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Ex-Cowboys star Leighton Vander Esch, 28, retires from NFL after several neck injuries

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Ex-Cowboys star Leighton Vander Esch, 28, retires from NFL after several neck injuries

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Former Dallas Cowboys star Leighton Vander Esch announced his retirement on Monday due to injuries.

Vander Esch, 28, suffered a season-ending neck injury against the San Francisco 49ers during the team’s Week 5 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It would be the third time in six seasons he played in 10 games or fewer.

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The Cowboys released him last week.

He thanked his wife, coaches, fans, his agent and his alma mater Boise State in his retirement message posted on the Cowboys’ team website.

FILE – Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch walks on the field before an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde, File)

“During my six years as a Cowboys player, I’ve always pursued success and winning football games, while preparing and training with the highest standards of competition, passion and perseverance,” he said in part. “It has been an honor to represent my family, my teammates and the people of Dallas.

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“I realize that I am no longer able to adhere to the unwavering standard of excellence that professional football demands. I say this with a heavy heart: I am medically retiring from the NFL. I love the game of football so much, but my body won’t cooperate any longer. 

“I cherished every moment of my NFL career, and it has been such a blessing to play the game for as long as I have played. This year, things may look a little different for me, but the sole focus is being a great husband and father for my loving family.”

Leighton Vander Esch vs Patriots

Leighton Vander Esch #55 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at AT&T Stadium on October 01, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

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The Cowboys selected Vander Esch with the No. 19 overall pick of the 2018 draft. He quickly became an integral part of the defense, earning a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie season.

In his second year, the injuries began. He suffered a nerve issue in his neck which forced him to miss the final few weeks of the season. The 2020 season was also derailed because of another nerve issue in his neck. He managed to return in the middle of the season.

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Vander Esch played in every game in 2021, racking up 77 tackles, a sack and an interception. But in 2022, it was more of the same. He suffered a neck stinger that cost him a few games. He managed to play for Dallas in the playoffs, but the Cowboys didn’t go far.

In 2023, Vander Esch had 30 tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. He only played in five games.

“I thank God every day for all that He has given me: my family, my friends, my teammates, and being on this stage to impact people’s lives in a positive way,” he concluded. “Today, I would like to thank God for the countless blessings he continues to shower over my family and me. You have given me a new healthy baby girl and a wife that follows you.

Leighton Vander Esch vs Jets

FILE – Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55) looks to defend during an NFL football game against the New York Jets on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson, File)

“Without trusting in your unwavering love and guidance, I know I wouldn’t have made it this far. You have blessed me with the ability to become a Dallas Cowboy and for allowing me the privilege of a 6-year professional football career. I strive to let you work through me in this next chapter to continue to impact people’s lives and to be a light in this world.”

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Ex-French Olympian rips Joel Embiid for choosing to play for Team USA over France at Paris Olympics

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Ex-French Olympian rips Joel Embiid for choosing to play for Team USA over France at Paris Olympics

A former French Olympian ripped Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid in a recent interview over the center’s decision to play for Team USA in the upcoming Paris Olympics.

Embiid, who is originally from Cameroon, was granted French citizenship in July 2022 and American citizenship in September 2022. He said he chose to play for Team USA because of his family, according to Delaware Online.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, #21, looks on during a break in the third quarter against the Orlando Magic at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on April 12, 2024. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Frédéric Weis, who is mostly known for being dunked on by Vince Carter during the 2000 Olympics, blasted Embiid during a French radio show.

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“I consider this boy a great player as much as he is a dirty guy,” Weis said, via Eurohoops. “I hate him for the things that he did. I think he doesn’t have any respect for France and also for all the people who are asking for a French passport and don’t get it. 

“And under the pretext that he is a great athlete, he got it. I find it scandalous, I find it embarrassing. I don’t care about his excuses, cause they are his words, and his words mean nothing.”

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Vince Carter dunks on Frederic Weis

Vince Carter of the USA leaps over Frederic Weis of France to dunk during the Mens Basketball Preliminaries at the Dome in the Olympic Park on Day 10 of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. (Darren McNamara/Allsport)

Weis said France gave him a passport to begin with because he was such a good basketball player. He said players choosing which team they want to play for nationally are making a “business decision”

The former top 15 NBA Draft pick then added how he would resolve the situation.

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“I would take away from him the French nationality and I would ban him from entering France,” he added. “You will not play in the Olympics. You will come to the airport with Team USA and we will say: You don’t have the right to enter the territory, go to your home. You are Cameroonian, you are American, you are not French, go away.”

Joel Embiid dives for the loose ball

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, #21, watches a loose ball bounce away during the fourth quarter Orlando Magic at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on April 12, 2024. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Embiid and the 76ers are battling the New York Knicks in the NBA playoffs.

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Why Kings vs. Oilers is one of the NHL's truly great rivalries

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Why Kings vs. Oilers is one of the NHL's truly great rivalries

Ted Donato was born in Boston and played nine of his 13 NHL seasons with the Bruins, so he was raised to see the Bruins-Canadiens playoff series as a rite of spring, one just as iconic — and almost as frequent — as the Boston Marathon or opening day at Fenway Park.

The two teams have met 34 times in the postseason, making it the most common matchup in NHL playoff history. But that familiarity has hardly bred contempt.

“I loved it,” said Donato, who had three goals and four assists in 13 playoff appearances against Montreal. “For someone who grew up as a fan, those were the games that you always looked forward to.”

The Oilers and Kings have also become regular partners on the Stanley Cup playoff calendar. When they face off Monday in Edmonton, it will mark the 10th time they’ve met in the playoffs and the third time in as many seasons. And while that series has a long way to go to match the history of Montreal-Boston, the rivalry has already built a passion all its own — especially since Edmonton has eliminated the Kings the last five times they’ve met, including the last two seasons.

“There’s a redemption. You want to redeem yourself,” said Kings broadcaster Jim Fox, who played in three playoff series against the Oilers. “I’m sure there’s guys in the room — I would assume there’s guys in the room — that want to beat Edmonton because they’ve lost two years in a row.

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“That doesn’t mean they want to play Edmonton. It means they want to beat Edmonton. It’s not a preference to play them. It’s a desire that they want to prove that they can do it.”

Because they haven’t done it very often.

Including playoffs, the Kings and Oilers have met 25 times in the last three seasons — no two teams have played as often — with the Kings winning only nine of those games.

So would the Kings, who haven’t won a first-round playoff series against any team since 2014 and haven’t won a series with Edmonton since 1989, Wayne Gretzky’s first season in Los Angeles, have been better off opening the postseason somewhere else?

“It’s a great question,” said Fox, who was part of the “Miracle on Manchester” Kings team in 1982 that defeated a heavily favored Oilers squad during Gretzky’s 212-point season. “Do you want something new? I haven’t polled the players but I assume more of them would say we need a chance again to beat Edmonton as opposed to let’s try something new.”

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But if the playoff history with the Oilers isn’t exactly reassuring, there are some similarities between this Kings team and the franchise’s first Stanley Cup champion in 2012 that are far more encouraging.

That team changed coaches midway through the season, with Darryl Sutter replacing Terry Murray. That happened this winter as well, when interim coach Jim Hiller took over for Todd McLellan.

The 2011-12 Kings won nine of their last 15 games to finish third in the Pacific Division; this season’s team won 10 of its last 15 to finish third in the Pacific Division. That team had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the two previous seasons; this team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the two previous seasons.

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That team had a top line centered by Anze Kopitar and a blue line that featured Drew Doughty; this team still has a top line centered by Anze Kopitar and a defense corps led by Drew Doughty.

“Every year is different. But I like the way we play,” said team president Luc Robitaille, who lost four playoff series to the Oilers when he played for the Kings. “We don’t give up much. We’re comfortable playing a 2-1 game. And that’s the way we were back then too.”

If there’s a major difference between this season’s Kings and their first Cup-winning squad, it’s in goal. The 2012 team had Jonathan Quick who, at 27, was arguably in his prime and could dominate a series. This season’s team has journeyman Cam Talbot, 36, who has played for six teams in as many seasons.

Trevor Moore, right, scores past Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner during a game on Feb. 26.

Trevor Moore, right, scores past Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner during a game on Feb. 26.

(Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)

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But then the playoffs don’t always reward the best team, they can reward the hottest one. Last year, the Bruins set NHL records for most wins (65) and most points (135) in a season, only to be bounced by Florida in the first round. The Detroit Red Wings suffered a similar fate in 1995-96, winning 62 games before losing in the conference final.

Then there was the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues, who had the worst record in the league on Jan. 3. Six months later they hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time.

“We bought a ticket to the playoffs and you never know what can happen,” said Kopitar, who has never beaten the Oilers in the playoffs. “It’s a brand-new slate, a brand-new sheet of paper. You’ve got to be on top of your game and make sure that you’re prepared, the team is prepared.

“Whatever’s on the other side of the ice, that’s what it is. If you want to go all the way, you’ve got to beat a lot of good teams.”

And sometimes you just have to wait your turn. The Bruins once lost 18 straight playoff series to the Canadiens before ending the drought in 1988 en route to the Stanley Cup Final. Donato said that did little to detract from the matchup; if anything, it made victory that much sweeter.

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“To be able to be part of the Bruins-Canadiens series was really one of the great memories I have,” said Donato, who stayed in Boston to build another career as the coach at Harvard, taking the Crimson to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2017. “There’s certainly something to be said for the history and tradition and the rivalries you see time and again.”

The Kings and Oilers are one of those rivalries, he said.

“There’s something to be said for the familiarity,” he continued. “With L.A. and Edmonton, and all the great players involved and the great teams that L.A.’s had over the last 25 years, I think it’s great for hockey.”

Ask the Kings and they’ll tell you it will be even greater if they win this time.

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Rangers' Matt Rempe makes immediate impact in 1st postseason game: 'I think I'm built for the playoffs'

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Rangers' Matt Rempe makes immediate impact in 1st postseason game: 'I think I'm built for the playoffs'

New York Rangers rookie Matt Rempe set the tone early for the team in their 4-1 Game 1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon.

Rempe scored the team’s first goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The score came in the second period. And before anyone knew it, the Rangers were up 3-0 by the time the game was in its second intermission.

New York Rangers’ Matt Rempe is seen during the third period in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals, April 21, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The forward, who has become a fan favorite during the year, heard his name chanted across Madison Square Garden. It only amplified his performance even more and appeared to give him the confidence to do it again through the rest of the postseason – as long as the Rangers are in it.

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“I know my game. I know I can skate well and be physical. I think I can be a real pain to play against down low, protecting pucks and going to the net,” Rempe said, per ESPN. “I think I’m built for the playoffs. I think that that’s where you want to play, and I was happy how tonight went.”

Rempe didn’t only turn the heads of fans at the Garden, but he made an even bigger believer of his veteran head coach, Peter Laviolette.

Rangers celebrate

The New York Rangers celebrate after winning Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals, April 21, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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“That was a big goal to put energy in the building, maybe because it was him, too, put a little more extra juice in the building,” Laviolette said. “And then be able to get another one right after that. That was a turning point in the game.”

Rempe’s score came off the stick of Jimmy Vesey, who also scored in the second period.

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“(Rempe) scoring sent the fans crazy, and we scored two more goals in the next few minutes,” Vesey said. “He definitely gets the crowd into the game and, as the team with home-ice advantage, you’re going to try to feed off that energy in the crowd.”

Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider also scored for the Rangers.

Jimmy Vesey breaks away

New York Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey, center, races for the puck with Washington Capitals’ T.J. Oshie, left, and Dylan McIlrath during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in New York.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Washington’s Martin Fehervary put the Capitals on the board in the second period.

Game 2 is set for Tuesday night in New York.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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