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Live from the Air Canada Centre: Bandits vs. Rock

7:01 p.m. -- It's time for Thursday Night Lights in Toronto.

I'm not sure when the Bandits' last Thursday night game was, but they've got one tonight. They play the Rock here in Toronto. It's the start of a big week for Buffalo, as the Bandits will host the Philadelphia Wings tomorrow. So it's two games in two nights against the team's top rivals in the East Division race at the moment.

The most interesting aspect of the game as we head for the start is the Bandits' lineup. There have been a few changes.

Tracey Kelusky is said to be on the injured reserve list with a rib injury. He is said to have hurt it in the Bandits' last game, at Rochester.

John Tavares is in the lineup. He has missed the last month with a calf injury. Darris Kilgour, the coach of the team, said that he might rest Tavares tomorrow.

Here's another surprise - Mat Giles has been activated and is in the lineup. And Mike McNamara is back on defense. McNamara will be wearing #77 instead of #14; the usual number supposedly got lost. Hayden Smith and Brownell have been released, at least on paper. This is one crowded roster.

The scratches tonight - Jon Harasym, Mike Hominuck and Carter Bender. Kurtis Wagar is back to serve as the second-stringer behind Anthony Cosmo. Wonder if Wagar will get a start tomorrow?

7:31 p.m. - The game is on youtube.com through the Lacrosse Network. Go to nll.com for a link if that's easier.

This is not the place to be with a slight headache, the volume on the public address system is always pretty high. There aren't too many people in the building. It's hard to guess a number, but it won't be much of a home-court advantage.

NLL Commissioner George Daniel is in the house tonight. What's more, he was at the Bandits' game in Rochester two weeks ago, and he'll be in Buffalo tomorrow. I'm starting to think he's a secret Bandits fan.

7:46 p.m. - It's been a rather wide-open start to play. Aaron Wilson and Shawn Williams have the Buffalo goals.

7:55 p.m. - John Tavares looked fine when he scored a moment ago. He got a step on a defender, drove to the net, dove across the crease and stuffed it home. So welcome back, number 11. 3-2 Buffalo with 4:44 to go in the first.

8:02 p.m. - Bandits exit the first quarter with a 4-2 lead. Tavares made the proverbial sweet pass to Aaron Wilson for the fourth goal.

8:13 P.M. - Hard to keep the Rock quiet for long. Kasey Beirnes and Garrett Billings have made it a 4-4 game with 8:12 to go in the period.

8:21 p.m. - Wow. Shawn Williams just went behind-the-neck to score a go-ahead goal. Very nice. It's 6-5, Buffalo, with 3:57 left.

8:30 p.m. - Halftime, and the score is still 6-5. Bandits probably had a slight edge in play, but nothing decisive.

8:55 p.m. - The Rock scored two goals in less than a minute. That ties the score at 7-7 with 8:18 to go in the third quarter. Jay Thorimburt had an unassisted goal for the Bandits to start the quarter. He's having a fine, quiet year. If there were an award for unsung hero of the first half, which there isn't, Jay would get my vote.

9:02 p.m. - Toronto up, 8-7, and on the power play. ... And Colin Doyle dribbles one home for the biggest lead of the night.

9:13 p.m. - The third quarter wasn't all Rock, but it was close. Toronto has an 11-8 lead. The Rock can throw its five top scorers out shift after shift, and after a while they will get some goals.

9:18 p.m. - Two quick goals by the Bandits (Thorimburt and Shawn Williams) have cut the lead to one at 11-10. Oops. Buffalo strikes as I type this (Billy Dee Smith).

9:22 p.m. - Ten minutes to go, and the Bandits and Rock are tied 11-11.

9:29 p.m. - Who saw this coming? Bandits are up 13-11 with 6:32 to play.

9:35 p.m. - Bandits up 14-13 with two minutes left. OK, now make it 48 seconds left, and the Bandits have the ball.

9:44 p.m. - Tavares scores into an empty net, and the Bandits win, 15-13. Quite a win.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Adrian Dantley

(Born on February 28, 1956) -- As we finish up this list of Buffalo’s sports birthdays after a full year, we salute someone who did well in Buffalo but who stayed for much too short a time.

Adrian Dantley came out of the legendary high school basketball programs in the country, DeMatha of suburban Washington, D.C. He moved on to play college basketball at Notre Dame, where he became one of the school’s all-time greats. Dantley helped end UCLA’s 88-game win streak as a freshman in 1974, and became an All-American as a sophomore and junior. The forward won a gold medal with the U.S. team in Montreal in 1976.

That same year, Dantley became the first-round draft choice of the Buffalo Braves. He was the sixth pick overall. There was some doubt about whether the 6-foot-5 forward could play his low post game in the pros, but he silenced those thoughts quickly. Dantley became rookie of the year, the Braves’ third in their history.

The Braves shipped Dantley to Indiana in the offseason, the first time a rookie of the year had been traded before he started his second season with that team. Dantley was traded to the Lakers from there, and then later to the Jazz. In Utah he led the league in scoring twice and averaged more than 30 points per game four times.

Dantley moved on to Detroit from there, and also played for Dallas and Milwaukee. He averaged 24.3 points per game in his career, and was an easy choice for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Thank you for reading this feature over the past 365 days.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Eddie Brown

(Born on February 27, 1969) -- Consider yourself one of the all-time Buffalo sports experts if this name rings any sort of bell. The obvious hint is that he played football, but not the kind of football you’re considering.

Brown played high school football at Muskegon High (Mich.), where he won a state championship. Then it was on to Grand Rapids Community College and Michigan State. Brown started as wide receiver in 1989 and as a defensive back in 1990.

That sort of two-way ability was perfect with the Arena Football League. He joined the Tampa Bay Storm, and won a championship in 1991. Brown also won titles there in 1993 and 1995.

Eventually Brown came to the Buffalo Destroyers. He caught 48 passes in his first year here in 1999, and stayed for three more seasons. The team eventually named its “big hit” award after him.

“Downtown” moved into coaching from there. He’s apparently found a home at Grand Valley State, serving as the running backs coach for the past three years.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Sam Cowart

(Born on February 26, 1975) -- The National Football League career of Sam Cowart wasn’t a long one. At least Buffalo’s football fans had the chance to see him at his best.

Cowart was born in Jacksonville, Fla., and played high school football there. He was a dominant player by the time he was a senior, as he was all-state and was considered one of the nation’s elite players. That earned him a trip to Florida State.

The linebacker was part of a national championship in 1993, and led the Seminoles in tackles in 1995. After missing a year with an injury, Cowart was a first-team All-American pick in 1997. That helped make him a second-round pick of the Bills.

By 2000, Cowart was considered one of the best linebackers in the league and made the Pro Bowl. But a block resulted in a bad ankle injury at the end of the year, and then on opening day in 2001 he tore his Achilles. Cowart left as a free agent for the Jets.

He started almost all of New York’s games, but was never quite the same. He lost his starting job in 2005, and then passed through Minnesota and Houston before retiring.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Don Majkowski

(Born on February 25, 1964) -- Don Majkowski probably knows he’ll be associated with a trivia question for the rest of his life. He also knows he had a heck of a ride in the National Football League.

Majkowski was born and raised in Western New York, and was a standout at Depew High School. He led Depew to a sectional championship in 1982. The quarterback spent a year with Fork Union Military Academy; the team went unbeaten.

Majkowski moved on to the University of Virginia. It didn’t take him long to become the starting quarterback there. By the time he was done, he was the Cavaliers’ all-time leader in passing and total offense.

A 10th round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers, Majkowski was a starter for five games as a rookie. But injuries were a problem for him. In 1992, he hurt his ankle ... and was replaced by an unknown named Brett Favre.

As you’d expect, Majkowski never got his job back. He played a little for Indianapolis and Detroit before retiring. Don is now living in Atlanta and works in real estate at last report.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Bubba Phillips

(Born on February 24, 1928) -- Bubba Phillips waited quite a while for the chance to play major league baseball. Once he arrived, he stayed for more than a decade.

Phillips was born in Mississippi, and his brother gave him the nickname that stayed with him for life. In high school, he scored an amazing 235 points for the football team in only nine games. Phillips said it was a small school; he even kicked extra points.

Phillips moved on to Mississippi Southern College, where he played football and basketball. He chose to try his luck as a pro baseball player, and played with the Buffalo Bisons in 1952. There he hit .291 with 14 homers.

Phillips was ready for a shot at the big leagues, but a two-year stint in the armed forces delayed that. However, he was the starting left fielder for the Tigers in 1955 on opening day. Phillips bounced to the White Sox and Indians before returning to Detroit.

His final major league appearance came in 1964, and spent part of 1965 in the minors. Then Phillips retired, and worked in real estate in Mississippi. He died of a heart attack in 1993.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Joe Devlin

(Born on February 23, 1954) -- It’s easy to think that Joe Devlin was very happy to play in a few playoff games as a Buffalo Bill early in the 1980s. Otherwise, he was one of the few bright spots on some poor Bills’ teams.

Devlin grew up in Pennsylvania and played his college football at the University of Iowa. He was an All-American as a senior, and was considered a top prospect by NFL scouts at that point.

The Bills grabbed the tackle in the second round with a pick that was acquired from the Cardinals for Walt Patulski. Devlin needed a year to move into the starting lineup. But once he arrived in that spot in 1977, he stayed for more than a decade.

Devlin never did make it to a Pro Bowl. That was more due to the surrounding talent around him and that fact that he didn’t talk too much to the media. But he helped such players as Terry Miller, Joe Cribbs and Greg Bell compile 1,000-yard seasons.

Devlin finished his career having played 191 games as a Bill, starting 179 of them. Joe DeLamielleure called him one of the best tackles to line up next to him. That’s high praise from a Hall of Famer.

--- Budd Bailey

Running notebook: End of the line

It's the weekend that many runners associate with standing still. But maybe it will be different this time.

The Shamrock Run starts distributing jackets on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Old First Ward Community Center on Republic St. The session runs through 2 p.m. Then on Sunday, the hours are also 10 to 2. Starting Monday, the facility will be handing out the premiums from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Last year, many were worried about getting shut out of sizes, so they showed up Saturday morning. That led to long lines. This time, everyone is guaranteed a jacket (5,500 available). Therefore, there's probably less of a need to be early ... and that should ease the traffic problem.

The Shamrock Run, which among other qualities starts the News Runner of the Year series, goes off on March 2.

Meanwhile, there's another event that will see runners who aren't in motion. Meb Keflezighi will be addressing area runners thorugh a special closed-circuit connection on Thursday. The session will be at 672 Wehrle Drive in Williamsville. There's no charge, but donations will be taken for Cradle Beach. Visit http://www.mebmeetsbuffalo.com for details.

Meanwhile, actual races will take place this weekend. I may do one myself, if this bug I caught goes away. Here are the details from buffalorunners.com:

* Polar Bear 5K, 1691 Lockport-Olcott Road in Olcott, 10 a.m. on Sunday, 434-8887. The annual chance to finish ahead of the running Polar Bear.

* Canisius Chilly Challenge 5K, 1180 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, 12 noon on Sunday, 882-0466.

-- Budd Bailey

Post Time: From Television to the Track

By Gene Kershner

The Kentucky Derby Championship Series heats up this weekend with the most valuable races to date as we move into the first leg of the new points system after the conclusion on Monday of the Prep Season. The next eight qualifying races will be worth 50-20-10-5 points to the top four finishers.

The Derby trail will hit Florida and Louisiana this weekend with the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park and the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. The Risen Star presents the first real opportunity to see just how Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens’ comeback is coming along. The NBC and HRTV analyst ended his seven-year retirement in January and will ride Proud Strike (8-1) for trainer Steve Asmussen on Saturday at the Fair Grounds.

Over a year ago he was starring in the HBO Series “Luck” which was canceled prematurely last March amid the death of several horses during filming.  On Tuesday afternoon in a call with the national racing media Stevens addressed some of the obstacles he’s faced on the comeback trail.

“Obstacle number one as far as the critics, you know I'm getting to turn 50 years old. I knew that I was going to be under the microscope. You're always under the microscope in this sport regardless of what you've done the day before, let alone seven years prior to. And, you know, I had thought about this through midway last summer and I had a plan that I put in place and tried to execute it and really didn't know how things were going to turn out, what the expectation was going to be and it's been overwhelming. Unexpected and I'm just honored to be back riding the type of horses for the people that I'm riding for and to get a phone call to go in and ride a colt like Proud Strike in the Risen Star is beyond my biggest dreams,” said Stevens.

Stevens is pumped about the opportunity to be back on the Derby trail and was ecstatic upon getting the call on Proud Strike. “He's been progressing with every one of his races and when I got the phone call I was pretty excited. And he looks like a colt that has just taken huge steps up with every race; and if he takes a big step off of that maiden breaker then, you know, it's good enough.”

The maiden race he references was a 11/16-mile race in January over the Fair Grounds surface where he pulled away to a 7-1/2 length victory. He will face much tougher company on Saturday afternoon in a full field of 14 colts. His biggest challengers will be Grade 2 Remsen winner Normandy Invasion (5-2), Grade 3 LeComte winner Oxbow (5-1), west coast shipper Code West (6-1) and Mylute (6-1), a son of Breeders’ Cup sprint champion Midnight Lute for trainer Tom Amoss. Code West looks the most interesting of the bunch, coming off a second place finish behind Super Ninety Nine, who decimated the Southwest field at Oaklawn on Monday afternoon. Baffert will also add blinkers to Code West. 

Should Stevens bag the 50 points with a win, he may have a tough choice to make as he is scheduled to cover the Derby as an analyst for NBC.” If I actually think I've got a legitimate chance to win the Kentucky Derby, I'm going to be out on a horseback and NBC will be riding with me. I think that we're in a position right now that that opportunity is there. I don't want to say yes or no because it's like putting the cart in front of the horse, but I'm very optimistic and I've got the support of NBC whichever decision winds up being made and the horses at the end of the day are going to make the decision for me.”

Gulfstream Park has 11 horses entered for the Fountain of Youth, and Todd Pletcher will once again, be in the role of favorite with a heavily favored Violence (9-5), a colt sired by Medaglia d’Oro and ridden by Javier Castellano. The Cash Call Futurity winner has raced just three times over three different tracks winning each race. If you’re trying to beat him, I’d look to Orb for trainer Shug McGaughey with Johnny Velazquez aboard. He’s second off the layoff and second time Lasix, so he might be ready to step up after posting a sharp workout on Feb. 18. 

It should be a great weekend of racing to kick off the first leg of the Championship Series, so buckle up as the Derby trail heats up. 

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Pat LaFontaine

(Born on February 22, 1965) -- It’s fair to say that Pat LaFontaine’s stay in Buffalo was too short, and that it was never boring.

LaFontaine certainly ranks as one of the greatest American-born hockey players in history. He was born in St. Louis but moved to Michigan as a youngster. There he learned the game, and played junior hockey in Quebec. In his last season for Verdun, the center had 234 points in 70 games.

LaFontaine was the first draft choice (third overall) of the Islanders in 1983. He just missed playing on the New York dynasty of the early 1980s. His most famous goal of that time came in 1987, when he scored in a four-overtime contest against the Capitals.

LaFontaine was caught up in a contract dispute in 1991, and that led to a major trade with the Sabres involving Pierre Turgeon. LaFontaine picked up his game here, scoring 148 points in the 1992-93 campaign. He teamed with Alexander Mogilny in a season to remember.

LaFontaine had injury problems after that, and suffered a concussion that cost him most of the 1996-97 season. He and the Sabres disagreed on his condition a year later, and he was traded to the Rangers for a draft choice. Another concussion ended his career in the spring of 1998.

--- Budd Bailey

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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