Crosby has 2 goals, 2 assists in NHL return after long recovery from concussion

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Penguins would have accepted an average Sidney Crosby in his first game in nearly 11 months – a routine performance, a regular night at the office.

Instead, they got the extraordinary.

Crosby scored the game’s first goal on his first shot since Jan. 5, scored again in the third period and added two assists during the NHL’s most-awaited comeback game since Mario Lemieux’s return in 2000 as the Pittsburgh Penguins roughed up the New York Islanders 5-0 on Monday night.

Choose an adjective befitting the superlative, and it worked on this special night: Dazzling, exceptional, brilliant.

No one in the hockey world knew exactly what to expect as Crosby, hockey’s biggest star, played his first game in 321 days following his prolonged layoff with a concussion that caused him considerable discomfort for months. But few probably expected him to be this good, this fast, this dominant.

This much like the Sidney Crosby of old.

Even the score was the same as when Lemieux returned from a 44-month retirement to collect a goal and two assists against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 27, 2000, in the last NHL comeback to generated this much interest.

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The Penguins, already one of the NHL’s top teams, now have a superstar looking just like the player who was dominating the NHL scoring race at this time a year ago, when Crosby was on pace for the league’s highest scoring total in 15 years before he was hurt.

Crosby showed not a speck of rust from his extended absence and was the fastest player on the ice from the very start of a memorable night. He helped set up a Chris Kunitz shot off the crossbar on his very first shift – shades of Lemieux getting an assist only a half-minute into his comeback – and was a motivated and driven player from the start.

And who could have scripted this any better – Crosby grabbed a Pascal Dupuis pass in stride on his third shift, accelerated to the net and, while fending off defenceman Andrew MacDonald, lifted a hard backhander under the crossbar only 5:24 into the game. Islanders rookie Anders Nilsson, making his first NHL start, never had a chance.

It never got any better after that for the Islanders, who dropped their 12th game in their last 14 overall and their 13th in a row in Pittsburgh, a city that isn’t very hospitable to them even when Crosby isn’t playing.

Now Crosby is back and, based on Monday’s game, appears to have the same form that saw him to score 32 goals and pile up an NHL-leading 66 points in 41 games before he sustained a concussion in early January.

For Crosby, the first-place Penguins and the league that has long awaited the return of its signature star, it couldn’t have gone much better than this.

He also took a few hard hits – the kind that can’t be handed out in practice – with Travis Hamonic shoving him in the end boards during the first period. Crosby quickly jumped up, not shaken a bit.

The standing-room crowd of 18,571 in Consol Energy Center was predictably loud and supportive, holding up Welcome Back Sid: signs by the thousands while chanting “Crosby, Crosby” as a huge No. 87 was displayed on the scoreboard before the opening faceoff.

There were signs everywhere – one read “Merry Sidmas” – from a crowd that came prepared to welcome back Crosby no matter how well he played, and was rewarded with a performance that bordered on the otherworldly.

During the morning skate, Penguins forward Steve Sullivan warned it might take any player coming off an extended layoff a few games to regain his timing, his top speed and his game legs, even if he managed to play a game or two on adrenalin.

Crosby looked as if he hadn’t missed a shift, much less half of one season and one quarter of another. He showed his playmaking abilities as he set up the Penguins’ second goal following a four-minute break between shifts late in the first period. His backhander from the left wing boards found defenceman Brooks Orpik at the point for a one-timer that beat Nilsson to the stick side at 16:29.

The score was only 2-0 but, given the emotion and the energy generated by the Crosby comeback, it was all but over.

It was a difficult assignment from the star from Nilsson, whose only previous NHL playing time was a 40-minute stint during a 6-0 loss to Boston on Saturday night. Crosby’s comeback didn’t make it any easier.

Neither did the Penguins’ third goal, scored by Evgeni Malkin on a power play with Crosby assisting 3:17 into the second period. Crosby drove hard to the net after coming off the bench and was turned aside by Nilsson, but got the puck back and fed it to Kris Letang at the point, who in turn sailed a hard pass to Malkin near the left post for his 10th goal.

Crosby didn’t figure in Pittsburgh’s fourth goal, scored by Sullivan off Malkin’s set-up only 2 ½ minutes later. The big lead allowed coach Dan Bylsma to start trimming Crosby’s ice time a bit, given the Penguins play three more times in the next five days.

Not that Crosby was done.

He finished off the unforgettable night with his second goal, slamming a hard backhander off defenceman Steve Staios and by Nilsson after carrying the puck from behind to net to along the right-wing boards 2:06 into the third period.

With so much attention on Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury quietly went about putting together his 21st career shutout and second of the season, stopping 29 shots as the Penguins won their sixth in a row at home and improved to 12-6-4.

Now, for Crosby, it’s one game down, two goals scored and the rest of the season to go.

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Occupy Calgary protesters cool to city deal, ask for electric hookups

CALGARY – Talks between Occupy Calgary and city officials went cold Saturday as protesters wavered on a deal that would see them vacate Olympic Plaza.

Despite facing temperatures below minus 20 degrees, the campers vowed to continue their occupation. Protester Aaron Doncaster read the city’s proposal out loud during a general assembly on Saturday.

“Personally, if I had my own choice, I would light this on fire,” Doncaster said, holding a copy of the city’s offer.

Last Thursday, city officials presented protesters with an informal proposal that would allow them to host several public forums and establish an information booth somewhere near the plaza in exchange for the group leaving the park.

But protesters balked at the offer, citing several concerns including the proposal’s informal nature. Doncaster invited Mayor Naheed Nenshi and other city officials down to the camp for further discussions.

“They won’t even come down to our (general assemblies) and recognize us,” he said. “That is an open line of communication that needs to be acknowledged.”

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Saturday marked the fifth week the group has occupied Olympic Plaza. The city previously ticketed and threatened to evict the protesters, but has since taken a more neutral stance, citing constitutional rights to freedom of expression.

The movement seems to be waning in several Canadian cities. Protesters in Vancouver have been given until Monday to pack up and camps in Regina and Victoria have already been dismantled.

 

“Calgary’s said from the get-go we’re looking for a peaceful resolution,” said Bill Bruce, director of animal and bylaw services.

Several protesters called for access to electrical services before they’d continue talks with the city. Bruce said there is no plan to offer power to the camp.

“That’s not on the table from the city’s side,” he said. “Realistically, we’ve cautioned them about the weather.”

The idea of continuing without power didn’t sit well with all the occupiers. Anthony Hall, a University of Lethbridge professor who recently joined the movement, said they have the right to use electrical devices, such as laptops.

Hall would like to see city hall engage the group in a respectful discussion on the matter.

“We’re human beings,” he said. “He (Bruce) deals with bylaws and animals, and he’s dealing with us like we’re animals. We’re humans. It’s winter in Canada.”

Protesters say they hope to make a formal counter-offer to the city by next Saturday.

“The city is missing the point in that they don’t seem to understand that the way this group operates isn’t through demands or proposals,” said protester Arran Fisher.

However, Fisher didn’t have a solution as to how the two parties could reach a deal.

“I can’t think of an appropriate response apart from just letting it happen.”

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Mayor says his 5% tax plan is doable

CALGARY – Mayor Naheed Nenshi has released a roadmap to stick with a five-per-cent tax increase for 2012 by the end of this week’s budget debates, but he likely lacks the support to get there.

He is confident the police chief can handle 45 fewer officers at community and district desks and in other support services, feels transit won’t suffer with fewer service hours, and thinks less money for parks maintenance will prompt more efficient delivery of the service.

“On the face of it and on the facts, there is no reason we can’t do it,” Nenshi said of his tax plan.

He’s going to have a tough job convincing others on council.

At least one councillor who reluctantly joined Nenshi’s push to keep property tax hikes to the rate of population and civic cost growth now wants to go higher – six per cent, perhaps – to prevent service reductions for police, transit or snow clearing.

“We’re going to have to add. I just don’t see places where we can cut,” Jim Stevenson said Sunday, the day before council begins a likely marathon stretch of hearings and debates on the 2012-2014 city fiscal plan.

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When council gave city managers pre-budget direction on taxes in June, Stevenson was one of nine members who initially backed finance committee chairman Councillor Gord Lowe’s plan for an eight-per-cent increase in 2012, and six points in the next two years.

He was then one of the three councillors who switched their stances after Nenshi pitched hikes of 5.0, 5.1 and 5.5 per cent in successive years.

Lowe plans to bring back his eight-point tax proposal, and colleagues have eyed many department budgets to shore up.

A plan to add no new transit routes outside the west LRT corridor and cut $1 million in transit service in 2013 has won few fans other than the mayor, who argues the new LRT line will offset the need for more bus service.

The police commission has many members in their corner – including Stevenson – calling to reverse the planned elimination of 45 officers this year, and hire additional police.

“I’m so happy with what (Chief) Rick Hanson has done over the years. I just don’t agree we should hamstring them,” the Ward 3 member said.

Nenshi supports the idea for new officers as the population grows but will ask council to await word on possible aid from the Redford government.

Many also oppose a $5.7-million clawback to parks maintenance over three years, and there’s apparent unanimity against a $3.5-million cut to the roads budget that would end the newly upgraded plowing strategy for side streets.

To staunch that problem, Nenshi will propose taking $7 million from the rainy day reserve to start a snowy-day fund so the city can draw from it in tough winters, and add to it in lighter winters.

Civic Camp, a group of urban activists which Nenshi helped form, will appeal today for the higher tax hike that Lowe endorses and the mayor is against.

There’s streamlining to be done, but even the city’s own pre-budget consultations showed Calgarians favour enhanced services, Civic Camp organizer Peter Rishaug said.

“They are willing to pay more for certain services, if they are reliable and improve quality of life,” he said.

There will also be public speakers coming out for operational dollars to further the cycling strategy, which got short shrift in a budget that cuts back in most areas.

“It will result in savings that exceed its costs many times. The benefits include improved health, long term transportation cost savings, more vibrant street life and increased tourism,” said Bike Calgary’s letter to Nenshi and council last week.

For support on a more modest tax hike, Nenshi can likely count on Councillors Dale Hodges and Andre Chabot, as well as Peter Demong, who wants a four-per-cent hike. But they’re aware of the long odds.

“I don’t think council will have the intestinal fortitude to get it below six per cent,” Chabot said.

On top of tax rates and service levels, council will also tackle user fees. Many members will try to alter the draft plan to hike the senior’s annual transit pass to $55 next year and $96 by 2014, from the present deeply discounted $35 (low-income seniors would still pay $15 a year).

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Alberta now projecting $3.1-billion deficit

EDMONTON – After a rosy spring for Alberta’s finances, weakening resource revenue and poor investment income during the summer have combined to put the province farther into the red.

Delivering its second-quarter fiscal update on Monday, the government is projecting a $3.1-billion deficit at the end of its 2011-12 fiscal year. While that’s still ahead of initial budget estimates of a $3.4-billion deficit, it’s considerably worse than the $1.3-billion deficit predicted after the first quarter than ended June 30.

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One main reason for the change is a decline in resource revenue. Conventional oil royalties are now projected to be $462 million less than they were at the end of the first quarter. This is due to a drop in oil prices and a less favourable exchange rate with the U.S. dollar.

Bitumen royalties are expected to be nearly $1 billion lower than the first-quarter estimates, due to higher operating costs that has led to lower-than-expected production in the oilsands.

These declines were somewhat offset by a projected record year in the sale of Crown leases, which is expected to generate revenue of $3.3 billion this year. That is a $2.3-billion increase from the budget and $955-million increase from first-quarter projections.

Weak global markets have also hit the province’s investments, resulting in a revenue forecast $625 million lower than at first quarter.

On the expense side, government costs have risen $860 million from the budget and $210 million from the first quarter.

The main reason for the change is increased bills for responding to disasters and emergencies, including forest fires, flooding and the battle against the mountain pine beetle. The province is spending $234 million this year to deal with the Slave Lake wildfire.

The provincial books have also been affected by Premier Alison Redford’s decision to restore $107 million in education funding.
Overall, the province is predicting total revenue of $36.8 billion, and total expenses of $39.9 billion.

The deficit is being covered by the province’s sustainability fund, the value of which is projected to dip to $8.1 billion by year end on March 31, 2012.

As for the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, its value stood at $14.7 billion by Sept. 30. That’s decline of about $400 million since the end of the first quarter, due to poor investment markets.

This drop has meant a decline in investment income from the fund, which the province puts toward its general revenue. 

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Tigers ace Verlander beats Bautista to claim American League MVP award

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Detroit’s Justin Verlander stymied the Toronto Blue Jays with a no-hitter in May. He shut them out again Monday by becoming the first starting pitcher in a quarter-century voted Most Valuable Player.

Verlander earned the American League MVP honour after receiving 13 of 28 first-place votes and 280 points in results announced by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

“Obviously pitchers are not just written off all of a sudden because they’re pitchers,” Verlander said.

Boston centre-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was second in voting with four firsts and 242 points, followed by Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista with five firsts and 231 points.

Bautista led the major leagues in home runs (43), walks (132), slugging percentage (.608) and on-base plus slugging (1.056) to become the first player since Barry Bonds in 2001 to lead in four offensive categories. He also batted .302 with 132 RBIs.

The Blue Jays outfielder received a top-10 vote on ever ballot, but was ranked as low as ninth by one writer.

Verlander added the MVP to the Cy Young Award he won last week.

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“Not even in my wildest dreams had I thought of this,” he said. “I want to say this is a dream come true. I can’t say that because my dream had already had come true … to win a Cy Young. And the next dream is to win a World Series. This wasn’t even on my radar until the talk started. And then all of a sudden it was a this-could-actually-happen type of thing.”

Verlander won the AL’s pitching triple crown, going 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, the most wins in the major leagues since Oakland’s Bob Welch went 27-6 in 1990. Verlander pitched his second career no-hitter at Rogers Centre in Toronto on May 7.

Last week, he was a unanimous Cy Young winner. On Monday, he became the first pitcher voted MVP since Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starting pitcher since Boston’s Roger Clemens in 1986.

“I think that a starting pitcher has to do something special to be as valuable or more so than a position player,” Verlander said. “Obviously, having the chance to play in 160-some games in the case of Miguel, they can obviously have a huge impact every day. That’s why, I’ve talked about on my day, on a pitcher’s day, the impact we have is tremendous on that game. So you have to have a great impact almost every time out to supersede (position players) and it happens on rare occasions, and I guess this year was one of those years.”

The 2006 AL Rookie of the Year, Verlander joined the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Don Newcombe as the only players to win all three major awards in their careers.

“I think this set a precedent,” Verlander said. “I’m happy that the voters acknowledged that, that we do have a major impact in this game and we can be extremely valuable to our team and its success.”

Verlander appeared on only 27 ballots and was omitted by Jim Ingraham of The Herald-News in Ohio, who voted Bautista first. Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal voted Verlander eighth.

Ingraham doesn’t think pitchers should be eligible for MVP.

“I’d wrestled with this for a long time. If I was ever going to vote for pitcher for MVP, it would be him this year,” Ingraham said. “He hasn’t appeared in 79 per cent of their games, any starting pitcher really doesn’t appear in 79 per cent of his team’s games in a year.

“Would you vote for an NFL quarterback for MVP if he only appeared in three of his team’s 16 games, which would be 21 per cent? So that’s part of it. Another part of it is I think they’re apples and oranges. The guys that are in there every day, there’s a grind to a season that a starting pitcher doesn’t, I don’t think, experience the way the everyday position players do playing 150, 160 games.”

Other pitchers to win MVP and Cy Young in the same year were Newcombe (1956), Los Angeles’ Sandy Koufax (1963), St. Louis’ Bob Gibson and Detroit’s Denny McLain (1968), Oakland’s Vida Blue (1971), Milwaukee’s Rollie Fingers (1981) and Detroit’s Willie Hernandez (1984).

Since Mickey Cochrane (1934), Hank Greenberg (1935, 1940) and Charley Gehringer (1937), all Tigers voted MVP have been pitchers, with Verlander joining Hal Newhouser (1944 and 1945), McLain and Hernandez.

While Verlander earned a US$500,000 bonus for winning the Cy Young, he didn’t have an MVP bonus provision. Tampa’s Evan Longoria receives $25,000 for finishing 10th.

The NL MVP winner will be announced Tuesday.

Before learning he won, Verlander had given up hope.

Last week, he was told he had won the Cy Young at about 12:40 p.m. He watched the clock Monday.

“I figured somebody else got the call,” Verlander said.

Then Brian Britten, the Tigers’ director of baseball media relations, called at 12:56 p.m., about one hour before the announcement.

“It was just a weight off my shoulders,” Verlander said, “and pure elation, really.”

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Murder trial for Hells Angels members begins in Vancouver court

Seven Okanagan men, including two full-patch Hells Angels, made their first appearance in a Vancouver courtroom Monday in the beating death of Kelowna’s Dain Phillips last June.

The men — Hells Angels members Robert Thomas and Norm Cocks — as well as Cocks’ dad Robert, brothers Daniel and Matthew McRae, Anson Schell, and Thomas Vaughan, were charged with second-degree murder two weeks after the fatal assault on Phillips last June 12.

They made their initial appearances in Kelowna provincial court, where five of the accused were released on bail.

But Crown prosecutors have decided to proceed by way of direct indictment, meaning the case goes straight to B.C. Supreme Court without a preliminary hearing at the provincial court level. And prosecutors have moved the case to Vancouver, where the accused appeared Monday in a new high-security courtroom built for an unrelated gang murder case.

There is a ban on publication on evidence and submissions in the case.

Justice Arne Silverman put the matter over until Dec. 19, with a tentative start date for the eight-month trial sometime in January, 2013.

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Thomas, 46, and Norm Cocks, 31, appeared wearing red prison garb from the North Fraser Pre-trial centre, where they remain in custody. The others – Dan and Matt McRae, 21 and 19, Schell, 19, Vaughan, 22 and Robert Cocks, 53 – arrived with relatives and supporters, each being directed to their seat behind bullet-proof plexiglas.

No one from the family of Phillips attended Monday.

The Vancouver Sun earlier reported that Phillips, a married father of three, tried to intervene peacefully in a dispute two of his sons were having with a pair of brothers with whom they had attended Rutland Secondary.

When Phillips drove to a meeting place on McCurdy Road in the early evening of June 12, he was attacked by a group of men who had arrived in two separate vehicles. He died later in hospital.

Insp. Pat Fogarty, of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, said after the arrests that Phillips was simply trying to do the right thing and resolve the problem when he was savagely attacked.

The elder Cocks is president of a Hells Angels puppet club called the Throttle Lockers, while the four youngest accused were described by police as associates of the notorious biker gang.

The case is believed to be the first in the 28-year-history of the Hells Angels in B.C. where a club member has been charged with murder.
 

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Canadian lightweight Mark Bocek combines cage-fighting with love for motorcycles

TORONTO – When he is not training or fighting in the UFC, Canadian lightweight Mark Bocek feels a need for speed.

“Cars, motorcycles, they’re a rush to me,” Bocek told The Canadian Press. “I really enjoy them.”

In his garage, Bocek has a Honda CBR1000 and Suzuki GSX-R600 superbike and a Mitsubishi Eclipse car – “my daily driver.”

The 30-year-old from Woodbridge, Ont., considered one of the UFC’s top 155-pound grapplers, fills his down time by watching Formula One and MotoGP. Chances are his TV is tuned to Speed network.

“I watch all the races. When I’m not in town, I PVR them,” he said. “I love sports cars, I love superbikes, I love motorcycles. … Speed. It’s all evolved around speed. If I wasn’t in MMA, it would have something to do with speed for sure.”

Bocek (9-4) is currently training for a fight with Nik (The Carny) Lentz at UFC 140 in Toronto on Dec. 10.

Bocek is not much of a NASCAR fan – the oval circuits do little for him. Instead he loves street circuits like Monte Carlo, with its chicanes.

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“I’m not the drag or straightaway guy,” he explained. “I’m not really into car or bike drag-racing either. It’s cool, it’s powerful but it’s not complete enough for me. So F1 and Moto GP.”

Still Bocek acknowledges he was a bigger fan of Formula One in years gone by.

“Vettel’s the man right now. Overall accomplishments, how can you not say (Michael) Schumacher. I think it’s seven world titles. But favourite all-time, Ayrton Senna, no question.”

Bocek does his riding mostly on the road. He concedes riding on a track can be safer – “There are a lot of bad drivers out there” – but getting a bike to a track takes time and effort.

“It’s a bit of work compared to just opening your garage and pulling out,” he said.

“But yeah I know how dangerous they are.” he said of motorcycles.
“I’ve seen friends crash. There’s no guarantees either way, but I’m not asking for trouble. I don’t have to be doing 250 kilometres per hour to enjoy it. I can enjoy it just by being on it on a nice day.”

His bikes offer plenty of speed wherever he takes them.

“A CBR 1000 it’s no joke. That’s pretty much as powerful as they get. You could be on a highway and just laugh at Corvettes.”

Bocek doesn’t takes passengers on his bikes – there are no extra seats or pegs.

“I try to make it as much of a race bike as possible. I usually go on my own and I’ll just go for an hour or so. Secluded areas, I’ll go for a one-hour blip – just on my own, just to enjoy it and have fun, to get my fix.”

No hogs or Harley-Davidsons for Bocek.

“It’s just not my thing. Everyone’s got their thing, you know. It’s just very hard to ride a bike like that after you’re used to the braking, handling and performance of a superbike. It’s very hard for me to get on a cruiser and try to ride that and it’s hard to make a U-turn. My hands are up high and I feel like I’m on a little moving chair. I don’t feel like I’m one with the bike.

“Everyone has their preferences. It’s just not for me.”

Bocek’s bikes aren’t cheap – both costing more than $10,000 – and modifications up the price tag even more.

“A couple of times, when I got fight of the night (bonuses), it definitely helped,” he said.

Bocek isn’t the only mixed martial arts fighter with a love of motorcycles. Anthony (Rumble) Johnson, Josh Koscheck and Jamie Varner are among those who share Bocek’s passion.

Former heavyweight champion Frank Mir, meanwhile, was badly injured in a 2004 motorcycle crash in Las Vegas. He was sidelined for some 17 months before returning to the cage, taking longer to regain his form.

And in recent weeks, IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon and MotoGP star rider Marco Simoncelli died in race crashes.

“Bad two weeks there,” Bocek said with a sigh.

But Bocek says he has the green light to ride and takes the responsibility of speed seriously.

“It doesn’t say anything in the (UFC) contract. But I don’t do anything stupid on them either. I love my life too and I love my job.

“It’s all (done) with respect. I mean you could get killed in a car too, it’s just you’ve got more protection in a car. But I keep a straight head on my shoulders.”

Living in Canada also helps, in that the climate forces his motorcycle off the road for months at a time.

“I pack up the bikes, put them in storage and I’m like ‘OK, it was a good year, no accidents,’” he said with a laugh.

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Nuremberg fan loses arm after being hit by train after row with Mainz supporters at station

NUREMBERG, Germany – A Nuremberg football fan lost an arm after being hit by a train following an altercation with opposing supporters at a station.

The 19-year-old man was in a group of fans returning from Nuremberg’s 4-0 loss at Schalke on Saturday when it became involved in a row with Mainz supporters at Cologne train station. He is thought to have fallen in front of an oncoming high-speed train. Emergency surgery failed to save his right arm.

Cologne police initially began an attempted homicide inquiry believing the man was pushed, but a state prosecutor told the Nuernberger Zeitung newspaper that witnesses gave a different story.

“They stated that the 19-year-old was running over the tracks when he fell in front of the train,” state prosecutor Alf Willwacher said.

Nuremberg director Martin Bader said the club heard the news with “disbelief and great sadness.” He denied the fan was a hooligan and offered him and his family Nuremberg’s “full support.”

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“We still don’t know the exact circumstances. We can’t and won’t comment on the matter as long as the police continue with the investigation,” Bader said. “That such a serious incident could take place is very tragic. It certainly adds a new dimension to the violence.”

Kicker reported that police arrested a 21-year-old man following the incident in which about 30 people took part.

Several violent incidents have marred German Cup and league matches recently, while a police report said the number of people injured at matches in the top two divisions reached a 12-year high last season.

“We note with concern the nationwide developments,” Bader said. “Anyone that feels a bond with football wants peaceful football occasions in and around German stadiums. Sport should be the focus of attention in every rivalry.”

Mainz’s game at Cologne had earlier been called off after the referee attempted suicide hours beforehand. The German Football Federation said Monday that Babak Rafati is recovering well and has been released from the hospital.

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Spain borrowing costs soar in first debt sale since conservative election win

MADRID – Spain’s borrowing costs soared Tuesday in an auction of short-term debt, suggesting investors remain cautious about the country’s financial future despite a convincing electoral win this week by conservatives bent on deficit-cutting austerity.

The Treasury sold €2.98 billion ($4 billion) in 3- and 6-month bills, which was roughly the agency’s target. But the average interest rate on the 3-month bills jumped to 5.1 per cent from 2.3 per cent in the last such auction in Octover, and to 5.2 per cent on the 6-month bills, compared with 3.3 per cent last time.

Demand was nevertheless good, with bids almost three times the amount offered for the 3-month bills, and nearly 5 for the 6-month bills.

Last week Spain had to offer an average interest rate of nearly 7 per cent on 10-year bonds at an auction, a euro-era record. An auction of 12- and 18-month bonds last week also went badly, with Spain also forced to offer significantly higher interest rates to investors.

The centre-right Popular Party has had no time to savour its electoral victory over the Socialists, having to immediately address grueling task of reassuring investors worried about Spain’s grim prospects for economic growth and getting nearly 5 million unemployed – 21.5 per cent of the work force – back to work.

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Doubts that Spain will be able to make it are behind the rise in its borrowing rates. On the secondary market, where bonds are bought and sold after they are issued, the yield on Spanish benchmark 10-year bonds stood at 6.5 per cent, roughly the same as the day after the election and not far from the 7 per cent level that is considered unsustainable over the longer term.

The future prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has said he will maintain the purchasing power of retirement pensions but other than that, any kind of government spending is liable for cuts. However, Rajoy has kept the country and the financial community largely in the dark over his specific plans. He will not be sworn in until mid-December.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said Monday it was maintaining its AA- rating with a negative outlook for Spain despite the conservative win.

Meanwhile, in a sign of the fragility of some of Spain’s lender, the central bank announced late Monday that it had seized a small bank, Banco de Valencia, because of problems with solvency and liquidity stemming from overexposure to the real estate bubble largely blamed for Spain’s economic collapse. It is the fourth such seizure of a banking entity since 2009.

The Bank of Spain said it was injecting €1 billion in capital into Banco de Valencia S.A. and opening up a €2 billion credit line for it.

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Ciaran Giles contributed to this report.

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Victims intimidated by inmates using social networking sites

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Lisa Gesik hesitates to log into her Facebook account nowadays because of unwanted “friend” requests, not from long-ago classmates but from the ex-husband now in prison for kidnapping her and her daughter.

Neither Gesik nor prison officials can prove her ex-husband is sending her the messages, which feature photos of him wearing his prison blues and dark sunglasses, arms crossed as he poses in front of a prison gate. It doesn’t matter if he’s sending them or someone else is – the Newport, Ore., woman is afraid and, as the days tick down to his January release, is considering going into hiding with her 12-year-old daughter.

“It’s just being victimized all over again,” she said.

Across the U.S. and beyond, inmates are using social networks and the growing numbers of smartphones smuggled into prisons and jails to harass their victims or accusers and intimidate witnesses. California corrections officials who monitor social networking sites said they have found many instances in which inmates taunted victims or made unwanted sexual advances.

Like Gesik’s case, it’s often difficult for authorities to determine for sure who’s sending the threatening material and the few people caught rarely face serious consequences.

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“The ability to have these kinds of contacts is increasing exponentially. In many ways, the law has not caught up with these changing technologies,” said Rob Bovett, an Oregon district attorney whose office prosecuted Gesik’s ex-husband, Michael Gladney.

Timothy Heaphy, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said criminals’ use of social networks to reach witnesses has made his job harder.

“We deal every day with witnesses who are afraid of being identified,” he said. “If there are increased instances where folks who are incarcerated can reach outside the walls of the jail, that’s going to make it more difficult for us to get co-operation.”

In a rare victory, Heaphy’s office successfully prosecuted John Conner and Whitney Roberts after they set up a Facebook account that Conner used to intimidate witnesses preparing to testify against him on charges of burning two houses to punish a girlfriend and collect the insurance.

“How the hell can u b a gangsta when u snitchin and lien…,” said a post from the pair that publicly exposed one witness who co-operated with law enforcement, according to federal court records.

The issue has emerged as cellphones have proliferated behind bars. In California, home to the nation’s largest inmate population, the corrections department confiscated 12,625 phones in just 10 months this year. Six years ago, they found just 261. The number of phones confiscated by the federal Bureau of Prisons has doubled since 2008, to 3,684 last year.

Noting the increase, California legislators approved a law bringing up to six months in jail for corrections employees or visitors who smuggle mobile devices into state prisons, while inmates caught with the phones can now lose up to 180 days of early-release credit. But no additional time is added to their sentence, minimizing the deterrence factor.

In the old days, those behind bars would have to enlist a relative or friend to harass or intimidate to get around no-contact orders. Social networks now cut out the middle man.

In Gesik’s case, Gladney used to harass her the old-fashioned way, sending letters and making phone calls through third parties. The Facebook harassment began in June.

Gesik, 44, got prison officials to contact Facebook to remove that account, only to have another message appearing to be from him in September. This time, there was a different spelling of his last name.

“I figure, if he’s done all this from in prison, what’s he’s going to do when he gets out?” Gesik said.

A gap in state law meant that “no contact” orders like the one Gesik obtained against Gladney were deemed not to apply to anyone in custody, said Bovett, the prosecutor. “So they could do these very creative ways of reaching victims through third parties,” he said.

Last June, Oregon legislators approved a law prohibiting inmates from contacting their domestic violence victims from behind bars.

In California, prison officials are working with Facebook to identify inmate accounts and take them down. But that only generally happens only after the damage is done.

Karen Carrisosa, who lives in a Sacramento suburb, was aghast when officials found Facebook postings from Corcoran State Prison inmate Fredrick Garner. Garner is serving a 22-year, involuntary manslaughter sentence for killing her husband, 50-year-old Larry Carrisosa, outside a church 11 years ago.

“My kids, they go on Facebook, I go on Facebook, and what if they decide to look us up?” Carrisosa said.

She was alerted by a Sacramento television station that Garner was posting messages to his mother and others. Garner was punished with a 30-day reduction in his early release credits for possessing a forbidden cellphone and has since been transferred to Salinas Valley State Prison.

Hector Garcia Jr. used a smuggled smart phone hidden in his cell at Kern Valley State Prison to rally support on Facebook for an inmate hunger strike this summer that sought improved living conditions for gang leaders housed in special secure cellblocks.

“Starving for my better future,” he posted, according a July 1 screen grab from the corrections department. “Let’s do this … statewide…”

The discovery rattled Isabel Gutierrez. Garcia murdered one of her sons and wounded another in January 2005. Now Gutierrez fears her own social-networking left her vulnerable.

“I panicked,” she said. “My photos are up of my family and my grandkids. I felt like they can see into my world.”

Guards found Garcia’s phone, punishing him with a 30-day cut in early-release credits and 30 days’ loss of yard, TV and radio privileges.

Attorneys who represented Garcia and Gladney in their previous criminal trials did not return phone calls seeking comment on behalf of their former clients.

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Calgary entrepreneurs to serve up breakfast on the go

CALGARY – Two young entrepreneurs are hoping their Mighty Skillet truck will warm the hearts of Calgary’s brunch crowd.

Food trucks took the city by storm this summer; gourmet cuisine is served up on the street to hungry fans.

However, the chilly temperatures will be yet another test for the trucks; co-owners Billy MacDonald and John Scott hope hungry Calgarians will bundle up for their morning grub.

“There is a kind of anxiety there that I don’t really know what people are going to think of it,” says Billy.

The duo say it’s been a hectic journey creating Calgary’s first breakfast truck. Hoping to cash in on the food truck feeding frenzy, Bill and John bought ‘Street Burger’ just as Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced phase two of the pilot project.

“It’s a great example of combining entrepreneur’s great ideas and a market that wants the product,” said Nenshi. “Phase two is going to be about seeing how this works over the winter.”

A local freestyle artist has given the truck a new look, featuring mighty Thor in the kitchen with a skillet.

“Billy and I are both into comic books and it kind of came out of nowhere,” says John.

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However, that turned out to be the easy part. The team had to undergo a health and fire inspection as well as set themselves up with insurance before they could obtain a business licence and a mobile vendor’s licence.

Then there was experimenting with the menu.

“We spend lots of late nights trying to come up with the perfect consistency of the shredded potato,” says Billy.

The owners want to take breakfast to the LRT lines but are nervous about the winter weather but felt the opportunity was just too good to pass on.

“Even with the Calgary cold weather, there will be customers. We just have to find them and make sure we are out there when they want us,” says Billy.

To find out where the Calgary food trucks will be this week visit 杭州夜生活yycfoodtrucks杭州夜网 or follow @yycfoodtrucks on Twitter.  

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Seasonal parking, what you need to know

The record snowfall from the weekend has led to the second implementation of the seasonal parking ban bylaw.

Global News spoke to Bob Dunford of the city’s transportation department about the newly created bylaw.

SEASONAL PARKING:

In the last few months, city crews have installed “No Parking, Seasonal” signs on arterial bus routes throughout the city.

City council approved the plan earlier this fall, which would allow a seasonal parking ban to be declared after a major snowfall.

By declaring the ban, the city hopes that plows and sanders would have an easier time of clearing arterial routes.

With 8 hours notice, drivers must move their vehicles from routes with seasonal parking signs, or face tagging and towing.

“The seasonal parking ban is to allow us to plow more effectively,” Dunford says, “It’s something you want to have in place very quickly.”

The first seasonal parking ban of the winter went into effect at 7:00 am on Friday, November 18th, and lasted until 7:00 pm on Sunday, November 20th.

During that time, 1,278 tickets were issued, 45 vehicle tows requested, and seven vehicles being towed to the impound lot.

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The second ban went into effect Monday, February 27 at 7 am.  In the first four hours of the ban the city issued 250 tickets and towed 50 vehicles.

If a seasonal parking ban is not in effect, drivers are free to park on streets with the signs, however Dunford advises that motorists consider changing their habits.

“I would encourage anyone during snow season to park off street, not just when the parking ban is declared.”

Residents can sign up to be receive an email alert when a seasonal parking ban is declared.

 

 

With files from Fletcher Kent. 

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Chrysler names Timothy Kuniskis new US chief of Fiat after former head leaves company

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Chrysler named a new head of its Fiat brand for the United States on Monday, nearly a year after the small Italian cars made their return to the United States.

Chrysler Group LLC said that Laura Soave, who was named as the Fiat brand’s U.S. head last year before the North American launch of the Fiat 500, has left the company. It did not give a reason for her departure.

Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler Group, which is now run by Italy’s Fiat SpA, named Timothy Kuniskis as her replacement.

Kuniskis previously served as the product marketing director for both the Chrysler and Fiat brands. He joined Chrysler Group LLC in 1992 and has since held a variety of jobs in its business and marketing operations.

“Tim brings broad expertise and leadership in dealer operations and marketing where he has been already working with the team to shape the direction of the Fiat Brand,” Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

Soave joined Chrysler in March 2010 after serving as a marketing executive for Volkswagen AG’s U.S. operations. Before that, she held various marketing related positions at Ford Motor Co.

Chrysler had hoped that the Fiat 500 would help boost its sales of small cars, an area where its offerings had lagged behind those of other automakers.

But despite an aggressive advertising campaign featuring singer and actress Jennifer Lopez, sales of the 500 have fallen far short of Chrysler’s expectations.

Just before the cute mini-car arrived in the U.S. late last year, the company said it hoped to sell 50,000 of them in the U.S. and Canada in 2011. But as of Oct. 31, it had sold just under 21,000 in the two markets.

Last week, Chrysler and Marchionne blamed the shortfall on a lag time in opening dealerships in metropolitan areas.

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