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MINNESOTA SPORTS ROUNDUP: Wild sign Vanek to a three-year deal

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The Minnesota Wild got their guy yesterday to begin the NHL Free Agency period as they inked former Gopher left winger Thomas Vanek to a three-year contract.  Since entering the NHL in 2005-06, Vanek, 30, ranks eighth amongst all NHL players in goals scored (277) and third in power-play goals (113). The 6-foot-2, 217-pound native of Vienna, Austria, has totaled 556 points (277-279=556) and a plus-41 rating in 663 regular-season games during nine NHL seasons, including 68 points (27-41=68) in 78 games with Buffalo, the New York Islanders and Montreal in 2013-14. He's added 30 points (20-10=30) in 53 NHL playoff games.  Vanek totaled 113 points (57-56=113) in 83 games during two seasons with the University of Minnesota (2002-04), helping the Golden Gophers claim the 2003 NCAA title while being named NCAA Championship Tournament MVP.  Vanek will wear 26 with Minnesota.

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Eduardo Nunez had three hits, including a solo homer, and scored three runs as the Minnesota Twins blew out the Kansas City Royals 10-2 on Tuesday night.  Kendrys Morales also had three hits for the Twins, who bounced back from a 6-1 loss on Monday  in the opener of the three-game series to win for the second time in their last eight games.  Ricky Nolasco (5-6) earned his first win in his last five starts after giving up one run on eight hits in six innings.  James Shields (8-4) gave up five  runs -- four earned -- on nine hits in  five innings.

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Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer left Tuesday night's game against Kansas City with what manager Ron Gardenhire said was a strained oblique.  "We will reevaluate him in the morning and see where we go from there," said Gardenhire.  Mauer  appeared to suffer the injury slicing a two-run double to left field in the fourth inning of the Twins' 10-2 win.  He was replaced in the field by Josh Willingham to start the fifth.

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The Twins and Royals will participate in the rubbermatch of their three game series this afternoon at Target Field with a 12:10 first pitch.  Kevin Correia (4-9, 5.08 ERA) goes for Minnesota while Jason Vargas (7-3, 3.53) counters for Kansas City. After today the Twins begin a four game home stand with the Yankees which begins on Thursday.

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While Thomas Vanek was the major splash for the Wild on July 1, they were active elsewhere beyond that.  First the club signed another former Gopher in defenseman Stu Bickel to a one year, two-way contract.  Next, defenseman Guillaume Gelinas was signed to a three year, entry level contract.  Finally, forward Brett Sutter signed a two year, two way contract.  

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While the Wild were active on day one of free agency they also had to say good bye to a number of names that signed elsewhere.  Defenseman Clayton Stoner signed a four year, $13 million deal to move his services to Anaheim.  Forward Cody McCormick got a three year, $4.5 million deal to go to Buffalo along with Matt Moulson who got five years and $25 million.  Dany Heatley, Ilya Bryzgalov, Mike Rupp and Nate Prosser are among Wild unrestricted free agents who remain on the open market.

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The Minnesota Timberwolves yesterday announced Ryan Saunders as an assistant coach, joining David Adelman, Sidney Lowe and Sam Mitchell on head coach Flip Saunders' staff.  A University of Minnesota graduate, Saunders spent the last five seasons as an assistant with the Washington Wizards. In Washington, he was instrumental in assisting with the preparation for upcoming opponents with extensive scouting reports and statistical analysis. Prior to his time with the Wizards, Saunders was as an assistant for a season on Tubby Smith's staff at the University of Minnesota, where he helped lead the Golden Gophers to an NCAA tournament appearance. In addition to his on-court work, Saunders helped players with their academic and social development off the court.  As well as his coaching experience, Saunders brings an analytical background to the Wolves coaching staff. He is the co-founder of an in-game analytical program, Gametime Concepts, which focuses on in-game analysis and statistical probabilities. Gametime Concepts is used by a number of NBA and NCAA teams.

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The United States' World Cup journey came to a heartbreaking end after the Stars and Stripes dropped a 2-1 extra-time decision to Belgium in the Round of 16.  The two nations battled to a scoreless tie through regulation, but the Belgians scored in both the 93rd and 105th minutes to send the Americans home despite a sensational 16-save effort from goalkeeper Tim Howard. Belgium will next  face Argentina, which claimed a 1-0 win over upstart Switzerland in Tuesday's other match, in the quarterfinals.

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Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios ousted world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in stunning fashion in Tuesday's fourth-round action at Wimbledon, while Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka safely advanced to set-up an all-Swiss quarterfinal at the All England Club. The wild card Kyrgios, ranked 144th in the world, vanquished the second-seeded  Nadal, 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, on the famed Centre  Court. Elsewhere in men's play on Tuesday, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka will meet in an all-Swiss quarterfinal.  The fourth-seeded  Federer eased into his 12th quarterfinal at the All England Club by handling 23rd-seeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 on the No.  1 Court. Federer will next face the fifth-seeded Australian Open champion Wawrinka, who reached his first-ever Wimbledon quarterfinal by cooling off hot 19th-seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (9-7), 6-3.

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 On the women's side Tuesday, German left-hander Angelique Kerber upset former champion Maria Sharapova, while  third-seeded French  Open runner-up  Simona Halep eased into the quarterfinals. The ninth-seeded Kerber toppled the fifth-seeded Sharapova  in 7-6 (7-4), 4-6,  6-4 fashion. Halep, meanwhile, posted a comprehensive  6-3, 6-0  win over Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas. The Romanian star handled  the 72nd-ranked Diyas, appearing in her first Wimbledon main draw, in 57  minutes.  Czech Lucie Safarova,  seeded 23rd, reached her first-ever major semifinal  by  whipping 22nd-seeded Russian  Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 6-1 in an all-left-handed quarterfinal.

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The University of Maryland and Rutgers University became official members of the Big Ten Conference today, increasing the Big Ten's membership to 14 institutions. In addition, Johns Hopkins University officially became a sport affiliate member for men's lacrosse.  The Big Ten now boasts more than 520,000 total students and 5.7 million living alumni. The conference's broad-based athletic programs will feature almost 9,500 student-athletes for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports, including 28 official Big Ten sports. Maryland and Rutgers are already members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), an academic consortium of Big Ten universities and the University of Chicago that is a highly regarded model for effective and voluntary collaboration among top research universities. In 2012, CIC institutions produced over $10 billion in research expenditures.  Maryland and Rutgers will take part in their first Big Ten event as official members of the conference at the 2014 Football Media Days and 43rd annual Kickoff Luncheon. 

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The four-day holiday horse racing schedule at Canterbury Park begins Thursday with a special 4:00 p.m. post time. The earlier-than-usual post time will allow for the 12-race program to be completed just before dusk, making way for the annual Fireworks Spectacular, which last year attracted 15,168 onlookers, shortly after 10:00 p.m. Music will be provided by The Irresistibles adjacent to the racetrack prior to the fireworks display.  Independence Day racing begins at 12:45 p.m. and offers free hot dogs, a wiener dog race, and a hot dog eating contest. In 2013, more than 23,000 hot dogs were served to a crowd exceeding 14,000.  General admission Thursday and Friday is $8.00; children 17 and under are admitted free. Parking is free. On Saturday and Sunday first post is 12:45 p.m. and general admission is $6.00.

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Two teams heading in the same direction squared off on Tuesday night at Midway Stadium.  The St Paul Saints entered play on a three game losing streak while the Fargo-Moorhead had dropped six straight.  With the Saints trailing 10-5 in the bottom of the ninth, a runner on second and two outs divine intervention took place: the power went out on the lights behind home plate suspending the game until Wednesday at 6:00 p.m.  The regularly scheduled game will begin at its normal time of 7:05 p.m.  The Saints will send RHP Jeff Shields (3-2, 4.62) against RedHawks RHP Drew Bowlin (2-1, 2.66). 

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