Olympics will show off more than just London

647302.jpg

Olympics will show off more than just London

From Comcast SportsNet
HAMPTON COURT, England (AP) -- Medieval cottages crowned with thatched roofs. King Henry VIII's storied riverside palace. A wind-swept naval fort that helped to defend Britain's coastline during World War II. Away from the bustle of London's Olympic stadium, the Summer Games will also showcase the country's postcard perfect rural charms, and highlight centuries of its history. While it was Britain's vibrant capital that won the right to host the 2012 Games, events aren't confined to London. Spectators will flock to Wales and Scotland, to verdant hills in southern England, and even to a working farm -- where rare breed sheep must make way for Olympic cyclists. "It might be called London 2012, but really it's a countrywide event. There are places right across the country which are getting a chance to taste the Olympics," said Beverley Egan, of the Salvation Army charity, which owns a swath of eastern England countryside where the Olympic mountain bike competition will take place. Egan, the organization's director of community services, lives close to the site, the 950-acre Hadleigh Farm, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of the London stadium, where cattle graze amid the ruins of a 700-year-old castle. Sports fans can head to 10 venues outside Britain's capital. Canoeists will slalom through bubbling rapids at Lee Valley White Water Center just beyond London's northern outskirts, while rowing crews will compete on a lake at Eton Dorney, set inside a tranquil 400-acre park about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the capital. On England's southern coast, visitors will watch sailing events at Nothe Fort -- a 19th century naval defense post. During World War II, troops fired the fort's heavy guns in warning on two suspicious ships, but later found the vessels were carrying refugees fleeing the Channel Islands, the only corner of Britain to come under Nazi occupation. Quaint images of rolling hills will provide a quintessentially British backdrop to events beamed around the world. However lovely, they are also critical to the country's plans for capitalizing on the Olympics, which have cost Britain 9.3 billion pounds (14.6 billion) to stage. Ministers hope prospective visitors will be captivated as they see historic landscapes and landmarks and book a vacation. They also hope potential investors can be wooed. Competitors in road cycling races will travel into England's picturesque countryside as they compete for gold medals. Their route -- 156 miles (250 kilometers) for men, 87 miles (140 kilometers) for women -- begins outside Queen Elizabeth II's Buckingham Palace home, but quickly swaps London streets for tree-fringed country lanes. Their path winds through fields of grazing deer in Richmond Park, bringing the Olympics into the southern England county of Surrey and to the historic Hampton Court Palace. Home to Henry VIII from the mid-1500s, the palace sits at the heart of his scandalous personal life. It was here that he and his aides plotted England's break with the Roman Catholic church to allow the king to divorce. The king married two of his six wives here, too. Two were accused of adultery and beheaded. Road race cyclists will flash by, headed toward the spine of chalk hills known as the North Downs -- but competitors in time trial events will start and finish their races inside the palace grounds, where William Shakespeare and his company of actors once performed for King James I. During the road race, athletes will continue past the ruins of the 12th Century Newark Priory, on through woodland copses shaded by canopies of trees and down heart-stopping, twisting slopes. Alan Flaherty, a highway engineer at Surrey County Council and a road cycling fanatic since he first visited the Tour de France in 2004, helped to devise the course once organizers chose to take the event outside London. Olympic authorities had planned for the route to snake through the capital, but the sport's governing body wanted a course that would better challenge riders and show off more iconic British views. Flaherty was tapped to share some of his own favored paths. "I literally went out with my rucksack, a camera and a pen and paper and looked at the whole route and then reported back," he said. The final course offers a checklist of famous British images -- from Westminster Abbey to sheep-filled meadows -- and some competitors have already interrupted training rides with Flaherty to snap pictures with their smartphones. "It does manage to go past all the main tourist sites in London, starting and finishing on The Mall, and also takes in a huge amount of Surrey," Flaherty said. "It's a real contrast -- all the countryside shows another element of Great Britain to the rest of the world." Spectators, though not the riders who will speed by, can admire a vision of English nostalgia nestled along the course at Shere, an unspoiled village with a 12th century church, tea house, gently gurgling stream and cluster of thatched roofed cottages. Nearby at Box Hill, a favorite southern England picnic spot and vantage point, competitors face a grueling ascent up the aptly named Zig Zag Road, an energy-sapping climb which men will complete nine times and women twice. The summit will host about 15,000 spectators, while tens of thousands more are expected to pack along the remainder of the course. Flaherty said that since he helped to finalize the route scores of enthusiasts have taken to the course with their own bikes -- meaning he must find new paths for his own peaceful weekend cycle rides. "I've been cycling around here for about 25 years and one of the things I liked is that it's always really quiet," Flaherty said, ruefully. "Then I got involved with the Olympics and now there are hundreds of people out on the route every weekend. The lesson is to be careful what you wish for."

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold. 

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

red_sox_hanley_ramirez_062317.jpg

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

BOSTON - Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon hit two-run homers and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 on Friday to cap a night in which David Ortiz's number became the latest retired at Fenway Park.

It was the 250th career home run for Ramirez, a good friend of Ortiz who was also born in the Dominican Republic. Leon finished with three hits and four RBIs.

The homers helped provide a nice cushion for Rick Porcello (4-9), who gave up four runs and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. It was the 13th straight start Porcello has gone at least six innings.

Alex Meyer (3-4) allowed five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles scored three runs in the seventh, but cooled off after Porcello left.

Boston got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts and then getting two more runs off wild pitches by Meyer.

Ramirez gave Porcello a 5-1 lead in the fourth with his two-run shot to right field.

This could serve as a needed confidence boost for Porcello, who had been 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 47 hits and 27 earned runs.

He had command of his pitches early, holding the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when a catching error by Leon at home allowed Albert Pujols to cross the plate.