Vigil held for four New Jersey teen football players

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Vigil held for four New Jersey teen football players

From Comcast SportsNet Monday, August 22, 2011
LINWOOD, N.J. (AP) -- As Chris Hickey thought about what she could say to comfort her daughter on the death of her schoolmates, she opened her mouth once, then twice, unable at first to put sound to words. She tried a third time, standing on the track of Mainland Regional High School Sunday night, a day after a crash on the Garden State Parkway killed four of the school's football players and injured four more. "I don't even know what to tell her," Hickey said about her daughter Lauren, a junior at the school, who was friends with two of the teens killed. "I don't even know how to make sense of it." Hickey was among more than 3,000 students, parents, teammates and community members who shared their communal grief Sunday at a vigil at the Linwood school. Standing in the mist under the same lights that typically illuminate Friday night games, mourners lit candles, hugged each other and laid flowers on the field. The eight boys, who ranged in age from 15 to 17, had been in an SUV Saturday morning on their way to meet other players at a favorite brunch spot in Mays Landing, when the driver, 17-year-old Casey Brenner of Northfield, apparently lost control as he turned a corner and approached heavy traffic. Sgt. Julian Castellanos, a state police spokesman, said the SUV overturned multiple times, ejecting two passengers. A passing car then struck one of the passengers. The four who survived had non-life-threatening injuries. At least three of the crash survivors were present at the vigil to mourn their friends, said Northfield Police Chief Robert James. Grief took many forms as students consoled each other and waited their turn to speak with the victims' families. One male student pulled off his shirt, revealing a freshly inked tattoo which said "Dean," a reference to 15-year-old Dean Khoury of Linwood, one of the players who died in the crash. Others wore white homemade T-shirts reading "my boys" and "see you on the other side." And a few sat silently on the grass of the football field, their heads bowed into their hands, seemingly oblivious to the thousands of people milling about around them. "Right when it happened, I was in total shock, I was just praying it wasn't true," said Joey Geiger, 16, a member of the football team who was not involved in the accident. "Every single play (this season) is now for them." Team members could be seen huddling with each other in their green jerseys or crying alongside fellow students. Most declined to talk to reporters. "I wish we could take it all back -- all of it," said another team member who declined to elaborate or to provide his name out of sensitivity for the other players. State police said Sunday the investigation was ongoing. They did not release details about the speed of the SUV before the crash or whether the students were wearing seatbelts. Under New Jersey law, drivers under 18 generally are not allowed to carry more than one passenger unless a parent or guardian is in the vehicle. At the center of the mass that swarmed the field after brief comments by school leaders was a set of photographs of the four who died in the crash: Khoury, Brenner, and 16-year-olds Edgar Bozzi of Somers Point and Nicholas Conner of Northfield. In the photos, the players stand against a white wall in team jerseys, with overlapped hands resting at their waist and determined looks on their faces. Earlier Sunday, school superintendent Thomas Baruffi said the four players who died were good students, good athletes and well-liked. He said he has had students die before, but never multiple deaths at the same time. "They're always tragic," he said. "You know there's nothing you can say or do that's enough." The injured students included Linwood residents Jacob Smith and Kenneth Randall, both 15, and Northfield residents Kyle Beattie and Alex Denafo, both 16. The first game of the season for the Mustangs, who have won six state championships, is scheduled for Sept. 9 -- three days before the start of the school year for Mainland's 1,600 students.

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.