Barry Sanders makes his return to Detroit

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Barry Sanders makes his return to Detroit

From Comcast SportsNet
DETROIT (AP) -- The Motor City welcomed back Barry Sanders -- with a roar. The Hall of Fame running back was serenaded with "Bar-ry! Bar-ry!" chants by a handful of fans when he walked onto the turf at Ford Field about an hour before Detroit played Chicago on Monday night. After being on the field for the coin flip, the national anthem was delayed slightly because tens of thousands wouldn't stop chanting "Bar-ry! Bar-ry" just as they did at the Pontiac Silverdome. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, five years after his retirement that left some Lions fans bitter in part because he walked away when he was one of his average seasons away from breaking Walter Payton's career rushing record. He had been booed by fans in the area, most notably at a Pistons game, but they seem to have moved on to hail him. "I think they're cool with me now from what I can tell," Sanders said before the game in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think we've all had a chance to reflect. I have mostly good memories about good times." Sanders was surrounded by fans in downtown Detroit, posed for pictures with security guards outside the stadium and was greeted by comic actor Tim Allen when he strolled down the tunnel toward the field. Sanders said he hasn't been to a Lions game in a couple of years and has attended about five since he retired. Sanders insisted he didn't blame fans in Detroit when they were upset with him years ago. "They're very passionate here about sports so they're going to have a very passionate reaction when you do something like I did," he said. Sanders recorded a Detroit-related introduction for "Monday Night Football" after ESPN pulled the "Are you ready for some football?" theme by Hank Williams Jr. He made an analogy that President Barack Obama and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner golfing together was like Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu playing a round. The network says the intro will change each week. "I just said some kind words about the town and the team with a script they gave me," Sanders said. "I enjoyed it and definitely considered it an honor to be a part of the overall buzz this team has created." The Lions won their first four games for the first time since 1980, nearly a decade before they drafted Sanders No. 3 overall out of Oklahoma State. "It's a lot of fun to see this success, getting a little taste of the fruits of what you can accomplish when you put it together on the field," Sanders said. "Hopefully they'll continue to learn how to win and to stay hungry. "To this point, though, this team has fulfilled all hopes and expectations." Sanders' alma mater might have a shot to land his son, Barry Sanders Jr., who the proud father said is also being recruited by Stanford, Florida State and Alabama. "BJ is a senior in high school down in Oklahoma City and he's looking around at colleges," said Sanders, who lives in the Detroit area with his wife and their three children. "I'm relatively involved, going to a few recruiting trips."

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.