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WISCONSIN SPORTS ROUND-UP: U.S. men's hockey team smokes Slovakia 7-1

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SOCHI, Russia - Madison area native Phil Kessel had one goal and two assists, as the U.S. men's Olympic hockey team won its opening game, 7-1 over Slovakia this morning.  

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Kessel and Plover native Joe Pavelski each had four shots on goal for the Americans, who scored six times in the second period to pull away.  All six players with ties to Wisconsin spent at least some time on the ice in today's opener.  University of Wisconsin alum Ryan McDonagh had one shot on goal.  Madison native and UW alumn Ryan Suter took no shots-on-goal and did not figure in the scoring.  Neither did former Badger Derek Stepan and ex-Green Bay Gambler Blake Wheeler.  The next game for Team USA is on Saturday against Russia. face-off is at 6:30 a.m. (CST)  The Americans took the silver medal four years ago in Vancouver.  The U.S. has not won the gold in men's hockey since the famous "Miracle on Ice" team from 1980.  

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Olympians who win their events on Saturday will get something extra in their gold medals -- tiny chunks of a meteorite that fell in Russia.  Saturday is the first anniversary of a meteorite crash that inured 16-hundred people caused $33-million of damage in the area of Chelyabinsk.  Four Wisconsin athletes will have a chance to take one of those special gold medals home.  Alyson Dudek of Hales Corners will compete in the 1500-meter short track speed-skating event on Saturday, and Matt Antoine of Prairie du Chien will be in the finals of men's skeleton if he advances tomorrow.  Also, Shani Davis and Brian Hansen -- who train in Milwaukee -- could get a meteorite-laden medal if one of them wins the 1500- meter long-track skating event.  Hansen said he knows quite a bit about the meteorite crash, because he once competed in Chelyabinsk.  He said there are only about 40 speed-skating rinks in the world, and the meteorite struck one of them.  Davis had a lighter response when told about meteorite chunks in Saturday's golds.  He said quote, "Good luck trying to get that one through customs."  

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Wauwatosa high school grad Sugar Todd finished 32nd today in the one-thousand meter speed-skating event at the Sochi Olympics.  Her time was one minute :19.13 seconds.  Todd finished ahead of only four other skaters in a field-of-36.  Hong Zhang of China won the gold medal with a time of 1:14.02.  In men's curling, the U.S. lost to Great Britain 5-3 this morning.  Chris Brown of Madison has not seen any action in Sochi as the team's alternate.  Their next match is late tonight against Germany.

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The Milwaukee Brewers have reportedly reached a super-sized contract agreement with a 16-year-old third base prospect from the Dominican Republic.  Scouting Baseball and Sports-Reel-Boston are both reporting that Yirver Gilbert Lara agreed to a signing bonus of $3.2 million dollars.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says the reported amount is the largest by far that Milwaukee has given to an international prospect. Gilbert Lara is reportedly heading to the Brewers' spring complex in Arizona for a physical -- but the Brewers cannot comment until the deal is official.  That won't happen for a while, since the international signing period does officially begin until July 2nd.  Last year, Milwaukee paid $800,000 each to sign Dominican players Nicolas Pierre and Franly Mallen. The Brewers have been working to increase their profile in the Latin American region.  In 2011, they re-opened a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.

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The University of Wisconsin men's basketball team vows not to make the same mistake twice when it hosts Minnesota tonight at the Kohl Center in Madison.  The Badgers lost to the Gophers last month in Minneapolis, 81-68 -- and the Wisconsin players remember how poor their defense was. Frank Kaminsky picked up two fouls in the first three minutes of the game, and then sat on the bench until the break.  Badgers' freshman Nigel Hayes also had two quick fouls, and sat for seven minutes in the opening half. Associate head coach Greg Gard said it threw off Wisconsin's rotation -- and the remaining players on the floor were not aggressive enough on the defensive end.  That allowed Minnesota center Maurice Walker to score a career-high 18 points with nine rebounds.  The Golden Gophers come into tonight's contest at 5-6 in the Big Ten Conference and 16-8 overall.  The Badgers are 6-5 in the league, after coming off an upset of Michigan State last Sunday.  They're also 19-5 overall.  

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The UW-Green Bay men's basketball team will try to hang onto sole possession of first place in the Horizon League tonight, when it plays at Youngstown State.  The Phoenix are 9-2 in league play, one game ahead of 8-3 Cleveland State which hosts Illinois-Chicago this evening.  Green Bay faces a Youngstown State team that's 4-6 in the conference and 13-12 overall.  The two teams played on January 4th in Green Bay, when the Phoenix shot 67-percent in the second half and pulled away with a 16-point win.  UWGB is 19-5 overall -- and they're 5-2 away from the Resch Center this season.  Guard Keifer Sykes and center Alec Brown both average over 20-points in each of their road contests.  Green Bay is coming off a 10-point loss to UW-Milwaukee last Saturday.  Also tonight, the Wisconsin men host Minnesota.  The UW-Parkside men-and-women play at Drury.

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Wisconsin teams will play in two men's basketball games tonight in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference.  Edgewood is at Benedictine.  And Concordia-Wisconsin plays at Aurora.  Another NACC school, Wisconsin Lutheran, hosts independent Maranatha Baptist of Watertown.  First-place Marian is off tonight.  In women's basketball, Mount Mary will host Finlandia in Milwaukee.

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UW-Milwaukee is the coaches' favorite to win the Horizon League regular season baseball title this spring.  The Panthers won last year's crown for the first time since 2000.  Milwaukee is nursing a home winning streak of 16 games, the longest active streak in the NCAA's Division I.  Also, Panthers' second baseman Mike Porcaro has been named the Horizon Pre-season Player-of-the-Year.  Porcaro led the conference last year with a .364 batting average.  He was also second in RBI's with 43, and runs scored with 41. Porcaro is also on the pre-season All-Horizon League team along with three Milwaukee teammates -- catcher Mitch Ghelfi, third baseman Sam Hoenig, and outfielder Derek Peake.  Travis Hissong of Wright State is the pre-season Pitcher-of-the-Year.

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Saint Norbert is the pre-season favorite to win the North Division baseball crown in the Midwest Conference this spring.  The Green Knights received three-of-the-five possible first-place votes from the league's coaches.  Defending conference champion Ripon College received the other two votes, and is picked to finish second.  Carroll, Beloit, and Lawrence are projected to take third, fourth, and fifth in the North.  Knox College is the coaches' favorite to win the South Division title. Meanwhile, Beloit College is the favorite to win the Midwest softball North Division crown.  The Buccaneers were only 5-9 in league play a year ago.  But they've got 12 letter-winners back, including eight starters -- and that helped Beloit get three first-place votes from the conference coaches. Carroll and Lawrence are tied for second in the pre-season poll.  Saint Norbert is picked to take fourth, and Ripon fifth.  Defending league champion Cornell is the favorite to win the South Division softball crown. 

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Point guard Brandon Knight is clearly the best Milwaukee Bucks' player not to be chosen for this weekend's NBA All-Star events.  The 22-year-old Knight has two of Milwaukee's three-highest individual scoring performances this season -- 37 points against Los Angeles Lakers, and 36 against New York.  Knight also has the season's highest assist total with 14 in a game at Charlotte in December.  He also had 14 rebounds against Cleveland in December.  Bucks' coach Larry Drew says Knight gives 110-percent effort every time he steps on the floor -- and he's done a good job of making his teammates a little better with his ball-handling, and making good decisions in transition.  Drew says he'll keep pushing Knight to be even better.  He was traded to Milwaukee last July, in the deal that sent Brandon Jennings to the Pistons.  Knight has scored 20-or-more points in five of his last six contests.  The Bucks went on their NBA All-Star break after losing at home last night to New Orleans.  Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will be in the Rising Stars' game and the Skills Challenge during the All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.

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For the second time in eight months, NASCAR driver Danica Patrick is shoving aside criticism from members of the Hall-of-Fame Petty racing family.  Last week, Richard Petty said the Wisconsin-born Patrick would only win a NASCAR race if she was the only driver in it.  At NASCAR's Media Day today, Patrick said the criticism really doesn't matter -- and she would not seek out the legendary Petty to talk about it.  Patrick, who was born in Beloit and raised in nearby Roscoe, Illinois, said she doesn't mind such opinions.  She said the fact that people have different perspectives is what makes life interesting.  Patrick talked about subject at Daytona International Speedway, where the 500 will kick off the NASCAR Sprint Cup season later this month.  Patrick won the pole position in last year's 500 -- but otherwise, she had a dismal rookie season in NASCAR's top series.  Last June, Richard Petty's son Kyle said Patrick is someone who can drive fast, but cannot pull off the intricacies of racing.  At that time, Patrick said she didn't care what her critics say.

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None of Wisconsin's touring pros are in this weekend's PGA tournament.  The Northern Trust Open began this morning without Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker of Madison, and Pewaukee native Mark Wilson.  The tournament is being played at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California. On the PGA Champions' Tour, Rhinelander native Dan Forsman will be in the ACE Group Classic.  The 54-hole event begins tomorrow in Naples, Florida.

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