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'Super underrated' Evan Rodrigues' record-tying Stanley Cup start is no surprise to past, present teammates

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'Super underrated' Evan Rodrigues' record-tying Stanley Cup start is no surprise to past, present teammates

SUNRISE, Fla. — Evan Rodrigues smiled wide Monday night when a Toronto columnist asked what he would have said before the Stanley Cup Final had he been told two games in that he’d be outscoring Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman, who combined for 127 regular-season goals.

“It’s pretty cool,” the Florida Panthers forward said, then shifting into wise-veteran mode and showing some humility in not giving the Edmonton Oilers, down 0-2 in the best-of-seven championship series, extra motivation going back home.

“I’m not too worried about the point totals or goals. At the end of the day, we’re looking for wins here and, yeah, that’s all I care about. It’s nice to contribute. It’s nice to contribute to a win.”

The 30-year-old Rodrigues isn’t only outscoring those three talents 3-0 on the goal blotter two games into the Final. He’s outscoring the 13 Oilers forwards who have dressed by the same margin.

An undrafted player out of Boston University playing on his fourth team in five years, Rodrigues’ three goals are tied for the most in NHL history through a player’s first two Cup Final games. On Monday night, in a 4-1 Florida victory during which Rodrigues scored a pair of third-period goals, he became the first player in Panthers history with a multi-goal game in the Final. His three goals in two games this series have matched his total from Florida’s 17 games in the first three rounds.

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Rodrigues’ first goal — a snapshot after an Evan Bouchard turnover — came three minutes into the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie. It stood as Rodrigues’ first game-winning goal in 35 career playoff games. His second goal snapped Edmonton’s run of 34 consecutive penalty kills over 12 games.

“So happy for him, proud of him,” said Matthew Tkachuk, whose line Rodrigues joined during the Eastern Conference final series against the New York Rangers. “Playing with him the last few games, he reads the game so well. That’s two games in a row scoring some big goals for us. He’s a super smart player and I’m really happy to see him get rewarded right now.”

Tkachuk believed Rodrigues’s impact in Game 2 went beyond his goals. He played steady hockey, moved his feet well and forechecked. The Panthers had more than 70 percent of the expected goal share with him on the ice at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Rodrigues signed with the Buffalo Sabres out of college, but his breakout didn’t come until after the Pittsburgh Penguins traded for him. The Penguins dealt with early-season injuries in 2021-22, which led to Rodrigues getting more opportunity. He capitalized, scoring a career-high 19 goals and 43 points. Still, he didn’t land a long-term contract in free agency, so he went to the Colorado Avalanche, then the defending champions, on a one-year, $2 million deal. He continued to prove his worth with the Avalanche, averaging a career high in ice time (17:51 per game) and playing in the Avalanche’s top six.

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“He’s super underrated and can do a lot of different things in a lot of situations,” said Vegas Golden Knights forward Jack Eichel, who played with Rodrigues at Boston University and in Buffalo.

“The more opportunity he’s gotten over his career, the better he’s done,” said Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, who credited Rodrigues with being able to play alongside top players. “I think he’s really comfortable in his own skin, knows what his strengths are.”

But a long playoff run eluded Rodrigues before this season. He was on the ice when Artemi Panarin eliminated the Penguins with a Round 1, Game 7 overtime winner in 2022. He was on the ice again the next year as Colorado couldn’t find an equalizer in the dying seconds of its Round 1, Game 7 loss to Seattle.

Rodrigues had never made it out of the first round until joining the Panthers. He was so excited for the Stanley Cup Final to start, he said, that he wished Game 1 could have been a 1 p.m. start.

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Florida general manager Bill Zito signed Rodrigues to a four-year, $3 million average annual value contract last summer — the longest, most lucrative contract of the forward’s career. He’s proven to be worth the commitment. After a 39-point regular season — his third year in a row with more than 35 — he’s given the Panthers six goals and 11 points in 19 playoff games.

“He’s a bit of a chameleon,” said Kyle Okposo, who also played with Rodrigues in Buffalo. “If you look at the teams that he’s played on and who he’s played with, it’s not an easy thing to go play with some of the top players in the world.

“He has a unique confidence about him where at times when guys are playing with those top guys, they just want to give him the puck and get out of their way, and Evan is a guy that he makes a lot of plays and he has the confidence to keep it on a stick and make the right play at the right time. And I think that that’s why he’s had so much success everywhere he’s gone.”

Monday night was an example of that. He started on the second line with Sam Bennett and Tkachuk, then was elevated to the top line in the third period with Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart until Barkov got hurt midway through the period.

Coach Paul Maurice has said this postseason that he likes to play Carter Verhaeghe next to Barkov in short spurts of games, but they usually have an expiration date. Maurice saw something during Game 2 that made him elevate Rodrigues.

Rodrigues went on what Maurice called “a world tour of our lineup” throughout the regular season. Early on, the coach had him on Barkov’s line but thought he, understandably, was too deferential to his linemates. Now he’s found his game and can fit in wherever Florida needs.

“It’s something I’ve taken pride in my whole career, being able to play up and down the lineup, power play, penalty kill,” Rodrigues said. “It’s nice to contribute to wins. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who it is. … We’re looking for wins here, and we’re happy with the results.”

When Rodrigues was on the Avalanche in 2022-23, he watched the team raise its 2022 Stanley Cup banner ahead of the season opener. Though Rodrigues wasn’t part of the championship-winning team, he felt chills as tribute videos played and the banner rose into the rafters.

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Now, in large part thanks to his early series heroics, he’s two wins away from another banner night — this time one where he’d be fully a part of the celebration.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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Two Canada Olympic staff members sent home after spying attempt on New Zealand soccer practice

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Two Canada Olympic staff members sent home after spying attempt on New Zealand soccer practice

NICE, France — The Olympic women’s soccer tournament is starting with some unexpected drama: a complaint from New Zealand’s Olympic Committee about an attempt at spying during a training session just before the Paris Games.

A drone was flown over a Ferns training session in Saint-Étienne, France, on Monday, New Zealand’s Olympic Committee (NZOC) said in a statement. Ferns staffers reported the drone to police, who detained the operator, a staff member for the Canadian team.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Olympic Committee said that a separate drone incident at New Zealand training on July 19 had come to light. As a result, Canada head coach Bev Priestman said she would remove herself from overseeing Thursday’s game against New Zealand. The COC added that Joseph Lombardi, an “unaccredited analyst,” and Jasmine Mander, a coach who oversees Lombardi, had been removed from the team and sent home. The committee said Canada Soccer staff would also undergo “mandatory ethics training.”

The COC’s initial statement Wednesday morning confirmed that Lombardi used a drone “to record the New Zealand women’s football team during practice.” The COC apologized to New Zealand’s players, federation and the International Olympic Committee, saying it was “shocked and disappointed.”

FIFA later confirmed on Wednesday its disciplinary committee had opened proceedings against Canada Soccer, Priestman, Mander and Lombardi. The incident represented a potential breach of FIFA and Olympic football’s fair play regulations.

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Priestman will not be on the sidelines for Canada’s game against New Zealand (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

“On behalf of our entire team, I first and foremost want to apologize to the players and staff at New Zealand Football and to the players on Team Canada,” Priestman later said. “This does not represent the values that our team stands for.

“I am ultimately responsible for conduct in our program. Accordingly, to emphasize our team’s commitment to integrity, I have decided to voluntarily withdraw from coaching the match on Thursday. In the spirit of accountability, I do this with the interests of both teams in mind and to ensure everyone feels that the sportsmanship of this game is upheld.”

A FIFA statement read: “The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has opened proceedings against Canada Soccer, Ms Beverly Priestman, Mr Joseph Lombardi and Ms Jasmine Mander due to the potential breach of article 13 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code and article 6.1 of the Regulations Olympic Football Tournaments Games of the XXXIII Olympiad Paris 2024 — final competition, following incidents involving a non-accredited member of the Canadian delegation at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, who is believed to have used a drone to record the New Zealand women’s football team.

“The matter will be submitted for the consideration of the Disciplinary Committee in the next days.”

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New Zealand Football CEO Andrew Pragnell issued a statement Thursday morning in New Zealand calling for “urgent action” to be taken to “address this integrity breach.”

“To hear now that the Canadian team had filmed secret footage of our team training at least twice is incredibly concerning and if not treated urgently could have wider implications for the integrity of the tournament,” Pragnell’s statement said.

“We note that there have been some admissions by the Canadian National Olympic Committee, and they have taken their own sanctions against the Canadian team, however, considering the seriousness of the situation, and the potential implications to the sporting integrity of the entire tournament, we have referred the matter to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee seeking urgent action,” the statement continued.

Drones have been a story across the Paris Games, with French prime minister Gabriel Attal saying Tuesday that an average of six drones per day have been intercepted at Olympic sites, mostly from tourists trying to capture footage of the spectacle.

The women’s soccer tournament begins play Thursday. Canada and New Zealand open action in Group A at 5 p.m. local/11 a.m. ET in Saint-Étienne, in a group with France and Colombia. Canada is currently ranked eighth in the world, according to FIFA, while New Zealand is ranked 28th.

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(Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot / AFP via Getty)

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Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh uses odd birthing analogy to talk about first day of training camp

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Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh uses odd birthing analogy to talk about first day of training camp

The Jim Harbaugh Era has gotten off to an odd start in Los Angeles, as the new Chargers head coach had a weird way of categorizing the first day of training camp. 

Harbaugh, who returns to coach in the NFL after leading Michigan to a national title, spoke with reporters after the first full day of training camp on Wednesday, and he said it felt like “New Year’s Day.”

However, what he followed up with made things a bit awkward.

Jim Harbaugh of the Los Angeles Chargers at the podium before an NFL football practice at Hoag Performance Center on June 13, 2024 in Costa Mesa, California. (Ric Tapia/Getty Images)

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“It feels like being born. It feels like coming out of the womb, you know. It’s like you’re in there and it’s comfortable, it’s safe, and now ‘poof,’ you’re born,” Harbaugh said, via the New York Post. “The lights are on, It’s bright. You got chaos, people looking at you, people talking at you. It just feels good to have it happen.”

Certainly, an odd way to talk about returning to the pros, but Harbaugh’s eccentric characterization of his new Chargers post brings about all the optimism and joy that comes with the new addition to a family. 

Chargers fans rejoiced when Harbaugh signed a five-year contract with the Chargers, and Los Angeles made it worth his while to leave the Wolverines’ program with $16 million per season. 

Harbaugh was linked to the Chargers since Brandon Staley was fired after an absolute beatdown by the Las Vegas Raiders, 63-21, in December. After what he was able to do over nine seasons at Michigan — three Big Ten titles and his national championship last season — fans see this veteran addition at head coach as the perfect fit with a roster that’s still very talented. 

Jim Harbaugh points on field

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh instructs on the field during the first day of training camp at The Bolt. (Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports)

Quarterback Justin Herbert is locked in as the team’s franchise signal caller, and someone that Harbaugh can be creative with given his own quarterback background. But, while he’s building chemistry with his new head coach at camp, Herbert didn’t necessarily think about his first day in the way Harbaugh did. 

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“I’ll leave the analogies to him,” Herbert said, per ESPN. “He’s done a great job at creating those, so I’ll support whatever he says. We’re just out there playing football, and my job is to throw the ball, so that’s what I’m going to worry about.”

Herbert’s job is to throw, but things in Los Angeles may look pretty different with Greg Roman joining Harbaugh as offensive coordinator. Harbaugh’s teams at Michigan have been known to be run-heavy, and Roman reunites with Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins, two running backs he worked with in Baltimore during his time with the Ravens. 

Jim Harbaugh speaks to media

Jim Harbaugh of the Los Angeles Chargers at the podium before an NFL football practice at Hoag Performance Center on June 13, 2024 in Costa Mesa, California. (Ric Tapia/Getty Images)

But no matter if they are running or throwing the ball, the Chargers will take wins either way. That’s the only thing Harbaugh and his squad care about. 

Follow Fox News Digital’s sports coverage on X, and subscribe to the Fox News Sports Huddle newsletter.

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Dodgers activate Tyler Glasnow, sign veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed

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Dodgers activate Tyler Glasnow, sign veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed

The Dodgers have yet to make any trades ahead of next Tuesday’s deadline.

But their roster got another notable shake-up Wednesday.

Before their game against the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers activated pitcher Tyler Glasnow from the injured list, and signed and activated veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed.

In corresponding moves, shortstop Miguel Rojas was placed on the injured list with a flexor strain in his throwing arm. Pitcher Landon Knack was optioned, sent back to triple-A Oklahoma City despite his 3.07 ERA in nine outings this year. Reliever Ricky Vanasco was also designated for assignment to create room on the club’s 40-man roster for Ahmed.

Glasnow’s return was long expected, with the team’s right-handed ace returning as scheduled from back tightness he sustained before the All-Star break.

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Rojas’ placement on the injured list was also no surprise, after he was removed early from Sunday’s game with discomfort in his forearm.

While the team was initially optimistic that Rojas could avoid an IL stint, manager Dave Roberts said a medical scan this week showed the strain in Rojas’ arm. His timeline to return is unclear, but Roberts didn’t make the injury sound serious.

“I think it’s something that he’ll be able to bounce back from,” Roberts said.

In Rojas’ absence, the Dodgers signed Ahmed to a major-league deal Wednesday, inking the 11-year veteran and two-time Gold Glover two weeks after he was released by the Giants.

Roberts said Ahmed, a longtime member of the Arizona Diamondbacks who batted .232 in 52 games with the Giants this year, would serve as the Dodgers’ primary shortstop in Rojas’ absence — or, at least, until Mookie Betts returns in the next couple of weeks from his broken hand.

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“Got a call late last night, and came to terms pretty quickly,” Ahmed said of signing with the Dodgers. “Pretty obvious choice, just playing against these guys for a long time. Having the opportunity to compete and win a championship is something I want.”

The odd man out in Wednesday’s flurry of moves was Knack, the rookie right-hander who seemed to be establishing himself in the Dodgers rotation after a five-inning, one-run start Tuesday night.

Knack, however, became the casualty of a roster crunch. He had minor-league options. He was also the most recent member of the Dodgers rotation to pitch — which, with a couple off-days on the schedule in the next week, left his next potential start date unclear.

Instead, the Dodgers decided to send Knack down and preserve their bullpen depth, something that could be important the next two nights as Glasnow and Clayton Kershaw make their first starts back from the injured list.

“It was one of those timing situations for Landon,” Roberts said. “But I can’t say enough about what he did for our ball club.”

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Buehler’s next steps

Walker Buehler said he will begin a rehab assignment with triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday. It will be his first live game action since going on the injured list last month with a hip injury.

Buehler is expected to make two rehab starts, Roberts said, before rejoining the Dodgers rotation next month.

Before going on the IL, Buehler had struggled in his return from a second Tommy John surgery, going 1-4 with a 5.84 ERA in eight starts.

Hurt having Tommy John

In other injury news Wednesday, the team announced that prospect Kyle Hurt is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery next week, ending his 2024 campaign and probably sidelining him for most of 2025 as well.

A USC product acquired in a 2021 trade with the Miami Marlins, Hurt had emerged as one of the top pitchers in the Dodgers’ farm system, earning the club’s minor league pitcher of the year award last year while leading all minor-league pitchers with 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

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Hurt made his MLB debut with one outing last September, then opened this season in the Dodgers’ bullpen, giving up two runs (one earned) in 6 2/3 innings over three appearances.

He missed a couple of months earlier this year with a shoulder injury, but had been back pitching for Oklahoma City for a month before exiting an outing on July 4 with an apparent arm injury.

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