Gary Shelton - SaintPetersBlog

Gary Shelton

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning embarrassed by a bad Phoenix Coyotes team

What does it say about a team when it is blasted by the next-to-worsts team in the league?

No, the Tampa Bay Lightning isn’t the worst team. But it’s far from good, too. No one would argue it after a 5-3 blasting at the hands at the point-at-and-laugh Phoenix Coyotes. Phoenix was near the bottom of the league in most statistics, including 25th on the power play and 27th on the penalty kill.

Against the Lightning, however, Phoenix was an explosive team, taking a 2-0 lead and adding three goals in the second period. Tampa Bay scored the last two goals of the game to make it close.

“It’s a low point,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “Not because we lost, but

We didn’t play to our capabilities in the first two periodd. You can say what you want about the third, but they had a 5-1 lead. I’m sure they sat back a little bit.”

Ben Bishop started for the Lightning, but he was pulled after the second in favor of Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Particularly disappointing was the Bolts failing to convert on a four-minute power play in the first period.

“That was a big moment for us, no doubt. Our power play’s been pretty good all year,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “But it wasn’t that one, it was the one we got a minute and a half into the game, and we weren’t working. And it kind of set the tone for the way that first period was going. It kind of sucked a little momentum out of us, and then all of a sudden it’s 2-0 and now we’re chasing the game. Give them a little credit: The boys battle back and make it 2-1 and then we have a big moment there, we come out and have a great start to the second and we do nothing with the power play. They did something with there’s, and that was it.”

 The Bolts now travel to Chicago to face the Blackhawks.

“That’s what’s tough because your margin for error is ,,, there is none,” Cooper said. “We can sit here and say we deserved points out of those games, the bottom line is we didn’t get them. So now you’ve got to get the points the next night, and we didn’t deserve points tonight. We’re not in a position where we’re playing games and we’re stealing points. We have to work for everything we’re getting. Sometimes we’re working and not getting them, but it can’t work the way we did tonight in the first couple periods.”

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Latest Lightning loss makes you wonder about their goaltender

Here’s something for the Tampa Bay Lightning to consider as they go nowhere.

What if Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t the future?

Vasilevskiy lost his sixth consecutive start Thursday night as the Bolts fell 2-1 to the San Jose Sharks. With the loss, the Lightning fell to 21-21-5 on the season. Vasilevskiy fell to 10-11-2. He has now given up 24 goals in his last six starts.

Tampa Bay has now lost 12 of its last 14 road games.

For the Bolts, the plan all along was that Vasilevskiy would be the future, and that the team would barter starting goaltender Ben Bishop somewhere along the way. But Vasilevskiy’s recent skid has called all of that into question.

The Sharks got goals from Ryan Carpenter and Logan Couture in the win. The Bolts’ goal came on a highlight-reel power play from Jonathan Drouin.

Still, it was not enough to pull out the win for Tampa Bay, which plays at Arizona Saturday night.

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Florida left with young quarterbacks after Luke Del Rio’s surgery

The University of Florida’s search for a quarterback just got more interesting.

The school announced that incumbent quarterback Luke Del Rio will miss spring training due to a (non-throwing) shoulder injury, leaving the brunt of the competition to Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, a pair of well regarded freshmen.

Del Rio, who came to Florida via Alabama and Oregon State, was 5-1 for the Gators last season before being injured. He threw for 1,358 yards and eight touchdowns.

Franks ascended to No. 2 on the depth chart, but the Gators never played him, which kept his redshirt status.

“You’re talking about a guy (Franks), ultra-talented, who came in and we threw a lot at him early and he’s really, really learned how to prepare and how to take the offense and take the tools we’re giving him and now apply them to the field,” Nussmeier said.

The 6-foot-4, 228-pound Trask arrived from Houston having been a high school backup and lightly recruited, but is a quick study and might be the Gators’ best pure passer.

“Kyle is a guy that when you tell him it one time, he gets it right now,” Nussmeier said. “He can process information very, very well, his accuracy is unbelievable and he’s just done a really, really good job for a guy that doesn’t have a ton of snaps.

“When you put him in situations, he reacts very, very well.”

The Gators have been solid on defense for the past two seasons, winning the SEC East both times. But the team has sputtered on offense and has never found a good quarterback.

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Rays announce start times, single-admission doubleheader

Now, here’s a concept for you.

How about twice the Rays for the price?

On Saturday, June 10, the Tampa Bay Rays will play the Oakland A’s in a single-admission doubleheader. It will be Major League Baseball’s first scheduled doubleheader since July 16, 2011, when the A’s hosted the Los Angeles Angels, and only the second scheduled doubleheader in the last two decades.

The Rays also announced their game times for the upcoming season, which opens on Sunday, April 2, when the team plays host to the New York Yankees.

Monday through Friday home games begin at 7:10 p.m. With select matinee games throughout the season. Saturday games are scheduled for either 6:10 p.m. or 4:10 p.m., with Sunday games scheduled for 1:10 p.m.

This will be the team’s third season under manager Kevin Cash.

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Is defense as important as ever in winning NFL playoff football

In a quarterback-driven world, does defense still win championships?

The cliché says yes, of course. No coach is going to come out in favor of a soft defense. But is defense still as important as it was in the days of the Doomsday Defense and the No-Name Defense and the Steel Curtain? Is hounding the opposing quarterback as important today as it used to be?

Often these days, it seems that winning a football game is a matter of holding on and waiting for a turnover.

Consider Atlanta, which is on a nice little run as it enters the NFC Conference game against Green Bay. It ranks only 27th in scoring defense in a 32-team league. The Packers are only 23rd. Both teams are in the 20s in yards allowed. (To be, fair, New England is first in both scoring defense and total defense.)

Frankly, it isn’t that rare.In 2013, the New England Patriots reached the AFC title game with the league’s 26th-best defense. In 2012, the Falcons (24th) and the Patriots (25th) were near the bottom in yards allowed.

Now, consider the original selections of this year’s Pro Bowl team. The Patriots had two defensive players picked. The Falcons had one and the Packers had one. The Steelers didn’t have anyone.

Then there is reputation. With coach Bill Belichick, it is still possible to think of the Patriots as a big-game defense. The Steelers (although they were a bit better than average at 12th), maybe. But both Green Bay and Atlanta are built on offense.

Of course, in the big game, defense still has a part. Last year, Denver’s defense harassed Cam Newton endlessly. The year before, the Patriots won on a goal line interception late in the game. The year before that, the Seahawks were all over Peyton Manning

You wonder what Chuck Noll would think watching today. Or Don Shula. Or Vince Lombardi.

Of course, those guys had pretty good quarterbacks, too.

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Rowdies sign midfielder Leo Fernandes as roster rounds into shape

The roster of the Tampa Bay Rowdies continues to take shape.

On Wednesday, the team added midfielder Leo Fernandes, 25. Fernades spent last season with the Philadelphia Union of the MLS, but has been on load several times, including stays with the New York Cosmos.

While with the Cosmos that season, Fernandes was selected as the North American Soccer League’s Young Player of the Year. That season, he played in 28 matches for the Cosmos, scoring eight goals and tallying three assists while helping New York to the NASL Championship.

“Leo is a player that we’ve been watching for a while because he was so impressive for the Cosmos in 2015,” Rowdies’ coach Stuart Campbell said. “We’re excited to see what he can do for the Rowdies given his experience. He’s a quick player that gives us width and he can pop up and score a few goals, too, which is always nice.”

Born in São Paulo, Brazil, but raised in New York, Fernandes played his college career at Stony Brook University from 2009 to 2012, where he earned the title of the Seawolves’ all-time leading points scorer.

The Union selected Fernandes 62nd overall in the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft and he split his time between the Union and the USL’s Harrisburg City Islanders that season.

Fernandes made his mark on Philadelphia’s first team in 2014, scoring twice in 13 appearances, but again spent part of the season on loan with the Islanders.

After his impressive 2015 showing with the Cosmos, Fernandes rejoined Philadelphia for 2016, splitting his time between the first team in MLS and the Union’s USL team, the Bethlehem Steel. Fernandes made 12 appearances for the Union last year and 14 (all starts) for the Steel. He scored one goal for Bethlehem.

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Struggling Lightning loses quickly to Ducks in overtime

Overtime hockey can be cruel. Quick, too.

The Anaheim Ducks, who have struggled in overtime for most of the season, took only 54 seconds to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in overtime Tuesday night. The Ducks’ winning goal came only four seconds after Tyler Johnson was called for hooking.

The Bolts had hoped to win again behind goaltender Ben Bishop, who had been excellent in his two wins since coming off an injury. Bishop stopped 19 of 21 shots.

The Lightning scored first on a goal by Valtteri Filppula. Twenty-one seconds later, however, the Ducks tied the score on a shot by Ryan Getzlaf.

The winner was scored for Rickard Rakell.

The Lightning has won two games in a row only once since Nov. 19.

Tampa Bay plays against San Jose Thursday.

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Bucs’ Vernon Hargreaves III makes NFL All-Rookie team

The charmed life of Vernon Hargreaves III added another chapter Tuesday.

Hargreaves, a graduate of Wharton High School in Tampa and the University of Florida, was named ot the NFL all-rookie team. He was the 11th overall pick of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Hargreaves had only one interception, but he started most of the year in a secondary that got better as the season went along.

Hargreaves started all 16 games, recording 76 tackles, three for loss, nine passes defensed, one interception and one forced fumble. He is only the fifth Buccaneers rookie defensive back to start all 16 games, joining Johnthan Banks, Mark Barron, Tanard Jackson and Rod Jones. His nine passes defensed are the most by a Buccaneers rookie defensive back since Barron had 10 in 2012 and the most for a Buccaneers rookie cornerback since E.J. Biggers had 11 in 2010. This season, Hargreaves tied for the seventh-most passes defensed among NFL rookies.

Hargreaves is the first Buccaneers defensive back to be selected to the PFWA All-Rookie team since 2012 (Barron) and the first cornerback to earn the distinction since Donnie Abraham in 1996.

Hargreaves was familiar with other members of the secondary on the all-rookie team. Former Florida teammate Keanu Neal (Falcons) and former FSU rival Jalen Ramsey (Jaguars) both made it.

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Rowdies face difficult MLS schedule in Suncoast Invitational

The Tampa Bay Rowdies are serious about joining the MLS. So serious, in fact, they’re giving themselves a taste during the 2017 Suncoast Invitational.

The Rowdies are in a field with five MSL teams, including league runner-up Toronto. Montreal was the Eastern Conference runner-up.

In addition, the tournament includes D.C. United, the Philadelphia Union and the Chicago Fire.

Four of the five MLS teams in this year’s edition of the Rowdies Suncoast Invitational qualified for the 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

Along with their participation in the Rowdies Suncoast Invitational, the Impact will have an extended visit to St. Petersburg for their preseason training camp. During their time in the Sunshine City, the Montreal Impact will call Al Lang Stadium home, using the field, locker room and gym facilities alongside the Rowdies.

Tickets range from $15 to $20 in the main stadium bowl to $30 for the Midfielder’s Club and Reserve sections. A ticket includes all matches on a specific day. 2017 Tampa Bay Rowdies season ticket members will receive a complimentary ticket to one of the two match days of their choice (2/18 or 2/25).

Tickets to the Rowdies Suncoast Invitational will be available at Ticketmaster.com and will go on sale at 9 A.M. on Thursday, January 19.

Match Schedule

Saturday, February 18 – Al Lang Stadium (St. Petersburg)

Montreal Impact vs. D.C. United, 5 p.m.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, February 22 – Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex (Clearwater)

Philadelphia Union vs. Montreal Impact – 7 p.m.

Saturday, February 25 – Al Lang Stadium

Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire, 3 p.m.

Philadelphia Union vs. D.C. United, 5 p.m.

Tampa Bay vs. Montreal Impact, 7:30 p.m.

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Quarterbacks try to lead teams to Super Bowls in NFL playoffs

If the name of the game was not called “football,” it would be called “quarterback.”

And so it is that this weekend’s conference championship games revolve around the man taking the snap, the man throwing the passes, the man calling the audibles.

This weekend is mainly about Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan, and Ben Roethlisberger. They are the players in the spotlights and the headlines. And if their teams are going to the Super Bowl, they will lead the way.

Consider this: Rodgers of Green Bay led the NFL in touchdown passes this year with 40. But Atlanta’s Ryan was second with 38. Pittsburgh’s Roethlisberger, who missed two games with an injury, was sixth with 29. New England’s Brady was suspended for four games, but finished tied for seventh with 28.

In other words, cornerbacks beware.

It is those quarterbacks who have their teams hot. Both New England and Pittsburgh won their last seven regular season games. Green Bay won its last six and Atlanta its last four.

In their histories, Brady has won the Super Bowl four times. Roethlisberger has won it twice and Rodgers once.

“It’s really about having a team that can be hot at the right time,” Ryan said, “and then have good fortune with health, and then win the close games.”

Count Brady among the fans of Rodgers.

“I think [Rodgers] does things that no one in the league has ever done,” the Patriots’ Tom Brady said Monday on WEEI in Boston. “Some of the plays he makes are just phenomenal.”

The Packers-Falcons is on at 3:05 on Fox, and the Patriots-Steelers follows at 6:40 on CBS.

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