From Comcast SportsNetNHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's vision of a bigger footprint for hockey is finally coming into focus.But it's not just the skyrocketing TV ratings for these playoffs in markets both traditional, like Philly, Boston and Chicago, and those traditionally slow to come around, like Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix. It's the tire marks on the backs of the jerseys of some of the league's best players. The game has never been more popular, nor seemed so out of control.The latest to get run over was the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa, who was taken off the ice in Chicago on a stretcher and briefly hospitalized after absorbing a blow to the head from a shoulder hit launched by Phoenix's Raffi Torres. Everybody in the building saw it -- including apparently Bettman himself, who was in attendance -- except the four officials whose job it is to police that kind of mayhem. And because they didn't see it, according to a league statement issued after the game, they didn't call a penalty, despite the fact that Torres left his skates to deliver the blow."First off, I hope he's all right," Torres, a serial offender as cheap shots go, said after the game. "But as far as the hit goes, I felt like it was a hockey play. I was just trying to finish my hit out there, and, as I said, I hope he's all right."Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was so mad after the game that he was sputtering."It was a brutal hit. You can have a multiple-choice question, it's All of the above.' I saw exactly what happened, it was right in front of me, and all four guys missed it."The refereeing tonight," he added, "was a disgrace."It was. But even the best officiating crews are helpless against the tide of fights, cross-checks, hits to the head and sneak attacks that is overwhelming some otherwise very entertaining hockey. They aren't getting much help, either, from league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, whose decisions grow more bizarre with each incident that reaches his desk. Shanahan began by letting Nashville's Shea Weber off with a 2,500 fine -- roughly the cost of one shift -- after the All-Star purposely smashed the head of Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg into the glass at the end of Game 1 of their series. Then he suspended Chicago's Andrew Shaw and New York's Carl Hagelin for three games each after both hit opponents without obvious intent during the run of play.Cross-checking, hair-pulling, instigating fights -- Shanahan has handed out punishments for all those violations, too, with differing results. As a former player of some stature, he took the job determined to bring some predictability to the punishment his office doles out and even explained his decisions with accompanying video evidence. But lately those explanations have been all over the map. Players no longer know whether the line is being drawn at intent or result -- injuring another player -- or even the star power of the violator who winds up in the dock. So everybody, from Sidney Crosby to repeat offenders like Torres are getting in on the action.After winning 3-2 in overtime Tuesday night, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith was asked about the different sentences being handed out and whether he trusted the NHL front office to get each one right. In Game 2, the Blackhawks' Shaw ran over Smith, who has a history of concussions, behind his net and got the three-game sentence, even though the goalkeeper hasn't missed a minute of playing time. Even more maddening -- as far as the Blackhawks were concerned -- was that the length of Shaw's suspension wasn't announced until Tuesday afternoon, once it was determined Smith would play in Game 3. Had he been unable to go, presumably Shaw's suspension would have been even longer."I don't know if it's a trust factor. It's a tough job. Whether it's blatant, on purpose, or not. It's tough to get that read up there," Smith said. "Obviously, the head hits have to be cut down. It's people's livelihoods, not hockey ... people have families and kids at home and wives, and when we're getting into head and concussion issues around the whole league, I think we need to put a stop to it."But the NHL's commitment to limit concussions is either full-time, as it has been for the past few seasons and most of this one, or it's not. The league knows the difference, but it also knows that pandemonium on the ice is a lot easier for plenty of viewers to follow than a puck. Sold-out arenas and through-the-roof TV ratings across the board, including towns like Phoenix -- whose Coyotes may well be playing in another city next season -- are a testament to that.Back in January, even as the league was touting the fact that fights-per-game had dropped to low levels not seen since the mid-70s, Toronto general manager Brian Burke groused out loud about having to send his enforcer, Colton Orr, down to the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate.Burke, who once held Shanahan's job, said his team was barely able to use Orr -- he appeared in just five of Toronto's 39 games -- because hardly anyone wanted to fight him. He predicted that abandoning the code that governed who fought and when would result in more players taking cheap shots and seeking revenge in even more dangerous ways."I wonder where we're going with it, that's the only lament I have on this," he said at the time. "The fear that if we don't have guys looking after each other, that the rats will take this game over."Too late. They already have.
Like his motion, the making of a Chris Sale start is unorthodox genius.
The ace's routine was formed in Chicago, where the Red Sox open a three-game series against the White Sox today. His plan for the usual four days between outings underscores how blessed he is, and how well the 28-year-old knows what his body needs to maintain three dominant pitches thrown at a hummingbird's pace.
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When Sale takes the mound Tuesday against his old team, he'll have a 2.34 ERA and 101 strikeouts. Those are American League-best numbers entering the week.
Even Sale, no stranger to excellence, indicated some surprise at how well his Red Sox career has begun.
"Would I say I'm surprised? Yeah," Sale said recently. "But at the same time, I wouldn't say I am. I'm having fun, I know that. You know, it's a very result-oriented game. But results can be very skewed. Because two guys can work the same, do the same things on the same day at the same time, and get two totally different results in this game.
"So while people like to look at the results, sometimes they can be skewed . . . I look more in my preparation than I do in the results."
Sale explained to CSNNE just how that preparation works: from his choice to eschew scouting reports, to how he has recently embraced a Randy Johnson-influenced workout routine the Red Sox use across their entire system, something called Nine Innings.
"He's such a beast," assistant strength and conditioning coach Mike Roose said. "He's in phenomenal shape. We can push him harder than maybe some other guys . . . His body's able to work at such a high level."
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Before every Red Sox game, there's a meeting to discuss the starting pitcher's plan. The catcher attends, along with pitching coach Carl Willis and bullpen coach Dana LeVangie.
The huddles are usually quick; maybe three minutes, backstop Sandy Leon said. Of course, the pitcher typically attends as well.
Sale never does.
"We don't talk that much," Leon said of Sale.
There's an outstanding work ethic behind every start made by Fenway's greatest spectacle since Pedro Martinez. A planning meeting just isn't part of it.
"My preparation is more physical than it is mental, I guess," Sale said.
The new Red Sox ace doesn't really use video. He doesn't look at scouting reports.
Sale, then, is a throwback beyond his get-it-and-throw-it pace. He actively avoids tools that other pitchers desperately need and seek in the age of analytics.
He wants a Buddhist-like temperament on the mound, a quiet mind.
Still, it's one thing to never shake your catcher, and another to separate yourself from his thought process. That's near lunacy, unless your stuff is just that damn good.
"I guess you could look at it like that," Sale said. "I look at it for me as just clearing my mind. When I'm out there, I'm not worried about what this guy's hitting over the last X amount of at-bats. Because if I read on a scouting report that he's hitting .450 on fastballs in, I'm still going to throw a fastball in. And if I know that going in, I could be timid throwing that.
"You don't ever want to throw a pitch in the big leagues, hoping, praying, defensively. That takes all that away from me."
Sale's greatest effort in between starts, then, is to keep his stuff this devastating, to keep his lithe machine in tune, so that his mind may remain free.
"Let's face it, any athlete -- I'm probably cliche here -- but when you're just in the present, in the moment, you're going to function at your absolute best," manager John Farrell said. "And with a guy that talented, who's got that much self-confidence to go along with tremendous physical ability, he's in that place a lot."
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"He's got a lot of really good physical qualities already," Roose said. "He's very flexible. Naturally, just by his genetics. His endurance is extremely high. He works on that [doing cardio]. You can tell. We knew right from the first week of spring training [that] endurance is something he works on.
"He has the three really important things you'd need to pitch 35 starts in the season."
That includes what Roose described as sneaky strength. Sale looks like he could use an extra burger or two, but he's better than his rotation mates at more than just pitching.
"He might squat more than all our starters, believe it or not," Roose said. "I was surprised. He surprises me sometimes."
Day 1 after Sale pitches is a recovery day. He likes to go for a run, and if the Sox are home, he'll try to do Pilates. A light workout is possible, too.
On Day 2 comes heavy lifting (as well as a shoulder program that customarily follows workouts).
"I'm not a big muscular guy," Sale said. "I'm just trying to stay long and loose as more the key to my success.
"I don't need to like do power lifting or anything like that. I mean I do squats, we do dead lifts . . . A lot of pulling. I don't do a whole lot of pushing, puts pressure on the front of my arm."
On Day 3, Sale throws his side sessions, goes through a shoulder program, and then works out.
But that workout has changed recently, to Nine Innings.
"You do three workouts, three sets of three workouts," Sale said. "Kind of equals nine innings. Raises your heart rate a little bit, gets some bloodflow."
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Sixteen years after Johnson and Curt Schilling carried the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship, Sale has a slice of that duo's old workout plan.
Nine Innings is a pitcher's exercise circuit focusing on power and cardio work, and it's been in place with the Red Sox since Roose joined the organization in 2009.
The circuit dates back to Dave Page, the Sox' former strength coach who held that job for the 2001 Diamondbacks -- with Schilling and Johnson.
Like Schilling, Page wound up in Boston. The latter was let go after the September 2011 collapse, and Roose has overseen the program's evolution since. It exists now at every level of the Sox organization.
"Schilling was there, and then when Schilling came here, it kind of continued," Roose said of the origin story. "Now it's evolved way differently than what it was back then."
Nine Innings is tailored to each pitcher's needs before each outing, based on how they're feeling. Typically, sessions are 10-15 minutes.
"It's a series of power-based movements: plyometrics, medicine-ball throws, in kind of like a circuit fashion," Roose said. "We're also trying to get their cardiovascular system up . . . The third day is really about getting the fast-twitch muscle fibers, almost priming their neurological system to be able to repeat that intense throw."
When Sale joined the Sox, all coaches were simply learning what he likes to do. Like pitching coaches, strength coaches didn't dare tinker. Trust needs to be built.
At season's start, Sale decided he wanted to see what Nine Innings was about.
"He was just kind of like, ‘Hey, I want to try it out,'" Roose said.
The early review is great. Why? The sweat, in part.
"I love it," Sale said. "It's actually one of my more favorite days because I mean, let's be honest, you feel you get more out of it.
"It's been run on the treadmill, and then we're going to do a push-up. And then we're going to do a [medicine-ball] slam, and then we're going to do a TRX pull. Treadmill, go through that again, treadmill, go through that again, and then switch it up again."
Day 4, the final day before a start, is variable and typically very light. Sale always stretches -- hamstrings, lower body, arms -- and he might do Pilates.
He's a rubber-band man.
"I'll do push ups with a band over my shoulder, something like that for a little bit more resistance," Sale said generally. "I don't do like bench press or anything like that, and if I do, it's really low weight. Just trying to get reps, just get kind of blood flow in there.
"For me, it's just trying to stay loose and get that elasticity back and being able to get extension and really being able to get that whip back."
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Someday, Sale won't have the benefit of youth, of the nastiest stuff, on his side.
Willis has seen a guy like this before in a previous gig, a guy who doesn't go to the little pregame pow-wows.
"Felix Hernandez when I was in Seattle," Willis said. "He didn't even care to know the lineup."
They call Hernandez "King." But Hernandez is at the stage of his career where his stuff is diminished.
"Maybe it's a little different now that his stuff's not the same," Willis said of Hernandez. "He's got more innings, he's got a little older. But I think it's that supreme confidence and a mix of pitches and action of pitches that you just have total confidence in: 'Whatever I choose to throw, I'm going to beat you with it.' "
Sale thinks that way. With the way he works, it could be a long time before he need think differently.
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Jonquel Jones scored 19 of her career-high 23 points in the second half and finished with 21 rebounds to help the Connecticut Sun beat the Chicago Sky 97-79 on Sunday night.
Jones, who set her previous career best of 20 rebounds on May 13, became the 12th player in WNBA history with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game. Alyssa Thomas had 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals and Lynetta Kizer scored 16 with seven rebounds for Connecticut (1-4), which won its first game of the season.
Kizer's jumper midway through the first quarter made it 14-13 and the Sun led the rest of the way. Jessica Breland hit two free throws to pull Chicago (1-5) within four with 4:37 left in the third, but Jones scored seven points during a 10-3 run over the next three-plus minutes and the Sky got no closer.
Tamera Young led Chicago with 17 points. She has at least one made 3-pointer in each of the last five games after going nearly five calendar years (June 23, 2011) since her last 3.