Ray Emery: A true Philadelphia hero for our time

Ray Emery: A true Philadelphia hero for our time

On Friday night, things were looking pretty ugly for the Flyers, and for our city too.

The Flyers were down 7-0 to the Washington Capitals, in front of a hostile Wells Fargo Center crowd. In the third period, things looked pretty hopeless.

At that point, some teams would have rolled over and died. Some teams would have given up the fight. Some goalies would have stood idly by and let their team get its butt kicked. But not Ray Emery.

The Flyers goalie skated the length of the ice and challenged Caps goalie Braden Holtby. Holtby wanted no part of it -- can you blame him? -- but Emery won the fight decisively (video here). The brawl had the positive effect of sending the crowd home happy despite a 7-0 loss.

Some complained. Some called it "classless" or "bush league," the way they always have, for the last 40 years, whenever the Flyers have showed any kind of on-ice toughness. Even the commissioner of the NHL reacted to the fight by vowing to change the rules to prevent it from happening again! if something you did causes the commissioner of your sport to take action to prevent it, that's a sign that you're doing something right.

Are the Flyers supposed to change the way they play the game because Pat Sajak doesn't approve?

And guess what: it worked. Emery, it's clear, provided the local teams with a spark that they desperately needed- because since that game ended, every Philadelphia professional sports team is undefeated.

The Flyers won their next game, 1-0 against the Devils on Saturday. The Sixers -- a team that's not even supposed to be trying to win -- started the year 3-0, including wins over the Bulls and Heat. And the Eagles, behind a record-tying performance from Superstar Nick Foles, notched a dominant road victory over the Raiders on Sunday. When the baseball free agent signing period starts Tuesday, I expect the Phillies to immediately sign Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Garza.

So thank you Ray Emery. You're our spark plug. Our inspiration. Our hero.

Other Philly sports takes:

- You know I don't like to gloat. But I was clearly right, all along, about Nick Foles. Did Donovan McNabb ever throw seven touchdowns in a game? I rest my case.

- A lot to be happy about in that big Eagles win Sunday, but best of all, how about that Riley Cooper? It's hard to disagree with what Nick Foles told Peter King after the game: "I am so proud of Riley Cooper. So happy for him. After what he's been through, and how hard he's worked, this is great." With the adversity that Cooper has overcome, he's clearly frontrunner for both Comeback Player of the Year and the Ed Block Courage Award.

- Most importantly, the Eagles sent a clear message. To Marcus Vick. They sure showed him.

- I knew the Sixers would start winning as soon as Andrew Bynum was healthy.

- Philadelphia athlete/sometime convict power rankings: 1. Dykstra 2. Pete Rose 3. El Wingador 4. Michael Vick 5. Ugueth Urbina 592. Freddie Mitchell.

- Speaking of which, I've got a feeling that when it's the 20th anniversary of the 2008 Phillies team, Shane Victorino and Brad Lidge won't be getting into near-fistfights at the Granite Run Mall.
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Draymond Green fined, not suspended for kick to groin of Steven Adams

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Draymond Green fined, not suspended for kick to groin of Steven Adams

NEW YORK -- Draymond Green has been fined $25,000 but not suspended by the NBA for kicking Oklahoma City's Steven Adams in the groin.

The league also upgraded the foul to a flagrant 2, which would have resulted in an automatic ejection had officials given it that ruling when it happened.

But Green will be on the floor when the Warriors try to even the Western Conference finals at 2-2 on Tuesday at Oklahoma City.

Green was called for a fragrant foul 1 after he was fouled by Adams with 5:57 remaining in the second quarter and kicked his leg up into Adams' groin. Though the Thunder felt it was intentional, Green and Warriors coach Steve Kerr said they believed the flagrant would actually be rescinded by the league (see full story).

Magic: Frank Vogel formally introduced as new coach
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It hasn't been the offseason new Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel was expecting.

Just days after his Indiana Pacers were ousted from the first-round of the NBA playoffs by Toronto, Vogel was informed his contract wasn't being renewed after five-plus seasons.

But then came the brief unemployment whirlwind.

Vogel's phone was constantly ringing, leading to talks and interviews with other NBA teams. It finally ended Thursday when he was hired by the Magic, who were unexpectedly in the market for a head coach (see full story).

Raptors: Valanciunas active for Game 4 of Conference Finals
TORONTO -- Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is active for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland on Monday night, but will not start against the Cavaliers.

Valanciunas has not played since spraining his right ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 against Miami on May 7.

Valanciunas is averaging 15 points and 12.1 rebounds in 10 games this postseason.

Starting in place of Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo had a Raptors playoff-record 26 rebounds as Toronto won 99-84 in Game 3 on Saturday, snapping Cleveland's 10-game winning streak to start the playoffs.

The Cavs lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.

Phillies sign Cuban outfielder Osmel Aguila for depth

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Phillies sign Cuban outfielder Osmel Aguila for depth

DETROIT — The Phillies added some outfield depth to their system on Monday when they finalized a minor-league contract with Cuban outfielder Osmel Aguila.

The team began targeting the 26-year-old Aguila in spring training after Aaron Altherr’s wrist injury reduced some of the club’s outfield depth. Aguila signed for $100,000.

Aguila will work out with the extended spring training club in Clearwater and work his way through the system with an eye toward getting to Triple A and possibly the majors, depending on the team’s need and his performance.

"He's a solid all-around player," general manager Matt Klentak said. "He can play all three outfield positions, but is probably more of a corner guy. By age and experience level, he could [rise to the majors later this season], but he has to go to the minor leagues and earn it."

Aguila is listed at 5-11 and 179 pounds. He played six seasons in Cuba’s top league and hit .280 with 33 homers, 133 RBIs and a .831 OPS in 324 games.

Andre Blake to stay in net for two more games before Jamaica call-up

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Andre Blake to stay in net for two more games before Jamaica call-up

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union are about to embark on perhaps their toughest road trip of the season. 

But it just got a little bit more manageable as head coach Jim Curtin revealed Monday that star goalkeeper Andre Blake will be in the net for both matches before only then leaving to join the Jamaican national team ahead of Copa America Centenario.

The initial belief was that Blake would have to miss at least one of the upcoming games to prepare for the marquee tournament that pits the best countries from North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. But the Union got a stroke of good fortune before hitting the road to face Orlando City on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., CSN) and the Colorado Rapids on Saturday (9 p.m., TCN).

“First of all, Jamaica’s been excellent with us — great to work with,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “We came to the conclusion what is best for both parties is that he is with us up until the Columbus game [on June 1]. So the Columbus game is the only game he will miss.”

Jamaica’s first Copa game isn’t until June 5 when the Reggae Boyz take on Venezuela at Chicago’s Soldier Field. But their training camp opens this week and Jamaica faces Chile in a friendly on Friday, which is why few believed Blake would make the trip with Philly to Colorado.

But getting the chance for another live MLS game — against a Rapids team that currently owns the best record in the league, no less — appears to be something Jamaican head coach Winfried Schafer valued more than a friendly.

And Blake will be happy to try to continue his MLS momentum after earning his third shutout of the season in Friday’s 1-0 victory over D.C. United.

“It’s great,” Blake said. “It’s always a confidence booster getting 90 minutes, getting experience and learning every time you touch the pitch. Every time I get to play a game, it’s great for me and it just builds my confidence. Going into Copa, I’m looking forward to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Jamaica will certainly be underdogs at Copa as they’ll follow their opener vs. Venezuela with matches against Mexico on June 9 and Uruguay on June 13 — two of the top 16 teams in the FIFA World Rankings and the big favorites to get out of that group and into the Copa quarterfinals.

But the Reggae Boyz will likely have a chance in every game because of Blake, who’s made several hard-to-believe saves this season while emerging as one of the top goalies in MLS. Against D.C. United, he made a stunning stop on Alvaro Sabario to help the Union climb to first place in the Eastern Conference, and was later named to the bench of the MLS Team of the Week.

“It was a reaction save,” Blake said. “And as I’ve said before, I’m in net to make the saves and do everything I can to keep my team in the game.”

Soon, that team will be Jamaica. And Blake can’t wait to play for his home country on a global stage, especially after falling to third string on Jamaica’s depth chart during last summer’s Gold Cup because of injuries and a lack of playing time in Philly.

But for now, he’s still ready to do it for the Union. And Curtin is grateful he’ll likely only have to go into battle once without his star ’keeper because of the fact that MLS will go on a Copa break for a couple of weeks in June.

“It’s great,” Curtin said. “Obviously his form speaks for itself. He’s a big part of us getting points. To go into two hostile environments now and know that he’s going to be in there is very valuable.

“Having said that, we are very confident in our two backup goalkeepers [John McCarthy and Matt Jones], so when the decision’s made for Columbus, we’ll make one that gives us the best opportunity to get three points. But to have Andre with us is incredibly valuable. He’s playing at a very high level.”