Triple Crown won't be easy for I'll Have Another

768570.jpg

Triple Crown won't be easy for I'll Have Another

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- I'll Have Another will face several familiar foes in his attempt to win the Belmont Stakes and become the first Triple Crown champion in 34 years. Among the 3-year-olds trying to play spoiler in the June 9 Belmont are Dullahan and Union Rags, the third- and seventh-place finishers in the Derby who both skipped the Preakness. I'll Have Another's trainer Doug O'Neill mentioned Union Rags and Dullahan as tough rivals, saying "they have fresh legs and are ready to go." So is his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, who arrived at Belmont Park on Sunday after a five-plus hour ride in a horse van from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. "We're ready to go, too," he said outside his barn at Pimlico before leaving for California. "Our horse came out of this race in great shape and as long as he stays injury free we've got a big, big chance." Others Belmont probables are Rousing Sermon, eighth in the Derby; Optimizer, 11th in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness; Peter Pan winner Mark Valeski; and Paynter, trained by Bob Baffert. Among others set for their first Triple Crown race are Antigun, Five Sixteen, Guyana Star Dweej, Street Life and Unstoppable U. Bodemeister, who finished second in the Derby and Preakness, isn't running in the Belmont. O'Neill is not sad. "Anytime you can dodge an amazing horse like that, it's a good thing," O'Neill said. Union Rags won the Champagne at Belmont as a 2-year-old, and was the 5-1 second favorite in the Derby. Blue Grass Stakes winner Dullahan closed with a rush and finished less than two lengths behind I'll Have Another at Churchill Downs. Trainer Dale Romans elected to pass on the Preakness and train his colt for the 1-mile Belmont. If Optimizer runs, it will be trainer D. Wayne Lukas' 22nd Belmont horse. The Hall of Fame trainer has won the race four times, most recently with Commendable in 2000. Mark Valeski finished second in the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby, but skipped the Derby and Preakness. He came back and won the Peter Pan at Belmont on May 12. Paynter finished fourth behind I'll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby, and won an allowance race on the Preakness undercard. Alpha, the Withers winner who finished 12th in the Derby, is a possible. He worked four furlongs in 49.17 seconds Saturday at Belmont, and assistant trainer Art Magnuson said "We're not deciding anything yet, we're just going to watch things and let the horse tell us."

Quick Links

Prospect report: Hershey is suddenly stacked on defense

Prospect report: Hershey is suddenly stacked on defense

Hershey update: 37-18-8-3, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 4-0-0-0

Madison Bowey made an early return to the lineup on Friday in his first game since Dec. 28. Bowey suffered a lacerated tendon against Syracuse that day that was expected to keep him out of the lineup until April. On Friday, however, Bowey was back in for the Bears. He played in three of Hershey’s four games over the week and tallied one assist.

Fellow defensive prospect Christian Djoos remained red-hot with another outstanding performance. Djoos scored two goals and two assists in Friday’s win over Hartford including the game-winner in overtime.

Djoos recorded at least one point in each of Hershey’s four games over the week and now has three goals and 11 assists for the month of March.

On a team that already boasts Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler within the organization, Djoos is often overlooked, but his recent play cannot be ignored. He has been absolutely fantastic. There is no question he has the skill to be an NHL player. If he bulks up, Djoos is someone who should see some time in the NHL next season.

Hampus Gustafsson, who was signed by the Caps on March 7 as a college free agent out of Merrimack College, made his professional debut on Friday as he suited up for the Bears. On Wednesday, in his third game, he recorded his first professional assist.

Speaking of defensive prospects, the Bears have added another to their roster. On Monday, the Capitals re-assigned Siegenthaler to Hershey. Siegenthaler’s season in the National League A in the Switzerland came to an end as his ZSC Lions were eliminated in the playoffs. The young blue liner recorded one goal and six assists in 34 games.

Hershey head coach Troy Mann said after Saturday’s game that Siegenthaler would practice with the team, but would not play in his first week.

Siegenthaler is a highly regarded prospect, but the one question mark he has is how he will adjust to the North American game. He played in six games for Hershey last season and his performance was underwhelming and a family issue over the summer also affected his play in Caps’ training camp. But, he was fantastic in the 2017 World Junior Championship so it’s hard to know just what to expect from him. The talent is there, but how will it translate to the AHL/NHL? I think the Caps are hoping to see a lot more improvement from him from last season’s performance. I also believe this summer’s development and training camp will be critical for his future within the organization.

Pheonix Copley continued to show why he has taken over as Hershey’s top netminder with three wins over the week, turning aside 88 of the 93 shots he faced.

With Philipp Grubauer a potential target for Vegas in the expansion draft and prospect Ilya Samsonov under contract in the KHL until 2018, Copley may compete to backup Braden Holtby next season. Isabelle Khurshudyan goes into more detail in her article in the Washington Post. You can read it here.

If Copley does play for the Caps next season, he will at least look the part with his sweet new mask.

https://twitter.com/search?f=images&vertical=default&q=pheonix%20copley&src=typd

Though he may not be getting nearly as much playing time as he was before the Copley trade, Vitek Vanecek put together a solid month. In his four March appearances, Vanecek registered a 3-0-0 record, 2.18 GAA and .907 save percentage.

Other big performers from the week include Travis Boyd (one goal, six assists), Riley Barber (two goals, two assists), Stanislav Galiev (three assists) and Garrett Mitchell who scored two goals including his 100th career point.

Finally, while I focus the prospect report on younger players, I would be remiss if I did not note the outstanding performance of forward Paul Carey. Carey scored six goals and two assists in Hershey's four games over the week, including a four-goal performance on Saturday in the Bears' 6-4 win over Hartford.

With his monster performance, Carey is now tied with Christian Thomas for the team lead in goals with 24. Yes, he scored a full quarter of his goals for the season in just one week.

RELATED: Playoff opponent watch: Toronto jumps into wild card

Other prospect notes:

It’s March so it’s time for the real madness to begin. Shane Gersich’s North Dakota and Brian Pinho’s Providence both made the cut for the NCAA hockey tournament. North Dakota is a 3-seed in the West Region and will play No. 2 Boston University on Friday. Providence is a 4-seed in the East Region and will play No. 1 Harvard also on Friday.

Gersich saw his team fall in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff final to Minnesota Duluth on Saturday after upsetting Denver in the semifinal. North Dakota gave up the game-winning goal with less than a minute to go in a devastating 4-3 loss.

In some happier news, Gersich made the cut as one of the Top 100 NHL Prospects in the NCAA as ranked by SB Nation’s College Hockey blog.

Gersich came in at No. 43.

Gersich has always been a very smooth skater. This year, he’s added a little more muscle to his frame, making him much better at winning battles along the boards. He’s more of a shooter than a playmaker, and the extra bulk has made his shot more effective as well.

Gersich likely projects to play a scoring role at the pro level, so the big increase in scoring is a positive sign for his development.

You can see the full profile on Gersich and the rankings so far here.

Chase Priskie’s season is over after Quinnipiac fell 4-1 to Harvard in the ECAC Hockey Tournament Semifinals. He was named to the ECAC Hockey Third Team on Friday. Last season, he was named to the conference’s all-rookie team.

It’s also postseason time for the WHL. Each of Washington’s five WHL prospects will play in the playoffs.

Lucas Johansen and the Kelowna Rockets will face Garrett Pilon and the Kamloops Blazers in the first round starting on Friday. Kelowna and Kamloops finished 2nd and 3rd in the B.C. Division, respectively.

Dmitri Zaitsev will also be in the postseason as Moose Jaw finished 2nd in the East Division. They will play Swift Current in the first round.

The only Caps’ prospect whose playoff hopes had not yet been determined was Beck Malenstyn. The Calgary Hitmen were fighting for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference heading into the weekend. Malenstyn came up big to lead the Hitmen into the postseason with a hat trick performance in his team’s 6-1 win over Kootenay on Friday. He was named the second star of the game, second to Kootenay’s goalie who allowed the six goals so go ahead and figure that one out.

For the season, Malenstyn scored 32 goals and 24 assists.

Calgary’s reward for making the playoffs is a first-round matchup with the Regina Pats. Regina finished with the top record in the WHL thanks in large part to the performance of defenseman Connor Hobbs.

On Saturday, Hobbs set a franchise record for goals scored by a defenseman with his 31st of the season.

Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post spoke to Hobbs about his impressive season.

Hobbs led all WHL defensemen with 31 goals and 85 points in 67 games. He was named the top defenseman in the Eastern Conference and named a first-team all-star.

“It’s an honour and it’s really cool to be talked about in those conversations,” said Hobbs. “I’m really proud and I’m so thankful I had the teammates I did this regular season to help me get to that point.”

Defenseman Cody Corbett, who was acquired by the Caps in the trade that sent Joe Cannata to the Colorado Avalanche, recorded an assist in each of his first two games with South Carolina in the ECHL.

Like Siegenthaler, Damien Riat saw his NLA team, Geneve-Servette, eliminated from the playoffs in a four-game sweep at the hands of EV Zug. For the season, he had seven goals and seven assists.

MORE CAPITALS: Shattenkirk still looking for first goal as a Cap after scoring change

Quick Links

Kelly Oubre, Ian Mahinmi may be keys to helping Wizards snap out of defensive funk

Kelly Oubre, Ian Mahinmi may be keys to helping Wizards snap out of defensive funk

With the Wizards struggling defensively coming out of the All-Star break, it was perhaps inevitable that head coach Scott Brooks would eventually turn to second-year forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. for a spark. Though Oubre's minutes had taken a hit since the trade for Bojan Bogdanovic, Oubre at times this season has been one of their best defensive players, a matchup nightmare with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and the versatility of a Michael Bay-dreamt Transformer.

On Wednesday night, with the Wizards' desperately seeking a win after losing four of five for the first time since November, Oubre stepped up in the opportunity he was given and wreaked havoc like Brooks knows he can. That even included guarding point guard Dennis Schroder at times.

"Another good game defensively. I like how he's piggy-backing game after game," Brooks said. "He's had four games of being really locked in defensively. He can keep doing it. With Kelly, it's just focusing in and being really good at that role. The game rewards him by doing that. He gets the fastbreak dunk, he makes the wide open three. But it's all predicated on the defensive end."

Oubre kept it simple. In his 18 minutes he grabbed five rebounds, hit an open three-pointer and did a lot of things that don't show up on the boxscore. Like, the turnover he forced on Schroder in the second quarter. Oubre picked him up at halfcourt and harrassed Schroder all the way to the baseline where he lost the ball out of bounds.

"He needs to come in and play defense," guard John Wall said of Oubre. "That's his job, to be a lockdown defender for us, make spot-up threes and do a good job of cutting to the basket when he can for us. When he does that, when he understands is role, he's going to be an X-factor for us in the playoffs."

[RELATED: State of the Wizards: Defensive woes, by the numbers]

Oubre spoke recently with CSN about how he hit a wall before the All-Star break, how he was mentally and physically worn out. That coincided with the trade for Bogdanovic and after averaging 20.7 minutes through his first 53 games this season, he saw just 11.7 minutes per night in the next 11 games out of the break. Oubre had bottomed out with just :39 seconds of run against the Timberwolves a DNP against the Mavericks last week.

Oubre has seen 19.5 minutes on average in the four games since, though, and appears to be earning back the trust of the Wizards' coaching staff. He along with backup center Ian Mahinmi, who logged an impressive +22 rating and had 10 rebounds in 20 minutes against the Hawks, provide Brooks some defensive weapons off the bench. Jason Smith, who had two blocks and four rebounds in 15 minutes vs. Atlanta, can be included in that mix.

"[Ian] brings us a presence that we've been missing all season," Wall said.

There were still some moments on Wednesday where the Wizards looked out of sorts defensively, but they finished the night with a 104-100 win over a team currently heading to the playoffs. And they held the Hawks to just 39.5 percent shooting. That was just the fifth time this season the Wizards have held a team to under 40 percent.

The Wizards need to get things in order defensively before their upcoming road trip and Wednesday night seemed like a step in the right direction.

[RELATED: Beal thinks Wizards got their swag back vs. Hawks]