Bordi Tex https://littleax.com We are Virtuosos! Tue, 15 May 2018 04:37:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 Travel Guide to Tel Aviv, Israel https://littleax.com/travel-guide-to-tel-aviv-israel/ Tue, 15 May 2018 04:37:54 +0000 https://littleax.com/?p=880 I defy anyone to be bored during a short break to Tel Aviv. The high octane vibe is almost tangible and urges you to walk its streets and explore. Do so and you’ll find this is a moody city: beautiful chill-out beaches hemmed by high rise hotels and lapped by the blue Mediterranean sea and a fantastically beautiful promenade. Yet just a road or two inland buildings look in need of some love, yet the vibe prevails.

At its commercial centre the high rises look like a New York mini-me while the ancient port of Jaffa in the south exudes charm in its yellow stone architecture and winding hilly alleyways.

Then there’s museums, markets, shopping and above all, a simply sensational foodie scene. This city has it all and, unbelievably, all packed into a compact area of just 52 km² (around 20 miles).

Check out the Beaches

Grab your fiip flops because Tel Aviv is a seafront city with a Tayelet (promenade) that hems a gorgeous stretch of 12 soft sand beaches, each with its own – if somewhat insouciant – personality.

Metzizim in the north is a superb family beach with shallow waters and a life guard. It’s followed by the Religious beach with allocated days for men and women.

Further along is the gay beach in front of the Hilton Hotel right off Independence Park. It has become a trendy hotspot because of its fun vibe. During Pride Week it’s the busiest place in the city.

Three popular beaches Gordon, Frishman and Borashov cover the central stretch and this is where locals and tourists hang out sometimes playing matkot (paddleball).

Guela beach has its own al fresco gym while bizarrely, Drum beach is where anyone can turn up at the weekend and beat their drums.

The stretch ends with a dog beach followed by Alma (home to the wonderful Manta Ray restaurant) and Jaffa beaches in the south of the city much loved by surfers because there are no wave breakers which means huge waves on a windy day.

The Markets

Shuk HaCarmel – Carmel Market

Oh the joy of a vibrant market and Carmel Market is just that. It’s been there since 1920’s when it was just a humble Yemenite market, but today it’s colourful, aromatic, noisy and THE place to buy all sorts of bric-a-brac and food such as local vegetables, nuts, fruit, dates, halva – a sweet flaky, dense, tahini based candy – and street food to go.

Pick up a Cuba bulgur (cracked wheat and minced onions), or a spicy beef cigar to eat on the go but save space for the Humus restaurant at 11 HaCarmel Street. It’s easy to miss so keep an eye out for for a doorway flanked by Judaic Hebrew text behind a couple of fruit vendors. Go straight to the counter and point to what you want on your plate of humus; pickles, boiled egg, onions, that kind of thing, and you’ll get freshly made pitta to dip into it.

Shuk HaPishpeshim – Jaffa Flea market

This is where you find the carpet makers, furniture restorers, cobblers, one-man jewellery makers and second-hand goods as well as alleyways full of beguiling, colourful and sparkling middle eastern souvenirs.

Nahalat Binyamin Craft Market

The talent is awesome and coming away with a trinket or artwork is going to be hard. Furnishings, art, ceramics, jewellery, gifts, photography and items that defy description, all created by individual local artisans.

Sarona Complex

Sarona Complex is the new boy on the block. It surrounds the restored German Templar village built in 1871 on what started as swampy land bought from a Greek Monastery. There are several quaint two-story buildings complete with shutters and tiled roofs, some new retails outlets, around paved squares and a gorgeous lilly pond. There’s also a huge indoor market whose 8,700 square meters is filled with 91 shops, stalls and restaurants – a culinary complex if you like.

It is worth doing a tour through the nearby Templars Tunnels which connected the two village wineries. When the Templars left, the tunnels were used to reconstruct “stolen” planes in pre-state days. Air force veterans dismantled, smuggled, renovated and reassembled 15 planes that were used before and during the War of Independence. You might say this was the beginning of the Israeli army.

]]>
4-Day Hiking in the Brandenberg Alps, Tyrol, Austria https://littleax.com/4-day-hiking-in-the-brandenberg-alps-tyrol-austria/ Tue, 15 May 2018 04:33:58 +0000 https://littleax.com/?p=872 It’s only 45 minutes from the airport in Innsbruck to Kramsach, but the taxi driver is scaring me with a recent story about a hiker who’s been gored to death by a cow in this region.

Now I’ve always believed, that despite their bulk, cows present no threat to the walker, but apparently this one was guarding her calves when the woman’s dog started harrying them. I’m thinking I’d better watch my step on this hike.

The small town of Kramsach nestles in the valley beside the Inn River and is dominated by the mountains rising up above it. I leave my heavy luggage at the hotel, just taking a small rucksack with my essentials. The first day is classed as “moderate” with only 10 km to hike and it’s a pleasant morning as I walk along the road, cross the river and take the path signed to Brandenburg.

I climb upwards through the forest, and it’s steep in parts, before reaching 1509m, marked by a summit cross. It’s very hot but fortunately the trees provide essential cover from the sun. The weather is hazy so the views are not great but still, I can see Kramsach and the river running the length of the valley. From here it’s downhill on a 4×4 track but there are pleasant interludes through the forest before I reach the tiny village of Brandenburg at 900m.

I wake up to rain which looks set for the day and I’ve got 19 km to complete. Nothing for it but to don my wet weather gear and grin and bear it. I take the road out of the village to the hamlet of Winkl. There the road winds steeply upwards but I take a forest track which crosses it sporadically. So far the rain has been constant and I’m feeling very wet. But, as I climb higher and rise above the cloud, the weather begins to ease.

I reach the 1786m Kienberg, the day’s highest point, and I can just about glimpse the villages below through the mist. A narrow path leads steeply downhill and I surprise the occasional Chamois which bounds off in the distance before I can reach for my camera. The day is slowly improving and I take an asphalt road before the final descent to the tiny village of Pinegg. Although I’m feeling dry outside, my rucksack is soaked, together with all its contents. My room turns into a giant airing cupboard.

Next day there’s early morning mist in the valley but the sun arrives to disperse the clouds. The rain has cleared the air and, as I climb upwards, I reach the high alp, home to a smattering of timbered farm houses. Normally I’d expect to see cows grazing here, but there’s only the sound of their bells, from the barns. Perhaps the earlier unfortunate accident means they’re not allowed to roam.

The path climbs steadily to a saddle and I divert to climb the 1940m Rosskogel and enjoy the panorama as I tuck into my lunch. From here I start to descend to the Zireiner See, apparently the most beautiful mountain lake in the Tyrol and I can’t disagree. It’s getting hot so, when I reach the water’s edge, I lower myself in and soak away my aches and pains. It’s really too shallow to swim, but not cold at all.

I lounge in the sun and climb away from the lake before reaching another saddle and then I’m on the home stretch to the Bayreuther Hütte. Now this is not a hotel but a mountain refuge with no Wi-Fi, or showers. Fortunately I’m assigned a room to myself and sit outside and watch the sun setting as I tuck into my Wiener Schnitzel. For the first time, I see cows grazing outside and have the best night’s sleep of the whole trip.

The last day of the tour is a short two hour downhill stroll but the weather is good and I can’t resist a full day in the mountains. I climb up to the 2224 m Sonnwendjoch, then follow the ridge to the slightly higher Sagzahn. The path then tracks round the summit, with a vertiginous drop on one side, although there are cables to hang onto. I’m not feeling particularly brave, so retrace my steps before reaching Rofanspitze at 2259 m, my third summit of the day.

It’s a long way back to Kramsach but I’ve only myself to blame. If I’d followed the course of the four day itinerary, I’d be back in time to transfer to Innsbruck and catch a flight home. The tour represents very good value, the hiking is reasonably gentle, the food good and accommodation comfortable. It makes an excellent introduction to the joys of the Tirol.

]]>
Rail adventure in North Wales – Full Steam ahead https://littleax.com/rail-adventure-in-north-wales-full-steam-ahead/ Tue, 15 May 2018 04:30:44 +0000 https://littleax.com/?p=864 The hills are alive in North Wales with the cranky rhythm of chugging wheels and the whistle of coal powered trains as a stream of steam is funnelled out through their chimney. It’s a mode of transport that hails from the early 19th century that all too soon came to the end of the line.

Rail enthusiasts have set in motion a revival of the Welsh Highland Railways and Ffestiniog Railway bringing the steamy affair of vintage travel by railway through this amazing landscape, right back on track.

My base: Llandudno

The seaside town of Llandudno is my base, a pretty town with a mish mash of elegant Victorian and Edwardian architecture and pleasant scenery. It stretches out from the foot of the Great Orme, a huge chunk of limestone that curves around the town. It surges up from the sea and towards the seafront and its wide ribbon of sandy beach and an even wider promenade with a war memorial obelisk as its landmark.

Caernarfon to Beddgeert – Welsh Highland Railway

My first rail adventure starts in Caernarfon where I alight the delightful narrow gauge Welsh Highland Railway train. The line was built in 1923 but economically it was derailed soon after. After 70 years in the sidings, it was pulled back into service by a group of railway enthusiasts.

The locomotive is engine 87 and as I watch the steam funnel out it leaves a dreamy nostalgia in its wake. So it’s surprising that the vintage styled wood-decked carriages are in fact no more than 20 years old, and some just a couple of months old. A modern kitchen serves sandwiches and of course Welsh rarebit (a version of cheese on toast) and a tea trolley does the rounds.

The journey passes through Caernafon Bay and the Lley Peninsuala, the old slate quarries and once at Bryn Gloch the Snowdonia National Park unfolds beyond. The valley narrows dramatically as we pass between mountains Moel Eilio and Mynydd Mawr.

Now it’s all alpine views and tumbling waterfalls towards Rhyd Ddu. Soon we climb to the summit of the line at Pitts Head and soon after the train begins its descent zig-zagging all the way down the hillside to Beddgelert. The top speed is 25mph so there’s time savour and digest what my eyes are devouring.

The entire length of the line is 25 miles all the way to Porthmadog, but I was disembarking at Beddgeert to make my way to Portmeirion.

Portmeiron Village

Those of a certain age will remember the cult series The Prisoner. Actor Patrick Mcgoohan, aka No. 6, was regularly chased (there were 17 episodes) by a balloon each time he tried to escape.

The 70-acre Italianate Portmeiron Village was created out of the fantastical imagination of architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Anything that caught his fancy on his travels ended up here. Even the odd relic from film sets.

No-one lives at the holiday complex; it’s all hotels, eateries, a beach and 19 miles of footpaths through lush greenery. It took him 50 years to complete yet this unusual man never spent a night here – he was simply showing off his skills.

Turns out Prince Edward and Mrs Simpson stayed in the Peacock suite in the hotel, Brian Epstein stayed in Gate House and Jules Holland loved the 2-bed Unicorn building so much he made a replica in his garden. There’s also the Bristol Colonnade where the Welsh choir often sings.

Porthmadog to Blaenau – The Festiniog Railway

The Festiniog Railway Company is the oldest surviving railway company in the world. It opened in 1836 to take slate from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog for export around the globe. But nothing lasts forever and it’s raison d’etre disappeared when the quarries closed down. So again it was down to the rail enthusiasts (bless them) to revive it in 1945 as a tourist attraction.

The engine is the Merddin Emrys named after a Welsh wizard. It’s a push-me pull-you Double Fairlie that pulls us up to Minfford and then Penrhyn offering brilliant alpine views across the valley down the Dwyryd Estuary to Harlech Castle. Every station we stopped at reminded me of those I had seen in episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine with my toddler. It was beyond quaint.

As we climb, a rugged landscape unfolds through the Snowdonia National Park passing woods and dips before doing a extraordinary loop-the-loop at the Dduallt Spiral.

]]>
Walking the Alpe-Adria Trail – 750 kms through Austria, Italy and Slovenia https://littleax.com/walking-the-alpe-adria-trail-750-kms-through-austria-italy-and-slovenia/ Tue, 15 May 2018 04:27:11 +0000 https://littleax.com/?p=856 The Alpe-Adria Trail is Europe’s newest long distance hiking route and runs for 750km from the foot of the Grossglockner (at 3,798m Austria’s highest mountain), into Slovenia and ends in Italy, near Trieste on the Adriatic coast.

It’s divided into 37 daily stages, each around 20 km, although it’s possible to do the whole lot in a month it is better to do it in sections – Austria has 22 stages, Slovenia has five and the last ten mix Slovenia and Italy. There’s also a Circular Route which connects Austria, Italy and Slovenia in seven days.

I’ve only got eight days, so decide to sample the most interesting bits. I start at the beginning in Carinthia, Austria and catch the post bus from Heiligenblut up to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe, a short 30 minute journey. There had been thunderstorms overnight and dusted the Grossglockner with a covering of snow.

Pasterze Glacier, Austria

The Pasterze Glacier, the longest in the Eastern Alps, gleams in the morning sunlight and my first steps on the trail are down a steep path to the Sandersee, filled with meltwater. The path is well marked and, after crossing another lake, the Margaritze Stausee, I’m back in the valley approaching Heiligenblut, my starting point. It’s taken me around five hours and has been a pleasant morning’s walk.

I’m now transferred by taxi to Mallnitz from where I tackle Stage 7 next day.

Groppensteinschlucht gorge, Austria

The trail follows the Mallnitzbach stream as it plunges through the Rabischschlucht gorge in a series of waterfalls. It’s pleasant underfoot and I have the trail all to myself. That changes as I enter the adjacent Groppensteinschlucht gorge, a popular route for day trippers. There’s an entrance fee, and I’m going in the opposite direction to most people. They’re certainly not friendly and don’t return my greetings. One person even tries to tell me it’s one way only.

The walls of this gorge are much steeper than the previous one and a system of walkways has been grafted onto the rock so you’re suspended in mid-air for most of the journey. You don’t really need a head for heights but two old men tell me at the top that it’s too dangerous to proceed. I think they’re rather over estimating the danger and there are stunning views of the various waterfalls.

Danielsberg Hill, Austria

The stage ends in the village of Obervellach, but I plough on, climbing up the side of the Moll valley to an almost perfectly conical hill, the Danielsberg. It’s been a sacred site for over 6000 years, first for the Celts, then the Romans and the Catholic Church of St. George dates back to the 12th century. My pilgrimage ends in the Herkuleshof, originally a 19th century hunting lodge but now a charming inn with excellent food.

Valbruna, Italy

That’s the end of my time in Austria, a shame since there are a total of 22 stages. Instead I’m whisked to Valbruna in Italy where I tackle Stage 4 of the Circular Route. This a major ski centre and, indeed I could just take the cable car up. Instead I climb gradually on a stony 4×4 track, gaining over 1000 m, to the village of Monte Lussari. The chapel here is a major pilgrimage destination as a 14th century shepherd discovered a statue of the Madonna when he was searching for his sheep. Most people just come for lunch and enjoy the spectacular views.

Kranjska Gora, Slovenia

Next day, I hop over the border into Slovenia and start Stage 23 in Kranjska Gora. It’s Saturday and the town is packed with cyclist and hikers, all keen to get a taste of the Triglav National park, the only one in Slovenia and one of the largest in Europe.

Vrsic Pass, Slovenia

I’m going to be tackling the Vršič Pass, at 1611m the highest pass in the Julian Alps, and the road up to it was built by Russian POW’s during WW1. Many were killed in an avalanche and there’s an Orthodox Chapel halfway up, built in their memory.

The trail criss-crosses the road before reaching the summit of the Vršič at 1688m, still guarded by the remains of gun emplacements. I descend to the pass and eat my sandwiches, watching the day trippers.

From here it’s all downhill to the River Soča, and I follow it from its source to Trenta which consists of a handful of houses and an information centre. I’m surrounded by mountains including Mt Triglav, at 2864m the Slovenia’s highest peak and I watch the sun set as I munch pizza outside. The Soča trail continues and the emerald blue waters of the river are an effective way to cool off. There’s rafting here and attractive campsites line both sides of the river, as I make my way to the town of Bovec. This was the location of fierce fighting between the Italians and the Austrians during WW1 and they’ve restored a complex of bunkers and trenches on a hill just outside the town.

]]>
Wayne Rooney in Talks to Leave Everton for M.L.S. https://littleax.com/wayne-rooney-in-talks-to-leave-everton-for-m-l-s/ Tue, 15 May 2018 04:23:11 +0000 https://littleax.com/?p=848 Wayne Rooney, the former England and Manchester United star who has fallen out of favor at Everton at age 32, is in discussions to join D.C. United of Major League Soccer, perhaps as soon as next week.

The BBC reported Thursday that Rooney had agreed in principle on a move to M.L.S., but an M.L.S. source said there was no deal in place. Rooney is in the middle of a two-year contract at Everton, and even if the club and M.L.S. can agree to a transfer — or if Everton can be persuaded to let Rooney leave early — the player would still have to pass a physical before any deal could be signed.

Rooney joined Everton, his boyhood club, in July 2017 after 13 seasons at Manchester United. He would be the third aging former United star to move to M.L.S. in the last 15 months, after Bastian Schweinsteiger, who signed with the Chicago Fire before last season, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who became the Los Angeles Galaxy’s marquee acquisition this spring.

M.L.S. did not pay a transfer fee for Schweinsteiger or Ibrahimovic; both were allowed to leave United before the expiration of their contracts in order to pursue opportunities in the United States. It is unclear if the same arrangement would be true for Rooney.

He may not have reached the levels of greatness as a player which were expected back then – but countless footballers around the globe would love to ‘under-achieve’ in the same manner as Wayne Rooney.

Rooney’s signing would hark back to the early days of M.L.S., when the league often signed players well past their prime for their name value as much as their soccer talent. But aging Europeans like Rooney, as well as Schweinsteiger and Ibrahimovic, are now outliers in a league trending younger and less European. The league frequently notes that the 100-plus players who joined the league in the most recent transfer window had an average age of 25, and the league’s current leaders in goals and assists are all South Americans under age 24.

D.C. United is currently struggling — it is in last place in the Eastern Conference, with one win in its first seven games — and homeless as it prepares to move into a new stadium. After playing its final game at its longtime home, R.F.K. Stadium, at the end of last season, the team has spent most of this season on the road as it waits to open its new arena.

]]>
Celebrities, Rain and the Red Sox Come On Strong in a Yankees Defeat https://littleax.com/celebrities-rain-and-the-red-sox-come-on-strong-in-a-yankees-defeat/ Tue, 15 May 2018 04:17:55 +0000 https://littleax.com/?p=841 Everything was going just divinely for the Yankees. They had lost just once in three weeks, a surge that carried them to the best record in baseball. And for two consecutive nights, they had set somnambulant Yankee Stadium rocking with late-game conquests of the Boston Red Sox.

Then on Thursday night, that old lightning rod, Alex Rodriguez, showed up — his girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, in tow.

And just like that, with J-Rod taking in the game from a suite above the third-base dugout, the skies opened up, the Yankees ran out of late-game magic in this series, and a 5-4 loss to the Red Sox ensued.

The defeat, which ended an eight-game winning streak and was only their second loss in the last 19 games, dropped the Yankees into a first-place tie with the Red Sox in the American League East. They have split six games this season.

If there was some solace, it was that the Yankees did not go easily. After enduring a 55-minute rain delay and getting just one hit through six innings against Eduardo Rodriguez and reliever Matt Barnes, the Yankees rallied to tie the score with four runs in the seventh. But J.D. Martinez immediately seized the lead back for the Red Sox.

His fly ball off Dellin Betances to lead off the eighth carried just over Aaron Judge’s outstretched glove, which collided with a fan, and the ball landed in the first row of the seats in right field.

By the time Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel — who was torched by the Yankees in their comeback win on Wednesday — retired Brett Gardner, Judge and Didi Gregorius in an orderly ninth inning, Rodriguez and Lopez had departed their perch.

Before the seventh, the biggest buzz in the ballpark had come just before the fifth-inning downpour, when fans seated in the second deck realized that royalty was sitting above them: Rodriguez, the former Yankee, dressed in a black trench coat, and Lopez, the pop star, wrapped in a lavender pea coat with her hair in a bun.

Within moments, fans had turned away from the game, craning their necks and pointing their cellphone cameras at the couple.

It was a rare appearance in the Bronx for Rodriguez, whose final game as a Yankee two years ago was punctuated by fierce thunder and lightning that cut short a ceremony to honor him. The skies opened up again on Thursday, with pouring rain and a few brief flashes of lightning and rolling thunder.

When play commenced after the delay, Rodriguez and Lopez were shown on the stadium scoreboard. The cheers drew a thumbs up from Rodriguez and a wave from Lopez.

]]>
Dominic Thiem Stuns Rafael Nadal on Madrid Clay https://littleax.com/dominic-thiem-stuns-rafael-nadal-on-madrid-clay/ Tue, 15 May 2018 04:14:19 +0000 https://littleax.com/?p=833 Rafael Nadal, the king of clay, on Friday lost his first match in a year on his beloved surface, and will relinquish the No. 1 ranking as a result.

In front of a stunned Spanish crowd, Dominic Thiem of Austria ousted Nadal in the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open, 7-5, 6-3.

The seventh-ranked Thiem was also the last player to beat Nadal on clay, last May at the Italian Open in Rome. But more recently, Nadal had twice trounced Thiem on clay, losing only nine games in five sets. Nadal won last year’s Madrid tournament by beating Thiem in the final.

It was a bitter loss for Nadal, a day after he reached another milestone. On Thursday night, against Diego Schwartzman, Nadal won his 50th consecutive set on clay, breaking the 34-year record held by John McEnroe for consecutive sets won on a single surface. (McEnroe’s winning streak came on carpet.

But in the first game of the match on Friday, Nadal quickly learned that he was facing a very aggressive opponent, as he was forced to save two break points to hold his serve.

Thiem was hitting winners on both sides of the court, forcing Nadal to display his full range of defensive shots. Thiem finally broke Nadal at 3-3, but the Spanish champion clawed his way back into the set and saved a set point at 4-5 down, when Thiem hit a forehand long.

After Thiem double-faulted, Nadal leveled at 5-5 to the delight of the crowd. But Nadal then uncharacteristically lost his accuracy and was broken once again, after hitting a wayward smash and then somehow netting the ball after Thiem mis-hit a short forehand. Serving at 6-5, Thiem wrapped up the set with an ace and then clutched his fist, aware that winning one set against Nadal on Madrid’s clay was in itself a significant breakthrough.

Early in the second set, Nadal was in trouble again. At 1-1, he saved four break points but eventually lost the game with another forehand wide. Even so, Thiem struggled to take charge, turning the set into a topsy-turvy affair. On his next service game, Thiem saved two break points of his own, including one with a courageous approach to the net. Nadal hit the ball at his feet, but Thiem managed a half-volley that turned into an irretrievable drop shot.

Serving at 2-3, Thiem again found himself down by 15-40. He saved the first break point, but then tried to hit a risky.

Roger Federer, who is skipping the clay-court season and has not played a match since March 24, will overtake Nadal at the top of the rankings.

“I lost the No. 1 before, but what makes me happy is I feel fit, can compete with possibilities every single week,” Nadal said.

Nadal pulled out of two tournaments last fall with injuries and then retired from his quarterfinal match at the Australian Open in January because of a leg injury. He did not play another match on tour until mid-April.

“You cannot be No. 1 with five months without competing,” he said.

Asked about Nadal’s performance against Thiem, Àlex Corretja, a former captain of Spain’s Davis Cup team who is now a television commentator, said, “It’s clear nobody ends a record run by playing his best match, and I’m pretty sure Rafa won’t count this as the day on which he was the most consistent and precise.”

]]>
A Source of Fleury’s Success in Las Vegas? His New Goaltending Coach https://littleax.com/a-source-of-fleurys-success-in-las-vegas-his-new-goaltending-coach/ Tue, 15 May 2018 04:10:18 +0000 https://littleax.com/?p=825 Over the course of a 14-year N.H.L. career, even the most steady, levelheaded goaltender suffers the occasional slip-up.

In a preseason drill last fall, Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who had joined the expansion team from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a perennial power, vented his anger after allowing a series of goals.

Fortunately, Fleury had David Prior on his side.

One part father figure, another part psychologist, Prior has made a career of helping the league’s top goaltenders channel their emotions in the right direction. So when Fleury slammed his stick to the ice in frustration, Prior took him aside to provide some reassurance.

“He said it doesn’t matter; they have no one on them,” Fleury said outside his locker on Wednesday. “They have time to shoot from the slot. They won’t have that luxury in games. If you keep doing the right things in practice, it will show up.”

While Prior has made tweaks to Fleury’s game, it is his mental approach that has had the most discernible effect on the former No. 1 overall pick’s resurgence in the desert. Entering Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets, Fleury has a 1.53 goals-against average in 10 playoff games, along with a .951 save percentage. He leads the league in both categories.

A more detailed analysis of Fleury’s performance quantifies Prior’s impact. Facing 182 low percentage shots through two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Fleury has made stops on all 182 attempts, according to data from Clear Sight Analytics. The trend underscores a Prior maxim that he has imparted on goaltenders for more than three decades: Stay patient and force the shooter to beat you with an exceptional shot.

The two reconnected in Washington years later when McPhee, then the Capitals’ general manager, hired Prior as the team’s goaltending coach before the 1997-98 season. There, Prior helped revitalize the career of Olaf Kolzig, a peripatetic goaltender who spent the better half of his first eight years as a pro in the minors.

Using a Zen-like approach, Prior instilled the confidence in Kolzig that he could raise his game to an elite level. Prior also moved Kolzig deeper into the crease in an effort to rein in some of his aggressiveness. The minor adjustments resulted in Kolzig’s first appearance in the N.H.L. All-Star Game.

But when Kolzig dropped five games in a row after the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, his confidence began to wane.

So, Kolzig said, Prior spliced together a clip of every goal surrendered by Kolzig over the losing streak. As the coach and pupil watched the film session, Kolzig came to the realization that the majority of the goals were not his fault. Kolzig won seven of his next eight games as the Capitals prepared for the postseason.

Under Prior, Kolzig and Braden Holtby captured the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the league’s top goaltender. The Golden Knights did not make Prior available for an interview for this article.

Victories by the Golden Knights and the Capitals in their conference finals would set up a matchup against Prior’s old team with the Stanley Cup on the line.

“If we don’t win the Cup, I certainly hope Dave and George do,” said Kolzig, who serves as the Capitals’ professional development coach. “I think what they’ve done is one of the greatest stories in sports.”

]]>
Webb Simpson, With a Record 63, Takes Over the Players Championship https://littleax.com/webb-simpson-with-a-record-63-takes-over-the-players-championship/ Tue, 15 May 2018 04:06:24 +0000 https://littleax.com/?p=817

Sam Simpson, a North Carolinian who died in November at 74, taught his son Webb, the fifth of his six children, many things about golf and life.

His words still ring frequently inside his son’s head. One critical lesson: Always finish strong, no matter how you’re doing.

Webb Simpson had one problem with that advice late in his second round at the Players Championship on Friday. He was 11 under par after 16 holes, on a pace to shatter the tournament’s 18-hole scoring record, a feat that had left the two other players and three caddies in his group laughing aloud in disbelief.

What would it mean to finish strong after that?

A double-bogey 5 on No. 17 brought Simpson’s momentum to a jarring end and put him to the kind of test his father had in mind. Simpson righted himself, went back to work and finished his day with a solid two-putt par that allowed him to finish at nine-under 63 and match the tournament’s 18-hole scoring mark. He will take a five-shot advantage into the weekend.

Simpson, 32, became the seventh player at T.P.C. Sawgrass to shoot a 63, a score first recorded by Fred Couples in 1992 and last posted by Colt Knost in 2016.

Simpson’s 36-hole score of 15-under 129 also tied a tournament record, which was set by Jason Day two years ago.

The South African Charl Schwartzel (66), the New Zealander Danny Lee (66) and the American Patrick Cantlay (68), all sitting at 10-under 134, must feel as if they’re competing at some other tournament.

“I didn’t know the record,” Simpson said. “I figured I was probably close. But to be honest, I cared more about having a good routine and hitting a good shot in this golf tournament than the record. The records are just bonuses to good play. It wasn’t really in my thoughts as much as probably everybody else’s.”

At that point, the English player Tyrrell Hatton turned to Paul Tesori, Simpson’s caddie, and asked if he remembered Ty Webb, Chevy Chase’s character from the movie “Caddyshack,” who could knock in putts from anywhere, even blindfolded. Then Hatton asked to touch Simpson’s putter.

Yes, his round was that astonishing.

“Check out my goose bumps,” said Tesori, a former professional who attended nearby St. Augustine High School and has played T.P.C. Sawgrass more than 700 times. “It was one of the most unbelievable experiences out there.”

Simpson won his United States Open title anchoring a belly putter into his midsection. On Jan. 1, 2016, anchoring a putter was banned.

Simpson was one of a handful of players who paid the heaviest price. He suffered through two-plus seasons of poor putting and slid from the world’s top 10 to outside the top 80.

Simpson last won a tournament in 2014. He switched to a conventional putter ahead of 2016 and ranked 177th in strokes gained through putting.

A year ago at this tournament, Simpson ran into the 2010 Players champion, Tim Clark, who has the same manager. Clark asked Simpson how he was putting. “Consistent,” Simpson answered. Which wasn’t very good.

Clark introduced him to the right-hand “claw” putting grip that had helped him succeed. Simpson already extended the grip end of the putter up his left arm, as Matt Kuchar does. Simpson developed a hybrid grip from the methods. Tesori calls it the Clark-Kuchar.

Apparently, it works. Simpson ranks 10th this season in strokes gained with the putter.

On Friday, he needed only 23 putts, and in two days he has been 9.08 strokes better than the entire field with the putter. “Everything is going in,” Simpson said. “You feel like no matter what, you’re going to make it.”

“But at the same time,” he added, “you’re at T.P.C. Sawgrass, so you know that trouble is everywhere.”

Trouble does lurk everywhere, even on the course’s shortest hole.

But Simpson and Tesori figured they needed 137 yards on the hole, the island 17th, and with the wind swirling, Simpson was between clubs.

He wanted to “smash” a sand wedge. Tesori’s gut told him pitching wedge, but he said, “I wasn’t the one with the adrenaline of being 11 under.”

Simpson blocked the shot, and it bounded off a right-side wooden railroad tie, then kicked long across the green into water.

]]>
Mets Win With 9th-Inning Homer, Soothing Sting of Batting-Order Gaffe https://littleax.com/mets-win-with-9th-inning-homer-soothing-sting-of-batting-order-gaffe/ Tue, 15 May 2018 04:02:02 +0000 https://littleax.com/?p=810

Michael Conforto hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning off Phillies closer Hector Neris, and the Mets rallied to beat Philadelphia, 3-1, on Friday night.

Starter Jake Arrieta allowed only five hits over seven and a third scoreless innings, keeping the Phillies in a close game. They led by 1-0 until Neris allowed a one-out single to Wilmer Flores that would begin a Mets rally. Conforto followed with a two-run homer, and Devin Mesoraco, the next batter, went deep on the first pitch he saw from Neris.

Odubel Herrera extended his on-base streak to 40 games with a first-inning home run for the Phillies, who had won four straight.

It was only the Mets’ second win in 10 games, and it came in their first game since an embarrassing gaffe in Wednesday’s loss to Cincinnati in which they batted out of order, squashing a first-inning rally.

“I was surprised when the sun came up,” Manager Mickey Callaway said before the game.

Callaway said he told the players he “messed up, big time,” held a pregame meeting with the coaches and staff, and tinkered with the pregame procedures.

“The thing you try to do now is make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said John Ricco, the Mets’ assistant general manager.

Jeurys Familia (2-1) worked a perfect ninth for the Mets, who had scored two runs or fewer in seven of their previous nine games.

Herrera, who went 2 for 3 and is hitting .360, pulled a curveball to right off Steven Matz.

The Phillies fell to 7-14 against National League East opponents. They’re 15-2 against the rest of the majors.

Arrieta struck out Adrian Gonzalez with two on to end the third, and he was effective in holding the Mets to mostly weak contact while striking out five.

Arrieta worked around a leadoff walk and hit in the seventh, picking off Jose Reyes at first to end the threat. He was lifted after retiring pinch-hitter Juan Lagares to lead off the eighth on his 101st pitch.

Matz allowed five hits and four walks.

]]>