Friday, December 31, 2010

Dylan Olsen Signs With Chicago

On one hand, it's nice to know that you have players on your team that are talented enough to turn pro in the middle of a season.

On the other, this really sucks.

Take it away, Mr. Pates.

Former NHL first-round draft pick Dylan Olsen, a Minnesota Duluth sophomore defenseman from Calgary, Alberta, signed a three-year, two-way contract with the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday and will join the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Rockford, Ill., following the World Junior Championships.

Olsen, 19, leaves UMD with two goals and 22 assists for 24 points in 53 career games. This season, he had a goal and 12 assists for 13 points in 17 games before leaving to join Canada for the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, N.Y.  The tournament runs through Jan. 5.

“Dylan made huge strides in the last year and was really helping us in a good start through the first half of the season,” said UMD assistant coach Brett Larson. “We are disappointed that he’s not finishing the season with us.”

In the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Olsen was selected in the first round and 28th overall by Chicago after playing two seasons with Camrose in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. His contract calls for an NHL salary of $525,000 the first year, $700,000 the second and $810,000 the third, with a signing bonus of $90,000 each year. He would make $67,500 playing in the minor leagues.

I'll be with UMD Saturday, as we make our way to Canton, N.Y., which will be our homebase for a two-game series against Clarkson Monday and Tuesday. I'll try to get you more on this story, and will perhaps blog a few thoughts then.

For now, it's just the facts, sirs and ma'ams. Have a good New Year's holiday.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Game 19: North Dakota at UMD

Here we go. Time to make history.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Brown - Oleksuk - Seidel
Grun - Flaherty - Hendrickson
DeLisle - Tardy - Basaraba

Bergman - Lamb
Olson - Montgomery
Kishel - Huttel

Crandall - Reiter - Gaffy

Trupp - Malone - Frattin
Marto - Knight - Kristo
Davidson - Lamoureux - Rodwell
Cichy - Rowney - Bruneteau

Blood - Genoway
MacWilliam - LaPoint
Simpson - Gleason

Dell - Eidsness

Amsoil Arena's Curtain Lifts

After years of political haggling, a referendum, and more planning and coordinating than any of us could probably imagine, Amsoil Arena is set to open Thursday night, as UMD hosts North Dakota for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

The Bulldogs and Fighting Sioux are a combined 25-8-5 this season. However, they went into the break with different kinds of momentum. UMD took just one point in a series against an average Minnesota team, while North Dakota swept Minnesota State on the road. The Sioux are definitely rolling right now, but a 20-day break can do strange things to a team.

UMD is hoping that's true, because they didn't go into the break on the same kind of roll (1-2-1 last four games). Not only that, but you know the Bulldogs are going to focus a great deal on being able to put games away. The Bulldogs haven't had much success in that department, leaving them vulnerable to opponent comebacks and fluke bounces that can change games.

North Dakota might not be the best opponent to test your ability in that area, but it's a game UMD has to find a way to win. The teams are tied 1-1 in the season series, and barring a meeting in the WCHA playoffs, this will be their final get-together of the season. I don't think I need to remind you about the head-to-head component in the Pairwise, or of the fact that a season series win over North Dakota will help UMD in comparisions against virtually everyone North Dakota plays -- teams that are typically not fortunate enough to win a season series against North Dakota.

This isn't your run-of-the-mill "new arena/stadium opening game," because there's a ton of meaning attached to it, and we're not just guessing that these are two good teams. They've proven they're good over half the regular season.

Usually, when a new facility opens, it's at the start of a season. Even in a situation like this where the visiting team is hand-picked, there's no way of knowing if the matchup will be any good, or if the teams will amount to anything in the long run.

Here, all that is there, and we have the added zest of a new facility opening up for the masses.

The arena is the big star for a lot of people. This $80 million building is not going to be labeled the best in the country, or even the best in the WCHA, but it does automatically become the best college hockey facility in Minnesota once its doors open Thursday night (sorry, but XCel Energy Center is not a college hockey facility).

Some will argue its intimacy will make it better than The Ralph. Others will say that it's got more atmosphere than North Dakota's crown jewel, but until UMD has played a few games at Amsoil, I won't be ready to make that argument.

What I will say is that Amsoil Arena is a special building, and a lot of hard-working people deserve a lot of thanks for the work they put into the arena. The workers took a lot of pride in the job they were doing, and it shows in the final product.

Notes: For those who don't know, North Dakota's Brock Nelson and Derek Forbort, along with UMD's Dylan Olsen and Justin Faulk, will miss the game because they're at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo. UND's Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall, along with UMD's Kyle Schmidt, will miss the game with injuries. Schmidt suffered an upper-body injury in practice Wednesday and is out indefinitely.

Aaron Crandall is expected to start in goal for UMD. With Cody Danberg already out, UMD is down to 12 healthy forwards with Schmidt's injury.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Amsoil Arena Ready for Show

This was taken Dec. 17, during a special UMD alumni game that was staged at Amsoil Arena. The purpose of the event was to allow arena staff to go through a "dry run" of sorts, along with showing appreciation to the people who worked so hard to make the building happen.

Some 3,000 people showed up, and while the alumni treated them to a fun game, the real star was the new building. It seemed that everything that needs to work was in good working order. People seemed to take to the video board, which is a tremendous upgrade over what we had at the DECC. The lighting was also a big hit. The DECC was, um, a bit dark, especially compared to the new facility.

UMD gets their first real test of the place Thursday, as North Dakota visits for the opening game. If you haven't gotten tickets yet, you might be out of luck, though there are some out there selling extra tickets they were smart enough to get when they had the chance.

Both teams are hampered by players being at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, and North Dakota is also dealing with some injuries.

The only significant first-half injury for UMD (besides Cody Danberg, who is likely redshirting) was sophomore defenseman Wade Bergman, who suffered an upper-body injury during the Denver series. Bergman missed the Minnesota games, and UMD missed him to an extent. He's a solid player who is rarely caught out of position. Add to that his puck-moving skills, and you have a valuable piece to the blue line.

For UMD, defensemen Dylan Olsen and Justin Faulk are in Buffalo for the WJC. North Dakota's Derek Forbort and Brock Nelson are on the U.S. team. To add to UND's issues, forwards Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall are injured and won't play.

The winner wins the regular-season series, barring any meetings in the WCHA playoffs, so it's a vitally important game. For UMD, a team that missed the NCAAs by a hair last season, anything that could help them in the Pairwise is a big deal.

NFL Goes World Cup

Sunday marks the final day of the NFL regular season. There are playoff spots, division titles, and conference No. 1 seeds all up for grabs as all 16 games will be played on Sunday. That's the only time this will happen during the season.

To set up the most compelling TV viewing, the NFL is taking a page out of the World Cup's playbook.

No, really. And to think, most of you probably think soccer is stupid. Apparently, the NFL is smart enough not to think that way.

Every four years, the World Cup is contested. The current format involves eight groups of four teams apiece playing a round robin, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the "knockout" stage. Game times are staggered over the first two games of the three-game round robin schedule, so no games are being played at the same time.

Once they get to the final round, though, each group's two-match slate is played at the same time. The reason behind this is that you will get an honest effort from all four teams. At least three of them are usually alive for the knockout phase, and sometimes all four are. By playing both matches simultaneously, no one has the advantage of knowing if they will be through to the knockout phase based on the other result in their group. If a team controls their own fate and needs a win to advance, they have to play to win, because they can't assume the other match will go their way.

Now, look at Sunday's NFL schedule.

Think now about the playoff scenarios that exist for Week 17.

The Steelers and Ravens are in the playoffs, but the AFC North hasn't been clinched. They play early games Sunday, and the Steelers can't sit on a Baltimore loss. They have to go all-out to beat Cleveland.

Atlanta hasn't won the NFC South yet, and must beat Carolina to clinch that and the NFC's No. 1 seed. No one thinks that will be a problem, but the Falcons don't get the luxury of resting their starters for that game. Tampa Bay is still in the hunt for a spot, but they need a win and help, and a loss to New Orleans won't clinch anything for anyone. Therefore, there's no harm to the Wild Card chase to have that as an early game.

The other playoff spots will be decided in late afternoon and night games. St. Louis and Seattle got the night game, and the winner is a division champion. Loser goes home.

In the late afternoon, you find Chicago-Green Bay, Dallas-Philadelphia, and the Giants at Washington. Those three games will decide the final NFC playoff spot, along with a first-round bye in the NFC. Having them go off at the same time ensures that no one will assume anything, and all six teams will give it their best effort, whether the goal is a playoff spot, a higher seed, or just to play spoiler.

In the AFC, the South Division will be decided in the late afternoon window, too. Jacksonville needs a win and an Indianapolis loss, while Indy can clinch the division if Jacksonville loses.

Give the NFL credit. They know how to create compelling television, and they've done that with their game-time tinkering for Sunday. They've also copied a successful formula from another sport.

It is a copycat society, after all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mike McCarthy Continues to Frustrate

Before this starts to sound like a "This is the head coach's fault and no one else's, dammit" ...
  • Dom Capers made the biggest mistake he's made with the Packers when he (seemingly) didn't insist on a timeout as the Patriots used the no-huddle offense to drive down the field and take the lead in the fourth quarter. You can't spend three-and-a-half quarters dictating the tempo to your (allegedly) superior opponent, then let them take it back in a single sequence of plays while you sit there idly and do nothing to stop them. You also can't dictate matchups as well as the Packers did, then let the opponent find a favorable matchup and use the no-huddle to exploit it.
  • Shawn Slocum is one of the worst special-teams coaches in the NFL. Beyond the miserable embarrassment of an offensive lineman returning a kickoff 71 yards, there is no consistency whatsoever in the return, coverage, or kicking teams. Mason Crosby boots a beauty for a touchback one time, then (kicking in the same direction) throws up a laugher that might get inside the opponent's ten. The special teams seem to commit a fatal error once a week. Sometimes they get bailed out, sometimes they don't. 
Now, on to the main point.

You just can't say Mike McCarthy simply isn't getting the job done. There are things he does incredibly well. Like Capers, McCarthy devises wise gameplans that exploit favorable matchups. When the offense is clicking, he often adds to that rhythm and allows his guys to make plays.

Not only that, but Packer fans have to appreciate his willingness to think outside the box and take risks. There aren't a lot of risk-takers among NFL head coaches, and more often than not, the ones who are end up being successful. McCarthy is a risk-taker. He'll call onside kicks, go for it on fourth down, and call for shots downfield in situations where other coaches wouldn't dream of it.

He also abandons the run, forgets he has his backup quarterback playing, and doesn't manage the clock well.

We saw virtually all of these traits in Sunday's loss to New England ... for better or worse.

McCarthy called for an onside kick on the opening kickoff after deferring the coin toss win to the second half (this is smart, in my opinion, by the way, in most cases). His team got a field goal, and they got Matt Flynn into the game early. He was smart with Flynn for most of the night, keeping him out of situations where his inexperience could hurt the team. They ran almost as much as they threw, which was a stunner, given how quickly and decisively McCarthy abandoned the run in a loss to Detroit the previous week.

The run was effective, which probably helped keep the head coach from giving up on it, but this is what he needed to do for his young quarterback last week. Call run plays, and have the patience to see the plan through. When the Packers have done that, they've been good enough running the ball to make everything else effective. When they've given up on it too quickly and easily, you get results like the Bears and Lions games.

But when the fourth quarter came around, McCarthy got away from the plan just enough. After two up-the-gut calls for John Kuhn that started with a first down from the New England two, McCarthy called for a shotgun pass by Flynn.

No play-action. No bootleg. Just a straight drop.


The Kuhn calls will be questioned by many, but he's a good straight-ahead runner with value on the goal line. Nothing wrong with giving him a shot. But when you've run the ball that well, held the ball that long, and are playing a team that Cris Collinsworth noted once or 15 times was down a couple linemen, you can't just give up on the run in a key spot.

I had someone on Twitter lecture me about the importance of timeouts in close games, as I ripped the Packers' staff for not using one during the aforementioned touchdown drive. I get that, but timeouts aren't going to help you late in close games if your team's coach appears to have flunked the Andy Reid School of Clock Management.

McCarthy blew his two remaining timeouts at a bad time during Green Bay's final drive, which was hurt a lot by a sack that was caused by Bryan Bulaga making a rookie mistake and not reading the play properly. That happens, but McCarthy got caught because his team clearly wasn't ready to run a two-minute drill, even though the clock was under a minute and they needed a touchdown.

Given how Green Bay kicked away their three timeouts in the second half, what good did it do to let Tom Brady and the Patriots carve them up on what turned into the winning touchdown drive?

Use a timeout there, get your guys settled, and maybe even make a defensive stop to hold New England to zero or three points. Do that, or take care of business on the goal line earlier in the fourth quarter, and the timeouts don't matter at the end.

Either way, the ultimate responsibility falls on the head coach. While McCarthy has done a good job in many areas this season, he's come up short in others. Despite a myriad of injuries that would have crippled most teams, the Packers are somehow still in control of their playoff fate. Win two home games, and they're in. But while McCarthy has had a few "Coach of the Year" moments this year, he himself has admitted shortcomings in others, most notably the embarrassing loss to Detroit, in which the Packers mustered all of three points against an awful defense.

It might not be time to can the head coach, but how long can management tolerate him not showing improvement -- namely, more consistency -- in his game and clock management?

The Packers have lost four times by three points each and twice by four. That's six losses by a combined total of 20 points. In those losses, the team had the ball, with a chance to win the game late or in overtime, in all but one (the Atlanta game). At some point, they have to find a way to win close games.

Anything less, and it's golfing season early.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Zach Greinke a Brewer

In reality, the Milwaukee Brewers' timing probably couldn't be much better than this.

Assuming most major offseason moves are going to happen before spring training, the Brewers picked a very good day to make one of the biggest trades in franchise history.

After all, the Green Bay Packers are knock-knock-knockin' on the golf course's door. They could be eliminated from the NFC North race by Monday night, and they're starting their backup quarterback Sunday night at New England.

(The Packers need to beat the Patriots, or have Chicago lose Monday to Joe Webb and the Minnesota Vikings, or the Bears will win the division.)

Yeah, good luck with that.

Meanwhile, the Brewers have been working hard on improving their pitching staff during the offseason. The trade for Shawn Marcum was just the beginning.

Sunday morning, the Brewers moved four players -- including two who were virtual locks to be Opening Day starters -- to Kansas City in exchange for All-Star and former Cy Young winner Zach Greinke.

Greinke's overall numbers are pretty impressive. Career WHIP of 1.26. Career K/9 of 7.6, to just 2.3 BB/9 innings. He doesn't allow a lot of home runs, which is good, because he has some good defensive players behind him, and the ability to keep the ball in the yard is essential. He's only 60-67 in his career, but he's 39-32 the last three years while playing for a really bad team.

He's also a horse, with three straight seasons of 200 or more innings. That's a plus, because the Brewers have yet to make many upgrades to a shaky bullpen. It's one area of concern on a team that could have just become the favorite in the NL Central next season.

General manager Doug Melvin told Tom Haudricourt the obvious.

"This is what I call a 'now' trade, getting a player of his ability," said Melvin, who indicated the trade was "90% complete" last night and finished this morning.

"I feel like I've acquired a CC Sabathia except for two years and maybe longer. It feels good. It was a costly trade. We gave up a lot of good, young players. This is a credit to our scouting and player development people to have the kind of young players it takes to make a trade like this."

Melvin said he had made a couple of runs at Greinke this winter without being able to make a deal. Then, when he heard a prospective trade with Washington fell through because Greinke used his no-trade clause, Melvin said, "I decided to try this one more time."

Greinke is indeed waiving a no-trade clause to join the Brewers. He is signed through 2012.

As a fan, this is one of the best things that can happen. You see your team being aggressive in trying to improve, and for the Brewers, it really underscores the importance of drafting well. When you're able to continually stock your farm system with solid major-league prospects, you can open the door for trades like this.

The Brewers gave up a lot. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain could have been the starter there for years to come. Shortstop Alcides Escobar was the man who allowed Melvin to move J.J. Hardy, but the fact that Kansas City gave up their starting shortstop -- Yuniesky Betancourt -- in the deal makes Escobar expendable. Betancourt might not be the long-term answer at shortstop, but he isn't a bad defensive player, and he has some pop in his bat that could help Milwaukee at the bottom of their batting order. Minor-league pitchers were also part of this deal, but that's not a big deal as long as Milwaukee continues to draft well.

Pitchers and catchers don't report for almost two months yet, but it should be exciting in Milwaukee. That's one of the truly underrated baseball towns around, and they've got reason to be stoked about the 2011 team. Even with the likelihood of Prince Fielder leaving after the season is over, the team is building in a way that could allow them to stay competitive well beyond the upcoming campaign.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

NCAA Division II Football Championship Thoughts

We're on the verge of the NCAA Division II Football Championship, featuring UMD and Delta State.

The Bulldogs are the last remaining unbeaten in Division II, sitting at 14-0 entering Saturday's game. Delta State lost two games this season, but the Statesmen rolled through their playoff games, posting double-digit wins over North Alabama, Albany State (who was unbeaten and the region's top seed), and Shepherd. Delta State is the first unranked team to make the championship game in the event's 38-year history.

But that's motivation. That's the "no one gave us a chance" mentality come to life. UMD has been No. 1 in both national polls for most of the season, they earned the No. 1 seed in their region, and they haven't left home since Nov. 14.

I'm not going to bore you with analysis. I have only seen a chunk of one Delta State game. It looks like they have a balanced offense, and they field a small but quick and athletic defense. This game is going to come down to the play up front, plain and simple, and naturally turnovers. If UMD can dominate up front like they did against Augustana and for parts of the semifinal game against Northwest Missouri State, they are a clear favorite to win. If the Bulldogs get outworked by either of Delta State's lines -- offense or defense -- they will be in for a long day trying to make anything positive happen.

As we saw last week, turnovers matter a great deal. The team that takes better care of the football is normally in a position to win. The St. Cloud State playoff game (UMD was minus-four in turnover margin) was a great anomaly in that regard. You cough the ball up four times to none in a game, and there's a pretty good chance you'll end up on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

Ahead of the game, the Duluth News Tribune takes a look at UMD's activities on Friday.

There was no crowd to greet the Bulldogs outside Willson (Elementary), but after the players wound their way through the halls to a darkened auditorium, a throng of 315 children screamed wildly and twirled glow sticks to illuminate the darkness.

The UMD offense took the stage behind 15 “cheerleaders” who earned the honor to be up there not because of their voices but because of their reading ability, the underlying message of the Bulldogs’ visit.

... “I was telling Coach Nielson that was even better than any of the pep rallies we get at our college,” said UMD offensive lineman Garth Heikkinen. “You could tell they were really looking forward to that and enjoyed it, but I think I got just as much out of that as they did.”

Everywhere you looked, there were Bulldog posters, some with the name and number of every individual UMD player.

That's the kind of stuff even college-age people tend to enjoy and remember. It's also a big part of why the Shoals area has hosted 25 NCAA Division II title games in a row. They've been able to make these events memorable for the participants, and the community gets something out of it, too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Zadroga Bill Filibuster Shows How Broken We Are

I don't write about politics, well, ever, really. I care about this country, and I care about the people who we elect to run it. At the same time, I've become extremely jaded over the process over the last six years or so. I find us in a never-ending cycle in America.

It starts when we elect a majority into Congress. Inevitably, we'll elect that party into the White House, get pissed off, throw that majority out of Congress, and probably elect the other party into the White House. Repeat cycle.

Doesn't work every time, but it's getting close.

Why can't either party hold a majority for a significant amount of time? Because they lie to get elected, act like jackasses once they're elected, then expose themselves to the opponent in their re-election run because it was found they were full of garbage to get elected in the first place.

Once in a while, something happens that reminds us (or should remind us) of how broken and totally messed up our political system is. The most recent example is the Zadroga Bill. Held up in the Senate, this bill would provide additional health care benefits for those who served as first responders during the 9/11 attacks.

I mean, duh. Pretty simple, right.


As I said, it's held up in the Senate. Just despicable. Here is a piece from Thursday's Daily Show With Jon Stewart, where he talks to 9/11 first responders.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

Just make sure you get those tax cuts passed for the wealthy, guys. Nice priorities.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Alex Stalock Dazzles in Worcester

This is a couple days old, and was found thanks to my boy Kevin Pates, but I thought I'd post it.

Former UMD goalie Alex Stalock had a fantastic rookie season in Worcester last year, leading the American Hockey League team to the playoffs and setting a league rookie record for wins by a goalie.

This season didn't start all that great for Stalock, with his record hovering around .500 and his save percentage below .900 for a while.

Not so much now. Stalock's save percentage is up to .905, and he's got 13 wins heading into Worcester's next game, which is Friday at Connecticut.

Part of that resurgence is due to this save against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Sunday.

UMD fans have seen this before. It's still cool to watch. Great to see Al doing well in the pros.

UMD's Kiel Fechtelkotter, Isaac Odim, D.J. Winfield Honored as All-Americans

UMD's football team continues to battle through adversity. With superstar players missing from two key offensive positions, and a starter from another, the Bulldogs beat Northwest Missouri State 17-13 Saturday at Malosky Stadium to move into the NCAA Division II Championship for the second time in three years.

The Bulldogs fly to Alabama Wednesday night, and they play Delta State (Cleveland, Miss.) Saturday morning for the title.

In the meantime, UMD players continue to rake in the honors. Here's the latest from UMD:

Kiel Fechtelkotter, who has captained the University of Minnesota Duluth to a berth in the NCAA II national championship game while anchoring one of the most robust defenses in the country, has been chosen to the 2010 Daktronics All-America first team while a pair of Bulldogs -- senior running back Isaac Odim and junior wide out/return specialist D.J. Winfield landed second team honors.

Fechtelkotter, a third-year starting inside linebacker from Lake Nebagamon, Wis., currently tops UMD in total tackles with a career-high 92 stops, which includes four quarterback sacks. The two-time All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division pick also ranks first among Bulldogs with six pass breakups. He is the 15th Bulldog to ever attain first team All-American recognition of any kind.

With his selection to the Daktronics honor squad, Odim becomes UMD's first three-time All-American. The Rochester, Minn., product suffered a season-ending knee injury back on Oct. 14, but still managed to score 19 touchdowns (17 on the ground) and rush for 796 yards in six games. Winfield, who was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules prior to UMD's quarterfinal round playoff clash with Augustana College a couple of weeks ago, tops the 2010 Bulldog reception charts with 45 catches for 990 yards and eight touchdowns.

Amazingly, Odim was able to become a three-time All-American despite missing half the season with a knee injury. As noted in the UMD info, Winfield is out because of a violation of team rules, and will not play Saturday, either.

Throw in senior receiver Noah Pauley's injury, and you have a banged-up offense, but that's nothing new. UMD's been playing short-handed for a good chunk of the season. All it's done is allow guys like Chase Vogler, Brad Foss, and Brian Hanson to step up. And they've stepped up. That's why UMD's in this game.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brett Favre's Streak Ends; Vikings Eliminated

On a random Monday night in Detroit, of all places, the greatest starting streak in NFL history -- and perhaps sports history -- came to a screeching halt.

After 297 regular season games (321 counting playoffs), Brett Favre stood on the sidelines during an NFL game. That hadn't happened since the first quarter of a Sept. 20, 1992, game between the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals. On that day, Packers starting quarterback Don Majkowski suffered an injury that would allow Favre to take over the team. Favre started the next week against Pittsburgh, and Monday night was the first time since that he did not make a start for his team.

That Minnesota lost 21-3 in one of the more hapless offensive efforts you'll see is somewhat fitting. The only reason the Vikings have been at all relevant since the start of the 2009 season has been Favre, and while he may have turned the ball over quite a bit this season, reality is that he also made that offense tick in a way. With the starting quarterback sidelined, the Vikings couldn't do anything of note with the ball, scoring their only field goal when they got a short field on an Eli Manning interception.

Pro Bowlers Favre, Percy Harvin, and Steve Hutchinson were sidelined, providing a bit of a glimpse into the Vikings' future. Adrian Peterson ran for 26 yards, and Tarvaris Jackson was downright pathetic under center, meaning that the Vikings' offensive future is with someone else at quarterback. That someone won't be Joe Webb, either. He's just not going to be ready by 2011. Maybe not 2012, either.

Oddly, fans have complained about Favre hogging the headlines for years. They've been right. And on a night he didn't even play for his team, Favre still owned the headlines. This time, it was justified.

You're not going to find an obviously-more-impressive starting streak anywhere in sports than Favre's 297/321 (use whatever number you'd like). Cal Ripken's ironman streak in baseball was great, but largely only because he played every day. Baseball isn't the most physically demanding sport out there. The fact Ripken avoided any kind of anomaly -- pulled hamstring, bruised knee, ankle sprain -- over all those years is downright incredible, but Favre started 297/321 straight games with defenders much bigger and stronger than him breathing down his neck. Favre took hits, stood tall, shook off injuries that would have sidelined virtually every other player at his position, and often thrived while playing hurt.

For Favre, it had to be a depressing night. On one hand, he told ESPN's Ed Werder before the game that there was a sense of relief ... that he perhaps had valued the streak more than he had ever let on. On the other hand, his team -- one that he's grown to love in his two years there -- looked absolutely putrid and lost without him.

There's a good chance Favre's season is over, and so is his career. Not many people will be upset about this, given all the drama Favre has generated since 2005. That shouldn't preclude them from celebrating Favre's legendary career and great accomplishments.

After all, the drama was as much a media creation as it was a Favre creation. No matter what was going on off the field, Favre always rose above it, playing so well that people had a reason to talk about him. It's fitting, in a way, that the streak and the career likely ended at a time where Favre was never able to play well enough for people to forget about the latest piece of off-field drama he has generated.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Game 18: UMD at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- This is strange, but here we go. Game 2 ... 21 hours after originally scheduled. Unlike other places in this city, this roof is stable.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Schmidt - Oleksuk - Brown
DeLisle - Flaherty - Seidel
Grun - Tardy - Basaraba

Montgomery - Palm
Kishel - Faulk
Olson - Lamb

Reiter - Crandall

Hoeffel - Haula - Barriball
Cepis - Condon - Bjugstad
Gardiner - Matson - Hansen
Serratore - Larson - Sacchetti

Helgeson - Parenteau
Ness - Alt
Wehrs - Holl

Kangas - Patterson - Kremer (was listed this way Friday, too, so we're assuming Patterson is going)

Metrodome Caves in Under Weight of Brett Favre's Ego; Crazy Weekend Continues

Photo: KFAN Radio
MINNEAPOLIS -- As if an historic snowfall and numerous postponements and cancellations weren't enough, the mother of all crazy weekends just rolls on.

While we were sleeping early Sunday morning, the Metrodome's teflon roof collapsed under the weight of some 15-20 inches of snow that fell in the metro area Saturday.

With the snow already causing the postponement of Sunday's Vikings-Giants game to Monday night, we can thankfully report that no one was inside the stadium at the time. Even though it was around 5 a.m., there's a chance that wouldn't have been the case on a game day.

Now, you can see the sky inside the Metrodome, and there is snow and ice on the playing surface. There won't be any football played there anytime soon. This is the kind of damage that takes time to repair. It won't be fixed by Tuesday, Friday, or next Monday, when Minnesota is supposed to host Chicago.

The NFL is seeking an alternate venue for the game, with the smart money going on Detroit's Ford Field for a Monday or Tuesday kickoff.

Whenever the game is played, expect it to air on FOX only in markets that would be blacked out of a non-sellout. For Vikings fans who don't reside in the Twin Cities or Rochester markets, that means finding a place that has DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket to watch the game. Same for Giants fans outside of the New York market.

To add to the fun, Brett Favre texted ESPN's Ed Werder and told him he wouldn't have been able to play had the game started at its regularly-scheduled time of noon. Of course, he'll magically heal in the extra day or two this chain of events is giving him.

Here is video of the dome's collapse, which aired exclusively on FOX NFL Sunday.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Faceoff Foibles

MINNEAPOLIS -- When you see every game, sometimes memories start to jumble together. You can't keep track of whether a particular moment came from one game or another.

You start to remember goals happening in the wrong game. Big hits in the Alaska-Anchorage series suddenly happened in the Providence series.

Watching Friday's 3-2 loss to Minnesota, a few things popped into my head. I felt UMD's effort for the first 40 minutes was largely not up to snuff. The Bulldogs didn't do a lot of good things, especially in their defensive zone and the neutral zone. I felt they gave too much room to a Gopher team that has plenty of talent, but isn't exactly the 1976 Soviet Olympic team.

My biggest gripe -- anyone who listened to the game knows this -- was UMD's performance over the first 40 minutes on faceoffs. They lost them all over the ice. Minnesota won 19 of 27 faceoffs in the first period, 35 of 56 faceoffs over two periods, and finished 44 of 77 for the game after UMD won 12 of 21 in the third.

This isn't an indictment of any individuals, because until UMD started playing better, no one was performing well in the faceoff circle, not even Travis Oleksuk, UMD's best faceoff guy. Instead, it's more of a curiosity.

Looking at UMD's games this season -- the faceoff numbers for the UAA series were not available -- the ability to win faceoffs hasn't meant win or lose or draw, and it hasn't necessarily led UMD to their better games this season.

That said, some of their poorer performances in the dots have come in games during which the overall team performance wasn't great.

Against Lake Superior State (6-6 tie), UMD lost 50 of 88 faceoffs.

In their first loss, a 4-2 setback at North Dakota, the Bulldogs were 22-33 on faceoffs.

In that insane 6-5 overtime win over Wisconsin, UMD won just one of 13 draws in the first period, and finished 22-28 for the game. The next night, UMD won 31 of 50 draws, a much better performance that came along with a much better overall team effort. Oh, and it took overtime to win, anyway.

Friday, UMD lost 44 of 77 draws.

It's not a totally direct corollary. The Bulldogs were just 26-35 on draws in the Saturday overtime win over North Dakota. They were 28-32 in a 7-1 win over Providence.

However, it's an interesting thing to ponder. Obviously, faceoffs are important. They're puck possession, and unless you're Jay Barriball, you can't score when you don't have the puck. At the same time, though, can something as seemingly simple as a faceoff dictate how the next two to three minutes of hockey play out?

Yes and no.

When you're not going good, as UMD wasn't on Friday, and you are constantly chasing the puck, you wear yourself down and make it harder to do anything productive when you do have the puck. You find yourself in ruts where you get the puck deep in the opponent's zone, only to have to make a line change because the guys that were out there had to spend 45 seconds chasing the puck around the rink. So that line change happens. Meanwhile, the opponent has retrieved the puck and gotten it back in their offensive zone, and the cycle continues.

Of course, if you're going good, the faceoff is simply a means to take the puck from the opponent. If a team playing well loses the draw, they're still going to find a way to get it.

UMD gets in trouble on nights where they're not playing well and they're not winning draws. It might seem like the two are tied together, but the reality is that it only seems that way.

Hopefully, the Bulldogs -- with plenty of experienced faceoff guys -- can figure out the draws. It's one of very few flaws that they haven't really corrected yet this season.

That's a big reason why they hit their snow day at 12-3-2.

Snow Day

MINNEAPOLIS -- When I packed the bags for this short trip to Minneapolis, I made a last-minute decision to throw a case of 12 DVDs into my clothes bag.

Turns out it was a pretty good call.

UMD lost 3-2 to Minnesota last night, which is enough to make one's skin crawl, and now we get an extra 21 hours to think about that stupid game.

Well, at least I end up thinking about it.

Anyway, this is the view out of my fifth-floor hotel window on Saturday afternoon. Lots of white stuff laying around and flying through the air, eh?

We have over a foot of snow so far in the Twin Cities, and while it's shown signs of slowing down, it's still coming down, and it's still looking pretty brutal outside. This shot looks over Washington Avenue (under the overpass, which takes you to 11th St. in Minneapolis and pretty much to the front door of our hotel), and it's not like Washington hasn't been plowed today. The crews just can't keep up with the snow.

The Twin Cities University of Minnesota campus closed earlier Saturday afternoon, and all events scheduled were cancelled, except for a noon-hour men's basketball game that went on as scheduled. Our game will be played Sunday at 4 p.m., giving us plenty of time to kill.

For now, it's a chance to enjoy the UMD football game (CBS College Sports and Fox Sports North) and relax. I've done some research and plenty of reading (including Ross Bernstein's wonderful "Raising Stanley" book, which is on sale now and will be the subject of our second intermission interview Sunday).

These are interesting days, largely because they don't happen often. Hopefully, UMD can respond with the extra rest and play well Sunday.

By the way, UMD sophomore defenseman Dylan Olsen is back at the hotel with his teammates. He was scheduled to fly to Toronto for Canada's World Junior camp, which starts Sunday. I would assume he will try to fly out Sunday so he can take part. Hopefully, this isn't a lame excuse for Canada not to take him. I have to think he'll get there tomorrow and all will be well.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Game 17: UMD at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's pretty simple. Minnesota is 7-0-1 when they score first. UMD is 6-0-1 when they score first.

When Minnesota doesn't score first, they're 1-7. The Bulldogs are 6-2-1 when allowing the first goal.

That said, it's a cliche to note that the first goal matters here on Friday. It does. As Don Lucia says, so does the second.

Either way, it's Gopher Week. We don't like them. Last year, we got four points in this place, and hopefully the same thing will happen here this weekend. From there, it's off to a well-deserved break.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Schmidt - Oleksuk - Brown
DeLisle - Flaherty - Seidel
Grun - Hendrickson - Basaraba

Montgomery - Palm
Olsen - Faulk
Olson - Lamb

Reiter - Crandall

Hoeffel - Haula - Barriball
Cepis - Condon - Bjugstad
Gardiner - Matson - Hansen
Serratore - Larson - Sacchetti

Fairchild - Helgeson
Ness - Alt
Wehrs - Holl

Kangas - Patterson - Kremer

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Hot Stove Heats Up in Florida

The winter meetings are closing down in Florida, as baseball's biggest free agent (Cliff Lee) still doesn't have a contract for 2011, and the best position player on the market (Carl Crawford) is heading to Boston to join the best offseason trade target (Adrian Gonzalez ... a better get than Prince Fielder from Boston's perspective because he was easier to sign long-term).

As usual, the Twins and Brewers didn't do anything terribly huge or terribly terrible, preferring the conservative route rather than the glitz and glamor of the big-time players. Milwaukee traded top prospect and apparent meathead Brett Lawrie to Toronto for starting pitcher Shawn Marcum, who could end up starting the Brewers' third game next season (assuming manager Ron Roenicke goes with Yovani Gallardo on Opening Day and Randy Wolf to follow). A good, sensible deal that gives the Brewers a good starting pitcher in exchange for a guy with exactly zero games played in the majors.

The Twins, meanwhile, decided to shake up their infield, dealing shortstop J.J. Hardy and utility guy Brendan Harris to Baltimore for a couple pitchers none of their fans have heard of. Hardy had a decent year at the dish when he was healthy, but he's streaky offensively and has shown the inability to stay healthy. With Tsuyoshi Nishioka on his way from Japan to play shortstop, the Twins could afford to jettison the more expensive and less reliable (also noticeably slower, from what it sounds like) Hardy.

Even without a guarantee of major-league talent in return, the Twins made a smart move that clears room in their infield for Nishioka, a solid hitter who has been raved as a defensive middle infielder.

If you're a Brewers or Twins fan, you're probably happy, because your team is better now than it was on Monday, especially Milwaukee. As they continue the search for quality pitching, we're reminded of the formula San Francisco used to win their championship, while the Yankees, Angels, Red Sox, Cubs, and Dodgers spent a ton of cash to combine for one playoff appearance.

It's not about the size of your payroll. It's about your ability to acquire quality pitching, play strong defense, and get just enough hitting to make the first two things relevant.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Justin Faulk Named to Preliminary Team USA World Junior Roster

It's not a surprise. In fact, it will be a bigger surprise if he doesn't make the final roster.

But it's still newsworthy.

UMD freshman defenseman Justin Faulk was named to the preliminary roster for the United States in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

Here is the information from UMD:
Justin Faulk, who has racked up more goals than any other rookie defenseman in the country this season, will soon get the chance to strut his stuff on a different stage as the University of Minnesota Duluth product has made the 29-man preliminary roster for the U.S. National Junior Team, which was announced today.

Faulk, a 5-11, 200-pound native of South St. Paul, Minn. , will take part in the team's pre-tournament camp beginning on Dec. 17 in Troy, N.Y. The camp includes three exhibition games against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Dec. 19), the Czech Republic (Dec. 21) and Norway (Dec. 23). The final 22-man U.S. roster that will compete at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship will be announced Dec. 22 or 23 prior to Team USA’s final exhibition game against Norway.

In 16 games this season with the No. 2-ranked and Western Collegiate Hockey Association-leading Bulldogs, Faulk has collected five goals and seven assists for 12 points (a figure surpassed by only one other NCAA freshman blueliner) and is a team-high plus-13 on the year. Four of his five goals have come on the power play, including one which put UMD in the lead for good in last Saturday's 2-1 win over the University of Denver.

Faulk will be looking to become the 12th Bulldog to skate for the U.S. National Junior Team and the first since defenseman Matt Niskanen, now a member of the National Hockey League's Dallas Stars, did so in 2006.

Did Harm Gopher Football?

This just in: People in Minnesota don't necessarily like Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi.

Some have taken their dislike too far, however.

The folks behind the website might have a well-meaning plan. After all, they have been consistent in their stance that Maturi -- the same guy who headed a search that led to Tim Brewster -- shouldn't be allowed to search for Brewster's successor.

That's fine. There's nothing wrong with taking a stand and speaking out. Gopher football has stunk for so many years that the alumni and fans should take a stand.

However, actions that interfere in Maturi's ability to do his job ... well, that's just wrong.

Former All-Big Ten punter Adam Kelly went so far as to contact officials at other universities to warn them that Maturi might contact their coach without asking permission.

"That's unethical and reprehensible behavior," university President Robert Bruininks said. "To interfere in the process that way, I think it's indefensible."

Kelly, though, said Maturi was the unethical one, citing his hush-hush contact with San Diego State coach Brady Hoke before the Aztecs' season had ended. In addition to e-mails, he said he called Temple's athletic director, Bill Bradshaw, to point out a newspaper column critical of Maturi.

"He said, 'We already read the story, and it was his opinion that hundreds of other AD's around the country had read it and were shaking their heads," Kelly said. "Was it [the call] unethical? It's more unethical to contact a coach before his season's done."

Bruininks said he was surprised by the negativity from outside the program, calling it the work of "a relatively small and active group that I think is offbase.

"I don't think they've done the university any service, and I think they've done a disservice to themselves."

Kelly is right about Maturi being unethical in not asking permission to interview coaches. That's just a courtesy and has been part of virtually every school's protocol for many years.

But two wrongs don't make a right, and Kelly's wrong might have actually hindered his alma mater's ability to hire the kind of coach he wanted them to.

How ironic. In trying to help, his group may have harmed.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Gophers Hire Jerry Kill; Fans Would Have 'Killed' For Someone More Exciting

Here's the problem when it comes to hiring coaches.

There is no "tried and true" formula.

You can try to hire a guy with loads of experience who may have gotten a raw deal from his previous employer, and it turns into a guy like Tubby Smith. Unwanted in Kentucky, Smith's been great for Minnesota, and he isn't under this never-ending pressure to win national championships. He's making good money and likely enjoying himself while he does it.

Of course, going this route when making a hire might lead you to Rick Neuheisel. Jettisoned in Washington after a rather odd-looking "scandal," Neuheisel was hired by UCLA three years ago to take over his alma mater's floundering football program.

Well, they made the EagleBank Bowl last year (only because Army lost their last game and didn't qualify). Overall, Neuheisel is 15-22, 8-19 in Pac-10 play, and there are a lot of people calling for his head, especially considering that UCLA had a prime opportunity to gain relevance in Los Angeles because of USC's failings the last two years.

(Tyrone Willingham also qualifies here, thanks to the "work" he did at Washington after everyone accused Notre Dame of being racist when they fired him.)

You can hit home runs with guys like Dan Mullen, hired by Mississippi State despite never being a head coach in his life. He's got the Bulldogs playing in a Jan. 1 bowl game in just his second year on the job.

Of course, you can also strike out embarrassingly with the likes of Tim Brewster, hired by Minnesota despite never being a head coach in his life. He got the Gophers to a pair of Insight Bowls, but failed to impress at any point, especially points where he was required to actually coach and not just talk about coaching.

It's not an exact science. So when Minnesota fired Brewster and went about their search for a new coach, athletic director Joel Maturi had an important decision to make.

If he made a mistake, it was in his philosophy, not his execution.

As I wrote back when Brewster got fired, Minnesota needs a significant change to their football culture. Even before Brewster took the job, mediocrity had set in, and it became accepted. Glen Mason was a good coach, but he was never going to get Minnesota further than, say, the Sun Bowl. The Sun Bowl is a nice game that's well-run, but El Paso doesn't resonate among fans and alumni like Pasadena does. It's just a fact of life.

There are many programs that won't ever achieve anything better than the middle-tier bowls -- Peach, Sun, Gator, Holiday, and the like -- outside of an anomalous year or two. It's not a bad way to make a living, really.

But Minnesota wanted to aim higher. They determined Mason wouldn't get them there, and they fell for Brewster's bluster.

It could have worked, had Brewster possessed any real sense of how to run a football team (note: "into the ground" doesn't count).

Burned -- in part -- by Brewster's lack of experience, Maturi set out to fix that failing this time around. He wasn't going to settle for the hot assistant coach who lacked head coaching experience. The otherwise perfect candidate (Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst) was out as a result. No chance.

When fans heard this, names like Mike Leach and Mike Bellotti floated around. Then Miami fired Randy Shannon, bring to light another name. No buyouts would be necessary for any of them.

But were they fits?

This is what I wrote about this search:

Look around the league right now. The most successful coaches -- Jim Tressel, Kirk Ferentz, Bret Bielema, Pat Fitzgerald, and Mark Dantonio -- spent time in the Big Ten as assistant coaches before becoming head coaches in the league. Of them, only Fitzgerald is an actual alum of the school (Northwestern) he is at now, but the point is that all these coaches have worked within the culture of the league.

The Big Ten isn't like witchcraft or anything, but you don't see a lot of successful Big Ten coaches getting jobs at Florida or anything like that (notable exception is Nick Saban, but he left Michigan State for LSU after the 1999 season). It's a different way of doing things, and you have to understand the types of student-athletes who can succeed at these schools.

Just hiring the offensive coordinator from Auburn (Gus Malzahn), for example, isn't going to guarantee you anything.

Same thing if you try to pluck a coach like Gary Patterson from his current job (TCU). Patterson is great at recruiting Texas high-school stars. That state is so rich in talent that it's ridiculous, and Patterson does well getting top players to go to a Mountain West school.

Of course, if he takes the Minnesota job, he can't be guaranteed any kind of similar success in recruiting. Why would the star running back from Southlake Carroll say "No" to Texas so he could go to Minnesota?

Leach would have been a sexy, newsworthy hire. It also would have been a potentially volatile one. In an interview with The Sporting News magazine, Leach details what he's looking for from a school that wants to hire him. Among the items on his list are a rich recruiting base (Minnesota? Nope.), an undervalued program looking to get better (Minnesota is only undervalued because they're so bad), and an administration that is stable and focused (Minnesota is changing presidents, and Maturi is thought to be somewhat on the hot seat. It's not the picture of stability.

Only in the perfect situation would Leach be a good fit. His ego is such that he isn't right for just any opening, and his pedigree is impressive enough to allow him to do whatever he wants while he waits for the right job.

Gophers fans who wanted him over anyone are dreaming. He would have clashed with the administration. He's the anti-Tubby Smith, a gentleman (at least on the outside) who oozes class and dignity. Leach oozes smarts and is an eccentric fellow, but he's also got quite the ego, and he isn't afraid to use it. Just comparing Leach and Smith is unfair, because they're very different people.

As far as finding the right fit goes, Maturi may have done well here. He pigeonholed himself by not considering coaches who lacked FBS head coaching experience, because it left Chryst off his list. He also made it clear he wasn't going to hire another Brewster, so NFL assistants who lacked head coaching experience (Darrell Bevell and Leslie Frazier, for example) weren't going to be considered.

Neither was Marc Trestman, a former Gopher who is a successful CFL coach in Montreal.

In Kill, Maturi found a guy who has a lot of experience building programs, and he's got roots in the Midwest. He doesn't have the Big Ten experience I wrote about and thought was a necessity, but he does have an understanding of how to win football games in the Midwest. If Maturi wasn't going to consider first-time head coaches, he was not likely to get a guy with Big Ten experience that would satisfy his fanbase.

Then again, outside of the wrong guy (Leach), Maturi wasn't going to win with his fanbase. They wanted the sexy name, and Maturi was right not to deliver it to them.

After all, Illinois wanted the sexy name in Ron Zook. Look what that got them.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Game 862: Denver at UMD

It is the last game at the DECC on this Saturday night. The Bulldogs lost a 5-4 heartbreaker in overtime on Friday, as Denver scored three bad-angle goals and took advantage of a bad line change and a defensive lapse.

Hopefully, none of that happens again. It's an exciting night, with many UMD alumni and pro scouts expected to be here. Also a sold-out crowd that should be plenty loud.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Schmidt - Oleksuk - Brown
DeLisle - Flaherty - Seidel
Basaraba - Hendrickson - Grun

Olson - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Olsen - Faulk

Reiter - Crandall - Gaffy

Zucker - Shore (Drew) - Salazar
Ostrow (Kyle) - Shore (Nick) - Maiani
Knowlton - Dewhurst - Jackson
Mermis - Ostrow (Shawn)

Donovan - Nutini
Ryder - Makowski
Phillips - Wrenn

Brittain - Murray

Friday, December 03, 2010

Game 15: Denver at UMD

Just two more of these from the DECC.




Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Schmidt - Oleksuk - Brown
DeLisle - Flaherty - Seidel
Basaraba - Hendrickson - Grun

Olson - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Olsen - Faulk

Crandall - Reiter - Gaffy

Zucker - Shore (Drew) - Salazar
Maiani - Shore (Nick) - Bennett
Knowlton - Ostrow (Kyle) - Jackson
Dewhurst - Ostrow (Shawn)

Donovan - Nutini
Ryder - Makowski
Phillips - Wrenn

Brittain - Murray

My Favorite DECC Games

Everyone has their favorite DECC stories ... the games that they'll never forget. Here are my five favorites.

5. UMD advances to Final Five (2003).

UMD hadn't been to the WCHA Final Five in a while. And the 2002-2003 season didn't start with a ton of promise. Third-year coach Scott Sandelin got them to improve, though, and by the end of the season, they were good enough to earn a home-ice playoff berth for the first time since 1998 (more on that later).

They split the first two games against St. Cloud State, winning the Friday game 5-4 before dropping a 3-2 decision in overtime on Saturday thanks to a Mike Doyle winner from Ryan Malone.

(UMD fans hated Ryan Malone, but we all knew he was good, and it's not shocking he's made a few dollars playing pro hockey since.)

Sunday night, UMD just laid the wood to St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs never trailed in a 7-3 game that wouldn't have been that memorable at all had UMD been to the Final Five recently, or if the UMD student section -- in full throat all night -- not beaked SCSU starting goalie Jake Moreland to the point that he was talking to himself and banging his stick on his crossbar in frustration.

You don't think players can hear the fans? Jake Moreland is living proof they certainly can.

Fans celebrated the Final Five berth after the game, and UMD would ride the wave of that late-season run to a third-place finish in St. Paul, followed by a Frozen Four berth the following season.

4. Fast start, right result (2004).

UMD finished in the upper tier of the WCHA again in 2003-2004, propelled by a 14-game unbeaten streak that carried them into February.

Someone forgot to tell Minnesota State.

The Mavericks shocked UMD in overtime to open a best-of-three playoff series, then absorbed a 6-2 thrashing on Saturday thanks to a Junior Lessard hat trick.

Sunday started pretty well for UMD, as they took a 5-0 lead in the first period. It went downhill from there, as the Mavericks rallied. After UMD made it 6-2 on an Evan Schwabe goal, MSU scored two before the second period was over.

They added one more in the third before UMD put the clamps on the Mavericks, holding them to just four shots in the third period in a 6-5 win that sent them to a second straight Final Five. Eventually, the magic carried the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four in Boston, but no further, as Denver ended the dream in a Thursday semifinal.

3. Patrick White Shines (2007).
2. David Brown's Big Morning (2008).

In 2007, Grand Rapids had adorned themselves once again in the old-school orange. The artists formerly known as the Indians changed to the Thunderhawks in the name of political correctness, but the Halloween Machine had returned in 2006, when Rapids made a hell of a run to the state Class AA championship game.

Many of the principle players were back for Grand Rapids in 2007, including Minnesota recruit Patrick White, Sam Rendle, and Joe Stejskal. They made it to the Section 7AA semifinals for an afternoon affair against Duluth East. In the previous semifinal, a limited Tyler Johnson scored in the final minutes to give Cloquet an upset win over top-seed Elk River. Rapids and East topped that game with a stellar high-school hockey game.

The teams went back and forth all the way to overtime. Earlier in the season, I had scorned White for scoring a goal in the final seconds of a blowout loss to East and hot-dogging. On this day, there would be no blowout, and White had every right to enjoy his achievement, as he buried the overtime winner for the Thunderhawks. Grand Rapids then beat Cloquet for the section title, and they finished state runner-up to Roseau.

Meanwhile, Feb. 23, 2008 was a long day at the DECC. Not only were there two Section 7AA semifinal games, but the UMD women hosted St. Cloud State, and the men were scheduled to host Colorado College. That's a busy day at the rink, especially when you're covering all four games.

The first Section 7AA game was played at 10AM, as Cloquet/Esko/Carlton battled Duluth East. The Lumberjacks were the underdog, and they fell behind in the first period. A four-goal second period had CEC up a pair going into the third, but Rob Johnson almost single-handedly willed East back into the game. Johnson gave East a 5-4 lead in the third, but it wasn't meant to last long.

Senior defenseman David Brown completed a hat trick to tie it, and then CEC got a late power play.

Brown's fourth goal of the game came with just 12 seconds to go, and gave the Lumberjacks an improbable 6-5 win over Duluth East. It was the third straight year East was bounced in the section semifinals, and these two were heartbreaking.

1. The Comeback (1998).

To this day, this is the only DECC game I own on DVD. It was March 15, 1998.

Minnesota and UMD split the first two games in a best-of-three playoff series, each winning convincingly. The Gophers shut UMD out in the Saturday game, and they took a 3-0 lead into the third period of the deciding game on that Sunday night. After Minnesota made it 4-0 in the third, many of the 3,000 or so in attendance began heading to the exits. That would be a regrettable decision.

UMD got one from Duluthian Ryan Coole before the midway point of the third to make it 4-1, then Curtis Bois popped one in with under eight minutes to go to make it 4-2. It stayed that way until the final four minutes of regulation. Off a crazy scramble in front of the Minnesota net, Curtis Doell -- who had suffered a rather ugly-looking-but-not-at-all-serious-apparently leg injury earlier -- shoved the puck into an open net at 16:32.

The old house went berzerk less than a minute later, as Bert Gilling got open at the top of the left circle and beat Steve DeBus through two screening teammates for the equalizer.

Only then did Doug Woog wake up and call his timeout, which was enough to settle the game down and get it to overtime.

"I'm a little bit surprised that didn't come earlier," said Frank Mazzocco, who called the game with Tom Reid on what was then called Midwest Sports Channel and is now Fox Sports North.

"We talked about that. Sometimes, a one minute thing can really get the guys refocused and readjusted, and we were surprised by that," former UMD coach Mike Sertich told me this week.

In overtime, each team had some chances, but UMD's Brant Nicklin and DeBus held their own until the midway point. Off a faceoff in the Minnesota zone, the puck popped free behind the Minnesota net. Two UMD players got to it and got it to the front of the net, where it went into the air off a shot on goal. Mike Peluso flashed in front of the net and knocked the puck out of the air, into the goal. Joe Rybar took the initial shot, and Ken Dzikowski helped set the play up with his work behind the UMTC net.

DeBus protested, saying Peluso played the puck with a high stick, but it's clear on the DVD -- made by an acquaintance using the tape he had of the game -- that Peluso's goal would have stood had replay been in use in 1998.

It was a good date night for the future Mrs. Ciskie and me. It was one of our first, and it was one of those moments where you realize you're on the right track with someone. After all, we had a date at a hockey game. How does anything get better than that?

We've had numerous dates at hockey games since -- including a Valentine's Day Gopher-UMD game at some point -- and I have her to thank for my current obsession with the sport.

To this day, people in Duluth talk about that game as if they were there. Had they all been there, it would have required the DECC seat 25,000 people instead of 5,000.

And it wasn't even full.

Friday and Saturday, it will be.

Goodbye, old friend. We move on to a new building, but we'll never forget the old one.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

UMD Bids A Final Farewell to the DECC

Since opening in 1966, the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center has hosted 860 UMD men's hockey games. Over 4 million fans have attended the games, of which UMD has won 56 percent (458 wins and 51 ties to 351 losses).

Saturday night, the DECC will have its lights on for UMD for the last time.

The No. 1 Bulldogs host Denver this weekend for the final games at the DECC after 45 years of hockey. Considering UMD is 30-12-3 there since the start of the 2008-2009 season, it's not going to be an easy building to replace, but Amsoil Arena will try its best starting Dec. 30.

Before we get there, we have what should be a special weekend.

On the ice, UMD and Denver are a great pair of teams to have play games of this magnitude. The Bulldogs match up well with DU, and they have produced some quality hockey over the years. This won't be slow-down, clutch-and-grab hockey like we've seen from many of UMD's first few opponents this season. Instead, Denver will force UMD to play a high-tempo, skating game, something the Bulldogs are very good at.

Denver has some top young players, including forwards Drew Shore and Jason Zucker, defensemen Matt Donovan and David Makowski, and freshman goalie Sam "Great" Brittain.

With guys like Donovan and Makowski in front of Brittain, the goalie has found a way to look very sharp. While it doesn't sound like a really hard job with quality play in front of him, Brittain still looks like a very good young goalie who has stepped in and earned more playing time than virtually anyone could have expected.

Steering the ship is longtime coach George Gwozdecky, one of the best in the business. Indeed, it's a formidable and superb opponent for UMD to deal with in their final games of their time at the DECC.

Denver will be a stiff test for UMD's improving defense. Sophomore Dylan Olsen and freshman Justin Faulk are having all-WCHA seasons, and sophomore Wade Bergman is one of the team's more consistent players. The Pioneers will also test UMD's work ethic, and their forwards will have to play a solid two-way game. Failure to do so will lead to odd-man rushes and general ugliness.

The DECC has been a great building for UMD hockey. The Bulldogs have in excess of 100 more wins than losses in the building, and a sweep this weekend would take them to 460 wins total in the arena. More than that, the facility has played host to some of the all-time greats of UMD sports.

Guys like Huffer Christiansen, Derek Plante, Chris Marinucci, Tom Kurvers, Walt Ledingham, Rick Kosti, Curt Giles, Junior Lessard, Beau Geisler, MacGregor Sharp, Dan Lempe, Jeff Scissons, Dale Jago, Brett Hull, and many more called the DECC home. Many of them will be back this weekend, and no matter who takes the ice before the fans, the feelings will be very special.

Nearly 11,000 fans will take a seat or a standing spot for the games, and many of them will have their own special story to tell about a game at the DECC.

It might be one of Bill Watson's big nights, one of Hull's hat tricks, or the night Junior Lessard scored a hat trick in the WCHA playoffs. Maybe it was the game where Thomas Vanek missed an empty net, allowing Jon Francisco to score the game-tying goal with 11 seconds left, then the overtime goal that beat Minnesota.

You might remember a high school game, like David Brown's four goal night afternoon morning that beat Duluth East in 2008. Or the night Josh Johnson shut out the 'Hounds and led CEC to state. Perhaps, it's a more glorious Duluth East memory, as they certainly have won a few section titles in the DECC. If you're a Class A fan, maybe it's the night Hibbing and Virginia played a section final before a packed house, and Matt Niskanen led the Blue Devils to their first state tournament appearance. Or undefeated Hermantown toppling Hibbing to go to a state tournament they would manage to win.

While these great athletes have taken to the ice, they've had the fortune of so many high-class, superbly-talented broadcasters and writers keeping close tabs. The DECC has hosted so many great names in media ... guys like Marsh Nelson, Bruce Bennett, Tom Hansen, Mark Fleischer, Kerry Rodd, Rik Jordan, Kevin Pates, and Steve Jezierski, and more.

The DECC is done hosting UMD and high school hockey, but the facility isn't going away just yet. It's not getting the wrecking ball treatment. It won't be imploded. It will still be used, in fact, for some youth hockey.

Of course, that doesn't limit or curtail the great memories that will be talked about this weekend. Even if there were no hockey games scheduled, the opportunity to see and talk to so many Northland hockey legends makes it worth the trip.

It just turns out that UMD and Denver are so good that they won't get lost in the crowd or the hype surrounding the weekend. They're only going to make it more enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

UMD Hockey Notes

With everything going on this week, I haven't made it down to the DECC. Of course, that doesn't mean things aren't happening.

Defenseman Dylan Olsen was named to Canada's World Junior team tryout camp. Olsen tried out for last year's silver-medal team, but Hockey Canada hates college hockey players chose to send Olsen back to Duluth. Olsen struggled a bit in the second half of the season, and it's been theorized that the snub affected his play.

So far, Olsen's been a monster this season. He leads UMD defensemen in scoring, and when you watch him play, you almost automatically conclude that he's a goner to pro hockey after this season.

Making the Canadian team would be a nice feather in Olsen's cap. He will miss time for UMD regardless, because the camp is Dec. 12-15 in Toronto, and the Bulldogs play at Minnesota Dec. 10-11. If he makes the team, he'll be gone for the Amsoil Arena opener Dec. 30, as well as the Clarkson series Jan. 3-4.

If that's not bad enough, Justin Faulk might be joining him. Well, at the tournament in Buffalo Dec. 26-Jan. 5. Faulk is going to be on the U.S. camp roster, and while he's not a shoo-in for the U.S. roster, it seems more likely than not.

(This seems like a really good time to remind you that Team USA won the gold last year in this tournament. So suck on that, Canada.)

That would leave UMD without -- arguably -- their top two defensemen for a huge game against North Dakota. Assistant coaches Derek Plante and Brett Larson both brought this up as a great opportunity for the other defensemen on this roster. UMD has ten, and five of them have been in a never-ending struggle for ice time. The competition has been fun to watch in practice, and things could get really interesting if someone steps up and plays well while Olsen and Faulk are (presumably) gone at the WJC.

Will he or won't he? Must be something about guys named Brett.

Kevin Pates notes that we don't know for sure yet if Brett Hull will make it to Saturday's final game at the DECC. I was told the same thing by a couple people earlier this week.

It almost reads like we are being duped in hopes that there's a surprise in store for fans Saturday night. If that's the case, it's both genius and aggravating at the same time.

If it's seriously that Hull hasn't or can't make up his mind, then maybe there is something about being named Brett that renders the person indecisive by nature.

Of course, Hull -- who starred at UMD for two stellar years in the 1980s -- can do whatever he wants. He's earned that right with those 700-plus goals and two Stanley Cups, one of which I hoisted over my head at Grandma's Sports Garden in 1999.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A New Adventure

This is a very bittersweet week on so many levels.

After over 40 years, the UMD Bulldogs will play their final games at the DECC Friday and Saturday against Denver. In my six years (on and off, but mainly on) of calling games, nothing of this historical significance has been put on my plate. It will be a tremendous weekend, and the UMD football playoff game Saturday only adds to the fun.

In addition, things on a personal level are about to change significantly.

Some of you know, but most don't ...

Tuesday will be my last day employed at Red Rock Radio in Duluth. I took the job as Sports Director there in July, not thinking it would be a short-term position. But there come times in life where you have to look seriously at what's in front of you.

In October, I was approached by my other employer -- AOL -- about their vacant NHL Editor position. It's a tremendous career opportunity, and one that I could not pass up, and I eventually accepted their offer after some hemming and hawing over the ramifications.

Over four months at Red Rock, I built what I hope are some long-standing relationships, both with listeners and with co-workers. There are some quality people there, and some very talented people. They get how to make radio in this market work, and I wish them continued success.

I can't say enough good things about Vice President/General Manager Shawn Skramstad and Operations Manager Tom Roubik. Never before in my time in radio have I worked for a GM and OM that give you this much space to do your job. Radio is an intense business behind the scenes, and the effort to make money keeps management types constantly on their toes. They aren't resting on their laurels at Red Rock, but yet Shawn and Tom understand that the best way to get good results is to let their people do their jobs. That means you're not constantly going from meeting to meeting. You actually have time to execute the plan as management lays it out.

In short, anyone who has enthusiasm for radio and sports -- as I do and always will -- would be damn lucky to work for folks like this.

In the end, the opportunity presented to me by AOL -- and its Managing Editor Randy Kim -- was too good to pass up. Not only that, but it struck me as the kind of opportunity that won't come around more than once. If I turned it down now, it may never come available to me again.

Thankfully, Red Rock is allowing me to finish the UMD men's hockey season. The team is off to a great start -- you knew that -- and I'm thrilled to be able to finish the campaign as the Bulldogs prepare for their new beginning in Amsoil Arena.

I'm excited for what lies ahead, but am also sad in way to be leaving the day-to-day radio business. Being on the air so many mornings over the last decade has been a joy, and it always helps to be able to work with great people.

This blog will stay updated, both with UMD hockey news and notes and other nuggets from the world of sports. Check out our work at NHL FanHouse, where we have a rather small but extremely dedicated and talented pool of writers bringing you relevant news and thought-provoking opinion pieces. Things are looking up there, and I hope to help deliver more and more great content to the site.

Packers Cut Selves in Another Close Shave

This is becoming like a broken record.

For the fourth time this season, the Green Bay Packers played a game decided by exactly three points. For the fourth time, the Packers lost.

Like earlier defeats at the hands of the Bears, Dolphins, and Redskins, Sunday's 20-17 loss to Atlanta was filled with a large number of critical errors made by people who should know better.

Unlike the Bears game, the Packers didn't single-handedly kill themselves with bad penalties, but the facemask foul on Matt Wilhelm during a late Atlanta kickoff return was hella costly, because it meant Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan only had to move the Falcons around 20 yards to get them in field goal range.

If that wasn't enough, head coach Mike McCarthy (again) completely abandoned the running game in short-yardage situations, leaving Aaron Rodgers to make plays against a defense that knew damn well their opponent would be throwing. That was totally like the Bears loss, a game Green Bay appeared to have well in hand until the offense started self-destructing under the weight of penalties and the lack of any attempt at a run game.

The defense played their guts out despite being short-handed because of injuries, and it was nice to see guys like Frank Zombo get their moment in the sun after all they've given this team this season. However, like the Miami game, the defense couldn't get the critical stops in the second half. It's not a fair criticism, because they played well in many ways, but at the same time, when your offense is struggling, you need the defense to pick things up. These guys didn't do enough of that.

Rodgers was good, especially on the last drive, but he again left too many points on the board. His audible to a keeper play near the goal line late in the second quarter was a bad decision, and his sneak play was terribly executed on all fronts on the next down. Earlier, he missed a first down on the Packers' opening drive when he slid too soon. The lack of a rushing attack puts a lot of pressure on Rodgers, so again this isn't totally fair, but he has to avoid mistakes that leave points on the board.

McCarthy takes a lot of the blame, though. He simply can't abandon the run like he did on Sunday, and while it's okay to go empty once in a while in short-yardage situations because it keeps the defense thinking, it's not acceptable to do it as often as Green Bay did on Sunday.

The head coach also has to absorb blame for not challenging a fourth-down "catch" by Tony Gonzalez that led to Atlanta's first touchdown. It wasn't a catch, and McCarthy -- armed with two timeouts he would end up not using -- chose to let play continue. At the worst, he should have called a timeout to allow his assistants upstairs to get a look at the play. They might not have been able to tell definitively if Gonzalez caught the ball, but they would have set McCarthy up with enough information to make a good decision. If -- even after a timeout -- McCarthy challenges the call and is successful, the Packers get the ball with good field position and a timeout. If he misses, the Falcons keep the ball, and the Packers are out two timeouts that they ended up not using anyway.

No harm.

The most chilling stat is that Green Bay's four losses have all been by exactly three points each. The Packers have won close games against Philadelphia, Detroit, and Minnesota, and they have used both the offense and defense to close them out. But they've also missed a number of opportunities to separate themselves from the pack in the NFC.

Now, instead of coasting to the playoffs, the Packers have to fight just to get in the proverbial tournament.

They only have themselves to blame.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Going to disappear for the holiday. Enjoy your family and feast, and thanks as always for reading.

Ohio State President Clearly Unaware of Ohio State's Own Football Schedule

There are people out there aggravated by the current BCS standings.

Unfortunately, some of them aren't merely aggravated because the antiquated and virtually useless BCS still exists. Instead, they're upset at the teams that make up the top five.

It seems that some members of power conferences are suffering from increased levels of stress because Boise State and TCU dare to infiltrate the upper tier of the rankings week in and week out.

One of those in a tizzy about this is Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee, a man who clearly has bigger and more important things to worry about than college football.

"Well, I don't know enough about the Xs and Os of college football," said Gee, formerly the president at West Virginia, Colorado, Brown and Vanderbilt universities. "I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it's like murderer's row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day.

"So I think until a university runs through that gauntlet that there's some reason to believe that they not be the best teams to [be] in the big ballgame."

He probably should have kept his damn mouth shut about the matter, rather than revealing his ignorance.

Apparently, Boise State plays the Little Sisters of the Poor, but yet Ohio State is better because they schedule behemoths like Youngstown State, Ohio, Akron, and UAB outside of Big Ten play. Evidently, Ohio State is better because they get to play juggernauts like Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, and Illinois in conference play. That tough competition makes the Buckeyes better, but playing Air Force, Utah, and BYU does nothing for TCU. And the Horned Frogs deserve ridicule for being in a league with the likes of Wyoming and New Mexico.

Like there aren't any crappy teams in the Big Ten. Hell, Minnesota couldn't even beat South Dakota, and the Coyotes went just 4-7, including an 18-point loss to something called Southern Utah.

You have to love the fear coming out of the power conferences these days. Last year, Boise State and TCU both snatched BCS bowl bids with unbeaten regular seasons, then they sold out the Fiesta Bowl and produced a great football game.

This year, one of the two stands a real chance of making the championship game, where they could get a shot at college football immortality. Meanwhile, the power conferences are stuck watching in horror as the mid-majors have started figuring out how to take their teams to the highest level of the sport.

The days of a team like Utah "getting let in the BCS" and proceeding to kick all sorts of ass on national television, then being content with the accomplishment, are over. They want more, and it's getting more and more difficult for the BCS power structure to argue they don't belong or don't deserve a shot.

Bernard Berrian Whines About Brad Childress

It may have been mentioned, but the Minnesota Vikings canned head coach Brad Childress on Monday. As defensive coordinator-turned head coach Leslie Frazier prepares his team for Sunday's game at Washington, some players have taken some time to look back on the Childress era.

One of those is veteran wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who was on Sirius NFL Radio with Adam Schein and Rich Gannon Tuesday.

Berrian didn't mince words about his former coach, a man he clearly did not get along with.

“He was just confrontational,” Berrian said.  “I think that was the biggest thing.  Instead of, you know, going to players like men and just talking and conversating about it, it was kind of brought to their attention in a confrontational way and just people just didn’t really conform to that way of, I guess, him talking and speaking to his team, or players individually.”

Sadly, Berrian probably isn't alone in his feelings.

While this is a sad commentary on today's professional athlete -- you make seven-figure salaries to play a game, and yet you can't stand it when a figure of authority gets in your face because you're playing like crap? -- this is also something Childress has to learn from if he wants to get a second chance as a head coach in the NFL.

You can't just get in guy's faces anymore. The days of successful taskmaster coaches have ended. Even perennial hard-asses like Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick have shown the ability to be appreciated by their players because they're not always flying off the handle or talking down to the players.

If Childress is to be a successful NFL head coach, he has to be willing to adapt. Yes, it sucks that millionaire athletes have to be pampered. Yes, it's as if they have the mentality of Pop Warner players when it comes to how they take coaching.

But this is reality. It's not going to change. The best coaches walk the line between being tough and being fair and compassionate toward their players. Childress has struggled with this line.

Well, that and counting the number of players on the field.