress into an overhead bin.

    "They were trying to get people to check their luggage" to make room, Mikkelson said.

    But let's stick with Carle.

    He said his scene from This Is 40 was filmed two years ago when he played for the Flyers. He and then-teammates James van Riemsdyk, Scott Hartnell and Ian Laperriere were recruited for the film through the NHL.

    The players, with two real actors, try to pick up actors Leslie Mann (Debbie) and Megan Fox (Desi) in a bar. Carle just laughs and later is in the background doing a nifty little line dance.

    "It was awkward," said Carle, who admitted the cut on his left cheek was makeup. "When you see the actors and how easy they make it look, you can tell it didn't come easy to us."

    What apparently came easy to Carle and Thompson was fly-fishing on Alaska's Kvichak River. That's where Thompson caught his 29-inch rainbow trout. Carle, Thompson said, pulled one in at 29 1/2 inches.

    "We were pretty jacked up, for sure, high-fiving and everything," Thompson said.

    Both players are from Anchorage, where Thompson played during the lockout for the ECHL Alaska Aces. The trip to the river included an hour flight to Iliamna, in the southwest part of the state near Bristol Bay. A 4-mile boat ride upriver to Igiugig put them, as Thompson said, "in the middle of nowhere."

    He said both fish were released.

    As for Purcell, he accomplished one of those bucket list things when he met Vedder, the Pearl Jam frontman Purcell called "my favorite artist."

    The sit-down came in December after Vedder played the second of two solo shows at Ruth Eckerd Hall. It happened because Purcell's buddy, Red Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey, knew someone in Vedder's entourage.

    "He's very deep, very intelligent," Purcell said of Vedder. "He's almost inspiring because of how much stuff he does with charities around the world."

    According to Purcell, Vedder said it was "humbling" that Purcell, Quincey and Malone saw both shows.

    "He talked on a personal level," Purcell said. "I'm obviously a big fan of his music, but his thought process, how deep he was, it was pretty interesting stuff."

    An interesting lockout, too.


    Courtesy of Nate ThompsonCourtesy of Nate Thompson

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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    BRANDON — Victor Hedman said that as soon as the lockout was settled, he booked his flights back to the United States.

    But the quick getaway meant the Lightning defenseman, who had been playing for Barys Astana of Russia's KHL, would have to skip that league's All-Star Game on Sunday in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

    Hedman called it a no-brainer.

    "It was a big accomplishment, but this is where I belong," he said Wednesday after his first skate at the Ice Sports Forum. "This is where I want to be."

    Hedman, 21, entering his fourth season and starting a five-year contract, had a notable run for his Khazakhstan-based team with a goal and 20 points in 26 games. He was plus-18 and averaged 21:44 of ice time.

    Because larger European rinks mean less emphasis on physical play, Hedman said, "I have to get my mean streak back."

    More important, he said, is the improvement he believes he made on offense.

    "My offensive game got a real boost," said Hedman, who took a regular turn on Barys' power play. "It's up to me to prove it to the coaches that I improved.

    "I don't set a bar. I want to be as good as I can. I want to be one of those guys who makes a difference."

    FINE AND DANDY: When G Anders Lindback spent Wednesday in the gym instead of on the ice, questions about his injured right knee percolated.

    But Lindback said the knee, which needed six stitches after being hit by a puck while he played in Finland during the lockout for Ilves Tampere, is good to go and he would skate today.

    "Everything is fine," he said, "and going well."

    Lindback, 24, whom the Lightning hopes will be its long-term solution in net, had a 2.33 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 13 games with Ilves.

    The team was only 4-6-3, "but it was a good experience," Lindback said. " It was great to get to play instead of just working out. I'm excited to get going here."

    Hedman, who played with his fellow Swede at the 2010 world championship, said, "We should be excited to have him here. He's an aggressive goalie, and he saves the puck. That's the biggest key for a goalie."

    RACING: With only 11 forwards in Brandon (one short of four complete lines), D Marc-Andre Bergeron played right wing on a line with C Nate Thompson and Tom Pyatt.

    Asked if he was going to play forward during the season, Bergeron said, "I hope not," and compared playing the position to a horse race.

    "Oh, my God," he said. "Everything is faster and so different. I'm not used to it."

    ODDS AND ENDS: D Brendan Mikkelson also showed up for his first skate, meaning F Kyle Wilson is the only non minor-league player not in Brandon. … C Steven Stamkos had the whistle during Wednesday's prescrimmage drills, but W Marty St. Louis for the second straight day was barking the most orders. … AHL Syracuse defenseman Keith Aulie will be invited to training camp, Crunch GM Julien BriseBois said. … Syracuse coach Jon Cooper was named a co-coach, with Binghamton's Luke Richardson, of the Eastern Conference team for the Jan. 28 AHL All-Star Game in Providence, R.I. Syracuse is 23-7-5 for a league-best 49 points.


    DIRK SHADD   |   TimesDIRK SHADD | Times

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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    WASHINGTON — Adrian Peterson set a high standard this season for returning from major knee surgery, the Viking nearly breaking the NFL rushing record.

    Robert Griffin III need look nowhere else for inspiration as the Redskins quarterback begins the road back from Wednesday's operation on two ligaments in his right knee.

    "I think it gives motivation to everyone," said Russ Paine, a physical therapist in Houston who worked with Peterson.

    Griffin's lateral collateral ligament was repaired and his ACL reconstructed for a second time.His father, Robert Griffin II, said the ACL was not completely torn.

    "Robert's ACL is intact but not enough for his profession,'' he said in a text message to USA Today. "You and I could be fine. But he is an athlete. So they will replace."

    The surgery was performed in Florida by orthopedist James Andrews, who was optimistic Griffin would play next season.

    "It is everybody's hope and belief that due to Robert's high motivation, he will be ready for the 2013 season," Andrews said in a statement released by the Redskins. "The goal of his treatment is to give him the best opportunity for a long professional career."

    But no two athletes — or knee surgeries, for that matter — are exactly alike. So pinning down a date for Griffin's return is an inexact science. Complicating matters is Griffin tore the same ACL in 2009 while at Baylor.

    University of Maryland team physician Craig Bennett said players typically need 7-11 months to return from a second ACL reconstruction but it often takes up to a year for the ligament to fully heal.

    "Typically, your first season back from an ACL reconstruction, there's a tendency to have some struggles from time to time," Bennett said.

    Peterson tore his left ACL on Dec. 24, 2011. Paine said his focus and intensity in rehab and natural athletic gifts made the quick recovery possible.

    Griffin sounded upbeat on Twitter shortly before surgery: "Thank you for your prayers and support. I love God, my family, my team, the fans, & I love this game. See you guys next season."

    Griffin, who sustained a concussion Oct. 7 against the Falcons, sprained the LCL at the end of a 13-yard scramble Dec. 9 on a hit by Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata. He missed one game then played three with a bulky brace.

    Sunday against the Seahawks, Griffin hurt the knee again when he fell awkwardly while throwing a pass late in the first quarter. He convinced coach Mike Shanahan to leave him in the game.

    He left with 6:19 to play in the game after the knee buckled while trying to field a bad shotgun snap.


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  • 01/09/13--16:30: Ravens get a rematch
  • Times wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The most telling image of Baltimore's 34-17 home loss to Denver on Dec. 16 was its quarterback, Joe Flacco, lying near the goal line after his futile pursuit of cornerback Chris Harris.

    Down 10-0, Baltimore was poised to score late in the first half. Instead, Harris intercepted a hurried Flacco pass and took it 96 yards into the end zone.

    "Stuff like that happens sometimes," Flacco said of the interception. "But you've got to go out there and keep your head up and play the game. I think I did a great job of rebounding from that, and I think our whole team did. That's why we are where we are right now."

    Three weeks later, the Ravens reached the division round of the playoffs by defeating the Colts 24-9. That set up Saturday's rematch at Denver.

    "They beat us up pretty good," Flacco said. "But I think you always have that little chip that you want to go out there and prove to people that you're a good football team."

    This season, Flacco set career highs in completions (317), passing yards (3,817) and 300-yard games (five). That is partly why he found it easy to quickly forget about Harris' interception.

    "It stuck with me a couple minutes, and then I moved on," he said. "And then when we lost, it stuck with me for a couple minutes again. Then we started getting ready for the next game."

    Flacco rebounded to throw for 309 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-14 rout of the Giants. He played briefly in the meaningless finale then threw for 282 yards and two scores against the Colts on Sunday. Flacco was sacked only once against Indianapolis, two fewer than against Denver.

    "Whenever you have great edge pass rushers, you need to move the pocket," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Joe can run. He's faster than people think."

    Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Baltimore is playing on the road. It went 4-4 on the road, and Flacco threw only seven of his 24 touchdowns on the road.

    "You just have to be ready to go into a hostile environment and play your best football," Flacco said. "It's not going to be up and down with the crowd. They're going to be in it 100 percent for the whole game.

    "The bottom line is we have to go in there and just make sure that we have a good, sound week of practice and we work on all the things that could possibly go wrong — just because of all the noise and things like that — and make sure we have an answer for it."


    MCTMCT

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    By Tom Jones, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    Baseball's all-time home run king did not get in. Neither did a seven-time Cy Young winner.

    Two members of the 3,000-hit club were denied. As was the only slugger ever to have three 60-homer seasons. A guy who once belted 70 home runs in a season was kept out, too.

    This was one of the most star-studded ballots in the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    And no one got in.

    Yet no news was actually very interesting news. Even with no one collecting enough votes for induction, this will go down as one of the most intriguing years in the history of Hall of Fame voting. That's because we are now wading waist deep into the murky waters of the steroid debate.

    Here are some of the things we learned from Wednesday's results.

    Voters remain conflicted

    The two most compelling names on the ballot are seen as the ultimate test cases for how voters are going to judge the steroid era: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

    And how do voters feel? Thoroughly confused and divided about two players who, by numbers alone, are first-ballot Hall of Famers.

    Needing to appear on 75 percent of the nearly 600 ballots to gain induction, Clemens was named on 37.6 percent. Bonds collected only eight fewer votes. They obviously were lumped together.

    I don't think these two cheaters should ever get in, but I now believe they have a decent shot based on Wednesday's numbers. Being in the high 30s might seem miles away from getting to Cooperstown, but it's way more than the other alleged steroid users with Hall-worthy numbers. Plus, coming from the 30-some percent range to make it to the Hall is not unheard of. Jim Rice, Ralph Kiner and Bert Blyleven all were below 30 percent in the first year of eligibility.

    Out of spite or protest, many voters simply were not going to vote for two players so associated with steroids on the first go-around. But Bonds and Clemens appear to have a strong foothold. Next year, you watch, their numbers will climb as voters consider whether Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Famers before there were suspicions of steroid use.

    "I'm looking forward to what happens next year,'' ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer Barry Larkin said. "I think it'll be closer to the true opinion of the voters.''

    The vote total also suggests that Bonds and Clemens, at the very least, will remain on the ballot for years to come. The longer they are there, the more old-school voters will retire and more younger voters will get to vote. Younger voters tend to be more tolerant, improving the odds of Bonds and Clemens getting into the Hall at some point.

    Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are not getting in

    The two players associated with steroids following their 1998 home run derby are sinking together. McGwire received 16.9 percent, down from 19.5 last year and 23.7 percent in 2010, the year before he admitted using PEDs. Sosa got even fewer votes than McGwire, appearing on only 12.5 percent of the ballots.

    Both are done and deservedly so. Neither puts up Hall of Fame numbers without pills or syringes and whatever they dumped in those protein shakes.

    Craig Biggio got a raw deal

    The former Astro is one of 28 players in history with 3,000 hits. Of the other 27, only three are not in the Hall of Fame: all-time hits leader Pete Rose, who is banned because of gambling; Rafael Palmeiro, who hasn't gotten in, presumably, because of his association with steroids; and Derek Jeter, who isn't in only because he is still playing.

    Biggio earned the most votes (68.2 percent) Wednesday but came up short because some voters don't believe in electing a player in his first year of eligibility, which is stupid. Is the guy a Hall of Famer or not? If he is, vote him in. Now.

    You also wonder if Biggio is caught in a trap where his numbers are skewed and, perhaps, diminished by playing in the steroid era, but voters are obsessed with sabermetrics.

    "The guy I can't understand why he didn't get in is Craig Biggio,'' ESPN's John Kruk said. "You're lumping him in with everyone else. The man has 3,000 hits. He played the game the right way. Nobody has a bad word to say about him. He's a family man. He's a great person. How's he not in the Hall of Fame?"

    Final thought

    Wednesday's votes told me that Biggio is a Hall of Fame lock, that Bonds and Clemens have a much better shot than I ever imagined, that PED users McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro will never get in, and that Tampa's Fred McGriff, a deserving candidate, is doubtful.

    But sifting through the numbers, I also came to another conclusion. There's all this hand-wringing and protest, yelling and disgust. A few voters even turned in blank ballots to protest I'm not sure what. Ultimately, this is all about whose pictures will appear in a museum. That's all the Hall is. We're not electing congressmen here. It's ludicrous to suggest that Bonds being voted in or Clemens being kept out is a travesty.

    Does a player having a plaque inside of a building in upstate New York change what you really think about that player?


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    Times staff, wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    HONOLULU — The PGA Tour and Sony Open officials are talking about moving the tournament's starting date to later in January, two Hawaii TV stations reported.

    "This isn't something that just came up recently," tournament director Ray Stosik told KHNL and KGMB this week. "We continue to talk to the tour and just see where it can make sense for Sony to work in January."

    The tournament, the season's first full-field event, starts today at Waialae Country Club.

    One reason for a possible move is a scheduling conflict Sony has with the industry's annual Consumer Electronics Show. Ideally, Sony would like to take customers from the event, in Las Vegas this year, to the tournament, Hawaii Tourism Authority vice president David Uchiyama said.

    One change is certain. This is the last year the Sony Open will be the first full-field event. The tour in October shifts from a calendar-year season to a wraparound one.

    tiger sets U.S. start: Tiger Woods is returning to the tournament at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., to start his PGA Tour season. He skipped the tournament, now called the Farmers Insurance Open, last year to play in the European Tour event at Abu Dhabi. He again makes his season debut in Abu Dhabi, playing in the HSBC Golf Championship next week, but that tournament is a week earlier this year. Woods has seven wins at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open.

    bay area notes: The Tampa Bay Championship (formerly known as the Transitions Championship) is looking for volunteers. The PGA Tour event is March 11-17 at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor. Call Doug Laseter at (727) 942-5557 or go to tampabaychampionship.com for information. … The LPGA Tour's Legends Tour, for players 45 and older, returns to Innisbrook's Island Course for a fourth straight year. The Legends Open Championship concludes the nine-tournament schedule Nov. 8-10. … Fox Hollow Golf Club in Trinity holds a member/customer appreciation day Jan. 17. Fees for golf and range balls will be reduced. Call (727) 376-6333.

    Times staff writer Rodney Page contributed to this report.


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    Times wires
    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    NEW YORK — Commissioner Gary Bettman got unanimous owner support Wednesday for the pending labor deal, then apologized to those hurt by the NHL lockout and said he isn't going anywhere.

    The board of governors met in a hotel and overwhelmingly approved the agreement reached early Sunday, the 113th day of the lockout.

    Bettman felt the full brunt of anger, especially from fans, during the four-month dispute. He was contrite in announcing the owners' vote.

    "Most importantly to our fans, who love and have missed NHL hockey, I am sorry," Bettman, 60, said. "I know that an explanation or an apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the past few months, but I owe you an apology never­theless."

    In his nearly 20 years as commissioner, Bettman has presided over three lockouts. One caused the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, another led to a 48-game season in 1995.

    The latest lockout wiped out 510 games. Overall, 2,208 games have been lost by labor disputes during his tenure. But Bettman was quick to call speculation he might consider stepping down from his post or is in danger of being fired as "unfounded."

    Players are expected to vote on the deal electronically Friday and Saturday. If a majority of the more than 700 members in good standing agree to the terms, training camps can open Sunday. A 48-game season is likely to begin Jan. 19. No preseason games will be played.

    Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who forged a Hall of Fame career over 22 seasons with the Red Wings, said he isn't concerned about getting adjusted to the deal because the key issue of the salary cap hasn't changed much.

    "I don't see it being terribly difficult," said Yzerman, who retired one season after the 2004-05 lockout. "Over the next year or two the market will readjust, and that will sort itself out."

    Leafs fire gm Burke: Brian Burke's brash, outspoken style wasn't a good fit for the new corporate owners of the Maple Leafs, who fired their general manager in a move that stunned many with its timing. Longtime Burke assistant David Nonis will fill the job and Burke will stay as a senior adviser, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president Tom Anselmi said. Four years without a playoff berth — the length of Burke's tenure — factored into the decision, Anselmi said. But ultimately ownership wanted a different look at the top, he said. Canada's largest telecommunication companies, Rogers Communications and BCE Inc., took control of the Maple Leafs and the NBA's Raptors in August. "Brian … said 'I get it, ownership is changing,' " Anselmi said.


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