Saturday, January 30, 2010

Game 28: UMD vs. Wisconsin

Last night's game did not happen.

Last night's game did not happen.

Last night's game did not happen.

Last night's game did not happen.

Last night's game did not happen.

Last night's game did not happen.

Last night's game did not happen.

Last night's game did not happen.

Last night's game did not happen.

Last night's game did not happen.

Last night's game did not happen.


Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Grun
Bordson - Oleksuk - Seidel
Fulton - Akins - Fontaine
Danberg - DeLisle - Flaherty

Olsen - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Olson - Kishel

Reiter - Hjelle - Crandall

Mitchell - Bendickson - Grotting
Street - Stepan - Davies
Murray - Geoffrion - Smith (Craig)
Bohmbach - Thurber - Johnson

Smith (Brendan) - Ramage
Goloubef - Schultz
McDonagh - Gardiner

Bennett - Gudmandson

Time now for a lame musical interlude. Enjoy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Game 27: UMD vs. Wisconsin

The DECC should be packed tonight, and the hockey on the ice should be superb. Two of the teams in the WCHA's insane logjam on top meet head-to-head this weekend for the only time in 2009-2010.

Five teams separated by two points. Funny thing is that there isn't likely to be a lot more separation after the weekend than there was before. Naturally, we hope there is, because if the separation is created, it'll likely be by first-place UMD.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Bordson - Oleksuk - Seidel
Fulton - Akins - Grun
Danberg - DeLisle - Hendrickson

Olsen - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Huttel

Reiter - Hjelle - Crandall

Mitchell - Bendickson - Grotting
Street - Stepan - Davies
Murray - Geoffrion - Smith (Craig)
Bohmbach - Dolan - Johnson

Smith (Brendan) - Ramage
Goloubef - Schultz
McDonagh - Gardiner

Gudmandson - Bennett

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tebow Bashing Suddenly Stylish

For four years, Tim Tebow was as close to perfect as you could be. He was treated like the second coming at Florida, and his play only justified more and more attention. A Heisman and two BCS titles later, Tebow is preparing to take the next step in his football career.

The move to the NFL is going to prove much bumpier than his jump from high school to college football was.

That said, this is getting a little ridiculous. From Sporting News Today:

Florida QB Tim Tebow’s mechanics have been well documented this week, but his mental struggles were apparen Wednesday. He was consistently late on throws, specifically on deep routes. He struggled to locate receivers at the top of his dropback, and he double-clutched almost every time before throwing downfield, telegraphing his passes.

They're not the only ones.

ESPN's Todd McShay has assailed Tebow on live television multiple times this week, making it abundantly clear that he doesn't think Tebow has a snowball's chance on South Beach of making it as a quarterback.

Really? In January? The draft isn't even for three months!

If you want a voice of reason, just check out the work of Greg Bedard.

Don't pay much attention to the reports ripping Florida QB Tim Tebow. Everyone knew it was going to be a bit a process for him to adapt to the pro game, and it will be. But he has the arm strength, he just needs to tighten up his delivery a little bit and make quicker decisions.

I'm not saying Tebow is going to be a great NFL quarterback. Honestly, I don't know.

That's the point, though. Neither does anyone else.

McShay might sound confident on the air, but he's been wrong before. So has everyone else who has tried to break down players in the draft. It's an insanely inexact science.

So why is McShay so anxious to go on the air and rip into Tebow as a potential NFL player three months prior to the draft, and nearly eight months before he could play in a real NFL game?

It's all about moving the proverbial needle. There is one player in this draft who moves that needle. It's not Terrence Cody. It's not Eric Berry or Sam Bradford, either.

That player is Tim Tebow.

It's a double-edged sword. The attention helps him advance himself as a person, but it also can hinder his perception as a player. The more people break him down, the more work he has to do to build himself up in terms of his football skills.

The insistence on immediate reactions and needle-moving conversations is completely understandable, given the world we live in now. Unfortunately, what we're seeing with Tebow is the byproduct of four years of overexposure and hero worship from a portion of the football media.

Makes perfect sense, frankly, that people would try to tear him down at some point.

Badgers a Contender Again

Each weekend, the opponents seem to get tougher, and the series get more significant.

UMD is 9-2 in their last 11 WCHA games, and they have rode that wave to the top of the league. This marks the second straight time where the Bulldogs have opened play on the weekend with sole possession of first place in the standings.

In their way now: Wisconsin. The Badgers are hot themselves, coming off a three-point weekend against former league leader and national No. 1 Denver. This is the best hockey Wisconsin has played since they won the 2006 NCAA title (pictured).

But this is a bit of a different animal in Madison. The Badgers of recent years have carried the reputation for defense-first hockey, something that always seemed to irritate head coach Mike Eaves, no matter how true it looked.

Now, the offense leads the way. Of course, it's quickly followed by the defense.

"What's interesting is we're the same defensive team we were," head coach Mike Eaves said. "We're not giving up any more. All the principles of offense that we've talked about since Day One are in place, and it's just a matter of having the abilities of the individual players."

At 14-6-4 so far this year, Wisconsin is averaging 4.00 goals per game, tops in the WCHA and second to Yale (4.16) nationally. Eaves is right in that this is a good defensive team, evidenced by their team goals against of 2.33 that yields an impressive per-game goal differential of 1.67.

The offensive output is notable compared to any recent UW teams. Last year, Wisconsin averaged 3.27 goals per game and just missed the NCAAs. Two years ago, a sub-.500 Badger team nearly made the Frozen Four despite scoring only 2.85 goals a game. In 2006-2007, Wisconsin averaged an embarrassing 2.27 goals per night. The 2005-2006 championship team scored 3.35 goals per game, and had a solid goal differential of 1.53 goals per game (Brian Elliott manned the pipes this season, and he was a serious Hobey candidate for a reason).

For a Bulldog team that appeared a tad leaky on defense last weekend against Bemidji State, this is no small task. A tough team in their own zone now features some serious pop up front. The Bulldogs better be ready.

That means plenty of backchecking, something the forwards actually did pretty well against Bemidji. More than that, UMD has to be stronger against forecheck pressure. Against recent opponents like North Dakota, Denver, and Bemidji State, UMD has had problems clearing their own zone, and it's burned them in many cases.

Getting Wade Bergman back will help. So will the eventual return of junior forward Kyle Schmidt, who can use his speed to stretch teams out defensively, but we're not yet sure if he'll play this weekend. Pretty confident Bergman (upper body) will play, and that's huge for UMD's defense.

The Bulldogs not only have to deal with a tough defense with Wisconsin, but now they also have to slow the Badgers down in transition. They have speed up front, keyed by senior Michael Davies and sophomore Derek Stepan, who has come into his own as a playmaker and had a huge World Juniors tournament in leading Team USA to gold. Senior Blake Geoffrion leads the team with 17 goals and is always a threat in front of the net.

UMD's players met on Monday, and I sensed a confident group when I visited on Wednesday. While confidence alone won't beat Wisconsin, it's clear that UMD is determined to continue the positive trends they've had going for some time.

They have responded well to adversity. When they've had a bad night, they respond with a much better effort. More importantly, they have strong on-ice leadership and refuse to fold the tent.

Saturday's loss was a gut-wrencher for this team, but they won't let it get to them. Expect a motivated and prepared Bulldog team Friday night. Two of the top teams in the country playing in the sardine can that is the DECC's rink should produce some great up-and-down hockey. Series like this are why NHL scouts love visiting the DECC. Everything happens faster on the ice because there isn't as much real estate. It's a nice way to see how prepared guys are for the next level.

Methinks we'll see a lot of scouts on hand this weekend.

If you haven't gotten tickets, do it before you're too late.

NOTE: You're all invited to join us at Grandma's Sports Garden for the UMD luncheon Friday at Noon. Good food, as always, and a preview of the weekend series with coach Scott Sandelin appearing on The Fan 1490.

The Fall of American Society, Part 1,638

When things like this happen, all you can do is shake your head.

Well, you could also volunteer to help your local Little League out, so people like this don't end up coaching a team, but you're still going to shake your head initially.

This story comes out of Seattle, where the coach of a Little League baseball team apparently taught his kids more than just how to steal second base.

George Spady, Jr. ... was driving with his 12-year-old son, a nephew and another player on his team when he stopped outside of a vacant shop.

According to one of the boys, Spady's son crawled through a vent on the back side of the store and unlocked the door for his father. Spady, his son and nephew then went inside and came out holding light fixtures and bolts.

Spady then allegedly yelled at the boy to go in and get more loot. Apparently thinking time was short because of a truck that had just driven by the scene.

The kid accomplice eventually told his stepfather what had happened. And the dad, not being too keen on his son learning the black arts of breaking and entering from a role model, then told the cops.

Spady issued a guilty plea to a burglary charge and picked up a 15-day jail sentence for his handiwork.

Give the kid who ratted this plot out plenty of credit. It takes courage for a young kid to tell on a role model for anything, no matter how wrong a kid may know it is.

This qualifies as a sign of our demise for a couple different reasons. For starters, this jackbag knowingly involved kids in a plot to commit a crime. Oh, and somehow he only qualified for 15 days in jail.

Nice job, court system.

Stay classy, George Spady, Jr.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

McKenzie's Draft Watch Includes Familiar Names, Duluth Native

Respected TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie, one of the most connected people in the business, has put out his latest list of top 30 prospects for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

While it's a major-junior dominated list, as expected, there are some names on it that college hockey fans will know.

One name in particular will be familiar to local hockey fans.

Duluth native Derek Forbort, who skipped his senior season at Duluth East to play for the U.S. Under 18 National Team (based in Ann Arbor, Mich.), is rated 18th by McKenzie, meaning he's a likely first-round pick this summer.

Forbort is headed to the University of North Dakota next year, and barring something unforeseen, he won't be a four-year guy there.

Other Minnesota-based players on the list include future Gopher Nick Bjugstad, a Blaine High School senior rated No. 14. Minnesota State freshman Tyler Pitlick, an impressive-looking young player who played his prep hockey at Centennial, comes in at No. 20. Warroad center Brock Nelson is 25th. He's a very impressive playmaker who will also play at North Dakota.

Obviously, there is going to be some tweaking done to these ratings. Not only that, but despite McKenzie's impressive pedigree and contacts, it's hardly gospel when it comes time for the draft.

However, it's obvious that plenty of Minnesota kids are impressing NHL scouts, and there is likely to be an increased number of college or college-bound players going in the first round this summer. That's good news for the NCAA as they try to defend their reputation as a developmental tool for young hockey players against the assault by major junior leagues in Canada.

Brewers Shape Starting Rotation as Sheets Signs With Oakland

With pitchers and catchers on the verge of reporting, the Milwaukee Brewers appear to have set their starting rotation.

Or have they?

Late last week, the Brewers finalized a one-year deal (with an option) for one-time Brewer and former Arizona Diamondback Doug Davis. That came after the earlier signing of Randy Wolf. They're both left-handed in a heavily right-handed National League Central, but Davis has been better in his career against righties, and he knows how to pitch. He throws a lot, but he doesn't overstrain his arm, and he isn't afraid to walk guys in the right situations. There aren't a lot of guys who have the patience and savvy to consistently throw this way, but Davis (known as "Sharpie" -- at least among Brewer fans -- for his one-time fake-looking goatee) gets away with walking a hitter roughly every two innings. He's a quality-start machine, which bodes well given this team's offensive potential.

To add to that, Milwaukee has re-signed Dave Bush on a one-year deal, so it appears he will be in the rotation. If he is fully recovered from the arm problems that derailed what could have been a career year in 2009, Bush could be a huge factor.

(Yes, his overall numbers pre-injury were still a bit mediocre. But this is Dave Bush we're talking about!)

Line them up, and you have a rotation for 2010 that looks light years ahead of the one Milwaukee used in 2009.

1. Yovani Gallardo
2. Randy Wolf
3. Doug Davis
4. Dave Bush
5. Manny Parra/Jeff Suppan/Chris Narveson/Mark Mulder


Mark Mulder?

Yes, the same Mulder you remember from Oakland and St. Louis in the past. Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson was Mulder's mentor in Oakland, and the veteran left-hander is at least considering Milwaukee as the place he goes to for his baseball comeback. Shoulder problems derailed him, but obviously he's had success with Peterson before.

IF Mulder signs (huge "if" at this point), the Brewers sport the potential for four lefties in their rotation. They also get the ability to spot-start Parra, who struggled last year but has a great arm and a ton of potential. That takes the strain off his young arm, and it also takes the strain off Mulder as he tries to get back in shape. It could be an ideal situation, at least early in the year.

The club is high on Narveson, and he'll get a chance to win a job in spring training. But who is the odd man out?

Right now, it appears Suppan could get his walking papers. He's destined for the bullpen, but can he legitimately hold down a job there, or will he force the Brewers to eat the last year of his bloated contract? He's been generally terrible in Milwaukee, unable to consistently get people out and prone to some huge innings at really bad times (not that there's a good time to give up a big inning).

The best news Milwaukee got Tuesday? Ben Sheets signed with Oakland. The Cubs were in the running for the former Brewer, which would have meant a season of Sheets haunting the Crew, and no one needed to see that.

Instead, the Brewers will maybe see Sheets in spring training, and that's it.

After the way Milwaukee contractually jerked Sheets around while catering to the far inferior Suppan, fans should count their blessings that Sheets left the NL Central.

Word Up, Thome!

UDPATE: Thome has signed with the Twins. It's a one-year deal for $1.5 million.

Thanks to our FanHouse colleagues at The Dugout, Jim Thome's name has a whole different meaning.

The playful chat room simulations regularly feature Thome's character, WordUpThome, a takeoff of the phrase "Word Up, Homey."

For Minnesota Twins fans, the phrase could take on a new life this season, as the veteran slugger is possibly on his way.

The longtime American League slugger spent last season with the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, who acquired him in a trade because the White Sox sucked.

Now, as a free agent, it appears Thome could end up in Minnesota, as the White Sox have told him they will not be re-signing him.

The deal in Chicago is that Thome, who hasn't played in the field since 2007, would be on the bench too much, as Sox manager Ozzie Guillen wants to give DH at-bats to regulars like Mark Kotsay, Paul Konerko, and Carlos Quentin as a means of keeping them fresh. A full-time DH doesn't appear to interest Chicago.

Meanwhile, the Twins have struggled mightily to consistently fill that spot with a power hitter.

While Thome's batting average has slipped into the .240s the last two years, he has continued to draw walks, hit for power, and drive in runs. Thome drove in 77 runs in 362 at-bats between the Sox and Dodgers a year ago, with Los Angeles using him almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter. Thome's life-time OBP is .404, and even with his average falling, he still posted OBPs in the .360s the last two years.

This is on par with what the Twins got out of the DH spot in 2009. With Jason Kubel serving as the primary DH (97 games), they got a .367 OBP out of their designated hitters. Where the Twins lacked at DH was run production. In 596 at-bats, Twins designated hitters only hit 22 home runs and drove in under 100 runs, both middle-of-the-pack numbers in the American League. An effective Thome gives them a bigger power threat in the middle of the order to compliment Justin Morneau.

The big drawback, should Thome sign, is that he is left-handed. So are Kubel, Morneau, and Joe Mauer. Kubel isn't much of a defensive threat, so he will still DH regularly, and you also have to question if Thome will get at-bats in Minnesota.

With Target Field set to open in April, the Twins do have more revenue coming in. This makes them a bigger threat in free agency, but more importantly makes them a better bet to be able to keep their own stars in the fold. Last year, the Twins had a payroll of under $70 million. If the economic model they eventually follow comes close to that of the Brewers, you can expect the Twins to be able -- in a much larger media market -- to push $90 million in the near future.

(Milwaukee will be around $80-85 million this year.)

Whether it's smart to spend some of this newfound money on an aging left-handed hitter like Thome remains to be seen. While he's been a super ambassador for the game and a character in the clubhouses he's been a part of, Thome doesn't bring anything to the table that the Twins don't already possess.

Not only that, but outside of Michael Cuddyer, their best hitters are already all left-handed, and adding Thome only increases the need for left-handed pitching in the American League Central. If the plan is to DH Kubel for 100 or so games, there's no point in signing Thome. Yes, he would give the Twins a big left-handed bat off the bench, but you already have three big left-handed everyday players, and there really isn't an option to use Thome in the field should you run short on bench guys in a long game.

With spring training approaching, it will be interesting to see where Thome lands, or if he lands at all.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Patrice Cormier's Punishment Fits

The horrifying, completely uncalled-for hit by Canadian major junior Patrice Cormier shocked the hockey universe last week.

Monday, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League spoke on the hit as loudly as they could. Cormier was suspended by the QMJHL for the remainder of the season and playoffs. Since his team, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, is likely to make the playoffs, this is a pretty steep punishment.

Calling the hit "dangerous and unacceptable," the QMJHL ended Cormier's season and also banned him from playing for any Hockey Canada leagues during the suspension.

In addition, Cormier will not be allowed to play for the New Jersey Devils -- the team that holds his NHL rights -- or their AHL affiliate in Lowell, Mass., until after the Huskies are knocked out of the playoffs.

Devils' GM Lou Lamoriello, after a rather odd statement on the situation last week, cleared up any doubts about the dignity of his organization. He said the team would not try to circumvent the suspension, and they will not seek any place for Cormier to play.

“We said the end of the season and, at this given time, we’re going to honor that 100 percent,” Lamoreillo said. Lamoriello clarified again that. “Under no circumstances did we ever feel that he should not get suspended for an action that he took. If I felt that he should not get suspended then I deserve any criticism that was put that way.” Lamoriello had said that he didn’t think “any criminal action should be involved.”

Cormier still has not shown the proper public remorse, which only makes his crime even worse, given the potential of a criminal charge in the case.

By all sides involved, it was the right move. Cormier has thrown a couple dangerous elbows in recent weeks, and he needs to learn from his actions. Maybe in a few weeks, he will be capable of showing the kind of remorse the hockey world needs to see from him. Not showing any sincere regret over his horrendous actions will not help him get back in the game anytime soon.

As a parent with a child in hockey, I fear where this game is going. We are seeing more and more hits like this in the sport, and there is no easy answer as to why they are continuing to happen. It boils down to a lack of respect for the sport and its competitors, but it also seems to run deeper than that.

While lifetime bans should not be dealt with lightly, we are reaching the point where repeat offenders need to be punished that way. Without the threat of a lifetime ban from the sport, the proper punishment for repeated behavior like this may not exist.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Game 26: UMD vs. Bemidji State

I'm going to bet that we don't need nearly six hours to get home.

Here's hoping the on-ice result is much better, too.


Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Bordson - Oleksuk - Seidel
Fulton - Akins - Grun
Danberg - Hendrickson - Flaherty

Olsen - Montgomery
Olson - Lamb
Kishel - Huttel

Hjelle - Reiter - Crandall

George - Read - Lowe
Orban - Kinne - Cramer
MacQueen - McKelvie - Lehrke
Billberg - Hartmann - Findlay

Peluso - MacIntyre
Areshenko - Hunt
Hardwick - Adams

Bakala - Dugas

Holy Crap

Left Bemidji at 10:50 P.M. Friday.

Got home at 4:30 A.M.

Do the math. That's a drive of less than three hours that took close to six.

Not a fun trip.

Hopefully, this was our way of paying for the really nice weather we had in Colorado Springs. I know now to never rub that type of thing in.

Travel partner Kevin Pates has the full account here. I'd simply be duplicating the work, so go read it. He's 100 percent accurate in all of it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Game 25: UMD at Bemidji State

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The only stat that matters: 0-2.

That's UMD's record in this building when I am here. Stupid and childish? Sure, but the John Glas Fieldhouse is the only building I have been in and not seen UMD win in.

One more chance to fix that.

This year, I'm to the right of the hideous pole, which means I can see a bigger portion of the ice surface. Of course, I can't see the part UMD shoots at twice.




Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Fulton - Akins - Grun
Bordson - Oleksuk - Seidel
Danberg - DeLisle - Flaherty

Olsen - Montgomery
Olson - Lamb
Kishel - Huttel

George - Read - Lowe
Orban - Kinne - Cramer
MacQueen - McKelvie - Lehrke
Billberg - Hartmann - Findlay

Peluso - Wacker
Areshenko - Hunt
Hardwick - Adams

Bakala - Dugas - Bosch

A Final Farewell

Yes, Bemidji State still has a few games left at John Glas Fieldhouse after Friday night, but for UMD, this is the last hurrah.

It's a night of mixed emotions, because this season marks the end of another old-time hockey barn.

This building isn't full of amenities. There isn't an elaborate, plush press room to sit in and conduct interviews. Usually, I end up in the bleachers to talk to UMD coach Scott Sandelin before the game.

The press box isn't comfortable, or very big. In fact, it's one of the worst broadcast setups you can imagine, because the visiting radio person (me) has to bend and see around a wooden pole that sits immediately to the left of the broadcast location.

That said, there are things to miss about a building like this.

At 2,400 seats, it's the smallest Division I facility in Minnesota. The Beavers have risen from a Division III power to a Division I contender, and now they are about to get a Division I-quality building.

That's good, because not many people who work in media will miss the old place very much.

UMD will try to close it down (figuratively) in style Friday night. The Bulldogs aren't carrying any secrets into Bemidji. Coach Tom Serratore used the word "scary" a couple times in talking about the matchup with UMD.

He's scared about the Bulldogs' top two lines. He's scared about their power play. He's frightened over their improved defensive play and goaltending.

Maybe the veteran head man has forgotten that he has a pretty good team, too.

Off a Frozen Four run last year, the Beavers started 11-1-1 this year, including their first-ever win over Minnesota. Bemidji is just a .500 team over their last nine games (4-4-1), but this is a good chance for them to gain some confidence.

Not only that, but this is a big series across Minnesota. This is from the Bemidji State hockey press notes on the weekend set:

Bragging rights within the "State of Hockey" are on the line this weekend as two of Minnesota's elite NCAA Division I hockey programs clash in a nonconference, home-and-home series.

Funny thing is that they're not wrong. This isn't bluster from an overzealous sports information director. It's not a program overstretching the importance of a series or the quality of the teams involved.

It's right on the money, no matter what Minnesota State's sweep of Bemidji in December makes you think.

(Yes, that same team that gooned it up against UMD swept BSU. Must be a fluke. Either that, or we need to goon it up this weekend. Where is Jay Rosehill when you need him?)

(Answer: Toronto. I know.)

The Bulldogs need at least one win for Pairwise purposes. This is a team that's been pretty good in recent years in non-conference play. No reason to think they can't pick it up this weekend.

It will be a bit tougher without junior Kyle Schmidt and freshman Wade Bergman in the lineup. Both are likely out with upper-body injuries. Schmidt's speed can be a game-changer in the offensive zone for UMD. Bergman is a good passer who can help UMD handle BSU's tough forecheck.

With Bergman out of the lineup, the onus is on the top pairing of Mike Montgomery and Dylan Olsen to have a strong game. They can't afford to get bottled up and caught in long shifts. Neither can anyone else, but these guys are going to see the ice a lot this weekend, and they have to stay fresh.

Personally, I don't have any good memories at the John Glas Fieldhouse. I have never seen UMD win there. Let's hope that changes, because we've run out of chances.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bryant Gumbel Names Names

I don't get HBO. The only exposure I get to it is during free preview week on DirecTV, and whenever I stay in a hotel that offers it to guests.

Usually, when these things happen, I'm quickly reminded of why I am not even tempted to pay for it on a regular basis.

One of the crown jewels of the network is Bryant Gumbel's series Real Sports. They tackle some generally important topics on that program, and they do it with highly-respected journalists who rarely get caught running out of bounds in their stories. Gumbel does a commentary at the end of each show, and even that is usually well-reasoned and articulate.

However, no one is perfect.

Tuesday night's show ended, predictably, with some thoughts from Gumbel on Mark McGwire's steroids admission from last week. I don't think it's surprising that people are still laying into McGwire. They should be, because it shouldn't take a decade for someone to admit something they did wrong and then act all sorry about it.

You might remember that McGwire issued a brief statement, then took to MLB Network for an hour-long chat with Bob Costas, who used to host an HBO show himself. McGwire did some other interviews, with the well-stated but unrealistic goal of putting the issue to bed before spring training.

If he really wanted to do that, he would have admitted to using steroids in front of Congress, or at any point before he was hired as the Cardinals' new hitting coach.

Anyway, Gumbel used the scorched-earth philosophy of commenting. He named names, left no stone unturned, and may have ruffled a few feathers.

"Finally tonight, an open letter to baseball's usual suspects. Dear Barry, Roger, Sammy and Rafael, I'm writing in hopes you saw Mark McGwire's phony non-apology last week and learned from it. I'm assuming that you, like most people not named Tony LaRussa, got a good laugh out of Mark's crocodile tears and his self-serving claims about truth, guilt and the pharmaceutical way.

"So on behalf of all fans, do us a favor. If and when you're ready to come clean, don't insult us with talk of how much of what you did was God-given and how much was chemically induced. Let us figure that out, OK? And don't play us for idiots. Spare us the lies about talking 'roids for health reasons. We're all grown-ups. You took stuff for the same reason most of us break or bend rules. You thought you could get away with it. And you did.

"You did because commissioner Bud Selig, being Bud, was, of course, asleep at the switch when you suddenly grew Shrek-like necks and bloated biceps. But even Bud's selling absolution these days. He's cheering any and all mea culpas, even half-assed ones. If you don't believe me, just ask A-Rod, Manny, Papi, Jason and the others who've come forward because they had to. There may be no crying in baseball, but there is forgiveness, maybe even enough to get you to Cooperstown.

"In closing, guys, please feel free to share this letter with Bagwell, Nomar, Pudge and all those others who went from hitting homers to power outages overnight. Tell 'em fans are ready to accept what happened. Tell 'em we're ready to move on. Tell 'em that most of us get it...even if they, like you, still don't."

Emphasis mine. I still haven't seen video of the commentary, so I have no clue how it was actually delivered on the show.

I'm all for naming names. If we had taken to this practice from the start, we wouldn't be in this mess right now. And I don't think there's anything remotely wrong with reminding people of names that have been named in the past.

(Especially guys like Ortiz, who continue to deny using PEDs as if drug tests routinely fail miserably and lead to false positives and wrongly ruined reputations.)

However, we should stick to naming names who can be fairly connected to the Steroid Era. While Jeff Bagwell admitted to using andro during his playing career, there is no known connection between Bagwell and drugs that were actually against the rules in baseball.

I can find no actual connection between Pudge Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and drugs. Yes, Nomar's career was derailed by injuries, and many have assumed that he used, but we have nothing but circumstantial evidence. Same for Pudge, who is still playing.

The reality is that Gumbel's commentary likely does more harm than good. He turns people who may have done nothing wrong on the defensive. Not only that, but he gets away with something we wanted to hang a blogger for doing: speculating.

That Gumbel has been a journalist and worked in media for decades doesn't make it okay. In fact, it makes it more wrong.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Andrew Carroll Hasn't Changed a Bit

If you had any opportunity to talk to or get to know former Bulldog Andrew Carroll during his time at UMD, you'd know he was a pretty unique guy.

He was the classic "first one on for practice and the last one off" player, to the point where I remember meeting the team for a road trip at the DECC and having to wait for him to get off the ice after practice ended.

And it wasn't an act. Dude loves the game to the point where you wonder exactly how much time in an average day for him isn't consumed by hockey.

It's the kind of appreciation and reverence for the sport that tends to rub off on people, mainly because it's so blatantly obvious that it isn't an act.

Frankly, if it was, Carroll would totally be in the wrong profession, because he'd have to have Oscar ability to act like this!

Now in the ECHL with the Charlotte Checkers, Carroll was the subject of a recent feature. No one who knows him even a little bit should be surprised by its contents.

"To be honest, I don't know what else I'd be doing if I wasn't playing hockey. I don't need money. It's not an issue. You get your hockey equipment for free."

... "I can't imagine another team in our league getting more bang for their buck than we're getting out of him," said Checkers coach Derek Wilkinson. "He's got more determination than anyone on the ice. He's a kid who will make the most out of every second he has. There's no one who would have projected him to do what he's doing. He's getting rewarded for all his hard work."

And yet, Carroll keeps paying out. There's a group of children who hang around the Checkers' apartment complex in Charlotte. Carroll often stops to play with them, and helps them scrounge up tickets for games.

Over the Christmas break, a handful of kids were waiting to take the Checkers' ice after some players were done skating. Carroll finished his work, gathered the youngsters together and went at it three-on-three for 90 minutes.

"I know when I was that age, if I skated with someone who was older, it was a joy for me," Carroll said. "To see the joy on their faces, it feels good helping them out.

... The Hartford Wolf Pack thought Carroll would be a nice short-term addition to its mix earlier this season, and when Wilkinson gave the news to Carroll his response was predictable.

"He was just dead silent," the coach recalled. Wilkinson started to explain how his AHL contract would work. Carroll stopped him short.

"He said there's no need to pay me. I just want to go," Wilkinson said. "'Just give me a jersey. He's got no sense of entitlement whatsoever. He's a kid you want to root for."

With character like this, who wouldn't want Andrew Carroll around?

(Tap of the stick: Rink and Run)

What Should Happen to Patrice Cormier?

If you haven't seen this video by now, brace yourself. It's ugly. The video below also includes some comments from Quebec Remparts coach Patrick Roy, the team Mikael Tam plays for in the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). The hit by Patrice Cormier of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies is one of the worst you'll ever see.

Cormier, the captain of Canada's silver-medal winning World Junior team, has been suspended indefinitely. There will be a hearing Thursday where he could learn his final fate with the QMJHL, but that won't solve the problem of possible criminal charges from the authorities in Quebec.

For now, let's set that aside. It's hard to argue with the idea that Cormier deserves to have a day in court over what he did. I've always been one to believe that criminal charges stemming from events inside the arena of sport should be saved for the truly extreme cases. No one should be arguing for the arrest of, say, Kael Mouillierat because he threw an illegal elbow.

But if you can't understand the stark difference between the kind of elbows you see on the ice occasionally and what Cormier did, this post probably isn't for you.

Cormier left the bench, coming on the ice during a routine line change, and immediately made a beeline for Tam. Instead of lining him up for a routine, hard, clean hit that keeps guys from admiring their neutral-zone pass for more than .003 seconds, Cormier skated away from body contact and proceeded to stick his elbow out. He struck Tam while skating by him at full speed, and he got him right in the chops.

This wasn't an insane and emotional reaction to taunting, ala Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Final. While it may not have been a calculated and premeditated act like Todd Bertuzzi's attack on Steve Moore, it was much closer to that than anything Zidane did.

Tam had not just launched into a trash-talking tirade on Cormier, leading Cormier into a rage and causing him to do something stupid. Had that been the case, perhaps the hockey world would be more understanding.

The QMJHL has a tough decision to make Thursday -- or whenever -- because no suspension is going to be good enough for everyone. If they suspend him for the rest of the season, they're going to tick off New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, whose team holds Cormier's NHL rights.

Lamoriello does not believe that criminal charges or a suspension for the remainder of the season are warranted for the elbow.

“I’m not the judge and jury of things, but in my opinion this is not something that should be talked about,” Lamoriello said.

... Lamoriello was concerned enough that he made an effort to contact Cormier.

“Only because of the rhetoric that was talked about (with supsension and possible criminal charges) and just asking him how he felt,” Lamoriello said.

Good to know he was concerned enough to contact Cormier. Perhaps someone should call Tam, since he was the one in the hospital!

Lamoriello has reason to be concerned about Cormier, however. As Tom Gulitti points out, Cormier would have to go through an AHL review before he can play for the Lowell Devils if he's suspended for the rest of the QMJHL season.

Frankly, that's the bare minimum punishment we should be talking about here. Since there's no way to punish Cormier beyond that (the NHL isn't going to suspend him for something he did in junior hockey), it's likely where everyone will have to settle.

And if you're one of those who thinks Cormier shouldn't be punished that much, you'd best resign yourself to the idea that he will never again play major junior hockey.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Remembering Our Three-Hour Tour

Who the hell knew that 63:43 of college hockey could take nearly three hours to play?

Found out the hard way on Saturday night in Mankato.

That's when UMD and Minnesota State hooked up for one of the more insane games you could ever imagine.

The opening game of the teams' two-game series lasted 2:22, which is remarkably average for a college hockey game. How did Saturday's game take 36 minutes more of real time to play, despite only requiring 3:43 more of clock time?

There were a few factors that came into play.

For starters, there was a delay when UMD defenseman Scott Kishel took a flagrant elbow in the head from Minnesota State's Kael Mouillierat. Once Kishel figured out where he was and got off the ice, there was another delay while referees Don Adam and Chris Welker worked out what would be called (five and a game on Mouillierat, which was the correct call if not arrived at properly).

After they made their call, Adam spent what felt like 15 minutes talking with MSU coach Troy Jutting, whose face turned a few different shades while he got his explanation, then attempted to contribute at least a quarter above and beyond his requisite two cents.

Later in the second period, more ugliness ensued, and Adam and Welker should be credited for working hard to identify what penalties needed to be called for an incident that swallowed up virtually every skater on the ice at the time.

From my (admittedly biased) eyes, it looked like MSU instigated the fracas, so it was mildly irritating to see that the Mavericks were the recipients of a two-minute two-man advantage for their efforts. Didn't seem right (still doesn't).

Apparently, this wasn't good enough for Jutting, because he had another animated conversation with the officials.

He delayed the game even further in the third period, arguing over a call/non-call/procedural issue*. Even some of the MSU fans within earshot of us seemed to be a bit perturbed at this point with Jutting's antics.

(* - UMD was called for icing about midway through the third. Bulldog coach Scott Sandelin mulled over the situation, and elected to use his team's timeout to get a tired group of skaters some rest, as no line changes can be made by a team that ices the puck. At this point, the media timeout scheduled for the first whistle under ten minutes to play in the period was taken, and there could have been an issue over this procedural move by the off-ice officials. We were told by a source that the move was correct. In reality, we'll probably never know what Jutting was talking to Adam about.)

A lot happened this weekend. The Mavericks were their normal chippy and hard-hitting selves, crossing the line too many times for my comfort, but it's not my team. Hockey is a contact sport, and sometimes you have to fight through stuff you don't think you should have to fight through. It's the way things go.

This isn't at all about ripping Adam and Welker. Others on hand may vehemently disagree, but I felt like they did the best they could. They saw things getting out of hand a bit in Friday's game, and they tried to put a stop to it early Saturday night. They did a better job with head hits on Saturday, and they didn't royally mess up the major skirmish late in the second period.

Despite all that happened, they did a fine job getting out of the way and letting the players decide things in the third period.

That said, I do have to wonder how much one coach should be allowed to beak at the officials before they finally turn their heads. Sandelin works the officials, but I have never seen him grandstand and delay the hockey game the way Jutting did on Saturday. It was borderline embarrassing to see him continue to have the officials' ears seemingly whenever he wanted.

A game that had little chance at serious flow was left with no hope of flow, mainly because Jutting was constantly allowed to speak his mind.

There is a fine line between being an arrogant egomaniac who ignores the pleas and protests of coaches, and being the guy who will always listen to their gripes and can't politely say "Shut up, coach. We have a game to play."

We need to find that line more consistently, for the sake of everyone's sanity.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Game 24: UMD at Minnesota State

MANKATO, Minn. -- Great win last night. By "great," I mean "great."

Anytime you take two points on the road on a Friday night, you're doing pretty well for yourself. The Bulldogs did just that, moving into a tie for first place in the WCHA with idle Denver.

(No, I don't give two craps about games in hand right now. Don't even ask.)

Now, it's time to finish these guys off. It'll take a better effort, and possibly a grittier one, as big-goal king Kyle Schmidt is out with an upper body.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Fulton - Akins - Hendrickson
Bordson - Oleksuk - Grun
Danberg - DeLisle - Flaherty

Olsen - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Huttel

Reiter - Hjelle

Irwin - Stewart - Mouillierat
Gaulrapp - Harrison - Jokinen
Pitlick - Dorr - Louwerse
Mueller - Galiardi - Hayes

Youds - Elbrecht
Boe - Davis
Cooper - Canzanello

Lee - Murdock - Cook

Friday, January 15, 2010

Game 23: UMD at Minnesota State

MANKATO, Minn. -- Time to prove it on the road.

This is going to be a challenge for UMD. The Mavericks should be plenty desperate, and they played like a desperate team last Saturday against North Dakota. The Bulldogs have to take it to MSU early and don't let the proverbial wounded dog feel like it has life.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Fulton - Akins - Grun
Bordson - Oleksuk - Schmidt
Danberg - DeLisle - Flaherty

Olsen - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Huttel

Reiter - Hjelle

Irwin - Stewart - Mouillierat
Gaulrapp - Harrison - Jokinen
Pitlick - Dorr - Louwerse
Mueller - Galiardi - Hayes

Youds - Elbrecht
Boe - Davis
Cooper - Mosey

Lee - Murdock - Cook

Bulldogs Have Now Become Someone Else's Measuring Stick

Before UMD played North Dakota at the DECC in December, we proclaimed the series as a "measuring stick" for a Bulldog team that was off to a surprising start.

They measured up quite nicely. UMD had to rally to get a weekend split, but it was a stirring comeback, and the Bulldogs were not blown off the ice by any stretch of the imagination in a Friday loss to North Dakota.

It was part of what we thought would be a difficult stretch of WCHA games for UMD. After routing Michigan Tech on Nov. 13, UMD played Minnesota (road), Denver, North Dakota, and Colorado College (all home) in their next four league series. The record of 6-2 shows that UMD is ready to contend in this league.

With that in mind, now the Bulldogs are in a position they haven't been in much since the Frozen Four run of 2004.

A team desperate to earn home ice in the WCHA playoffs is entering a home series against UMD in hopes of seeing where they measure up against league contenders.

The opponent is Minnesota State, Mankato. The Mavericks have been playing much better since UMD swept them at the DECC in mid-October. Included in that was a very impressive two-game sweep of Bemidji State before Christmas, and the Mavericks also went 3-0-1 in non-conference games against Nebraska-Omaha and RIT. MSU is 6-1-1 in non-league games this year, virtually assuring that they'll be in the NCAA Tournament discussion, even if they end up sixth or seventh in the WCHA standings.

Of course, they're in eighth right now, so that's a problem.

The Mavericks have seniors all over the ice, and by any measure, they should be a better team than they are. Watching them in October, it didn't seem like they were getting the kind of consistent effort out of those seniors that you would expect. That seems to have improved, even though it wasn't enough to prevent North Dakota from sweeping them last weekend in Grand Forks.

At 5-10-1 in league play, MSU is desperate for points. They also want to know what kind of team they have.

UMD should help test them. The second-place Bulldogs are hot. They can skate with anyone, and they played some serious defense last weekend, allowing just 38 shots in two games against Colorado College. Kenny Reiter has a .953 save percentage in his last three starts, and UMD has only briefly trailed over those three games.

It's been a good run, but the Bulldogs know that the biggest tests are yet to come. This weekend only gets us started ... or maybe it keeps us going.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Midseason All-WCHA Peek

One of the real perks of this job is getting a vote for the All-WCHA honors at the end of the season. In order to put a reasonable ballot together, I try to take notes on all the teams I see, both in person and on television.

I look through local coverage of the teams, seeking insights on who is playing well and who might be overrated if you only look at the statistics.

It's a job I take seriously, because I feel like the league deserves to have media people who take such a thing seriously.

Anyway, we've just passed the midway point of the season, and I thought we could take a quick peek around the league to see who is in line for the top honors at the end of the year. You might remember that we did this exercise before the year started, and it's safe to say that things look quite a bit different now.

First Team All-WCHA

Jack Connolly, UMD
Justin Fontaine, UMD
Rhett Rakhshani, Denver
Brendan Smith, Wisconsin
Patrick Wiercioch, Denver
Marc Cheverie, Denver

Second Team All-WCHA

Tyler Ruegsegger, Denver
Derek Stepan, Wisconsin
Rob Bordson, UMD
Gabe Guentzel, Colorado College
Mike Montgomery, UMD
Brad Eidsness, North Dakota

Third Team All-WCHA

Mike Connolly, UMD
Mike Testwuide, Colorado College
Joe Colborne, Denver
Ben Youds, Minnesota State
Ryan McDonagh, Wisconsin
Scott Gudmandson, Wisconsin

WCHA All-Rookie Team
Danny Kristo, North Dakota
Craig Smith, Wisconsin
Ben Hanowski, St. Cloud State
Steven Seigo, Michigan Tech
Matt Donovan, Denver
Joe Howe, Colorado College

Midseason Player of the Year: Jack Connolly, F, UMD
Midseason Defensive Player of the Year: Marc Cheverie, G, Denver
Midseason Coach of the Year: Scott Sandelin, UMD
Midseason Rookie of the Year: Danny Kristo, F, North Dakota
Midseason Breakthrough of the Year: Rob Bordson, F, UMD

To explain some of the decisions above:
  • Connolly (Jack) and Rakhshani are very, very close. Both have elevated their games on really good teams. Connolly's edge at this point is possibly more due to the fact I have seen him play every game than anything Rakhshani has done wrong. He's an amazing player, too.
  • I choose Sandelin based on the expectations/returns principle. CC's Scott Owens is a solid choice here, too.
  • Kristo is a really good player.
  • My preseason pick for Player of the Year was Jordan Schroeder. Yeah, I was wrong. Sue me.
  • The first-team defensive spots are wide open with the injury to Chay Genoway. The more I hear, the less I like his chances of playing anytime soon, which is sad. Hopefully, he makes a full recovery and does it quickly.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Real Packers-Cardinals Controversy

NFL officiating czar Mike Periera appeared on NFL Network Tuesday night. It's a weekly bit they do where Periera addresses some of the weekend's more controversial calls.

He spent time Tuesday talking about the final play of the Packers-Cardinals game from Sunday. On that play, there was some crowing that quarterback Aaron Rodgers got hit in the facemask by defensive back Michael Allen, who jarred the ball free for Karlos Dansby to recover and take to the house for the game-winning score.

Reality is that the officials called the play correctly. The contact with Rodgers' facemask was incidental, and it had no impact on his ability to secure the ball. It was coming out no matter where Allen's hand ended up.

The Packers -- to their credit -- handled it well, blaming themselves for, you know, sucking on defense and not showing up on offense until the second quarter.

Fans are fans. No surprise they didn't take it well.

What's surprising about this whole thing is that Periera ignored two more obvious calls in that game.

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald was clearly guilty of pass interference on his second score, one where he went out of his way to run over Packers cornerback Charles Woodson.

Even more egregious was the non-call that came just two plays before Rodgers' fumble. Take a look.

Apparently, referee Scott Green was too busy doing something else, and he missed what has been the referee's primary responsibility all season: protect the quarterback.

Why did Pereira choose to ignore this bad call?

Who knows? Maybe he's got short-timer syndrome, as he's retiring. Perhaps he is tired of admitting on live national television that his guys screwed up a huge call.

Either way, had the Packers played half as well in the first half as they did in the second, it would never have come down to these calls. For once, I fully agree with the attitude of Mike McCarthy on the issue. He knows that talking about officiating sends a message that you're making excuses.

In my view, there's nothing wrong with addressing these controversial calls, but you have to recognize that they happen, they suck, and they usually even out over the course of a four-month season.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pierre McGuire's One-Man Crusade Against College Hockey Continues

Longtime readers know that TSN/NBC hockey commentator Pierre McGuire grinds my gears. While the media star has no shortage of contacts, and he usually possesses great insight to the game, his seemingly never-ending shots against college hockey are getting old. Fast.

During the 2009 draft, he beat the "major junior over college hockey" drum so many times that it damn near broke. He asserted that multiple U.S. college-bound players would be better off going to major junior hockey, despite a mountain of evidence that it's not the "fast track" to the NHL they make themselves out to be.

He got his wish when John Moore decommitted from Colorado College to join the OHL, and he was probably doing a happy dance when goalie Jack Campbell blew off Michigan to sign in the OHL.

Monday night, NHL Network aired a special edition of "On The Fly," its magnificent nightly highlights/analysis show. This show focused on the announcement of NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings of 2010 draft prospects. McGuire -- one of the preeminent hockey voices in Canada, certainly when it comes to the draft -- joined the program to discuss the top three.

One of those, defenseman Cam Fowler, is an American kid who turned down a scholarship to Notre Dame to play major junior. That was all the ammunition McGuire needed to throw another cheapshot at the college game. Watch just after the 4:00 mark.

Now, college hockey is a "soft route" for development. Nice to know, but it seems that there is a growing percentage of the overall NHL population that would argue this point with McGuire.

I maintain the position I have held for years. Neither major junior nor college hockey hold all the answers for everyone.

There are players who will benefit more from the major junior environment, and there are guys who would be much better off going to college. The fact that Fowler chose major junior doesn't mean college hockey is less of a developmental tool.

It means Fowler decided it wasn't right for him.

The problem with McGuire -- and numerous analysts, bloggers, and fans who want to opine on this topic -- is that their tendency is to speak in absolutes, in black-and-white terms.

Issues like this aren't that simple, and McGuire does a tremendous disservice to his audience when he speaks as if he has an axe to grind against American colleges, even if this isn't the real case.

There is simply no reason for Fowler to become the latest poster boy for the college/major junior dispute. After all, no one bothered to talk about Notre Dame freshman Riley Sheahan's meteoric rise to fifth in the latest rankings. Why doesn't that validate the college game as much as Fowler's development seems to discredit it?

Just think: Had Fowler chosen a different path, he and Sheahan would be teammates at Notre Dame right now. Then what would McGuire have to say?

Monday, January 11, 2010

McGwire's Confession Shockingly Doesn't Resonate With Everyone

This happens whenever someone confesses to something they never should have done, whether it's someone putting sandpaper on a baseball, cheating on a wife, driving drunk, or taking steroids.

They apologize, and we -- media, fans, relatively disinterested observers -- pick the apology apart and judge whether or not it's sincere.

It's just how we operate in society now, and it shouldn't be a total shock when we do it.

The latest is former baseball superstar Mark McGwire, hired recently to take over as hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. Five years ago, McGwire feebly appeared before Congress, refusing to address allegations that he used steroids during his playing career. Of course, everyone took this as an unspoken admission that he had used steroids, and his silence only further convicted him in the court of public opinion.

Monday, McGwire finally came clean. He admitted what we all either knew and talked openly about, or knew and chose not to believe.

"From 1993 to 1996, I was a walking M.A.S.H. unit," he said. "My body was beat up. When I was approached about steroids and HGH, I just wanted to feel normal again. I took such a low dose. I never went over 250 pounds. I didn't want to look like Lou Ferrigno. I didn't abuse it. I just couldn't get over the [injury] hump. "There was always a roadblock. When I got hurt in 1996, I told my father that I was going to retire. In 1997, '98, '99, I did [androstenedione] and my body felt great. But after the All-Star break [in 2000], I broke down and tried more steroids. I really regret it."

McGwire insists -- both in conversations with ESPN's Tim Kurkjian and MLB Network's Bob Costas -- that his use did not enhance his performance.

This is poppycock. We all know it, and it doesn't help McGwire's story to bang that drum. However, a society that thrives on second chances wants people to apologize for their misgivings, only so we can skewer them for not saying the right things at the right times.

Yes, McGwire blew it in front of Congress, and yes, he's full of it when he says the steroids didn't help his performance. However, as Rob Neyer (a guest many, many times on the old radio show) notes, there's a lot of self-righteousness going on here.

I've always been right down the middle when it comes to McGwire's Hall of Fame candidacy. His first few years on the ballot, my suggestion was that we wait for a while. This time around, I came around; we've seen enough names to know that within McGwire's professional culture, steroids and Human Growth Hormone were merely tools of the trade, little different from protein shakes and whirlpools and Nautilus machines. You may, if you like, continue to summon from your wellspring of self-righteousness the energy to condemn McGwire for doing what so many of his peers were doing, all in the interest of earning a good living and fulfilling his widely considered destiny. As for me, I've run dry. It's not at all clear that McGwire will someday be elected to the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, it's fairly clear that the Hall of Fame will not be much of a Hall of Fame if, 20 years from now, many of the best players of the 1990s have been left out. It's fairly clear that someone will eventually realize that the players of the 1990s were a product of their times. And once someone realizes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame, it won't be easy to maintain the position that Mark McGwire does not belong.

Yes, it was wrong for McGwire to do what he did. No, he should not skate unscathed into the Hall of Fame.

However, he has stepped up and apologized for what he did. There is no real benefit to be had from further dragging him through the mud or torturing him over the past.

Tom Haudricourt, a writer I respect immensely, vehemently disagrees with this take.

McGwire said he wasn't doing this to curry more favor in Hall of Fame voting, which might be true. But I highly doubt that he'll get the 75% votes necessary for election after admitting he cheated. He got only 23.7% this year. I haven't voted for him because he wouldn't come forward and say anything, but now that he did and admitted he cheated, I probably still won't vote for him. I certainly don't like this line of thinking that it didn't help his performance.

You might not like it, Tom, but you just pretty much admitted that you have no intention of voting for McGwire, no matter what his numbers are, how they stack up against his peers, or what he says and does about this issue.

It strikes me as a very closed-minded stance to have when you hold something as significant as a Hall of Fame vote.

On the flip side, it's high time McGwire used his past fame to help make a difference on this issue. With the new gig in St. Louis, he should have some opportunities to turn this into a positive.

In the meantime, you better stay off the high horse, because I doubt you're prepared for the next name to be added to the "Took Steroids in the 1990s" list.

More Heartbreak

Whether it's the Moon Over Lambeau, 4th and 26, or the dumbest interception of Brett Favre's life, we sure can't seem to get these playoff games right anymore.

Now, enter The Fumble.


Saturday, January 09, 2010

Game 22: UMD vs. Colorado College

Great win for the guys last night, but they need to find a way to follow that up.

A win tonight would be UMD's tenth in WCHA play, matching their season total from last year in just 16 games. They also would be the first WCHA team to ten league wins, and they could tie Denver for first place in the league with a win and a Pioneer loss to Alaska-Anchorage.

(That's not so far-fetched. UAA worked them for a tie last night.)


Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Fulton - Akins - Seidel
Bordson - Oleksuk - Schmidt
Danberg - DeLisle - Grun

Olsen - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Huttel

Reiter - Hjelle - Crandall

Schultz - Civitarese - Testwuide
Sweatt - Hamburg - Rapuzzi
Hall - Schwartz - Johnson
DeBoer - Dineen - McMillin

Guentzel - Prosser
Lowery - Marciano
Fredheim - Leaverton

Howe - O'Brien

Friday, January 08, 2010

Game 21: UMD vs. Colorado College

Good news out of Vancouver, where the Canucks called up former Bulldog Evan Oberg from Manitoba (AHL). Oberg leads all Manitoba Moose defensemen in scoring this season with 13 points, and he was brought up in case veteran defenseman Sami Salo (eye) can't go Saturday night against Calgary.

(Thanks to Donna from RWD for the initial tip on this.)

Here, it's back into WCHA play, as fourth-place UMD hosts second-place Colorado College. Should be some great action ... so why aren't you here?



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Fulton - Akins - Flaherty
Bordson - Oleksuk - Schmidt
Danberg - DeLisle - Grun

Kishel - Montgomery
Olsen - Huttel
Bergman - Lamb

Reiter - Hjelle - Crandall

Schultz - Civitarese - Testwuide
Sweatt - Hamburg - Winkler
Hall - Schwartz - Johnson
DeBoer - Dineen - McMillin

Guentzel - Prosser
Lowery - Boivin
Fredheim - Leaverton

Howe - O'Brien

Tigers Need to Feel Pain

It's hard to complain about a weekend that sees you split a road series in a tough venue, but there weren't many people happy with UMD's performance in Colorado Springs.

Yes, they gutted out a huge win on Friday, but they lost their cool and took some undisciplined penalties in a 6-2 loss to Colorado College in the Saturday game of that series.

Now, a Tigers team branded as "chirpers" by many in attendance in Colorado has to visit the DECC, a rink where they'll find fewer places to hide than there are on the big ice in Colorado Springs.

What will happen? Is Colorado College going to get behind their captain -- Mike Testwuide (pictured) -- and put up the kind of gritty effort required to get points at the DECC? Or will they get frustrated and knocked off their high-tempo game?

It seems like the classic matchup. UMD knows how to play in-your-face hockey in their rink. They know they can take away time and space effectively, and they can -- at the same time -- create room for their big playmakers to strut their stuff.

It's worked this way all season. Teams like North Dakota and Denver have tried to silence Justin Fontaine, Rob Bordson, and the Connollies (Jack and Mike), only to find them too hard to contain for 120 minutes.

Even if you keep them off the scoreboard, they wear you down with their puck possession and cycling ability. Once you're worn down, you've opened up for shots from UMD's secondary scorers (Travis Oleksuk, Kyle Schmidt, and Drew Akins come to mind), and the top line will hit you eventually.

Colorado College is dangerous, too, especially on the power play. That's where they burn you for trying too hard to play physical hockey. However, the Tigers have slumped a bit offensively as of late, putting more of a burden on freshman goaltender Joe Howe. He's been good, but he can't hold up forever.

UMD would be wise to hit everything that moves on Friday. Take their skill guys -- Bill Sweatt, Stephen Schultz, Rylan Schwartz, William Rapuzzi, and company -- off their game a bit. Don't cross the line, obviously, but make sure they know they won't get time and space to freewheel. Make them use the whole ice, and take advantage of your ability to more easily clog passing lanes while killing penalties.

The Bulldogs are going to need better goaltending than they got Sunday. UMD coughed up five goals on 23 shots, and neither Brady Hjelle nor Kenny Reiter looked terribly sharp. Reiter starts Friday, and he needs to be like he was against Mercyhurst. Hopefully, he won't be hung out to dry nearly as often.

With the Bulldogs just two points back of second-place Colorado College, and both teams within striking distance of league leader Denver, the weekend should be very interesting. The march to St. Paul is on in full force.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

FSN Blows Away 'High School Hockey Night' Schedule

A few years back, Fox Sports North started up a pretty cool program called High School Hockey Night. It was a chance for the network to show local teams and highlight the tradition of the sport in Minnesota.

The broadcasts were generally well-done, and fans seemed to enjoy them.

Unfortunately, it appears advertisers didn't feel the same way. The network announced recently that it is dropping all but a few games from the original broadcast schedule.

“It’s totally financially related from a business standpoint," Mike Dimond, FSN's senior vice president and general manger, said today. "[Ad revenue] wasn’t coming in to the degree that we needed it to. The simplest way to put it is that we’re not a non-profit business, and ultimately I have a responsibility to the bottom line of the company. This time, it just wasn’t making it. The revenues didn’t offset the costs.”

This is bad news for hockey fans around the state, as the work FSN did helped expose people not only to great players, but also great rivalries (the team made the trip to Warroad for a Warroad-Roseau game, and they've also done great rivalries like White Bear Lake/Hill-Murray, Cloquet/Duluth East, and Hermantown/Duluth Marshall).

While it's easy to understand FSN's sentiments, it's odd that they would go through with announcing an ambitious broadcast schedule when they didn't have the revenues coming in to cover the costs of the schedule.

Doing things that way would allow FSN to keep the egg off their face.

That said, I don't think anyone in their right mind would seriously ask FSN to keep doing games if they're losing gobs of money off the deal.

The network will still broadcast Hockey Day Minnesota, which is Jan. 23 and will mainly take place in Hermantown, where there are three high school games scheduled to be played outside.

UND's Kristo Led Now-Famous Song

By now, you've probably heard the song done by members of the gold-medal winning United States World Junior team.

You haven't? Well, I'm here to help.

Purely awesome.

It was led by North Dakota freshman Danny Kristo, a veteran of international play (he's an alum of the Ann Arbor NTDP). Kristo talked to Grand Forks Herald writer Brad Elliott Schlossman, who does a great job covering the Sioux hockey team.

That goes back to when I played on the national team (U.S. Under-17 and 18 teams). Our boxing coach there made up that song. Whenever we had big victories, we sang that song in the locker room. We had a lot of guys from the national team on the (World Junior) team. Before the game, I told the guys that if we win, we’re singing for sure. After we won, someone asked if we were singing tonight and I said you bet we are. It was pretty fun to sing that song one last time. I couldn’t be more happy to win that gold.

Yes, this means the song was somewhat premeditated.

Doesn't change anything, though. It's still awesome, as is what this team was able to accomplish in Saskatoon.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


Folks --

I'm looking at updating the blogroll that you see down the left rail of the page. Please advise via comment or e-mail if you know of a good blog or sports site that fits one of the categories and isn't on the list.

Thank you!

Go America

The United States has an opportunity to win a second international hockey gold medal in as many days Tuesday night, as they battle Canada for the World Junior Championships gold in Saskatoon.

The last time Team USA played for World Juniors gold was back in 2004, a game highlighted by a famous gaffe that led to the American victory.

Seven WCHA players are on the Team USA roster. Team Canada has none. If, for some reason, you're having trouble figuring out who to root for, that should help you.

This is a rare chance to cheer for guys like Danny Kristo (North Dakota), Jordan Schroeder (Minnesota), Matt Donovan (Denver), Mike Lee (St. Cloud State), and three guys from Wisconsin (John Ramage, Jake Gardiner, and team captain Derek Stepan). They're all great players who we hope to watch UMD shut down when they meet.

For now, they're part of a great hope for a internationally-recognized hockey upset.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Game 20: UMD at Vermont

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- We're buried in snow, but apparently it won't stop us from getting out of here in the morning.

I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Tonight is the championship game of the Catamount Cup, a tournament Vermont -- the host -- has only won twice. UMD has won it once before and will try for a second.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Bordson - Oleksuk - Schmidt
Fulton - Akins - Seidel
Danberg - Hendrickson - Flaherty

Olsen - Montgomery
Olson - Lamb
Kishel - Huttel

Hjelle - Reiter

Downing - Roloff - Stacey
Vock - Irwin -Milo
Nilsson-Roos - Stalberg - Pacan
Marshall - Higgins - Anctil

Cullity - Miller
Medvec - Lawson
MacKenzie - Franzon

Madore - Spillane - Vazzano

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Game 19: UMD vs. Mercyhurst

BURLINGTON, VT. -- The Catamount Cup is set to start, as UMD battles Mercyhurst in under an hour. The Bulldogs are (almost) fully healthy (get well, Trent Palm!), and it should be interesting to see how these teams come out after a long layoff.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Bordson - Oleksuk - Seidel
Fulton - Akins - Schmidt
Danberg - DeLisle - Flaherty

Olsen - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Huttel

Reiter - Hjelle

Graham - Risi - Collins
Gurtler - Pitt - Chiasson
Coccimiglio - Blakey - Elliott
Echternach - Bremner - Vandenbeld

Noble - Eddy
Terminisi - Fennell
Goebel - Carkin

Zapolski - Strang

Friday, January 01, 2010

By the Way ...

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Just to update folks ...

UMD did arrive rather uneventfully to Burlington for this weekend's Sheraton/TD Banknorth Catamount Cup tournament. Flights out of Minneapolis and Chicago left virtually on time, and only a few UMD bags failed to arrive safely in Burlington early Friday evening. Something about a full cargo bay or whatever.

Potentially more worrisome for us is an impending snowstorm that could last into Monday morning. It's been snowing since we got here, but it's just those big, fluffy flakes and it isn't anything serious. Heavier snow is expected Saturday into Sunday night, and perhaps spilling into Monday morning. They're talking about up to a foot with that part of the system, so let's hope things don't get dicey.

Anyway, a late evening practice and a good night's sleep later, UMD will do battle with Mercyhurst Saturday afternoon. You can catch the game in the Twin Ports on The Fan 1490, or outside the Twin Ports on KQ Network stations KQ 105.5 or KQ 106.7. You can also listen live online at, and our broadcast will also be fed on the B2 Networks feed provided by the University of Vermont. Pregame coverage begins around 2:30 Central time.

It's good to have hockey back, and we hope you can join us for the action this weekend.

The NFL Could Be Making A Mistake

Earlier this week, you probably read my thoughts on the decision Sunday by the Indianapolis Colts.

While I still think it was a stupid thing for the Colts to do, the NFL might be on the verge of trumping their stupidity.

It seems common sense that there will be teams who don't take Week 17 games seriously. It's happened for many years, and it's hard to think anyone would want to stop it. While the integrity of the sport is extremely important, so is common sense.

If you're, say, the Green Bay Packers, who have clinched a spot in the NFC's postseason tournament, why on Earth would you play starters deep into a game against Arizona that means nothing? The best Green Bay can hope for is the fifth seed in the NFC, which nets them a path to the Super Bowl that consists of road games. Same deal for the sixth seed. There is no tangible benefit, outside of the very slight chance to host the NFC Championship should the fifth and sixth seeds advance through.

This makes sense, right?

Then why would the NFL's Competition Committee look at somehow forcing teams to play healthy starters?

"This is an issue that we have reviewed in the past. The position of the competition committee, and affirmed by the clubs, when it was reviewed in 2005 was that 'a team that has clinched its division title has earned the right to rest its starters for the postseason, and that preparing for the postseason is just as important as protecting some other team's playoff opportunity.' That is the current policy," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

"We are aware of the fan reaction and that is a factor to be considered," he continued. "Some teams that have everything clinched, like the Giants and Patriots two years ago, choose to play all out to continue or gain momentum for the playoffs. We expect to continue to review this issue."

I'll save you the trouble.

Let teams do what they want.

I stand by my comments on the Colts. They threw a winnable game, and a chance to make history, so their starters could get some much-needed rest. The bottom line is that they decided the starters needed to come out of the Jets game in order for the Colts to stay on track for a Super Bowl title, even though they've lost in the divisional playoffs the last three times they procured a first-round bye and proceeded to half-ass one or more regular-season games.

It's just not something the league should intervene on.

If you don't want to be stuck relying on the Colts to beat someone to help you make the playoffs, win more games. It's not the Colts' problem.

In 2003, Vikings fans screamed bloody murder when the Broncos chose to half-ass a Week 17 game with Green Bay. We all know how that ended up for Minnesota, who needed to win because the Packers had won easily.

That's still an all-time classic.

Anyway, you should have heard Vikings fans on my radio show the next day. You would have thought Brett Favre and Mike Sherman had paid the Broncos off.

This wasn't a shot at the integrity of the game, nor was it a grand injustice against a team that started the season 6-0 and still managed to miss the playoffs.

The bottom line was that Denver earned the chance to rest starters before a road wild card game the next week. They did that by winning enough games to make the playoffs. The Packers have earned that right this week, and they should feel no obligation toward the Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, or anyone else on the planet. If they feel the need to bench Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant, or anyone else for any portion of the game -- or the whole damn thing -- it's fine.

And that's the way it should be.

Now, if you already have a first-round bye, it's pretty stupid to be sitting guys in Week 16. It locks that you're going to sit them in Week 17, and then they have a week off. Do you really want them screwing around for three weeks before a win-or-go-home divisional playoff game against a foe who won the week before and doesn't have any rust to shake off?

But, again, that's not the NFL's decision to make.

You can't legislate stupidity. That said, you can legislate stupidly. That's where the NFL might be going here. They need to tread carefully.

Bulldogs Fire Up Offense in Hopes Of Exciting Second-Half Run

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- When the UMD Bulldogs hit the ice at Gutterson Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon, it will mark the start of a pivotal stretch of games.

January is a huge month for UMD. That's not to pooh-pooh February, March, or (hopefully) April. It's to speak the truth. The other months could end up mattering less, depending on what the Bulldogs do this month.

Why is it so important? UMD plays every weekend in January, starting Saturday. In that ten-game run, the Bulldogs will see two WCHA rivals (Colorado College, Wisconsin) they are going to battle for position with for most of the stretch run. Another (Minnesota State) has played very well as of late, as they look to set themselves up for a surge.

The other four games are non-conference games, and they're important in their own way. With the use of the Pairwise system to set up the NCAA Tournament field, non-conference games are a tad overvalued. That means that games with Mercyhurst, Vermont/UAH, and Bemidji State are extremely key for the Bulldogs' NCAA hopes.

Mercyhurst -- Saturday's opponent here in Burlington -- is unbeaten in their last eight, and they're tied for first place with Air Force in Atlantic Hockey. While they're nowhere near the Pairwise rankings at this point, they will be in those ratings automatically if they win their league tournament (this would be true of any automatic qualifier not already in the Pairwise).

The same is true of Vermont and Alabama-Huntsville, the combatants in Saturday's nightcap in this tournament. No matter who UMD plays, wins are essential because of the nature of non-conference games.

When the Bulldogs face Bemidji State in a home-and-home Jan. 22 and 23, you can add another factor to the Pairwise-related importance. The Beavers have played (and split with) Minnesota, and they've played (and been swept by) Minnesota State. The common opponent factor is part of the Pairwise, so UMD needs to play well in this series.

As for this weekend, let's hope the offense is as hot as it was when we left it. When we last spoke about Bulldog hockey, UMD was in the process of carving up Denver's vaunted defense, and making Marc Cheverie look like a sieve when we all know he's not.

The three-goal third period that snapped a 3-3 tie in that Dec. 12 game might have been UMD's best of the season. They had jump, won battles, and got pucks to the net. Kyle Schmidt's winning goal was a bit of a lucky bounce off Cheverie, but the other two -- by Jack Connolly and Rob Bordson -- were things of beauty.

Reality is that while UMD's defense continues to grow and mature, the offense is carrying the team. They can score with virtually anyone in the country, and they're starting to get serious contributions from their secondary players. That takes pressure off Bordson, Justin Fontaine, and the Connollies (Jack and Mike). The more free they are to make things happen without being smothered by opponents' shutdown units, the better off UMD will be.

The key this weekend will be to continue making the defense better. Don't give up grade-A scoring chances, and don't let them make you look silly. UMD likely didn't watch a ton of tape on these teams, as they're more focused on their own game at this point. As with any good team, the feeling is that if they play well and work hard, good things will happen.

However, they also have to be aware. Letting teams you expect to beat hang around is a good way to find yourself in an undesirable third-place game.