Michael Annett cheering on former teammate in Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Long before Michael Annett sped around race tracks in NASCAR, he sped around skating rinks as a junior hockey league player.

His final season of competition came in the 2003-04 season with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League.

You can watch the above video from 2015 for more on Annett’s hockey career.

While Annett’s life took him to auto racing, his captain that year stuck with hockey.

It’s worked out for Joe Pavelski.

After breaking into the National Hockey League in 2006, Pavelski is in his 13th season playing for San Jose Sharks and is captain of the team as it competes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Pavelski and the Sharks are down 2-1 in the best-of-seven-games, first-round series against the Las Vegas Knights. Game 4 is set for 10:30 p.m. ET today on NBCSN.

“I watch it as much as I can,” Annett told NBC Sports of the playoffs. “Watching (Pavelski) captain the San Jose Sharks sharks now is pretty cool. They got to get their act together if they’re going to beat the Knights. They got to pick it up a little bit. The intensity of playoff hockey is so much fun. You usually wait 15 minutes for a goal or a big play and it seems like if you blink you’re going to miss something in the playoffs, it’s just so much fun to watch.”

The JR Motorsports driver said he and Pavelski were “real close” during their year playing for the Black Hawks in Iowa.

“You get those 30 guys from all over the country that you can find to play for one team for a season, you all grow really close like brothers,” Annett said. “I’m just really proud of him. I know what it takes, I know how many hot, little kids are hockey players and that’s what they dream of doing. To see him still doing it at the level he is as the captain of a team that’s made the playoffs (in all but one of Pavelski’s 13 seasons), just really proud of him.”

He was probably really proud of Pavelski last week when he accidentally scored a goal with his jaw in Game 1 and lost a couple of teeth in the process.

While they don’t talk by phone anymore, Annett and his former captain do keep in touch.

“It’s all through Instagram messages,” Annett said, noting Pavelski reached out to him after his first Xfinity win in February at Daytona. “When somebody does something pretty cool you reach out and tell him that ‘That was pretty awesome, I’m still following you.'”

Michael Annett celebrates his win at Daytona in February.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Annett is 15 years removed from his hockey days and 11 years into his full-time NASCAR career.

Does he miss his hockey days? Only when the Stanley Cup is at stake.

“I really don’t miss it until the playoffs come around to be honest with you,” Annett said. “It’s the hardest time when the hockey is just so exciting, it’s so intense. You remember that camaraderie you had with the guys and how much hard works goes into a playoff run. This is the toughest time to watch.”

Here’s tonight’s Stanley Cup Playoff schedule.

Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue Jackets; 7 p.m. ET on CNBC

New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins; 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Winnipeg Jets at St. Louis Blues; 9:30 p.m. ET on CNBC

San Jose Sharks at Las Vegas Knights; 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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NASCAR America presents the Motorsports Hour, 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America presents the Motorsports Hour airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Marty Snider, Danielle Trotta, Parker Kligerman and Steve Letarte will discuss multiple auto racing disciplines, including NASCAR and IndyCar.

If you can’t catch either of today’s shows on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. throws perfect strike for Red Sox

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With the Boston Red Sox nearly 10 games behind their No. 1 rivals, the American League East-leading New York Yankees, they could use some additional pitching help.

A good southpaw would be a big help.

They got some help on Wednesday – for one pitch at least, that is – as Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. threw out the first pitch prior to the game vs. the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park.

Scouts likely had a few raised eyebrows when Stenhouse threw a perfect strike.

 

I’ve thrown out first pitches at some minor league games, but Fenway Park puts it at a whole ‘nother level,” Stenhouse told NESN.com.

But Stenhouse, wearing a No. 17 jersey, delivered when it was his turn atop the mound. In a sense, it was a home game for Stenhouse, as Red Sox owner John Henry is a part-owner of Roush Fenway Racing.

Stenhouse and teammate Ryan Newman, who was also in uniform for the game, were in Boston on their way to this weekend’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Stenhouse is currently 19th in the standings and with seven races left to make the playoffs, he knows how significant this weekend will be for him.

It’s very important,” Stenhouse told NESN. “New Hampshire could be one of those turning points. We’re 19th in points and need to get to 16th. Or we could win and just lock ourselves in that way, too.

Hopefully, we’ll have a fast enough car and play the right strategy to put ourselves in a position to win. These next few races are definitely critical to us to make sure we do our part. We’ll need somebody else to falter a little bit, but we’re going to go out and do our job and see how things play out.”

And if Stenhouse doesn’t make the playoffs, he might want to keep that pitching arm warm and loose, just in case the Red Sox really need him.

 

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Ryan Vargas set for Xfinity debut at Iowa Speedway

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Ryan Vargas, a member of the 2018-19 NASCAR Next class and 2019 Drive for Diversity program, is set to make his Xfinity Series debut next weekend at Iowa Speedway.

JD Motorsports announced Wednesday Vargas will drive its No. 15 Chevrolet in the July 27 U.S. Cellular 250, which will air on NBCSN.

Vargas, 18, competed full-time in the K&N Pro Series East last year for Rev Racing. Vargas was let go by Rev Racing in December and has spent this season racing late models and competing for the Irwindale Speedway track championship.

The race at Iowa will mark Vargas’ national NASCAR series debut. Vargas said making his Xfinity debut at Iowa “just makes sense” given his seventh-place finish there last year in the K&N Series.

“Last year, I felt that I was able to run my best race all year at the speedway, and to have the chance to drive for a well-respected team owner in Johnny Davis really adds to the excitement heading into the weekend,” Vargas said in a press release. “I think if we can keep all the fenders on my No. 15 Chevrolet and run as many laps as possible, the weekend will be a success. At this point in my career, I want to learn as much as I can so I can keep moving up the NASCAR ladder, so I am not necessarily worried about what the results show.”

Vargas will be sponsored by Cranio Care Bears, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of Craniosynostosis, a condition that causes problems with a child’s brain and skull growth. Vargas underwent surgery when he was 11 months old to correct issues from it.

“It means a lot to me to be able to help bring awareness to this great charity in Cranio Care Bears through the sport that I love so much,” Vargas said. “I know that I will have a lot of little supporters cheering me on that look up to me as a role model in the Cranio community, and I want to show them that anything is possible, even with the condition.”

 

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Updated entry lists for NASCAR at New Hampshire

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The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will be in action this weekend at the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.

The Gander Outdoors Truck Series is off until July 27 at Pocono Raceway.

Here are the entry lists for the Cup and Xfinity races at New Hampshire:

Cup – Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

There are 37 cars entered.

Quin Houff will be back in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet.

Andy Seuss is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford and will make his Cup debut. Austin Theriault will also make his Cup debut in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 52 Chevrolet.

Click here for the full entry list.

Xfinity — Roxor 200 (4 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 41 cars entered.

Cup regular Paul Menard will be driving the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang.

Ryan Truex will be making his third Xfinity start of the season in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

Tyler Matthews will make his third Xfinity start of 2019 in the No. 15 JD Motorsports Chevrolet.

Harrison Burton makes his third start of the season in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Kaz Grala is entered in his fourth race of the year in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet.

Canadian driver Alex Labbe makes his third start of 2019 in the No. 90 DGM Racing Chevrolet.

CJ McLaughlin will make his Xfinity Series debut, driving the No. 93 RSS Racing Chevrolet.

Click here for the full entry list.