North Dakota expected to finally give up the fight, retire Fighting Sioux nickname

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After a contentious battle, it appears that the University of North Dakota is going to give up their fight to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname.

For years, the school has adopted the Native American name and look to their athletic team logos but now after pressure from the NCAA and a lack of support from one of two Lakota Indian tribes, the school is expected to retire the “Fighting Sioux” name and imagery from being associated with their athletic teams.

The nickname over recent years was found to be “hostile and abusive” towards Native Americans and the NCAA flexed their muscle on UND to get the name changed by threatening sanctions on their athletic teams if they persisted in fighting the change. Banning them from postseason play in sports such as football and hockey were threatened and with the UND hockey program being as big and popular as it is, these threats were taken seriously.

After meetings between NCAA officials and North Dakota representatives including state governor Jack Dalrymple, the NCAA feels confident that their wishes will be met.

“It’s our understanding coming out of this meeting that the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo will be dropped,” said NCAA VP for communications Bob Williams in the article. “The contingent from North Dakota made it clear that they were committed to changing the legislative action that would require retention of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. However, our settlement agreement remains in effect and as a result, the University of North Dakota will be subject to the policy effective Aug. 15.”

While the North Dakota legislature tried their best to fight the efforts made by the state board of education and the wishes of the NCAA by passing a law making a change to the nickname only possible through the state government, it’ll take an action by the governor to transfer that power back to the board of education and hope that the legislature approves it to allow the retirement to happen. While there could be more holdups by the government here, it’s clear that the fight to keep a nickname and appearance that the NCAA finds to be abusive has grown tired.

The tricky part of all this is how the school will handle obscuring and covering up the many Fighting Sioux logos throughout Ralph Englestad Arena where the hockey team plays.  When Engelstad gave his money to the university to have the arena built, he demanded that there be as many Sioux logos as possible carved throughout the building knowing full well that one day the NCAA would come calling for the name. That part of the issue is still under discussion as Chuck Haga of the Grand Forks Herald discusses.

Dalrymple said the NCAA leaders also agreed that the transitioning of Ralph Engelstad Arena regarding logos and insignia will be negotiated by Stenehjem and the NCAA.

Williams confirmed that the two side “agreed to have a discussion regarding that timeline,” but he said provisions in the 2007 settlement agreement concerning what must be removed and when “remains in effect.”

Hodgson did not speak with reporters as he left the meeting. In the past he has been adamant about not stripping logos and other Sioux-related items from the privately owned arena.

This issue is just another awkward one when it comes to the entire situation. While UND has never been one to have offensive mascots (hello Washington Redskins) or crowd chants (like the Atlanta Braves) and the Fighting Sioux name was always treated with respect, they never got approval from the Standing Rock Tribe to use the name. Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Tribes were the two Native American tribes the university needed to get approval from to use the Fighting Sioux nickname and while Spirit Lake passed a referendum of their own, Standing Rock refused to vote on it.

As Haga’s piece discussed, some Native American students felt offended by the name and joined in a lawsuit against the school to get them to drop it.

The students named in the lawsuit include Lakota (Sioux) people and members of other tribes in and outside North Dakota, who have said they all suffer discrimination or discomfort because of the nickname.

All allege that the nickname has had “a profoundly negative impact” on their self-image and psychological health, and the long-running and often bitter fight has denied them “an equal educational experience and environment,” according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

With these kinds of complaints as well as the possibility that some athletic conferences would refuse to allow admittance to North Dakota because of the nickname problem, UND’s hand was essentially forced by those opposed to it. Is this the right move to make to respect a group of people or is this political correctness run amok yet again? After all, other universities still have Native American nicknames and aren’t being forced to change them (University of Illinois, Florida State University for example). For the Fighting Sioux and their hockey team, getting a new look and a new name will make the future a strange one.

Chris Kunitz found the fountain of youth in Game 7

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PITTSBURGH — Chris Kunitz has put together an impressive and often times overlooked resume during his 13 years in the NHL. He has been a top-line player on three Stanley Cup winning teams, he has an Olympic Gold Medal, and before Thursday’s Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators had scored 275 goals (regular season and playoffs) in the NHL.

By any objective measure that is a fantastic career.

During the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win on Thursday to send them back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, he played what was perhaps the biggest — and best — game of his career.

It could not have come at a better time for the Penguins.

Or at a more unexpected one.

Kunitz played a role in all three Penguins’ goals, scoring two of them, including the overtime winner, and providing the key screen on Justin Schultz‘s third period power play goal. As if that was not enough, he also recorded an assist on that Schultz goal.

He was, to say the least, a force and the single biggest contributor in the Penguins’ win. Even if he downplayed his overtime winner as simply being the result of a little bit of luck.

“I was just trying to get into a soft spot,” said Kunitz. “The puck fluttered off my stick a little, I don’t know if it touched [Jean-Gabriel Pageau] or kept going right in, but it looked like there was a good screen on the goalie, it looked like he maybe fell down, it just found its way into the net. Sometimes you just get lucky when you put one on net.”

Lucky or not, Kunitz was the unexpected hero in Game 7 and it came on a night where he seemed to rediscover his game.

Kunitz playing such an essential role in a big playoff win wouldn’t have been that big of a shock four or five years ago.

He has been a core player since arriving in Pittsburgh during the 2008-09 season and spent years skating on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby.  That presence on Crosby’s wing almost did more to hurt his reputation because there was always that belief he was simply a product of skating alongside the best player in the world. But he has always been more than that. He has been a legitimately good top-six winger that had also found success even when away from Crosby.

But on Thursday it was a taste of the old days with Crosby setting up the overtime winner.

“[Sheary] did a really good job bringing it up the wall and walking the blue like, and I think Sid was coming right off the bench,” said Kunitz. “When he drives it deep everyone gets scared and you can find that soft area because obviously Sid has great vision, and he put it right there. I just found a way to put it on net and got lucky.”

What makes his performance such a stunner this season, and in this game, is that it came at a time when his best days were clearly in the past and he had gone from being a top-line, core player, to being more of a bottom-six role player.

At the age of 37 that had to be expected. He was still able to do enough to be a useful contributor, but the consistent impact on the scoresheet wasn’t always there. Entering Game 7 on Thursday night he had yet to score a goal and had recorded just a pair of assists in his first 13 playoff games. Along with that postseason scoring drought he only scored nine goals during the regular season and had not found the back of the net since Feb. 16, a stretch of 78 days.

Then there he is playing the role of hero in what was, to this point, the Penguins’ biggest game of the season.

“He played his best game of the playoffs when it matters the most,” said Penguins forward Carl Hagelin. “That’s the type of guy he is and that’s the reason he has three Stanley Cup rings already. He’s just one of those guys you love having on your team.”

This is pretty much what Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about. Anything can happen when a series and a season all comes down to one game.

It only takes one shot, one bounce, one play, one call or one huge performance from an unexpected player to totally re-write history.

In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago it was Bryan Rust, representing the next wave and younger generation of the Penguins, playing the role of hero with his two goal-game.

This year, it was one of their long-time core players rediscovering his past glory for one night.

2017 Stanley Cup Final schedule: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins might celebrate their hard-fought tonight, but they’d probably be wise to rest up. It won’t be long before they’ll face the well-rested Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

That first contest will take place on Monday, May 29. The Penguins ended their series on Thursday (or, maybe Friday if you’re being a stickler) while the Predators get a week of rest after dispatching the Ducks this past Monday (May 22).

NBC and NBCSN will have you covered for what should be a fast and fascinating series with a whole lot of gold/yellow going around. Game 1 will be on NBC, Games 2 and 3 will air on NBCSN and then the remaining contests will take place on NBC.

Here’s the schedule in list form, as that may be easier to follow:

2017 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
Subject to Change/All Times ET

Game Date Time (ET) Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Networks
Game 1 Monday, May 29 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 2 Wednesday, May 31 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 3 Saturday, June 3 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 4 Monday, June 5 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 5* Thursday, June 8 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 6* Sunday, June 11 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 7* Wednesday, June 14 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
* If necessary

Penguins end Senators’ magical run, reach second Stanley Cup Final in a row

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The Ottawa Senators put up a resounding fight, but the Sens’ “Cinderella” story came to an end tonight.

The Pittsburgh Penguins needed a double-overtime in Game 7 to write the final chapter, yet that’s what happened; now the defending champions prepare to face a well-rested Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.

An unforgettable night for Kunitz

Hot take: Mike Sullivan made the right move in placing Chris Kunitz on Sidney Crosby‘s line.

Crosby created some chances early on in Game 7, but things just weren’t clicking for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That swap opened up some opportunities for Kunitz – once a constant linemate of Crosby – and the veteran winger provided perhaps the best performance of his impressive career.

As surprising as this turn was, maybe it should have been expected; Kunitz is one of the greatest success stories of any undrafted players, after all.

Plenty of twists and turns

After a scoreless second period, the two teams traded goals within just 20 seconds; Chris Kunitz cashed in on a nice rush while Mark Stone finished a great Erik Karlsson setup to make it 1-1.

More: Video and other details regarding those opening tallies.

The third period featured plenty of drama, even if some of the larger points echoed earlier narratives. To be more precise, the Penguins leveraged their power-play opportunity to a 2-1 lead (via Justin Schultz), but Ryan Dzingel‘s rebound 2-2 goal ensured that the lead wouldn’t last.

Read more about the 2-2 goals and some controversial moments from the third period here. You may also enjoy this Marc Methot hip check on Evgeni Malkin.

The overtime period began with a frantic pace; even fans probably needed the breather. Some great Phil Kessel chances didn’t end the opening overtime period, so things went to double-OT.

Ponder Kessel’s tumultuous times in the first overtime here.

It wasn’t beautiful, but Chris Kunitz’s knucklepuck beat a keyed-in Craig Anderson to end the contest and the series. He came into Thursday with zero goals and two assists in 13 playoff games; he generated the game-winner, the game-opener and an assist, factoring into all three Penguins goals.

Deep playoff runs come down to some combination of stars being stars and unexpected heroes shining in huge moments. The Penguins keep finding ways to get that equation just right.

Penguins – Senators Game 7 goes to double overtime, try to breathe

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Try to breathe. Maybe meditate during this overtime intermission, if you need it.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators didn’t just need overtime to decide who would win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. It turns out that, despite an angry Penguins crowd, that they’ll need double OT.

There were plenty of big chances during that span of “free hockey.” You could probably argue that Phil Kessel was the most frustrated player during that frame; he was unable to score but generated some golden opportunities.

One really looked like it might have beaten Craig Anderson:

Wow. This one likely stings more for Kessel, as he had a ton of time and space but missed the net.

Kessel wasn’t the only player to get chances. There were a ton in this first overtime as both teams took thrilling swipes at victory. Still, number 81 provided some of the most memorable moments.

You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.