From Comcast SportsNetSOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Notre Dame has picked its conference. Now it has to decide which football rivalry games to keep.The announcement Wednesday that Notre Dame is moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football and hockey came with a provision that the Fighting Irish play five football games a year against league opponents. That's good news for fans who want to see the Irish play Miami more often, but may not be welcomed by some traditional rivals.The deal calls for the Irish to play each ACC team once every three years, which means traditional games against Pittsburgh and Boston College will end. Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Notre Dame will continue to play Navy, which bailed out the school in the 1940s when it was struggling financially by putting programs on the South Bend campus. The Irish also will keep playing Southern California and Stanford, to keep a presence on the West Coast.But what of Big Ten rivals Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue? Swarbrick wasn't ready to say immediately. He did say, however, the shift in scheduling wouldn't be as big as some people think."We're going to keep some traditional rivals and we're going to get around the country. We're still going to be in California every year and we're still going to find a way to get into the Southwest. And, of course, this gives us a great East Coast footprint and we want to make sure we keep a Midwest presence, too," he said. "We'll meet our mission and make sure Notre Dame is playing everywhere in the country."Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke expects the Boilermakers to continue playing the Irish."We have a long-time relationship with Notre Dame involving many of our programs, and we expect it to continue," he said.Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon hopes to keep the series against Notre Dame going after their contract expires in 2020, but said it will be Notre Dame's decision. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said the Spartans have a contract that runs through 2031 that calls for games against Notre Dame for four years and then two off years.But with five ACC games on the schedule, games against USC, Stanford and Navy, if the Irish played all three Big Ten opponents it would have just one other game on the schedule.Notre Dame will begin playing five ACC teams in 2014. It wasn't clear when it would join the league in other sports because the Big East has a 27-month notification period for any member that wants to leave, and a 5 million exit fee. The Big East has shown a willingness to negotiate, as it did with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who paid 7.5 million each to get out early. Swarbrick wouldn't say when Notre Dame would leave, but indicated he would try to work out a deal."My own philosophy is, it's in everybody's interests to do it sooner rather than later," Swarbrick said.One of the key reasons Notre Dame decided to move from the Big East, which it joined in 1995, was because the ACC's offer allowed the Irish to be part of its bowl rotation. For the next two seasons, if Notre Dame doesn't earn a BCS berth it must wait to see what conferences can't fill their bowl allotments to see where it can play. Notre Dame also could play an ACC team in the Orange Bowl in some years."We needed a soup-to-nuts solution for the postseason and we have achieved it," Swarbrick said.ACC Commissioner John Swofford said the deal helps the league as well because it will re-negotiate its recent ESPN contract worth 3.6 billion to account for Notre Dame's arrival. Notre Dame will keep its broadcast partnership with NBC and won't receive TV revenue for other ACC football games.Swarbrick said he thinks Notre Dame's move to the ACC might stabilize all the changes going on among conferences."I think this gives us a real chance that we are going to have a period ahead of us now in college athletics which is going to be pretty stable," he said. "That would be one of the nicest possible legacies if five years from now we look back on this deal and say, You know what, that ushered in a period of where we focused on what was going on on the field and not what was going on in the AD's office in college sports. I think it will."
The Caps lost their second preseason game on Tuesday night to the Montreal Canadiens, but it's the preseason. The score doesn't matter. What does matter is how the players played. Here's who looked good and who needs to up their game.
3 players who impressed:
Madison Bowey: When Bowey is distributing the puck, it looks like his teammates have magnets on their tape. Every pass from him was crisp and on target. Defensively, he finished the game with a minus-2, but he was hardly the only player to struggle on the defensive end of the ice on Tuesday. He will continue to develop his defensive skills in Hershey, but for now Bowey looks every bit the puck-moving, offensive defenseman the Caps hoped they were getting when they drafted him. In today's NHL, having that type of defenseman on your team is a major plus.
Zach Sanford: The Caps want to keep a 14th forward on the roster this season and in his NHL (preseason) debut, Sanford did everything he could to lay claim to that spot. It took a few minutes for him to settle into the game, but he didn't look out of place at all. He simply looked like a rookie trying to adjust to his first NHL experience. As the game went along, he looked more and more comfortable. What is really impressive about Sanford is his positioning and what he does away from the puck. He always seems to be exactly where he is supposed to be. That positioning ultimately set up his goal late in the third period. Sanford fought off a few hits to maintain his position in front of the net, setting up a perfect screen on Montreal goalie Zachary Fucale. Because of his positioning, he was able to deflect a shot from Connor Hobbs into the net past the helpless netminder. It was not a perfect game for Sanford by any means. Late in the second, he gave up the puck on a bad turnover and compounded the mistake by tripping Michael McCarron, but those kinds of mistakes are to be expected from someone who went straight from college to the NHL preseason. Overall, it was a very impressive performance.
Nathan Walker: When Andrew Shaw boarded Connor Hobbs in the second period, the first player to go after the gritty veteran was Nathan Walker. It didn't matter that Shaw has played in four NHL seasons or has 13 NHL fights on his resume, it didn't matter that he was going to get his butt kicked — he was going to stand up for his teammate. The biggest strike against Walker is his size. He is very generously listed as 5-foot-8. I've seen him in the locker room and let me tell you, there is no way he is that tall. But any fear the team may have had about Walker's ability to handle the size of the NHL has been erased in just two preseason games. Clearly he is not going to let himself be pushed around. At this point, I would be surprised if he does not get his first NHL game at some point this season.
3 players who need to show improvement:
Brett Connolly: Connolly's signing was a surprise move by the Caps in the offseason. He is a former first-round draft pick still trying to live up to his potential. He is going to make the roster, but as a new player, the Caps are still trying to determine just where he fits into the lineup. That means he has more at stake in this preseason than most of his NHL teammates. Connolly registered six hits, but zero shots on net and was completely unable to take advantage of the weaker preseason roster Montreal played. Connolly is a sniper trying to establish his skill and he looked like a fourth-line grinder. If this is how he will play, there's no reason to play him over someone like Stanislav Galiev.
Liam O'Brien: In 2014, Liam O'Brien made the Caps' roster after a strong camp and stuck around for 13 games before getting sent down to the AHL. Two years later, he doesn't look close to that level. O'Brien took an early interference penalty as he slid into goalie Al Montoya. He added a second penalty in the third period as he was upset with a no-call on Nathan Beaulieu and kept trying to draw a fight with him until the referee ultimately sent him to the box. The days when teams could carry enforcers on the fourth line who did little else but fight and take penalties are over. O'Brien has to establish that he has more to offer the Caps and he failed to do so.
Darren Dietz: For the most part, Darren Dietz actually played a decent game on Tuesday. He had six hits and skated well against his former team. There was one major mistake, however, that really stuck out. In the second period, the Caps were about to go on the power play as Jeremy Grégoire slashed Zach Sill in the wrist. At the end of the play, Grégoire really tried to press his luck by giving Sill a little push into the boards. Grégoire is a 21-year-old player trying to make an impression by taking on one of the toughest guys on the ice. Sill is a 28-year-old, 6-foot-1, 202-pound veteran with 32 fights in the last five years in the NHL and AHL. He can take care of himself. Dietz, however, skated in and landed a vicious cross-check to the back of Grégoire and was called for roughing, thus negating the Caps' power play. There was no reason for Dietz to get involved in that scrum. Sill doesn't need him to fight off Grégoire, he could have easily brushed him aside. The referees had already established that they are calling a very tight game so it was no surprise to see Dietz sent to the box. He needs to know better than to lay that kind of hit on the back of an opposing player and risk a penalty in order to protect someone who didn't really need it.
MORE CAPITALS: MARCUS JOHANSSON SCORES FROM STRAIGHT ON VS. CANADIENS
If guys like Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon play to their capabilities, the Nationals could make do without Wilson Ramos this postseason, at least on offense.
But even those guys can't do it all by themselves. The much more likely scenario involves a collective effort, one in which contributions from all-around lift the Nationals as a team and help compensate for the loss of one of their best and most consistent players. Collective efforts like Tuesday night when both of Ramos' replacements - Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino - chipped in on offense, Rendon provided the big swing and other bench players like Stephen Drew and Wilmer Difo made pivotal plays in their 4-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Lobaton called a strong game behind the dish, helping starter Max Scherzer adjust after allowing two runs in his first three innings to toss three scoreless after that. He then broke up Diamondbacks' starter Matt Koch's no-hitter in the sixth with a leadoff single. That ignited a four-run rally for the Nats, who took the lead and never relinquished it.
"I don't want to get a no-hitter," Lobaton said. "I got a good result and it was good for the team. We got a rally and we won."
"With [Ramos] going down for the year, that’s just heartbreaking," Scherzer said. "But Loby’s a guy that we need to step up and he’s the one who started off that inning."
Lobaton was replaced on the basepaths by Severino, who is faster than Lobaton, who happens to be dealing with a sore right ankle. Severino would later score after moving to third on walks drawn by Trea Turner and Difo. Severino came home on a sacrifice fly hit to left by Drew.
Lobaton and Severino will be a tag team partnership moving forward this season with Ramos out. They will need to spell each other and work together to try and recreate the production Ramos provided as a standout both at the plate and behind it.
On Tuesday, they pulled through.
"That's what they're going to have to do," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's what they're going to have to do to contribute."
Their night also involved a lot of communication once Severino replaced Lobaton. A veteran with more experience catching the Nationals' pitching staff, Lobaton advised Severino throughout the game about how to call it. That's something Ramos often does for Lobaton.
"That is good for a guy that is not playing every time. It's the same with me, I always talk to Wily about the pitchers and what they are doing," Lobaton said. "I try to communicate more, like what he's been doing and what he's working on. So, I try to do the same with Sevi. This is working in the game, this is not. It can be more easy for him when he goes out."
Severino scored the first run and later in the frame Rendon drove in three more on a homer to left field off Randall Delgado. Rendon was pleased to see the foundation laid ahead of him that inning.
"That’s a great example, first day, stepping up,” he said. "Definitely frustration [with Ramos' injury]. You never like to see a teammate get hurt… obviously he’s going to be missed. He’s a big part of this lineup. But we have a lot of good guys who can fill in. It’s going to be awesome to watch.”
The Nationals have five more games before the regular season is over. To capture a World Seires, they will need to win 11 more after that. It won't always be as smooth asTuesday night, but the Nationals demonstrated well to themselves what it will take to get by without their star catcher.
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