Sports Extra

NHL

It’s official: The NHL realigns for a 3-year trial period

NEW YORK – NHL owners have made it official: The Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings are heading east.

The league announced Thursday its board of governors approved a realignment plan that will go into effect next season. The new format will feature two eight-team divisions in the Eastern Conference and two seven-team divisions in the West.

That means Columbus and Detroit will switch conferences by moving into the East, while the Winnipeg Jets will move into the Western Conference.

Detroit will be placed in a division with Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

Columbus now will contend with Carolina, New Jersey, the Islanders, Rangers, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Winnipeg will join a division featuring Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville and St. Louis. The switch also allows both Colorado and Minnesota to move from the Northwest Division into a more centrally based division.

Realignment also will create changes in determining the 16-team playoff field. The top three teams in each division will qualify for the postseason. The next two teams with the best records in each conference then will earn wild-card berths. That will make it more difficult for teams to qualify in the East because it will have two more clubs than the West competing for eight berths.

The NHL Players’ Association already had signed off on the realignment format, which will be in place for at least three seasons.

Golf

Diaz and Pepper make nice for the U.S. Solheim Cup

PHOENIX – Laura Diaz was appointed vice captain of the U.S. Solheim Cup team Wednesday, pairing her with Dottie Pepper six years after their friendship seemingly ended over Pepper’s blunt televised comment during the matches.

Diaz, selected by captain Meg Mallon to join Pepper as an assistant for the August matches against Europe at Colorado Golf Club, was the most vocal critic after Pepper, believing the network was in a commercial break, referred to the U.S. players as “chokin’ freakin’ dogs” during Golf Channel’s coverage in 2007.

Soccer

Spain is FIFA’s No. 1 team; a quiet USA drops to 33

ZURICH – The United States fell one spot to No. 33 in FIFA’s rankings, while world and European champion Spain remained No. 1.

The drop by the Americans on Thursday comes despite not playing in a quiet month for international soccer.

Spain is followed by Germany, Argentina, England and Italy.

Africa’s top-ranked team, Ivory Coast, dropped one place to No. 13. Mexico remained at No. 15, and Japan leads Asia at No. 26.

World Cup Ski Racing

Bad weather again casts fog over the World Cup finals

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland – Marcel Hirscher all but wrapped up his second consecutive overall World Cup title Thursday, when closest challenger Aksel Lund Svindal conceded defeat after another of his favored speed events was canceled by bad weather at the finals.

Svindal said he won’t race in the season-ending slalom Sunday, meaning he can’t overhaul his Austrian rival’s 149-point lead in the standings.

Svindal accepted defeat at a news conference for his season-long titles in the downhill and super-G disciplines.

Svindal will complete his World Cup season Saturday racing against Hirscher in giant slalom. Ted Ligety of the United States already has won the crystal globe trophy in that event.

The women’s super-G, scheduled to start immediately after the men’s, also was canceled, giving this season’s discipline title to Tina Maze of Slovenia, who already had won in the overall and giant slalom standings.

Svindal and Lindsey Vonn clinched downhill titles Wednesday when both races fell victim to thick fog.

Associated Press