In Sports from United Press International

April 22, 2003 at 3:06 PM
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Three Game Sevens in the NHL playoffs

DENVER, April 22 (UPI) -- The wild Stanley Cup playoffs continue Tuesday night, with three Game Sevens deciding who will advance to the semifinals in their respective conferences.

Two of the best-of-seven series feature Western Conference teams who had three games to one leads, third-seeded Colorado against Minnesota, and fifth-seeded St. Louis against Vancouver.

The Avalanche get to return home for a faceoff at the Pepsi Center in Denver after suffering a 3-2 overtime loss Monday at Minnesota. With a day off, the Blues have to visit GM Place to avoid a collapse.

Fourth-seeded Philadelphia and Toronto both are trying to avoid a collapse of another kind, having battled for more than 5 1/2 hard-hitting periods Monday. The Leafs forced Game Seven with a 2-1 double-overtime win.

The final Eastern Conference series will be played at the First Union Center. In the first six games, the teams have gone to double-overtime twice, and triple-overtime once.

The Avalanche went to an extra period for the first time in their series with the three-year-old Wild on Monday, and lost 4:22 into overtime on Richard Park's second goal of the game.

While the goal set off a wild celebration at the Xcel Energy Center, it also sent the series back to the Pepsi Center, where Colorado will try to win for the first time in its last five chances to eliminate a team. It did win two Game Sevens last year.

"We've been there before," said Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy, who has a 6-6 career record in Game Sevens. "We're in our barn, so there's no reason for us not to be confident."

The Avalanche forced Monday's overtime by scoring twice in the last 3:26 of regulation. Peter Forsberg set up both goals for Colorado, which is considered far and away the more talented team.

The Wild have shown guts in winning each of the last two games, 3-2. In the first series in franchise history, Minnesota has done it with defense, allowing only 15 goals in six games to the high-powered Avalanche.

"It's 0-0 now," said Wild left wing Antti Laaksonen. "We've got a chance to win (Tuesday). We're not looking at it as having to win for a third straight time."

The Blues have their defense to blame in blowing a three games to one lead. They dropped a 5-3 decision at GM Place on Friday before suffering a 4-3 setback at home on Sunday, which evened the series.

While they have the longest active playoff streak in professional sports at 24 years, the Blues have not won a Game Seven since the 1999 conference quarterfinals.

The Canucks are flying high after winning their last two games, and finally getting star wingers Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi involved. They'll have the crowd on their side as they seek their first series win since 1995.

Monday's survivors in the West will face each other in the conference semifinals. The top-seeded Dallas Stars host the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the other series.

The Eastern Conference victor will take on the top-seeded Ottawa Senators, with second-seeded New Jersey awaiting third-seeded Tampa Bay.

Senator proposes penalties for incidents

CHICAGO, April 22 (UPI) -- Two ugly incidents of spectator violence at the home of the Chicago White Sox have spurred action.

In an effort to toughen penalties, Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter has announced her intention to introduce a bill to the state legislature mandating jail time, and minimum fines for anyone who trespasses onto the field, court, or rink of a professional sports arena.

The legislation calls for a mandatory 30-day jail sentence, a minimum $1,000 fine, and possible alcohol and drug evaluation for anyone who trespasses onto the field of a sports venue.

"As an elected official it is my job to protect the safety of the citizens, and that includes umpires, coaches, and players doing their jobs on the field of play," Hunter said.

Last Tuesday, a fan ran onto the field and attacked first base umpire Laz Diaz after the eighth inning of a game between the White Sox and Kansas City Royals at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field.

Royals rightfielder Brandon Berger, who recorded the final out of the inning with a catch in foul territory, immediately ran to the aid of Diaz. By the time Berger arrived, Diaz had the assailant subdued.

Teammates and Diaz's fellow umpires quickly arrived, and held the fan until security arrived.

The incident was eerily similar to the one on Sept. 19, 2002, when a father and son attacked Tom Gamboa, then the Royals' first base coach, at U.S. Cellular Field.

Last Tuesday's game between the teams featured three other instances of fans running on the field.

"The recent incidents are alarming," Hunter said. "It is my desire to ensure that professional sporting events offer a safe environment and tougher punishments for unruly, disruptive fans who make a spectacle of themselves or commit violence by entering the field of play is a powerful first step."

"I am thrilled that Senator Hunter has chosen to support tougher penalties for anyone who trespasses on the field of play," said White Sox Board Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. "The White Sox will do everything we can to see that the legislation is put into law."

U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush also offered his support of Hunter's efforts.

"All across the country, there have been examples of abusive and unlawful behavior against athletes, both amateur and professional, players and referees," Rush said.

Outfielder Carl Everett of the Texas Rangers recently was the target of Oakland fans, who pelted him with a cellphone and beer bottles during a game last Saturday. He plans to press charges.

Pirates place Fogg on DL

PITTSBURGH, April 22 (UPI) -- Pittsburgh Pirates righthander Josh Fogg was placed on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with a strained left oblique muscle.

Fogg lasted only one inning in Sunday's 8-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs, allowing a two-run homer to Sammy Sosa before being sidelined with the injury. He originally strained it in his previous start.

In four starts this season, Fogg is 1-2 with a 4.35 ERA, allowing a team-high five home runs in 20 2/3 innings. He also has walked only five batters while giving up 19 hits and striking out 11.

Taking Fogg's roster spot is veteran righthander Brian Meadows, who was recalled from Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League. He has won all three of his starts for the Sounds while posting a 1.00 ERA.

A.J. Smith named GM of Chargers

SAN DIEGO, April 22 (UPI) -- The San Diego Chargers Tuesday promoted A.J. Smith to Executive Vice President and General Manager.

Smith, 54, replaces close friend John Butler, who died of cancer on April 11.

San Diego President Dean Spanos said Smith, who worked under Butler for 14 years with the Buffalo Bills before following him to San Diego in January 2001, was the only person considered to continue the rebuilding job in San Diego.

"John and I talked shortly after he was diagnosed, and we agreed that if John couldn't be here, his successor was already in place," Spanos said.

"No one could ever completely fill John's shoes, but I'm going to do everything in my power to help this team return to the playoffs and the Super Bowl," Smith said.

Butler, known for helping to build the Bills' four Super Bowl teams in the 1990s as a personnel director, was promoted to general manager in 1993.

Smith replaced Butler that year, and the two drafted players such as perennial Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown, Pro Bowl receiver Eric Moulds, running back Antowain Smith, defensive end Marcellus Wiley, and linebacker Sam Cowart, despite not having high picks.

When Butler became the Chargers' GM in January 2001, Smith was the first person he brought with him.

"As someone who worked side by side with John for so long, we know the procedures that have been successful over the past two drafts will continue with A.J. making the final decisions," Spanos said.

Taking over in San Diego after the Chargers finished 1-15 in 2000, Butler dramatically upgraded the team, drafting Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Drew Brees in 2001, along with cornerback Quentin Jammer, linebacker Ben Leber, guard Toniu Fonoti, and receiver Reche Caldwell last April.

Those selections, along with Butler's free agent signings of Wiley and cornerback Ryan McNeil in 2001, and linebacker Donnie Edwards in 2002, helped the Chargers improve to 8-8 last season.

"John created a terrific infrastructure, and A.J. was the first and most important person John hired," Spanos said. "This makes for a logical and seamless transition."

This is Smith's second stint with the Chargers.

He served as Personnel Director from 1985-86 before joining the Bills as a scout in 1987.

Report: Tom Davis to Drake

DES MOINES, Iowa, April 22 (UPI) -- The Des Moines Register reported on its website Monday night that Dr. Tom Davis will be named as the new coach at Drake on Tuesday.

Davis, 64, who was forced out at the University of Iowa four years ago, is that school's winningest coach with a 269-140 record in 13 seasons. His contract was not renewed at the end of the 1998-99 season.

At Drake, Davis would take over a downtrodden program that has not played in the NCAA Tournament since 1971, and has not had a winning season since 1986-87.

"I'm looking forward to it," Davis told the paper. "I recognize how difficult this is. I'm going into it with my eyes open, and I want to have some fun with it."

David would replace Kurt Kanaskie, who resigned earlier this month for personal reasons. Kanaskie had an overall record of 62-136 in seven years with the Bulldogs, including a 10-20 mark this past season.

Davis also has coached at Lafayette, Boston College, and Stanford in a 28-year career, and owns an overall record of 543-290.

His best season was 1986-87, his first at Iowa. The Hawkeyes were 30-5, ranked No. 1 nationally at one point, and reached the regional finals.

Three PGA vets get U.S. open exemptions

FAR HILLS, N.J., April 22 (UPI) -- Former champions Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, and Tom Kite have accepted special exemptions to compete in the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields in suburban Chicago.

The USGA made the announcement on Tuesday.

Watson returns to the site of his first professional tournament, having made the cut as an amateur at the Western Open. He played his first and last U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 1972 and 2000, winning at the same course in 1982.

The Hall of Famer appeared in 29 consecutive Opens between 1972-2000, accepting special exemptions three times. He won eight major titles and 39 tournaments on the PGA Tour from 1974-98, and is a standout on the Champions Tour.

Irwin is the winningest golfer in Champions Tour history, and one of the most successful ever at the U.S. Open, winning it in 1974, '79, and 1990. He has the longest active streak for Opens played, a run that began in 1971.

In 1990, at the age of 45, Irwin became the oldest Open champion, and the only player to win on a special exemption. The record 36-time winner on the Champions Tour also claimed the U.S. Senior Open in 1998 and 2000.

Kite has won six times since debuting on the elder circuit in 2000, and has played in three U.S. Opens in that span, extending his string to 29 consecutive years, second only to Irwin. He was fully exempt through 2002 as a result of his 1992 victory.

Just two years ago at Southern Hills in Oklahoma, Kite tied for fifth. His only Open triumph came at Pebble Beach, where a dramatic chip-in at the par-3 seventh hole propelled him to a two-stroke victory over Jeff Sluman.

The 2003 U.S. Open is scheduled for June 12-15.

Sparks leaving Western Kentucky

BOWLING GREEN, Ky., April 22 (UPI) -- Star guard Patrick Sparks of Western Kentucky has been granted a release from his scholarship from the school.

Sparks led the Hilltoppers last season in scoring, assists, and steals while setting a team record in three-pointers. His release is a major blow to the WKU program, which also lost Coach Dennis Felton, who recently was named to fill the vacancy at Georgia. Felton had led the Hilltoppers to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Sparks began considering leaving the team before the 2002-03 season, but stuck it out, and was Western Kentucky's best player, averaging 13.3 points and 5.9 assists while totaling 73 steals and 84 three-pointers.

"Patrick Sparks contributed to the success of Western Kentucky basketball the last two years," said Darrin Horn, who was named Felton's successor on April 15. "He has informed me that he wants to explore other options."

The 6-1, 170-pound Sparks, a native of Central City, Ky., ranked in the top five in the Sun Belt Conference in assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, steals, and three-pointers per game.

Sparks also was named the Most Outstanding Player of the conference tournament, which the Hilltoppers won for the third straight season.

Sparks ends his WKU career second in school history with 155 three-pointers, third with a 39.3 percentage from three-point range, and 10th with 19 steals.

America East adds UMBC

BOSTON, April 22 (UPI) -- Maryland Baltimore County is going from the Northeast Conference to America East, and was added as the conference's 10th member Tuesday.

The expansion is the first for America East since April 18, 2001, when Binghamton was added following the admission of Albany and Stony Brook on Jan. 31.

"The America East Conference is very excited about the addition of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County," said league Commissioner Chris Monasch. "The institution is a natural fit for the conference with an academics and athletics mission similar to our current members. The Mid-Atlantic location of UMBC, combined with our present membership in New York and New England, positions American East as a significant mid-major conference in this part of the country."

The conference also consists of Boston University, Hartford, Maine, New Hampshire, Northeastern, and Vermont.

In addition, America East has associate membership with Quinnipiac in the sport of men's lacrosse.

The conference was established in 1979 as the ECAC North, and changed its name to America East prior to the 1996-97 academic year.

Stewart opts not to race in Indy 500

BAKERSFIELD, Calif., April 22 (UPI) -- Defending NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Tony Stewart revealed Monday that he will not race in the Indianapolis 500 next month.

It had been reported that Stewart, who left the Indy Racing League in 1998, might compete in the 87th running of Indy 500 on May 25 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 the same day in Charlotte.

"It's flattering to know that my name still comes up this time of year as someone teams want to have in their car at Indy," Stewart said in a statement regarding the rumor. "But as I've said from the beginning of the season, I am not going to compete in the Indianapolis 500, and my reasons are the same. I need to take care of what I signed up to do here with Joe Gibbs Racing. There are 200 employees at Joe Gibbs Racing, making all sorts of sacrifices to provide me with everything I need to go out and win races. When you go back and forth between Indy and Charlotte, it puts a strain on the entire team. As much as my heart wants to do it, I can't justify putting my personal ambitions ahead of the sacrifices made by my race team."

Stewart, who has yet to win a Winston Cup race this year and currently is seventh in the standings, is the only driver ever to complete the Indianapolis 500 and a NASCAR event the same day. Two years ago, he came in sixth in the Indy 500 and third in the Coca-Cola 600.

Last year, he elected not to attempt the double.

"If I get a chance to go back someday and the circumstances are right, I will," Stewart said. "I think it's about priorities. I'm not going to say I'm getting wiser as I'm getting older, because I'm not sure that has ever been the case, but at least I'm trying to take care of the people who are working hard for me each week."

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