Gary Shelton - 3/188 - 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.

Lightning gets a point, but loses to a strong Minnesota team

The Tampa Bay Lightning needed two points Friday night.

They settled for one.

The Lightning lost a shootout to the Central Division-leading Minnesota Wild, 2-1. At this point of the playoff race, with 27 games to play, the Lightning can use every point it can get.

Tampa Bay is 3-3 in shootouts this year. They are 24-24-7 overall.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy played well for Tampa Bay, saving 37 of 38 shots. The one he didn’t stop was a second period goal by Nino Niederreiter. Brayden Point tied the game on a deflected goal.

In the shootout, Point, Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov failed to convert a shot. Mikko Koivu scored in the shootout for Minnesota.

The Lightning plays at Winnipeg tonight.

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Rowdies sign another goalkeeper as first USL season approaches

The Tampa Bay Rowdies gave goalkeeper Matt Pickens a little help Friday afternoon.

The Rowdies signed Jamaican goalkeeper Nico Campbell, 22, who played at Valparaiso University. Campbell completed a trial with the Rowdies in the fall, including seeing action against VfL Wolfsburg and Atletico Mineiro.

“I think the first thing you notice about Nico is his size,” Rowdies’ coach Stuart Campbell said.

“At 6-foot-4, he’s got the height and wingspan you look for in a goalie, but he’s also very smooth in his movement, which is a great combination. We liked what we saw from Nico during the Florida Cup, and we’re excited to have signed him.”

Despite his age and lack of professional experience, Campbell brings a strong resume to Tampa Bay.

While playing for the Des Moines Menace in the USL PDL, Campbell was one of three finalists for PDL Goalkeeper of the Year. Under his leadership with a 0.44 goals-against-average per 90 minutes, the Menace conceded the fewest regular season goals in the league.

As a junior at Valpo, Campbell was named the Horizon League Goalkeeper of the Year and a first-team All-Conference player. He was named to the Horizon League second team as a senior in 2016.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Campbell played at the youth international level for the Reggae Boyz, starting two matches for Jamaica in the 2011 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Mexico.

The Rowdies are set to embark on their first USL season next month. Matches for the Suncoast Classic begin Feb. 18.

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For openers, Florida and FSU will play against strong opponents

One of the more intriguing college football openers ever faces the Sunshine state in the fall.

FSU plays perennial power Alabama in Atlanta on Sept. 2, while Florida plays against the Michigan Wolverines the same day in Arlington, Texas. That means a couple of teams are going to be 0-1 going into the heavy part of their schedule.

Yeah, it’s always football season in Florida, isn’t it? And while some fans are talking about FSU’s spring game returning to Doak Campbell (3 p.m., April 8) and Florida playing its first spring game at night (April 8), it’s the regular season that excites both sets of fans.

Last year, Alabama was second in the AP poll, while Michigan finished 10th.

This year, FSU will again be led by quarterback Deondre Francois. Florida will rely on running back Jordan Scarlett.

Other teams in the state have more reasonable contests going into the schedule. Miami plays Bethune-Cookman, USF plays at San Jose State, UCF plays FIU and FAU plays Navy.

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USF will host former Bucs’ coach Lovie Smith on September 15

The first season of new USF coach Charlie Strong will feature a familiar face.

Former Bucs’ coach Lovie Smith, now in charge of Illinois of the Big 19, vists USF on Friday, Sept. 15, in a prime-time ESPN game.

The Bulls announced their schedule Thursday, which starts with an opening game at San Diego State. The Bulls also have defending AAC champion Temple (Sept. 21), 2015 champion Houston on Nov. 4 and Tulsa, which was second in the AAC West last year. The Bulls travel to UCF on Nov. 24.

USF will host three games against 2016 bowl participants who won at least nine games last year when Houston, Temple and Tulsa come to Raymond James Stadium.

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How fast can FSU’s fabulous freshmen contribute to running game?

The question isn’t how good they are going to be someday. Heck, “someday” seems assured.

For FSU, the question is how good are their talented freshman running backs going to be this year. Not that there is any hurry, right?

Well, there kind of is. The Seminoles, and coach Jimbo Fisher,  open their season next year against Alabama (Sept. 2 in Atlanta), and the No. 1 priority is to replace dazzling running back Dalvin Cook. Oh, the Seminoles have some talented backs on campus, but are will they be ready right out of the gate?

Oh, FSU has incumbent backs: Junior Jacques Patrick, senior Ryan Green and sophomore Amir Rasul. Patrick has been in the FSU rotation (he had 350 yards rushing a year ago). But neither Green nor Rasul has been seen a lot.

Besides, the world seems to be all atwitter over the fabulous freshmen: Cam Akers, Khalan Laborn and Zachandre White, who come from Mississippi, Virginia and Florida. Can those three make an impact before the Seminoles face the Tide?

With Patrick getting the tough yards, the call seems to be for a home run hitter. Start with Akers, who rushed for 2,108 yards and a staggering 34 touchdowns. He’s shifting from quarterback, where he played in high school, but he figures to be an immediate contender for playing time.

Don’t count out Laborn, either. He rushed for 1,485 yards and 19 touchdowns, and he’s known for having an amazing burst.

Then there is White, who had 779 yards and six scores. He’s known as a tackle breaker, which means he would have to get his snaps from Patrick.

Together, they seem to have FSU poised for a very good running game. The only question is how long it will take.

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Rowdies launch single-game ticket sales as big season expected

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner and CEO Bill Edwards is looking for a big season from his team.

The Rowdies, who join the USL for the first time, have begun to sell single-game tickets for the 2017 season. The Rowdies open the season on March 25 against Orlando B.

How good does Edwards expect his team to be?

Very.

“We’ve built a tremendous team that has a mixture of returning veterans like Joe Cole, Georgi Hristov and Matt Pickens, and new additions like Damion Lowe, Leo Fernandes, Luke Boden, Darwin Jones and Alex Morrell. Under the leadership of coach Stuart Campbell, we’ve established a strong squad that I believe is the best we’ve ever had,” Edwards has said.

Also, he has said this: “With your passion in the stands and the talent on the field, I know this will be our year. This is the year we add another championship to our history and bring the USL cup to Tampa Bay.”

And this: “We’ve recently focused on our push to join Major League Soccer, but it’s time to shift gears and prepare for the upcoming 2017 United Soccer League season. Unlike previous seasons, this year you will see a great variety of opponents come to Al Lang Stadium with 15 teams in the Eastern Conference alone. It’s important that you’re in the stands to show them why Al Lang Stadium is our house.”

Edwards has done a good job feeding the Rowdies’ mania. If this is his best team, as he believes, it should be fun.

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Patriots win tops ranking of best 10 Super Bowls of all-time

It started sloppily. The Atlanta Falcons jumped to a three-touchdown lead. The New England Patriots were struggling.

And then it all changed.

And it became the best Super Bowl ever.

Days after the Patriots came from behind to beat the Falcons in overtime, that seems to be the consensus. With Tom Brady throwing for 466 yards, most agree that that the Super Bowl had never seen anything quite like it. In a year of close championships, this was the most memorable.

But where does it stack up with the great Super Bowls?

Why, first.

The top 10:

1. Super Bowl LI, New England 34, Atlanta 28: Fans of the Atlanta Falcons feel as if their hearts were pulled through their chests after Brady and the Patriots came from behind to force overtime. One of the reasons why? The Falcons’ defense was on the field for 95 plays, including two two-point conversions. Another reason? The Falcons had horrible game management in the fourth quarter. The biggest reason: Brady is other worldly.

2. Super Bowl XLIX: New England 28, Seattle 24: The unanswered question is this: What sort of brain cramp did Seattle coach Pete Carroll suffer before he called a passing play instead of simply handing the ball to brutish running back Marshawn Lynch. Pats’ defensive back Malcolm Butler probably doesn’t know either, but he’s glad he did. Butler intercepted to close out the victory.

3. Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23: First, Arizona came from behind to go ahead of Pittsburgh. Then, Pittsburgh came back from the comeback to beat the Cardinals in a thrilling victory. Ben Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes for a six-yard touchdown with 35 seconds to play.

5. St. Louis 23, Tennesee 16: What’s just as good as a comeback? A game-saving tackle that presents one. Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson on the one-yard line to preserve the win for the Rams after Kurt Warner gave the Rams the lead with less than two minutes to play.

6. Super Bowl XLII, New York 17, New England 14: The Patriots were set to finish an unbeaten season when the Giants’ Eli Manning scrambled and threw downfield, and receiver David Tyree caught the ball off the top of his helmet.

7. Super Bowl XXV: New York 20, Buffalo 19: The Giants somehow stopped the Buffalo offensive machine, despite an excellent night by Thurman Thomas. Scott Norwood missed the field goal at the end, but it would have been his longest of the year on grass.

8. Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31: Twice, the Steelers held on the to beat the Cowboys. This time, a drop by tight end Jackie Smith in the end zone helped the Steelers continue their dynasty.

9. Super Bowl XXXVI, New England 20, St. Louis 17: This is where the Patriots’ dynasty under Bill Belichick began. Tom Brady drove his team downfield for the winning field goal.

10. Super Bowl III, New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7: This one is listed not for a fantastic finish, but for the fantastic pluck of the Jets, who copied Joe Namath’s swagger on their way to a historic victory.

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Lightning wins its second in a row to show it still has life

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, there might be life to the Tampa Bay Lightning, after all.

And if so, nights such as Tuesday night give fans a reason to believe.

The Lightning won a 5-0 game that should serve as the team’s blueprint for the rest of their playoff run. They got good goaltending, they got goals from their speediest skaters, and their penalty kill was strong in a 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

It was the first regular season shutout by goalie Ben Bishop since last March 28, when he stopped 34 shots against Toronto. This time, Bishop stopped 19 shots in the first period, but had to face only nine the last two periods.

“Bish played extremely well in the first period when we needed him,” said coach Jon Cooper. “I looked up and they had 19 shots. We felt extremely fortunate to go to intermission with the lead. Clearly Bishop had a lot to do with that. But once that happened, we gave up nine shots the rest of the game. That’s the team helping each other out. Ben bailed us out in the first, and the team said ‘Ben, we’re not going to try to need you in the last two periods. That’s how it went.”

The Bolts also got two goals from Nikita Kucherov and one from Jonathan Drouin. Gabriel Dumont had his first goal for the Lightning, and Braydon Coburn added a goal.

For the Lightning, it was the first time the team has won back-to-back games since December 20th and 22nd.

“We need to get consecutive wins,” Drouin said. “When you win one , lose one, win one, lose one, you don’t get points out of it. We want to make it three and four. That’s what we need. We need points on the road.”

For Bishop, it was his second straight win. He’s struggled much of the year to remain above .500, and so it is encouraging to think he might get on a roll.”

Tampa Bay visits Minnesota on Friday night.

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Who’s on first? Rays re-sign Logan Morrison to roster

If a Tampa Bay Rays fan was looking for something new, Tuesday was a disappointing day.

The Rays, whose interest in slugger Chris Carter had been well reported, missed out on the former Milwaukee slugger, who signed with the New York Yankees for $3.5 million. Carter would have been an intriguing addition after a 41-home run season.

Later in the day, the Rays reached a new agreement with Logan Morrison, who hit .238 for the team a year ago.

He hit .275 with 14 home runs, 43 RBI and a .350 on-base percentage over his final 79 games (72 starts), from May 16 through the end of his season. He appeared in 107 games, but his season was cut short by two injuries: a right forearm strain put him on the disabled list for 16 games at the end of July, and a left wrist strain sidelined him for the final 20 games of the season.

The Rays training camp begins on Feb. 12 when pitchers and catchers report.

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Super Bowl game was simply the latest great finish in sports

Don’t look now, but all of the sudden, sports are pretty good.

Yeah, we all like to reminisce about the old days, about Michael Jordan and Joe Montana and Wayne Gretzky. Lately, however, we’re seeing sports as if they were scripted by movie writers.

If nothing else, Sunday night’s Super Bowl should tell you that. There had never been an overtime game. There had never been such a comeback. There had never been a quarterback like Tom Brady, who guided the New England Patriots to a 34-28 victory.

But was the Super Bowl really better than this year’s national championship game in college football. Remember, Deshaun Watson of Clemson threw the winning touchdown pass as time ran out to beat vaunted Alabama.

And how about the World Series? The Chicago Cubs finally beat their demons with an 8-7 win in extra innings of Game Seven.

Not much can match the comeback of the Cleveland Cavs in the NBA title. They won in seven games, winning games five, six and seven when Golden State had three chances to close out the series.

Then there was the Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh won in six games (not seven) over San Jose behind Sidney Crosby.

Ah, and how about the Final Four? Villanova beat North Carolina for the title on a last-second shot by Kris Jenkins.

Remember this as new champions are crowned. They have some great storylines to match.

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