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Phil Kessel is the NHL’s unlikely Ironman

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Last night in San Jose, Vegas Golden Knights forward Phil Kessel played in his 990th consecutive regular-season game, breaking the NHL record set by Keith Yandle last season. Given the 35-year-old Kessel’s relatively soft physique and legendarily questionable diet, his ascension to the title of NHL Ironman has to be one of the most improbable feats in hockey. But there’s more to Kessel than meets the eye. In honour of his consecutive-games streak and his 400th NHL goal, which he scored last night, here are a few fun Phil facts:

He’s an incredible athlete… Kessel’s doughy (for a pro hockey player) 5-foot-11, 208-pound body and receding hairline belie some serious physical gifts. Before entering the NHL, the talented Wisconsinite was touted as the next great American star. He racked up 286 points in an 86-game season at the bantam level, then went on to record 51 points in 39 games as an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Minnesota in 2005-06. That same season, he beat out Russian phenom Evgeni Malkin for the world junior championship scoring title with 11 points in seven games. Scouts there called Kessel the fastest player in the tournament and raved about his shot. A few months later, the Boston Bruins drafted him fifth overall. Sixteen years later, he’s one of just 12 U.S.-born players to reach the 400-goal mark.

…and not just on the hockey rink. Besides his prowess on the ice, teammates rave about Kessel’s abilities in the weight room, on the golf course and even in more cardiovascularly demanding sports like basketball and soccer. “He’s incredibly athletic,” former teammate Blake Wheeler told Sportsnet’s Kristina Rutherford. “He’s the type of guy that, he’s good at everything he does.” By all accounts from guys who’ve played with him, Kessel is easy to get along with too.

The start of his pro career was marred by health problems. Here’s another reason why the idea of “Phil Kessel: Ironman” once seemed so unlikely. A couple of months into his rookie season with the Bruins, Kessel underwent surgery for testicular cancer. But he returned to the lineup just a month later and played in nearly every Boston game the rest of that season and all 82 the next (perhaps an early indication of the Ironman in the making). Kessel missed a dozen games in 2008-09, after which he was traded to Toronto. His Leafs debut was delayed due to off-season shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the first 12 games. Kessel finally suited up for Toronto on Nov. 3, 2009. He hasn’t missed a game since.

The Ironman streak spans nearly 13 years and four teams. Despite averaging more than 30 goals per season (including a lockout-shortened one) in his six years with the Leafs, Kessel’s tenure there ended badly as his laid-back personality proved a tough fit with Toronto’s tightly wound fans, media and organization. After the Leafs traded him to Pittsburgh in a salary dump during the 2015 off-season, Kessel got the last laugh by promptly winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. Sidney Crosby took the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP both years, but Kessel had a strong case in 2016 when he led the Penguins in goals (10) and points (22). He was excellent the following year too, notching eight goals and 23 points in the post-season. After Pittsburgh, Kessel spent three years in the desert (literally and metaphorically) with lowly Arizona, where he had a respectable 52 points last season. Say what you will about the Coyotes (and we have) but they helped Kessel keep his streak alive last March by allowing him to play just one shift in a game at Detroit before hopping on a chartered flight arranged by the team so he could join his longtime girlfriend for the birth of their first child. If you count playoff games, Kessel has now played in 1,071 consecutive contests. To put that in perspective, only nine per cent of current NHL players were in the league when his streak began in November 2009.

Yes, his diet could use some work. Though he just became a father about eight months ago, Kessel has carried a dad bod for a while, thanks somewhat to his notorious taste for junk food. Toronto sportswriter Steve Simmons is still getting dunked on for his long-ago accusation that Kessel was overfrequenting the city’s hot dog stands (a dig that Phil deliciously trolled after winning the Cup), but there’s at the very least a (popcorn) kernel of truth to that possibly apocryphal story. In an age where many pro athletes are extremely careful about what they eat, Kessel’s teammates tell of a Sour Patch Kids fanatic whose dorm room at the Sochi Olympics was littered with candy wrappers and who liked to drink Coke between periods. But that propensity to pig out is a feature, not a bug, when it comes to Kessel’s appeal. His Hall of Fame case may be a bit thin as he’s never come close to winning a major regular-season individual award, but hockey fans can never seem to get their fill of Phil.

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LeBron Saves Team USA in Thrilling Exhibition Against South Sudan at O2 Arena

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LONDON — In what could have been one of the most monumental upsets in international basketball history, Team USA narrowly escaped with a 101-100 victory over a spirited South Sudan team at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night. This exhibition match, serving as a tune-up for the 2024 Olympics, showcased the rapid rise of South Sudanese basketball and the indomitable spirit of the American team led by LeBron James.

The atmosphere at the O2 Arena was electric, with fans witnessing a game that turned out to be far more competitive than expected. South Sudan, a team composed largely of refugees and players from the diaspora, pushed the heavily favored Americans to their limits.

First Half Highlights:

  • South Sudan came out firing on all cylinders, building a surprising 16-point lead in the second quarter.
  • Team USA struggled with their three-point shooting, missing 12 of their first 13 attempts from beyond the arc.

Despite the odds, South Sudan’s players, many of whom have overcome significant personal and professional challenges, played with remarkable cohesion and determination. Their performance was a testament to the rapid progress the team has made under the guidance of former NBA star Luol Deng.

With the game hanging in the balance, LeBron James demonstrated why he remains one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Benched at the start of the third quarter, James returned to the floor with a determination that was palpable.

Key Moments:

  • Third Quarter: Anthony Davis’ defensive prowess helped shrink the deficit. LeBron’s return brought stability and focus back to Team USA.
  • Final Minute: With just 20 seconds left, JT Thor of South Sudan scored over LeBron, giving his team a one-point lead.
  • Game-Winning Shot: LeBron drove to the basket, scoring the decisive layup with eight seconds remaining.

South Sudan’s journey to this point has been nothing short of inspirational. The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, and the basketball program, still in its infancy, has quickly become a source of national pride.

Notable Contributions:

  • Carlik Jones: Delivered a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.
  • Wenyen Gabriel: LeBron’s former teammate with the Lakers, contributed 11 points.
  • Marial Shayok: Led South Sudan with 24 points.

The team’s formation and rise have been spearheaded by Luol Deng, who played a pivotal role in recruiting and funding the program. His efforts have culminated in South Sudan qualifying for the Olympics, marking a historic achievement for the young nation.

Stephen Curry: “Wild game. They played really intense. It was nice to see how we responded. LeBron with a great finish down the stretch.”

Steve Kerr: “The whole team was embarrassed at halftime. We were challenged today, and it was good for us to feel that now. This was a reminder that we need to bring our best every game.”

Luol Deng: Expressed immense pride in his team’s performance, emphasizing the significance of their journey and the obstacles they have overcome.

This exhibition game was more than just a pre-Olympic warm-up. It highlighted the potential for underdog stories in sports and underscored the global reach and impact of basketball. Team USA, despite the narrow escape, was reminded of the importance of every game and the challenges that lie ahead.

South Sudan, on the other hand, has cemented its place on the international stage, showcasing that with determination and the right support, even the newest teams can compete with the best in the world.

As both teams prepare for the Olympics, this game at the O2 Arena will be remembered not only for its thrilling finish but also for the remarkable stories of resilience and ambition that played out on the court.

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UFC Vegas 94: Amanda Lemos vs. Virna Jandiroba – Main Event Recap

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In a thrilling main event at UFC Vegas 94, strawweights Amanda Lemos and Virna Jandiroba faced off on Saturday night. After an evenly matched first round, Jandiroba secured a dramatic submission victory in the second round, just moments before the bell.

Fight Summary:

  • First Round: The opening round was highly competitive, with both fighters showcasing their skills and maintaining a close contest.
  • Second Round: In the final seconds of the second round, Jandiroba managed to secure a submission, forcing Lemos to tap out. The win marks an impressive fourth consecutive victory for Jandiroba.

Post-Fight Remarks:

  • In her post-fight interview inside the Octagon, Jandiroba confidently called out UFC President Dana White, declaring, “Dana, I’m the next one. Dana, I’m your next champion.”

Future Implications:

  • With this victory, Jandiroba has positioned herself as a strong contender for the strawweight title. Tatiana Suarez, who was the rightful next contender for Weili Zhang, has been sidelined due to an injury. Jandiroba’s current four-fight win streak and her dominant performance at UFC Vegas 94 make a compelling case for her title shot.

Stay tuned for more updates as the UFC strawweight division continues to evolve, and see if Virna Jandiroba will indeed become the next challenger for the championship belt.

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Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry: Fight Night Updates

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Jake Paul is back in the ring, and he’s promising fireworks as he takes on former UFC star Mike Perry at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The fight will be broadcast live on DAZN. Originally, Paul was set to fight Mike Tyson, but Perry stepped in after Tyson suffered an injury.

Fight Details:

Jake Paul (9-1, 6 KOs)

  • Paul is coming off a first-round TKO of Ryan Bourland in March.
  • He has promised that Perry won’t survive the second round.
  • Paul is more experienced in boxing but still relatively new to the sport.

Mike Perry (0-1)

  • Perry, known as “Platinum,” brings over a decade of fighting experience, mainly in MMA and bare-knuckle fighting.
  • He believes Paul is still green in the fight business and intends to use his experience to pull off an upset.

Main Event:
Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry

Live Updates: Follow DAZN for all the live updates, results, and highlights from the Paul vs. Perry pay-per-view main card.

Main Card Results:

Amanda Serrano def. Stevie Morgan via TKO

  • Round 2, 0:38
    • Watch the finish

Lucas Bahdi def. H20 Sylve via knockout

  • Round 6, 2:27
    • Watch the finish

Corey Marksman def. Tony Aguilar via majority decision

  • Scores: 76-76, 77-75, 78-74

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. def. Uriah Hall via unanimous decision

  • Scores: 59-55, 59-55, 58-56
    • Recap

Stay tuned for the main event updates and see if Jake Paul can deliver on his promise of another highlight reel knockout or if Mike Perry will teach him a lesson and pull off a major upset.

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