The Orange Underground and Niko

The Orange Underground and Niko

Earlier this week, the first goaltender to wash ashore in the Flyers' 2011 Goalie Watch was that of Niko Hovinen, a name likely unknown to hockey fans in the Delaware Valley. In a sign of the media times we live in, Hovinen's signing to an entry-level contract was picked up by most if not all local mainstream outlets, many blogs, and quite a few national and international sites. Just a few years ago, most people who now know the name Niko Hovinen outside of Europe would never have heard it at this stage of his Flyers career.

Naturally, the question that first comes to mind is, so is this guy ever going to be a Flyer? No clue. I'm one of the masses that had never heard of him.

Here's a brief summary of what we do know about Hovinen, as well as a link to someone who has more deep-rooted opinions.

(1) He's freakin' huge. Most sites are listing him at 6'7. It's unknown whether this is a necessarily a major advantage, as there are no plans for the height of the crossbars to be raised that I know of. Obviously it means he has longer legs and theoretically more range with his glove and blocker though, which would be a plus. But quickness and great size are not often correlative attributes. Again, I've never seen him play, so…

(2) He was already drafted and left to stay in Finland. The Wild selected Hovinen in 2006. He's said to have developed his game over the last two seasons there though, putting him back on the North American radar.

(3) If he does make it to the big club, we'll have trouble picking just one musical reference for him. Today we went with the German singer/model/actress with whom I share a birthday (pictured with her crew). On our first ever Hovinen post got a quick Hova comment, so that could stick if we ever do see this guy in North America. Maybe Big Pappi?

(4) His path to the NHL might not be easy. This may sound obvious, but hey, Sergei Bobrovsky went from relative obscurity to rookie sensation (early on anyway) in the blink of an eye, so anything's possible. But Hovinen has a lot of game to gain, as well as a string of goalies already in the Flyers system and hoping for a crack at the big gig.

(5) Here's a link to The Goalie Guild's Nine Thoughts on Niko Hovinen. Solid mix of facts and opinions from someone who's been tracking him longer than a week.

(6) This may be the most we ever post about Hovinen. See item 4. However, if he does one day make it, his will be an interesting story to cover.

With T.J. McConnell, Hawks say Sixers have 'identity' worth respecting

With T.J. McConnell, Hawks say Sixers have 'identity' worth respecting

ATLANTA – The final score was a little lopsided and the game was sloppy at times, but after beating Philadelphia, 110-93, Saturday night, the Hawks said they see promise in the rising young Sixers.

The Sixers didn’t have the legs on the tail end of back-to-back games to keep up with another hot team, and Joel Embiid did not play, as Atlanta (26-18) won for the 11th time in 13 games to move within a half game of Boston for the No. 3 spot in the East.

Yet if not for the Sixers' 21 turnovers and a second quarter where Atlanta seemed to make every shot, the Sixers (15-27) looked enough like the team that had won eight of 10 games before arriving in Philips Arena that the Hawks see differences.

The biggest change in the Sixers between Saturday and the first two meetings of the season between these two teams — one played with Embiid and one without — is T.J. McConnell starting at point guard rather than Sergio Rodriguez.

McConnell had a game-high 11 assists against the Hawks in addition to his eight points, and the Sixers had 27 assists on a night where they hit 12 of 29 three-pointers.

“They have an identity,” said Atlanta forward Kent Bazemore, who scored 16. “McConnell is playing really well, putting pressure on the defense and their floor spacing is very good. Very disciplined group.

“Guys are in the right spots, if a guy drives, they have a plethora of options: a guy in the corner, a guy on the jumper, a guy on the wing. They kept us honest for a chunk of the game.”

Ersan Ilyasova scored 21 points on 15 shots and Robert Covington added 15 points and 10 rebounds, but the Sixers were gassed in the second quarter, as the Hawks hit 16 of 23 shots in a 37-point period.

Atlanta stretched a 62-54 halftime lead to 18 points late in the third quarter, but the Sixers cut the deficit to 94-87 with 6:46 left in the game on a pair of free throws by rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.

The Sixers whipped the Hawks, 20-11, in fast break points.

“They were getting some threes in transition,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who was on the Spurs' staff for years with Sixers head coach Brett Brown. “Right now, they’re pushing the pace.

“T.J. McConnell does a great job of getting outlets, getting up the court and finding shooters quickly and they’re letting it fly. Covington and Ilyasova and those guys are collapsing us early and shooting early threes.”

The Sixers had problems on the boards in Atlanta, where Dwight Howard grabbed 15 and Paul Millsap added 10 as the Hawks built a 48-38 rebounding edge. Those numbers were every bit as important as Millsap’s 21 points and the 13 added by Howard.

That disparity on the boards and the Sixers' collective loose handle did in the visitors. Atlanta scored 17 points off the Sixers’ 21 turnovers.

Embiid was scheduled to rest Saturday anyway. It’s unclear whether he’ll play Tuesday against the Clippers, who will be without guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin, or Wednesday at Milwaukee.

Embiid suffered a knee contusion in Friday night’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers and Brown said he’d be further evaluated Sunday.

Get him back in the mix, and The Sixers have a shot at starting another winning streak.

“We did a good shot of holding them to one shot,” Howard said after the Hawks outscored the Sixers, 14-0, in second-chance points. “They play really hard. They play aggressive. They play good team basketball. They share the ball and find the open man. They have a good group of young guys.

“It wasn’t as easy as people expect out of Philly teams. You have to respect them.”

Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

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USA Today Images

Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Authorities in the Dominican Republic say that Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura and former major leaguer Andy Marte both have died in separate traffic accidents.

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo says Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of Santo Domingo. He says it's not clear if Ventura was driving.

Metropolitan traffic authorities say Marte died when a car he was driving hit a house along a road between San Francisco de Macoris and Pimentel, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital.