Wednesday, June 30, 2010

NFL Network Nabs CFL Games

For the last few years, games from the Canadian Football League have aired on a mish-mash of American channels. Regional sports networks like MSG and Altitude have aired games, both live and on tape delay.

No more.

Wednesday, it was announced that the NFL Network has agreed to a deal that will put 14 games on nationally during the CFL season.

Here is the release from the NFL:

The Canadian Football League and NFL have agreed to a new telecast deal for 2010, it was announced Wednesday. NFL Network will broadcast 14 regular-season CFL games, starting with the season opener Thursday, July 1 at 7 p.m. ET, featuring the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders in a rematch of last year's Grey Cup championship game.

"This is great news for CFL fans living in the United States, a group that includes some of our most passionate and dedicated fans," said Rob Assimakopoulos, the CFL's senior vice president for marketing and commercial assets. "And it promises to expose our brand of football to a broad, new audience."

NFL Network adds the fast-paced, wide-open CFL football action that features familiar names from U.S. college football.

"We continue to acquire more games for our fans and look forward to CFL action kicking off on Thursday with a rematch of the Grey Cup," said Charles Coplin, vice president of programming, NFL Network. "With the addition of the CFL, we now have live games from every level to deliver to our viewers who want football 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year."

The 14-game CFL schedule on NFL Network in high definition features three games on Saturday nights in July following the Thursday night debut on Canada Day. Due to NFL Network's commitment to air every NFL preseason game in August, CFL action resumes on Friday nights in September, October and November.

The games will be produced by TSN, the leading sports broadcaster in Canada. NFL Network subscribers in Canada will get alternative programming due to TSN's exclusivity. NFL Network's programming includes live NFL regular-season Thursday Night Football games, Arena Football Friday AFL games, college and high school all-star games, and now the CFL.

Canadian football has a history spanning more than a century, and its championship game, the Grey Cup, is annually one of the most-watched television events north of the border. Home to eight teams, all in Canadian cities, the league features three downs instead of four, 12 men per side instead of 11, unlimited motion before the snap of the ball, and a playing field that is 65 yards wide and 110 yards long, with end zones 20 yards deep.

Some of its most recognizable alumni include former NFL quarterbacks Warren Moon, Doug Flutie, Joe Theismann, and Joe Kapp, and legendary coach Bud Grant. Moon and Grant are members of both the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2010 CFL schedule on NFL Network

Thursday, July 1: Montreal at Saskatchewan, 7 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 10: Calgary at Hamilton, 1 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 17: Edmonton at Saskatchewan, 4 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 24: Edmonton at Winnipeg, 6 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 31: Hamilton at Saskatchewan, 6 p.m. ET
Friday, Sept. 10: Calgary at Edmonton, 9 p.m. ET
Friday, Sept. 17: Calgary at Saskatchewan, 9 p.m. ET
Friday, Sept. 24: Montreal at Winnipeg, 8 p.m. ET
Friday, Oct. 1: Montreal at Calgary, 9:00 p.m. ET
Friday, Oct. 8: Edmonton at Hamilton, 7:30 p.m. ET
Friday, Oct. 15: Hamilton at Toronto, 7:30 p.m. ET
Friday, Oct. 22: Montreal at Hamilton, 7:00 p.m. ET
Friday, Oct. 29: Montreal at Toronto, 7:00 p.m. ET
Friday, Nov. 5: Calgary at Winnipeg, 8:00 p.m. ET

As a football fan, I view this as good news. The CFL features some good athletes, players who weren't quite good enough to make it in the NFL, and players who could argue they were overlooked for a real shot at the NFL. The different rules and field dimensions add a little bit to the game, and TSN does a good job with the broadcasts.

It's a great opportunity for the CFL to get some exposure with the truly hardcore football fans. Their games were hard to find in the United States for many years, so having a consistent and reliable home like NFL Network could serve as a shot in the arm for stateside interest in the league.

If you're a fan of the BC Lions, sorry. For some reason, they're the only team in the league who won't appear on NFL Network. People hoping to follow former TCU quarterback Casey Printers are going to be mad.

Badgers Could Lose Two to Rangers

The Wisconsin Badgers finished 60 minutes short of a national championship in 2010. Only the buzzsaw known as Boston College stopped UW from netting coach Mike Eaves his second national championship.

For Eaves to get his team back to the Frozen Four this year, he'll need one of the greatest coaching jobs mankind has seen in a long time.

Wisconsin has already lost eight of its top 13 scorers from last year, including early departures in defensemen Brendan Smith and Cody Goloubef. Eaves also had to replace assistant coaches Mark Osiecki and Kevin Patrick. Osiecki took the head job at Ohio State, while Patrick became a head coach and GM in the USHL.

Now, Eaves may have to deal with two more early departures. Both would be damaging.

Leading scorer Derek Stepan (photographed) has reportedly decided to leave for a gig with the New York Rangers, but the Rangers won't be signing him until after July 1 -- which is Thursday. Stepan says he hasn't decided yet, but all indications are that he will be gone. The drama surrounding recruit Matt Lindblad was at least partially a response to Stepan's late and unexpected decision to bolt.

Another Wisconsin star, defenseman and co-captain Ryan McDonagh, is considering making the jump. He doesn't appear in any hurry to make up his mind as he attends the Rangers' prospect camp.

"I feel like this is a huge week," McDonagh admitted. "I really didn't want to jump into a decision without coming out here first. It was unfortunate I got traded last summer right during this camp. I didn't get a chance to come out here and I didn't get a feel for the staff and the players. Before I make my decision, I want to experience what it would be like out here and just get a feel for it. The staff members get to see me face to face as opposed to a phone call. There's a lot of value there before you make a big decision in your life.

"I think they've followed me enough on the ice and seen me throughout the seasons, so it's more just getting to know what kind of person I am character-wise before I make a step further here."

McDonagh could captain the Wisconsin squad this fall if he stays, along with finishing his degree, something that sounds important to him. My boy Chuck Schwartz details two another compelling reasons for McDonagh to stay.

For one, the NHL max contract for his draft year is $875,000. Thats a solid chunk of change. But if McDonagh isn't in the NHL next season, his salary max drops to $65,000. One of the biggest hold ups for McDonagh is that he wants to really analyze the situation with the Rangers and see where he fits in. Can you blame him? That's a significant money difference if he's in the NHL or in the AHL.

There is also the added fact that if McDonagh doesn't sign this summer, he can become a free agent next summer. What does that mean exactly? Next summer McDonagh will be able to pick and chose which NHL team he wants to sign with. The advantage with that, is that he can chose an organization that can guarantee him a spot in the NHL where he will be making the max contract all season. He can also chose an organization that is run properly, not one that is run by Glen Sather.

Right on both counts. It's always better to play for a real NHL franchise, as opposed to one who passes over two players who will have a chance to play in the NHL this season for one who is at least a year or two away.

Or one that intentionally and gainfully employed Olli Jokinen, then used him for the most important shootout round in the history of the NHL shootout.

Oh, and Chuck's right. Rangers fans are dumb. They don't deserve to have a player like McDonagh, who will make a solid impact in the pros when he arrives.

Unfortunately, Stepan is stuck. Maybe he can figure out a way to get Sather to trade him somewhere.

Albert Haynesworth's Former Coach Wants Nothing to do With Him

The Detroit Lions had a pretty terrible defense last season. And the year before. And the year before.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Coach Jim Schwartz is trying to remake that terrible defense. As part of that, the Lions signed Kyle Vanden Bosch as a free agent, traded for former Packers tackle Corey Williams, and drafted Nebraska star Ndamukong Suh No. 2 overall.

Apparently, Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew aren't that desperate to rebuild quickly.

Former Schwartz protege Albert Haynesworth is a defensive tackle for the Washington Redskins. The big man isn't happy, because new Washington coach Mike Shanahan wants to switch to a 3-4 defense, something he is unfamiliar with. So, despite $30 million or so in guaranteed money paid out since last spring, Haynesworth wants out of D.C.

His destination will not be Detroit, despite the success he and Schwartz had when they worked together in Tennessee.

The Lions had internally discussed trading for Haynesworth before April's draft, but that's not an option now after the team used its first-round pick on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has serious concerns about the kind of influence that Haynesworth could become, according to the source.

"Even though Suh is his own man, we don't want any negative influences around him," the source said.

Suh is a future star for Detroit. That future may come quickly, as he's expected to make an impact for the Lions almost immediately.

It's nice to see an organization doing their due diligence on a player, even when that player may be familiar and have positive memories with the head coach. There's no reason for a rebuilding team like Detroit to take on Haynesworth's baggage, attitude, and contract.

This is especially true when a young guy like Suh comes along, who appears to have none of those issues. Take advantage of his ability and attitude while you can.

UFC Says 'No' to Vuvuzelas

In case you were wondering, virtually everyone on Earth -- with the exception of a few vocal soccer fans -- are either incredibly annoyed or somehow capable of ignoring the sound of the vuvuzelas.

If you're not a soccer fan, and you've been living under a rock since June 11, vuvuzelas are long horns being used as noisemakers by fans at the World Cup in South Africa. They are custom in South Africa, and FIFA chose -- wisely, in my opinion -- not to trample on local custom by banning their use in the tournament.

Since the World Cup started, we've heard more and more of them at the games, and they've started popping up in other places.

(My iPad is one of those places.)

The Florida Marlins tried to hand them out at a game. It failed.

Instead of going with that trend, UFC has apparently decided to buck it. Then again, president Dana White has never been one for going with the flow.

UFC is telling fans to leave their vuvuzelas at home for Saturday's UFC 116, which features former WWE star Brock Lesnar battling Shane Carwin for the promotion's top prize -- the Heavyweight Championship.

"This decision was pretty simple for me," White is quoted as saying in a press release sent out by the UFC today. "Vuvuzelas make the most horrific sound I've ever heard. I'd rather let Brock [Lesnar] punch me in the face than hear 15,000 people blow on those things. This is the biggest heavyweight fight we've ever done. We'll make enough noise this weekend when Brock and Shane [Carwin] finally step inside the Octagon."

Wow. Don't hold back, Dana.

Reality is that this is a typical sports publicity grab. UFC doesn't really need to do it, but they have been good at it over the years. They'll have a full house at the MGM Grand in Vegas Saturday, and no one among the 15,000 better bring a vuvuzela into the arena.

If they do, White will sick Lesnar on them in 2.3 seconds. And that's how long the fight will last.

As for Lesnar-Carwin, I'm no UFC expert, but Carwin wins his fights by knockout, and so does Lesnar. It'll be interesting to see what happens if this goes more than one round.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

UMD Turned Down for NCAA Men's Regional

There was good news and bad news for UMD hockey Monday.

The good: The women's program will host the 2012 Frozen Four at Amsoil Arena, marking the third time UMD has hosted that event. The Bulldogs have won five national titles, with two of them coming at the old DECC.

The bad: The men's team was denied a chance to host an NCAA regional in 2012.

The hosts for the four 2012 regionals were announced Monday. They'll be held in Green Bay (host: Michigan Tech), St. Paul (Minnesota), Bridgeport, Conn. (Fairfield), and Worcester (Holy Cross).

Yeah, yeah, same old, been there, I know.

Remember, it was confirmed in January that UMD bid on this 2012 regional. If you aren't convinced that this process is simply a lame NCAA money grab, you need look no further than the fact that Minnesota is hosting a third regional in four years in 2012, and they're hosting the Frozen Four in 2011.

Naturally, since the rules require that Minnesota be placed in their home regional if they qualify, the NCAA sees nothing but dollar signs when the "U" bids on a regional and uses the XCel Energy Center.

Amsoil Arena will be nice, but it can't compete. Neither can any other rink in this region. Never mind that the Gophers haven't made the NCAAs for two straight years, and the XCel regional was embarrassingly attended in March, thanks to the fact that St. Cloud State fans apparently can't find the facility, despite it being only an hour away from home.

Who cares that only 7,500 people or so showed up in an 18,000-seat cavern? It was like watching the Class A state tournament -- with all due respect -- and that's not what this tournament should be about.

The NCAA has sent a clear message with their decision to ignore a wonderfully-located Duluth and send another hockey event to Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Until they pull their heads out and put the regionals back at campus sites, expect more funeral parlor-like atmospheres at the sport's most visible and significant events, outside of the Frozen Four.

Since the U of M people have had plenty of practice, they have this down to a science, and you should expect a first-class event if you go.

That's not the point.

Instead, the point is that the NCAA is lazy, refuses to think outside of the box they planted themselves in, and they seem determined to ruin the hockey tournament by putting games in places that won't have any atmosphere unless the home team makes it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Special Honor for 'Hoagie'

Anyone who has played for UMD or attended a UMD sporting event in the last (almost) 30 years knows the name "Hoagie."

Dale Haagenson has been volunteering as a team manager for the men's hockey, football, and baseball teams since 1981. Hoagie is a fixture with the men's hockey team, joking with the players and helping the coaches whenever it's needed.

On July 14, Hoagie will be honored by the Northern Sun Conference, parent league of the football and baseball programs.

Here is the information from the league.

Dale Haagenson will be honored with the NSIC’s Noel Olson Volunteer of the Year award during the 11th annual NSIC Hall of Fame Banquet Wednesday, July 14 at the Best Western Kelly Inn in St. Cloud, Minn.

The Noel Olson Volunteer of the Year Award recognizes the singular commitment of former NSIC coach and Athletic Administrator Noel Olson to the advancement of NSIC visibility, credibility, and excellence throughout the nation during his tenure in the league. The award is intended to honor individuals who, as volunteers, have made significant contributions to the NSIC as a whole. On a periodic basis, one or more individuals shall receive the awarded in appreciation of efforts to support the NSIC activities and/or athletic programs within any NSIC member institution(s) or the NSIC conference office. The award recipients are nominated by each of the NSIC’s 14 institutions and selected by the NSIC Hall of Fame Committee.

... Dale, or “Hoagie” as he is affectionately known, joined the University of Minnesota Duluth athletic staff in 1981-82 and since that time has dutifully volunteered his services as the team manager – and inspirational leader – for the Bulldog football, baseball, and men’s hockey teams. The Babbitt, Minn., native is a fixture at all home games and virtually all practices for those three sports handling various roles such as bat boy (while in complete uniform), kicking tee supervisor and puck distributor. He’s also been known to do a little sideline cheerleading when he feels the need to energize the crowd at James S. Malosky Stadium. Hoagie received the Bruce Bennett Service Award for exceptional service and commitment to UMD athletics in 2000 and six years later was the man of the hour at Hoagie Appreciation Night at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center during a Bulldog home hockey game. In addition, a men’s hockey scholarship bearing his name was established at UMD in 2006.

There couldn't be a better person on whom to bestow this honor.

As noted in the release, the hockey team honored Hoagie in 2006 on the occasion of his 25th anniversary of working with the team. Amazingly, we're already close to the 30-year mark.

Nothing beats going to practice, seeing Hoags, and knowing he's going to ask me about something random and probably not related to the Bulldogs. It might be Carl Pavano, or it might be something with the Wild.

He's one of the most recognized faces in Bulldog hockey history, and we salute him as he receives this award next month.

(Pat on the back: Rink and Run)

Why Head Contact is an Issue

Much has been made of sports leagues trying to remove hits to the head from their respective games in recent years.

Many old-school fans are perplexed by the movement. After all, all these guys who played back in the day had less protection on their heads, and yet we didn't hear horror stories about brain damage and the like.

Of course, those fans don't get it. We didn't hear the stories because we didn't know there was any correlation. Doctors didn't know that football could cause so many health problems after the fact.

The case of Mike Webster started people down this path, and others have sadly followed.

(Most notably, pro wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife and son, then took his own life, but was found to be extremely disturbed.)

Last December, the Bengals lost wide receiver Chris Henry in a tragic accident involving his fiance and a domestic dispute turned really bad. After his passing, his mother gave the Brain Injury Research Institute permission to examine Henry. The results were telling.

Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who died in a traffic accident last year, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) -- a form of degenerative brain damage caused by multiple hits to the head -- at the time of his death, according to scientists at the Brain Injury Research Institute, a research center affiliated with West Virginia University.

"We would have been very happy if the results had been negative, but multiple areas of Chris Henry's brain showed CTE," said Julian Bailes, Director of BIRI and chairman of neurosurgery at West Virginia. Bailes and his colleagues plan to present results of their forensic examination at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Researchers have now discovered CTE in the brains of more than 50 deceased former athletes, including more than a dozen NFL and college players, pro wrestler Chris Benoit and NHL player Reggie Fleming.

Repeated blows to the head are the only known cause of CTE, researchers say. Concussive hits can trigger a buildup of toxic tau protein within the brain, which in turn can create damaging tangles and threads in the neural fibers that connect brain tissue. Victims can lose control of their impulses, suffer depression and memory loss, and ultimately develop dementia.

While the links between CTE and behavior are still being studied, many of the former athletes diagnosed with this form of brain damage died under unusual circumstances. Ex-Steeler Justin Strzelczyk, for example, was killed in 2004 after experiencing hallucinations, leading police on a high-speed chase for 40 miles before driving his car into a tanker truck. In 2007, Benoit strangled his wife and 7-year-old son, then put Bibles next to their bodies and hanged himself. Tom McHale, a guard for three NFL teams remembered by teammates as smart and dependable, sank into depression and died of a multiple-drug overdose in 2008.

As PFT notes, we don't know when or how Henry suffered that damage. As Dr. Bailes said, this injury has been observed in longtime NFL players, but not in younger guys like Henry.

But that uncertainty is part of why sports leagues are under so much pressure. Until more is known about these injuries and how they can be prevented, the best way to keep them from happening is to tightly legislate contact to the head as much as humanly possible. It might not be ideal for some fans, but the health and well-being of thousands of athletes in all facets of sports and entertainment is on the line.

Reality is that players are bigger, faster, stronger, and more well-coached than they ever were before. The games are different, with big hits a big part of marketing, along with fixtures on shows like SportsCenter, which often are unfairly blamed for how sports have changed. We have to find a way to balance the thirst fans have for contact with the need to keep players safe so they can live long, productive lives.

Doctors will keep working on trying to figure out the human brain, but they have a long way to go.

In the realm of player safety, so does virtually everybody. Fans need to be patient while the work is done.

2010 NHL Draft: Final Thoughts

The expectations played out in the 2010 NHL Draft. There was a little drama, some notable trades (defenseman Dan Hamhuis' negotiating rights going to Pittsburgh was the biggest, along with the deal that sent former Gopher Keith Ballard to Vancouver), and a real American feel to this year's picks.

Not only that, but it was a really good year for current and future NCAA players. Even if you take out Tyler Pitlick -- the former Minnesota State forward who has already decided to go major junior starting this fall -- you have a total of 62 players with NCAA ties who were drafted, including nine in the first round.

None of them are expected to show up in the NHL this season, but they should add to the growing influence of college hockey on the NHL.

Among the 62 players were three with ties to UMD, and a number of players from Minnesota.

We talked about the UMD players in our draft notes Friday. As expected, defenseman Justin Faulk went in the second round. No. 37 overall to Carolina. It's a good fit for Faulk and for the Hurricanes, as they could use a couple more younger defensemen who can move the puck around. Faulk sure can do that, and I think he'll really impress UMD fans with his competitiveness and drive. Don't worry about him being a really early departure, unless he has a great freshman season and the Hurricanes just can't resist.

Early in the third round, we saw former Shattuck-St. Mary's forward Joe Basaraba, another 2010 UMD recruit, come off the board. He went to the Florida Panthers, who had a great draft, loading up on big forwards (they also drafted future Gopher Nick Bjugstad in the first round). Basaraba will fill out some at UMD, and develop his skills as a two-way player while improving as an offensive threat. We saw Dan DeLisle come in straight out of high school last year, and it took him a good chunk of the season to really catch on to things. Then, naturally, as he was coming into his own, DeLisle was injured in Houghton and never really was the same. I'm not sure it's really a fair comparison, as Basaraba is maybe a bit more refined as a skater and offensive threat, while DeLisle had more, well, meat on his bones. But I think you'll see some similarity in how Basaraba really improves toward the latter part of the season.

The other UMD recruit taken was 2011 forward Caleb Herbert of Bloomington Jefferson. The former Jaguar went to the Washington Capitals. Herbert will play in the USHL this season, and he should join UMD as a better player. While a guy like Basaraba has the experience of playing at a top-flight school like Shattuck, where he traveled all over and played a lot of hockey, Herbert's experience in high school hockey doesn't quite measure up. As a smaller player of sorts, Herbert is much better-suited to play a year in the more-competitive USHL before joining UMD. It will be a help in his development.

UMD has a full roster this season, so hopefully Faulk and Basaraba are able to gain strong footing early. There will be a ton of competition for the last two or three forward spots, along with the last defensive pairing. If the new guys come in with the right mindset, captain's practices and the official start of workouts in early October should be very entertaining.

While the Bulldogs do open on the road, they took the full roster on the bus the last time they headed out to Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette for Superior Cup games. Expect the same to happen this year, and expect to see a lot of lineup tinkering over the first two weekends of play, both of which are non-conference (games at Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan, followed by a home set against Providence).

Of the NCAA players drafted, it's hard to say if any stand much of a chance of playing in the NHL before 2012. If anyone does, it could be a guy like Bjugstad, who is very strong for a kid his age and body type. He's accelerated his development and his education, so we'll see how he adjusts to the college style come October. Since he's already taking classes and working out at Minnesota, I'd say he's anxious to get started.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Derek Forbort Drafted by the Kings

In the words of immortal WWE play-by-play announcer Gorilla Monsoon, history has just been made at the Staples Center.

No, I'm not talking about at least six incompetent NHL franchises showing why they're so damn incompetent by passing on the best player available when they picked (Cam Fowler).

Instead, I'm talking about the city of Duluth, Minn., which has just seen a native taken in the first round of the NHL Draft for the first time.

Defenseman Derek Forbort -- who played at Duluth East for two years before he joined the U.S. Under 18 National Team -- has been picked by the Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings, who are hosting the draft, pulled off the draft's first trade, moving from 19th up to 15th to select Forbort. They traded with the Florida Panthers to acquire the pick. While many of the fans in attendance probably wanted the Kings to pick local product Emerson Etem, a forward, the Kings did the right thing. They have helped bolster their already-strong blue line for years to come with a big, tough, growing defenseman.

Because of their stockpile of young players, the Kings can afford to let Forbort play at North Dakota for a year or maybe two. That's good news for the Kings, but bad news for the WCHA. Forbort will be a factor with the Sioux and he will do it quickly.

The fall of Fowler and fellow defenseman Brandon Gormley makes it even less likely that UMD recruit Justin Faulk will go Friday night during the first round.

NHL Draft: Fearless Predictions

I have gotten a few people asking where I think the top local prospects will go in the NHL Draft, which starts in Los Angeles Friday night.

Before I finish building my ark (it's rained a lot here the last 16 hours or so), here are a few thoughts on the proceedings.

Derek Forbort, D: I think it's a mortal lock that Forbort will become the first Duluth native to ever be picked in the draft's first round. The future North Dakota defenseman skipped his senior season at Duluth East to play for the U.S. NTDP in Ann Arbor, and that decision turned him from a surefire top 20 pick into a surefire top 20 pick.

With all due respect to the NTDP, which does great work in helping elite prospects from hockey hotbeds like California and Oklahoma develop their skills, this should serve as a sign that Minnesota high school hockey players don't have to look at it as a be-all, end-all for development.

I think Forbort has an outside shot of going in the top ten. It depends on how long the upper tier of defensemen (Cam Fowler, Brandon Gormley, and Erik Gudbranson) come off the board. My belief is he will fall no farther than No. 11 to Dallas, who has a local connection because of the drafting of Matt Niskanen a few years ago.

Justin Faulk, D: Faulk is UMD-bound, and nothing that happens Friday should change that. He will benefit from a chance to play against bigger and stronger WCHA forwards, whereas a move to major junior would put him with kids who won't test his body nearly as much.

TSN's Bob McKenzie ranked Faulk 30th on his list this week, but that's about as high as I've seen him. It does show an upward trend for Faulk heading into the draft, and it helps that he's part of a great group of NTDP defensemen (joined by Forbort, Jarred Tinordi, and Jon Merrill) in this upper part of the draft.

However, size matters to pro scouts, and while Faulk's strength and compete level are both very good, his body frame is not, especially compared to his three teammates. It's going to hurt him, and while he has an outside shot of being drafted Friday night, I'll tab him as an early second-round pick.

Joe Basaraba, F: The future Bulldog is smart on the ice, has a good shot, and is an intense player. He has to add muscle, but once he becomes a Man Made By (Justin) May, I'm sure he will fill out nicely.

Basaraba has moved up and down on the boards I have seen, rating in the 30s on some and into the 70s on others. For that reason, his actual draft placement comes down to timing. There are likely to be teams that really like him, and also some teams that will shy away for reasons only they fully comprehend.

If the right team is picking, it wouldn't surprise me to see Basaraba go in the second round. However, I think I'll lean towards the slight fall he's taken in the ratings, and conservatively predict he will come off the board in round three Saturday.

Adam Krause, F: Krause is a big forward who works hard, has great character, and will score some goals. But he is not projected to be a big-time offensive threat in college, and his skating might not be the best. While Krause will work hard and earn everything he gets, he will probably fall into the fifth or sixth round of the draft because of concerns about his upside.

Caleb Herbert, F: Another future Bulldog, Herbert was a dynamic scorer in high school at Bloomington Jefferson, and is a top offensive talent out of his age group. He's not very big, though, and that makes it hard to imagine anyone will take Herbert before the fifth round.

I don't think 2011 UMD recruit Chris Casto, a defenseman from Hill-Murray, will get drafted. If he does, it will happen in the seventh round.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Report: Dartmouth Recruit Spurns Wisconsin, Going to Dartmouth

The soap opera involving forward Matt Lindblad, who played last season for Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League, took a (perhaps final) turn this week.

Last week, it was widely reported that Lindblad, who had long ago committed to Dartmouth, was going to Wisconsin instead.

This brought outrage from some fans, who decided Wisconsin was the Axis of Evil for poaching someone else's recruit. That Dartmouth doesn't offer athletic scholarships complicated things a bit, because there is nothing tying Lindblad to that commitment until he starts taking classes. There is no letter of intent.

It appears, however, that Dartmouth gets the last laugh on this.

According to sources, Lindblad, making a lot of news in college hockey before ever playing an NCAA game, has decided to turn down Wisconsin, and will attend Dartmouth after all.

Badger blogger Chuck Schwartz confirms.
I've heard multiple stories from multiple people that there is a lot more to the Lindblad story that meets the eye, and since he's officially going back to Dartmouth, it's not worth publishing. I will say this, It was Lindblad's decision to originally decommit from Dartmouth and look into Wisconsin as well as a host of other schools. The criticism that Eaves has faced for allegedly recruiting a committed player (no matter your opinion on the subject), is totally unwarranted.

In that same blog post, Schwartz notes that 2012 commit Jordan Schmaltz, who gave his verbal at age 14, is reopening his commitment and will not attend Wisconsin.

If this is the case, it's clear that Wisconsin is not the Axis of Evil. At least, not because of this.

Either way, the Lindblad and Schmaltz stories showcase a problem in college athletics. Our favorite team -- no matter who it is -- has made a business out of getting commitments from young men who sometimes aren't ready to make those major life decisions. They can end up succumbing to family pressures, girlfriend pressures, peer pressures, and other things that keep them from being able to make sound decisions they can stick to.

When these kids change their minds, as many are prone to doing at that age, we assume something nefarious happened, when that's not always the case.

In the cases of Lindblad and Schmaltz, they can consider themselves lucky. Oftentimes, these decisions aren't questioned or second-guessed until names have been placed on dotted lines. That written agreement makes it virtually impossible to make this kind of change.

Either way, we're probably too far gone now to reinvent the wheel, or to seriously rethink the way colleges recruit.

Instead, fans are going to have to get used to players sometimes changing their minds. It doesn't mean we automatically indict someone for immoral -- even if not illegal -- behavior.

Sometimes, it isn't about that.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Former Bulldog Honored by NSIC

From UMD comes news of a former UMD women's basketball standout who will be inducted into the Northern Sun Conference Hall of Fame next month.

Very cool news.

Denise Holm, a standout in the University of Minnesota Duluth basketball backcourt during the late 1980s, will join seven other enshrinees on July 14 when the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Hall of Fame holds its 2010 induction ceremonies. The event will take place at the Best Western Kelly Inn in St. Cloud, Minn.

The class of 2011 also includes Susan Alstrom (Bemidji State University), Manny Beckman (Minnesota State University-Mankato), Scott Dubbelde, (Southwest Minnesota State University), Elise (Olsgaard) Erickson (Minnesota State University-Moorhead), Dan Hagen (St. Cloud State University), Stephanie (Hengel) Popelar (Northern State University), and Elisabeth (Morgan) Shannon (Winona State University).

Holm was an All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and All-NAIA District 13 first team honoree as both a junior and senior and exited the UMD program as its all-time leader in assists (813), steals (236) and games played (118). The Duluth, Minn., native captained UMD to a pair of NAIA National Tournament berths (1987-88 and 1988-89) and one NSC title (1988-89) while handling a starting point guard role for three seasons. During her farewell collegiate go-around in 1988-89, she topped the NCAA Division II ranks with a school-record 291 assists (9.1 per game) in addition to establishing a team single-game mark for assists (13) on two different occasions. The co-winner of the 1988-89 UMD Outstanding Senior Female Athlete award, Holm went on to serve as the head girls' basketball coach at Duluth Central High School for five years and Duluth East High School, her alma mater, for another seven seasons. She was a two-time Region 8AAAA/Region 7AAA Coach of the Year while at Duluth East High School and, in 2004, became a member of the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cheerleading on Trial

Women have -- rightfully so -- been fighting for their rights for so many years now. It's actually ridiculous that the "Get in the kitchen" and "Make me a sandwich" crowds have lasted as long as they have.

It's proof that even human beings can be completely insensitive and stupid.

Title IX -- a law not designed for sports -- has helped women come a long way toward gaining equal footing in the athletic world. The law mandates equal opportunity for females, and it has been interpreted -- right or wrong, mind you -- to mean colleges have to even up the competitive opportunities and scholarships based on their overall student population.

Argue all you want about its ups and downs. That's a different subject for a different day. It's for real.

Schools have been looking to figure out how to comply without cutting a ton of men's sports for years. In the meantime, sports like wrestling, swimming, and sometimes hockey and football have gone away to help save money and get a university in compliance.

But what happens when a school wants to cut a women's sport to save money?

They have to find a cheaper women's sport to spend scholarship money on.

This is what happened at Quinnipiac University. The powers-that-be wanted to save a few dollars, so they decided to do away with women's volleyball. They needed a cheaper alternative to replace those scholarships and keep the school in Title IX compliance. Luckily for them, there was -- they thought -- an option.


Yes, I said cheerleading.

Volleyball players were incensed. They sued the school, claiming that cheerleading is not a sport.

Now, the case is in court, and a federal judge is charged with deciding if it's a real sport. It's one of the more interesting cases involving sports we've seen in court for some time.

... the university says is a less expensive program that serves more women, the New Haven Register reported.

Five volleyball players and their coach sued the university, alleging that cheerleading is not a real sport and the university improperly counts or exaggerates its number of athletes to get around Title IX requirements.

... Expert witness Jeff Webb, chief executive of Varsity Spirit, testified that making cheerleading a competitive college sport would threaten "classical sideline cheerleading," according to the Associated Press. He added that cheerleading is as much of a sport as chess.

Except I don't remember the last time someone tore an ACL playing chess.

Something being dangerous and athletic doesn't make it a sport. However, where do we draw the line? There are competitive cheerleading championships. Surely, you've seen them on ESPN before. The people on these teams put a lot of time and effort into what they do, and while there isn't any kind of professional equivalent to it for anyone to go in after college, there isn't a professional equivalent for a lot of college sports, but yet we label them as sports.

Sanctioning cheerleading as a college sport could be bad for the cause of women's athletics. Cheerleading involves more people and is cheaper than most any other sport a university can sponsor. If you think there aren't enough women's hockey, volleyball, or softball programs now, wait until Quinnipiac wins this lawsuit, and schools look to drop expensive, money-bleeding non-revenue sports for cheerleading.

The quality and visibility of cheerleading will rise, but is that really a good thing?

Monday, June 21, 2010

2010 NHL Draft Notes

The NHL Draft begins Friday night in Los Angeles. Obviously, I will be covering the event as thoroughly as I can for FanHouse, but I will also try to throw a few posts up here.

To start off the week, I turn to TSN guru Bob McKenzie, who locked himself in his house until he came up with his list of the top 75 prospects in the draft.

You can find that here. For fans of local players, Duluth native Derek Forbort, a defenseman from the U.S. Under 18 National Team, is No. 11. Forbort should become the first player from Duluth to ever go in the first round, and he might add to that by becoming a top ten pick (pretty good chance this happens). Forbort heads to North Dakota this fall.

UMD recruit Justin Faulk, also a defenseman from Under 18 Team, is No. 30. While Faulk doesn't have Forbort's size, he is an impressive prospect because of his passing skill and compete level. Both are highly-regarded.

Fellow incoming Bulldog freshman Joe Basaraba didn't make McKenzie's top 75, but is listed as honorable mention. He's a big forward with a lot of skill, and he will add muscle to his impressive frame while attending UMD.

My top 35 -- published for FanHouse -- is here. I have Forbort at No. 8. You can find FanHouse's NHL Draft coverage here. Colleague Chris Botta -- as good a guy as he is a writer, and that's saying a lot -- roped an NHL scout into divulging his top ten. It's very interesting to get an insider's take on the top prospects.

This is going to be a fun draft to follow, if only because there is such a divergence of opinions about even the highest-rated prospects. That Botta's scout puts goalie Jack Campbell at No. 2 tells you a lot, because virtually everyone has been assuming that Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were the top two prospects.

It should be a good first round for college prospects, as we could see ten of them picked. We could go over a dozen American players if things break the right way.

Beyond that, there will be a goodly number of trades this week, as teams look to reshape their rosters while facing up to a free agent class that isn't terribly deep or impressive.

Oh, and the 2010-11 NHL schedule is out Tuesday. Hockey Hall of Fame inductees will be named, too.

Should be a fun week.

Struggling Alabama-Huntsville Loses Coach to USA Hockey

For Alabama-Huntsville, it's been a really rocky year.

Last summer, they were denied entry into the CCHA. Their league -- College Hockey America -- was about to enter its final season. UAH wanted to find a home to avoid playing as an independent. Doing so would greatly hamper their efforts to recruit, as it would be nearly impossible for them to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large because of the inherent difficulties that come along with trying to fill a schedule without any conference affiliation.

Without the carrot of an NCAA berth to offer, UAH is stuck with recruits that simply want to play hockey. It will probably be tougher for them to put a winner on the ice, and it would be even harder to get any reasonable number of home games.

Of course, the Chargers didn't let this stop them. They beat highly-rated Notre Dame in their season opener, and despite a poor finish in the CHA standings, they pulled off two upsets to take the conference tournament and automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. UAH then played competitively, but fell short in a loss to a clearly superior Miami team during the regional round.

That proved to be the high point. Charger junior goalie Cameron Talbot chose to give up his final year of eligibility to sign with the New York Rangers. Then assistant coach John McCabe took the job as head coach of Division III Finlandia University (Houghton, Mich.).

Now, head coach Danton Cole is moving on. He has decided to become head coach of the U.S. Under 17 National Team.

“Danton has a wealth of experience at the professional, collegiate and international levels,” said Scott Monaghan, director of operations for the NTDP. “He’ll be a great asset in preparing our players to compete on all stages.”

It's a homecoming of sorts for Cole, who is from near Detroit. The NTDP is based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

As for UAH, while it's hard to deny this was a great opportunity for Cole, and they said all the right things about appreciating the work Cole did to keep the program together, they have to know the hard times are only going to get harder.

They're the lone wolf in the wilderness, the only independent in Division I. If they thought it was hard to fill the schedule for this coming season, wait a few years until they've had a few years of no NCAA bids and few wins. Crowds might still be decent in Huntsville, but the potential damage to recruiting is immeasurable.

And if the program isn't competitive, they're not going to get anyone who wants to play them, especially in Huntsville.

More than any other point in the last year, UAH needs to find a conference soon. Cole's departure only adds more uncertainty to the program's future, and the stability of a conference is what they need to move forward, both in hiring a coach and finding recruits.

Former CC Tiger Dropped by Blackhawks

The NHL and Major League Baseball drafts are different animals than the more-hyped NBA and NFL selection meetings.

In the NBA and NFL, there is usually instant gratification. High draft picks play immediately, and they're often looked at strangely if they have to sit for an extended length of time. Meanwhile, later picks often have a good chance to make an impact in their draft year. These so-called "diamonds in the rough" are what make those drafts watchable for the full time they're on television.

Baseball has 50-plus rounds in their draft. High-school players are routinely taken early, and many players will be drafted more than once, because they opt to attend college rather than sign out of high school.

The NHL Draft is seven rounds in length. While many of the first-round picks will sign and play professional hockey -- minor league or NHL -- in their draft year, very few if any of the players picked beyond the first round will see any pro hockey action in 2010-11.

In fact, the hockey draft is unique in that teams hold the players' rights for four years after they get drafted.

In 2006, the Chicago Blackhawks drafted a college-bound forward named Bill Sweatt in the second round. A talented but undersized speedster, Sweatt was headed to Colorado College, following in the footsteps of older brother Lee, who was a good offensive defenseman for the Tigers. Bill Sweatt played four years at CC, amassing 106 points, including 33 as a senior, but never really living up to his full potential.

He did develop solid two-way skills, but his offensive touch wasn't what we thought it would be coming out of the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Now out of college, Sweatt is looking for a pro team to play for. The Blackhawks have decided not sign him.

There wasn’t much wiggle room for Chicago to shell out a big contract to a prospect with starting goalie and free agent Antti Niemi looking for a big pay raise (he made $827,000 last season) and money committed to the likes of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

“It was purely a business decision,” (agent Scott) Nelson said.

Past second-round signing bonuses were around $250,000, said Nelson, who is confident he can get most of that back when Sweatt signs as a free agent after Aug. 15, when Chicago’s rights to him expire.

Becoming a free agent may prove beneficial. Sweatt could find an organization that has a number of openings at forward, giving him a better chance to advance to the NHL. European leagues remain an option.

“I have no personal preference,” Sweatt said. “I want to go somewhere that it is the best fit.”

It is a bit of a silver lining for Sweatt. Instead of being stuck with the deep and talented Blackhawks, he can move to an organization looking for cheap talent who can add to their speed.

Hi, Minnesota Wild!

Sweatt will be a free agent in August, and Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher would be wise to make a phone call. While Sweatt didn't become a goal-scoring machine in college, he gained a lot of experience against bigger and older players, and he's still only 21 (he'll turn 22 before the season starts).

His speed would be a welcome addition, whether he ends up being a wing or a center at the next level.

No word on if Minnesota's interested, but it wouldn't be a bad idea.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dartmouth Loses Hockey Recruit to Wisconsin, Outrage Ensues

One of the great debates in college sports continues. It doesn't seem likely it will end anytime soon.

What should happen once a player makes a verbal commitment to attend a school and play a sport? Should that player become off-limits to other colleges, or should he still be fair game until he either signs a binding letter of intent or starts class (LOIs don't apply to schools that don't hand out scholarships)?

It's an issue that has plenty of supporters for both sides. Most recently, fans of Dartmouth and Wisconsin hockey have seen their teams thrown in the middle of the issue.

Word got out Wednesday that Matt Lindblad, a forward who had committed to play hockey at Dartmouth, was changing his mind and going to Wisconsin instead. It's a touchy subject here, if only because Dartmouth doesn't do scholarships, and therefore never had a chance to sign Lindblad during a time where other recruits are signing to go to the college of their choice.

For WCHA teams, the issue is even more interesting. The league operates under what is termed a gentleman's agreement. The agreement between WCHA schools is that they won't go after the committed players of conference rivals. It's not always followed (COUGHnatehagemomichaeldorrCOUGH), but it has generally stood the test of time.

Obviously, WCHA coaches see some inherent value in the practice of leaving other teams' recruits alone.

So why doesn't that respect extend to other Division I institutions?

The poaching isn't illegal. It isn't against NCAA rules.

Doesn't make it right.

Ask any longtime Badger fan how s/he felt when Minnesota stole UW recruit Nate Hagemo or when Denver took Patrick Wiercioch away from Madison, and you'll probably get a reaction that can't be fully reprinted on this site. If it wasn't okay for Minnesota to sweep Hagemo off his feet, or for Gwoz to steal Wiercioch, why would it be kosher for Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves to do the same to Lindblad?

(We're operating here under the assumption that Lindblad was approached by UW. Obviously, the opposite may be true, and I fully acknowledge that I don't know who asked who to dance. That doesn't change the fact that this issue exists in college sports, and it's a worthy discussion to have.)

The reality is that you have two strong schools of thought. One is that these coaches are operating in a highly competitive field. They're not quite thief-like, but there is still little honor among them because they're all trying to win the same prize and keep their jobs.

On the other hand, there should be some expectation of honor. Everyone works hard to recruit the best players they can find. The rules are the same for everyone in terms of how they can go about contacting players and how often they can harass call them. In this case, Dartmouth won the battle. They got the commitment.

The fact that they don't award scholarships or sign players to letters of intent is not something that should be open for someone else to take advantage of. Had Lindblad committed to, say, Michigan, this wouldn't be happening because he would have signed to play for the Wolverines more than six months ago.

Basically, Eaves took advantage of Dartmouth's rules governing athletics, and its standing as an Ivy League school, to grab an important recruit for the 2010-11 class. He has to replace eight forwards off last year's team, including Hobey Baker winner Blake Geoffrion and top playmaker Derek Stepan, and Stepan's loss wasn't expected.

That left the coach in scramble mode, and he did something that's been done to him by WCHA rivals twice.

In this observer's opinion, it just isn't right. If a player's commitment didn't matter, we wouldn't have players committing. And if it didn't matter, the WCHA wouldn't operate under a gentleman's agreement.

Not only that, but most fans hate this type of thing when it happens to them, and two wrongs don't make a right.

What say you?

USA Hockey Announces World Junior Evaluation Camp Invites

Trying to build off last year's dramatic World Junior Championships gold medal, USA Hockey has started the process of selecting the 2011 U.S. team. That group will compete in the IIHF World Junior Championships, which begin Dec. 26 in Buffalo.

Nine players can bring their shiny gold medals to the camp, as they are invited back from last year's team. The other 31 players on the 40-player list are a mix of players who have been passed over before (five guys were invited to the 2009 evaluation camp) and new faces (26).

The roster of invites is below:

Pos. Name Ht Wt Birthdate S/C Hometown 2009-10 Team
G Jack Campbell^* 6-2 185 1/9/92 L Port Huron, Mich. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
G Zane Gothberg 6-1 177 8/20/92 L Grand Forks, N.D. Thief River Falls (Minn.) H.S.
G Michael Houser 6-1 180 9/13/92 L Wexford, Pa. London Knights (OHL)
G Andy Iles 5-8 179 1/30/92 L Ithaca, N.Y. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
D Mark Alt 6-4 205 10/18/91 R St. Paul, Minn. Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.)
D Brandon Archibald 6-3 200 3/31/92 R Port Huron, Mich. Sault St. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
D Adam Clendening 5-11 190 10/26/92 R Niagara Falls, N.Y. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
D Brian Dumoulin 6-4 203 9/6/91 L Biddeford, Maine Boston College (HEA)
D Justin Faulk* 5-11 195 3/20/92 R South St. Paul, Minn. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
D Derek Forbort 6-4 195 3/4/92 L Duluth, Minn. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
D Cam Fowler^*& 6-2 190 12/6/91 L Farmington Hills, Mich. Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
D Stephen Johns 6-3 215 4/18/92 R Wampum, Pa. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
D Nick Leddy 5-11 180 3/20/91 L Eden Prairie, Minn. Univ. of Minnesota (WCHA)
D Jon Merrill* 6-3 200 2/3/92 L Brighton, Mich. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
D John Ramage^ 6-0 195 2/7/91 R St. Louis, Mo. Univ. of Wisconsin (WCHA)
D Philip Samuelsson* 6-3 198 7/26/91 L Scottsdale, Ariz. Boston College (HEA)
D Jarred Tinordi 6-5 202 2/20/92 L Millersville, Md. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
D Patrick Wey* 6-2 200 3/21/91 R Pittsburgh, Pa. Boston College (HEA)
F Beau Bennett 6-1 180 11/27/91 R Gardena, Calif. Penticton Vees (BCHL)
F Nick Bjugstad 6-4 188 7/17/92 R Blaine, Minn. Blaine (Minn.) H.S.
F Ryan Bourque^*& 5-9 166 1/3/91 L Boxford, Mass. Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
F Connor Brickley 6-2 193 2/25/92 L Everett, Mass. Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
F Chris Brown 6-2 194 2/3/91 R Flower Mound, Texas Univ. of Michigan (CCHA)
F Zach Budish 6-3 220 5/9/91 R Edina, Minn. Univ. of Minnesota (WCHA)
F Charlie Coyle 6-2 207 3/2/92 R East Weymouth, Mass. South Shore Kings (EJHL)
F Jerry D'Amigo^* 5-11 190 2/19/91 L Binghamton, N.Y. Rensselaer (ECACHL)
F Emerson Etem 6-0 198 6/16/92 R Long Beach, Calif. Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
F Kevin Hayes 6-2 201 5/8/92 L Boston, Mass. Noble & Greenough School (Mass.)
F Chris Kreider^* 6-2 205 4/30/91 L Boxford, Mass. Boston College (HEA)
F Phil Lane 6-2 194 5/29/92 R Rochester, N.Y. Brampton Battalion (OHL)
F Kevin Lynch 6-1 198 4/23/91 R Grosse Pointe, Mich. Univ. of Michigan (CCHA)
F Tyler Maxwell 5-9 179 4/13/91 L Manhattan Beach, Calif. Everett Silvertips (WHL)
F Jeremy Morin^*& 6-1 196 4/16/91 R Auburn, N.Y. Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
F Brock Nelson 6-3 205 10/15/91 L Minneapolis, Minn. Warroad (Minn.) H.S.
F Matt Nieto 5-11 182 11/5/92 L Long Beach, Calif. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
F Kyle Palmieri^*& 5-11 195 2/1/91 R Montvale, N.J. Univ. of Notre Dame (CCHA)
F Tyler Pitlick 6-1 190 11/1/91 R Centerville, Minn. Minnesota State Univ. (WCHA)
F Bryan Rust 5-11 191 5/11/92 R Bloomfield Hills, Mich. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
F Brandon Saad 6-1 196 10/27/92 L Gibsonia, Pa. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
F Drew Shore* 6-2 190 1/29/91 R Denver, Colo. Univ. of Denver (WCHA)
F Nick Shore 6-0 186 9/26/92 R Denver, Colo. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)
F Austin Watson 6-3 187 1/13/92 R Ann Arbor, Mich. Peterborough Petes (OHL)
F Steve Whitney 5-7 168 2/18/91 R Reading, Mass. Boston College (HEA)
F Jason Zucker^* 5-10 168 1/16/92 L Las Vegas, Nev. U.S. Nat'l U18 Team (USHL)

This is just the start of this long road. The final roster isn't due until mid-December, and will be selected after the final candidates meet in Buffalo for a training camp in advance of the tournament.

Faulk is an incoming UMD freshman. He would have to miss the opening of Amsoil Arena Dec. 30 -- as well as a two-game series at Clarkson Jan. 3-4 -- if he makes the team. Forbort will be a freshman this fall at North Dakota.

All in all, 32 of the 40 players are currently playing for NCAA programs, or they are committed to play for one. That number does not count Minnesota State freshman Tyler Pitlick, who is leaving school to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL next season.

College Coaches Want to See Aluminum Bats Stay

A few weeks ago, I posted a ramble about the case being made in California against using aluminum bats in amateur baseball.

To me, the premise is still pretty simple. We can't allow emotions to take over in a case where science seems to disagree with our emotional findings.

Despite the perceived safety concerns, coaches of elite NCAA baseball programs seem to support the idea of keeping aluminum bats in the sport.

According to an Associated Press survey of 24 coaches whose programs have won 1,000 or more games since 1985, 17 said they preferred aluminum and that there was no need to study the possibility of going to wood bats.

"I just don't see the aluminum bat hindering our game in any way," Mississippi State's John Cohen said. "In an ideal world, wood would be cheap, very cost efficient and it would be totally equitable. That can never happen."

Five coaches said they like wood better, but all acknowledged that aluminum probably is here to stay. Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said he had no opinion on the question and Arizona State coach Tim Esmay declined to participate in the survey as both teams prepared for the College World Series, which begins Saturday with TCU, Florida St., UCLA, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Clemson also in the field.

Proponents of metal argue that all 301 Division I programs play with the same thing and there's no risk of having top programs playing with better wooden bats, potentially skewing the results. They also like the scoring boost and say a $300 aluminum bat can last an entire 56-game season, while $100 wooden bats can break at any time.

Obviously, no poll is totally scientific, but these are some respected names in college baseball. Their support of aluminum is somewhat telling, since most have been around the sport for a long time, have produced players who have gone on to play high-level professional baseball.

The possible move to wood bats in Division II has increased the talk about using them in Division I. Safety concerns aside, there is so much offense in big-time college baseball that using wooden bats would at least potentially shorten games.

However, this might already happen without the wood. The standards for aluminum bats have changed, and by 2011 they will be even closer to behaving like wooden bats. As technology advances and the chasm between the two types of bat decreases, the need for using the more expensive wooden bats in college baseball will lessen dramatically.

It's a case of emotions unnecessarily stepping in the way of science and technology. No one wants to see another 21-14 game in the College World Series, but it appears we've moved far enough away from that.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Seth Ambroz Decides College Can Wait

Say what you want about Minnesota hockey coach Don Lucia, but there is no question the man has some serious recruits coming his way.

Last year, we saw Jordan Schroeder leave after two years, and freshman defenseman Nick Leddy developed nicely as the season wore on. The Gophers weren't good enough to make the NCAA playoffs or WCHA Final Five, but they have more help on the way.

Possible top ten NHL Draft pick Nick Bjugstad joins this fall, and possible 2011 top five pick Seth Ambroz was supposed to join him. The thought was that Ambroz -- who left high school for the USHL after his freshman season -- would be ready to play what would normally be his senior season of high school hockey in the WCHA.

It's quite a jump, but for someone who has been on an accelerated path, it wasn't something seen as impossible.

Hold on, though. Gopher blogger Hammy reported on Twitter that Ambroz will not join the "U" this fall. His report is backed up by a story on U.S. Hockey Report, a subscription-based site.

The thinking is simple: Ambroz will benefit more from being an alpha dog in the USHL than he will from having to work his way up the ladder at Minnesota. Not only that, but the physically imposing Ambroz took over 100 penalty minutes last year for the Omaha Lancers. If there is one part about his game that really needs work, it's probably that discipline thing.

Jokes about how WCHA officials treat the Gophers aside, it's probably not a good idea for him to enter the WCHA when he's only 17, has a reputation for taking penalties, and has to deal with 24- and 25-year-old college seniors. His fearlessness in the corners will eventually suit the Gophers well, as they have been known for a shortage of hard-working, high-character players in recent years.

That size (6-3, over 200 pounds by the time he gets to college) will help him a lot, too.

In the meantime, one has to wonder what Ambroz will do this year. Will he be bored with the USHL, or will he light it up like Thomas Vanek did before he became draft-eligible and eventually started terrorizing WCHA defenses?

Worse yet, will he become a pawn in the NCAA/CHL war? Let's hope not. Ambroz is a Minnesota kid, and he grew up close enough to the Twin Cities that you have to figure he's going to live a dream of sorts by playing for the Gophers. Not only that, but his advisor is former Bulldog and NHL mainstay Shjon Podein, and I can't see him recommending a kid go play major junior when he's been committed to a college for this long.

It's a bit strange to see a guy who has been pro-active in accelerating his education and hockey development suddenly hit the brakes. But this could be a good move for Ambroz, both in terms of becoming a star at the next level and for his 2011 draft chances.

We won't know if he did the right thing until the scouts have their say next winter.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Reports of Big 12's Demise Were Apparently Exaggerated

I wrote Friday about the impending demise of the once-great Big 12 Conference.

Spoke too soon.

Instead, the Big 12 is alive and very well Monday night, thanks to a decision by Texas to stay put, pushing aside the advances of the Pac-10 conference.

It wasn't long after that we found out lapdogs Texas A&M and Oklahoma will also stay in the Big 12.

(OU fans are probably cursing me. With all due respect to Texas, I never thought I'd see the day that A&M and Oklahoma just bowed their heads and went the way of the Longhorns. Rivalries be damned, it just looks stupid to me.)

In the end, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe has found a way to at least keep a ten-team league together. That's big, because most people who have fake Twitter accounts created in their name aren't having it done for the good of the world.

(The latest, by the way, from the "Fake Dan Beebe" account? "OK, I'm actually a little worried now. UT, A&M and OU all have announced they are staying. KSU, BU and ISU are oddly silent."

Good times.)

This is good for a number of reasons. The Big Ten can stay at 12 teams, with the addition late last week of Nebraska. They fit the Big Ten, and they'll benefit from losing 14-13 to Iowa and Wisconsin all the time, as opposed to losing at home to Iowa State or having Kansas beat them by like six touchdowns.

(How stupid is Nebraska going to feel after that first 7-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten season? And you know it's coming. Nebraska stopped being this elite, unbeatable, legendary football power like a decade ago. It's just that no one bothered to tell Nebraska. The Big 12 North can cast quite a spell. Hell, look how competent Kansas looked for a few years.)

How close did we come to the end of the Big 12? Dr. Saturday sets the timeline.

Thus concludes the dramatic, week-long Big 12 Missile Crisis, just hours before the apparent dismemberment of the league: By all accounts, the Texas Board of Regents was fully prepared to vote the Longhorns into the Pac-10 on Tuesday, followed by Texas Tech and then Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on Wednesday. Don't let the stunning reversal over the last 24 hours paint that narrative as mere smoke: Larry Scott was in Lubbock, Oklahoma City, College Station and Austin over the weekend with invitations in hand. Texas A&M's commitment was in flux, but as for the Longhorns, Sooners, Cowboys and Red Raiders, the wagon train West was packed and ready to roll.

That's close. And it didn't happen.

Congrats to Beebe, because he figured out a way to make it work.

The math nerds in college sports are probably having a field day with this. The Big 12 has ten teams. The Big Ten has 12. The Pac-10 has 11. The Atlantic 10 has 14 teams in many sports and 15 actual members.

Of course, conference names are nothing but a form of branding. The Big Eight changing to the Big 12 was the last major league to go through a name change.

(Stop it, Conference USA fans. You're not that big, yet.)

We might not be done with change.

The Big Ten should stay put. So should the Big East, ACC, SEC, and WAC. But the Mountain West may lose Utah (to the Pac-10) after gaining Boise State. The ripple effect of that could send TCU packing back to Conference USA, where they have a better TV deal and the Horned Frogs could reunite with Houston, SMU, and UTEP.

Would there be more movement among the BCS leagues? It's possible, but not likely.

As for Texas, don't salute their nod to tradition or their smarts for not wanting to schedule regular trips to Corvallis, Pullman, Eugene, and Berkeley. They are getting a lot of money from the Big 12, thanks to their stupid unequal revenue arrangement that acts as if their league would exist in its current form without the likes of Missouri, Iowa State, Baylor, and Kansas State.

(Does Northwestern pull in less coin than Ohio State? Nope. Nor should they. Leagues are a partnership, and giving the big dog special treatment only makes it more difficult for others to emerge as a contender.)

Texas is doing this for money. They'll get more money from the Big 12, and they'll have the right to start their own television network, with a chance to make even more money. Had they joined the Pac-10, they would have been forced to turn their video inventory over to the league for the Pac-10/16/whatever Network, which was to launch in 2012 and probably still will.

Beebe pulled this together, but he had to get on his knees for the Longhorns to make it happen. Give him credit for that, because it had to be a pride-killing move.

Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and the rest of them are just pawns.

Texas is the king, and don't you ever forget it.

College Hockey Coaches Want to Fight the Good Fight

Late last week, a series of proposals approved for use in college hockey came to light. The proposals -- set for formal approval in July -- would change rules in college hockey that some say don't need to be changed.

It's not just fans who are upset about the proposed changes, which include teams not being allowed to ice the puck while shorthanded, and an increase in the minimum penalty for contact to the head. Some of the changes are agreeable. Others aren't.

According to WCHA media colleague Brad Elliott Schlossman, coaches are perturbed -- downright angry -- over the icing rule.

“I think it’s just a crime,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “I’ve been in college hockey for 18 years and I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. It was almost unanimous for the entire coaching body. How can the committee overturn the entire coaching body? I think it’s sad, the lack of respect that the committee had for the coaching body.

“We didn’t spend any time even talking about it because it was so radical. We just voted 12-0 and moved on.”

Both Serratore and UND coach Dave Hakstol raised several concerns.

One is the safety issue. Since players are not allowed to change after an icing call, a player could be stuck on the ice for two or three minutes straight on a penalty kill.

Another concern is that the icing rule hasn’t been tried on an experimental basis to determine if it works. No North American hockey league uses it.

“It’s quite a shock,” Hakstol said. “I haven’t said much, but I’m going to speak my mind on this. I’m upset about us not having a say in it as a Division I coaching body. On a national basis, we were very strongly against it, if not unanimously against it.

“I’d be in favor of having some language that would allow us to experiment with a couple things in exhibition games. I’d like to be able to make some more educated decisions. But we haven’t tried these rules. They’ve never been tried at a high level. And if this change is made, it’s a two-year commitment.”

The NCAA is in a position to be a guinea pig for other hockey leagues, and that's not something the NCAA is known for doing.

The biggest issue here, to me, is what I brought up in my FanHouse piece.

What is this going to do to officiating?

Some fans have problems with the way games are called when they're late and close. That's not going to get any better when you add a tool to the game that will make power plays more dangerous and make power play goals more commonplace.

Officials will swallow their whistles, using the old addage of letting players decide the outcome of games, especially if power play percentages go up more than the five to ten percent I expect they will rise.

Schlossman heard from Hakstol on the contact to the head rule, too, but Hakstol -- who lost his captain to a concussion on a dirty, illegal, and embarrassingly mishandled hit in November -- didn't say anything notable there. Hakstol is right that we don't need to take hitting out of the game, and we have to be careful to do that.

Frankly, I'm more worried that we won't take the headshots out of the game, because mandating majors be called for those hits won't exactly encourage officials to call the penalty more often.

Monday, Schlossman posted on his blog about an effort to stop at least the icing rule from going into effect.

"We're trying to find out if, before it goes to the oversight committee, there's recourse or if there can be a re-vote based on the merits of the argument that we'd like to put forward," WCHA commish Bruce McLeod said. "Hopefully, we have some recourse."

McLeod said that if it can't be completely reversed, the commissioners are hoping that the icing rule can be changed to an experiment for exhibition games instead of a full-time basis for the next two seasons.

Schlossman reports that the coaches are also displeased about the rule that would allow a team that scores on a delayed penalty to still go on a power play. That rule is so dumb it barely merits mention.

Remember, these rules are put in place for two years if they are passed. It increases the urgency for the coaches to stop the bad ideas from being implemented.

That's a long time to be stuck with someone else's crappy ideas.

Childress Justified in Peterson Reaction

Whether it was just for Adrian Peterson Day in his hometown, or because he's actually unhappy about his contract, it appears Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress is upset with Peterson.

The star running back skipped the Vikings' mandatory minicamp this weekend, ostensibly to attend a day in his honor in Texas.

Maybe he figured he was okay to not show up, since the quarterback isn't showing up until he feels like it.

He figured wrong. Friday, Childress put Peterson in his place.
"The work is here," Childress said after Friday's workout. ... "I just know that there's a bunch of guys here," Childress said. "This has a term 'mandatory' for a reason and the work is here, period. This is the fourth annual Adrian Peterson Day. I don't know if it's going to be like every year that they are going to have that, but we're going to have this, too. The same thing I told [rookie running back] Toby Gerhart, way before we decided on drafting him. This minicamp was on this date. I know he's going to go back and walk in graduation. This [camp] was going to be here."

... "I don't think Adrian is batting around retirement in his mind. It's a special set of circumstances. You can say is it special? Is everything equal? Obviously it is not. That is just the way it is. It's a matter of fact and everybody understands that on our side of the equation."

This is a message on a couple fronts. First, Childress is making clear that Favre is the star on this team ... as he should. Favre has allegedly not decided on playing another season, even though none of us are stupid and we all know he's playing.

If you were 40 and could use the "Maybe I'll retire, Chilly" card to get out of training camp, while still having everyone salute your virtues as a teammate because you tell people to watch film and you know the words to "Pants On The Ground," you'd do it, too.

Second, Childress wants it known that Peterson, and not Favre, is the offensive star who still has work to do on his game. Peterson's numbers regressed last year, and it wasn't just because of Favre or the overrated offensive line.

No, Peterson regressed -- in large part -- because he spent too much time worrying about his fumbles. Just like with Ahman Green when he was a star, the fumble problem manifests itself once you have a few on your record. It's hard not to think about it, because you're human after all, and you're hearing about it every five minutes during the week between games.

It's hard not to imagine that defensive players didn't take the time to beak "All Day" a bit last year, just to make him think a little more.

The only way to get him to be better is to improve his focus and improve his fundamentals. The time to do that isn't in September. It's really not in August, either. It's in May and June, during the so-called "underwear practices."

Peterson apparently thinks it's more important to be in a parade.

That Peterson knew of this conflict for a long time and didn't tell anyone probably incensed Childress even more.

Carol Pegues, who is Peterson's aunt and serves as the organizer for "Adrian Peterson Day," said the day honoring her nephew was planned right after the season. Nonetheless, Childress said Peterson did not inform him of the conflict until this past Wednesday or Thursday, only a couple of days after Peterson had arrived at Winter Park.

I'd be pissed at him, too, frankly. It shows no commitment to his game, his team, or his coach. If he's mad about his contract, he should probably say so.

(No, Childress probably wouldn't admit it publicly. But you can be guaran-damn-teed someone respected would have reported it by now. The Vikings are a high-profile team, and such news wouldn't pass through unnoticed.)

It goes beyond the fumble problem. For the Vikings to win the NFC North again in 2010, they need Peterson at his best. Favre isn't likely to exceed his outstanding numbers from 2009, no matter what he does. Peterson won't be able to regress statistically again, especially if his ultimate goal is to see some more money come his way.

Suppan Stunk, But Showed Classy Side

No one can possibly deny that giving pitcher Jeff Suppan a $42 million contract in late 2006 was a total disaster for the Milwaukee Brewers.

The veteran was touted as a playoff performer and innings eater. For the Brewers, he was nothing close to either. Instead of eating innings, he threw gopher balls like they were going out of style, and he was never a big-game pitcher. His only playoff start was an elimination game against Philadelphia in the 2008 Division Series that turned into the Brewers' elimination from the playoffs because Suppan was terrible on that day.

He never could consistently keep his pitches down, leading him to give up a ton of hard hits and making him susceptible to big innings.

While Yovani Gallardo blossomed into a star and guys like Dave Bush at least ate some innings once in a while, Suppan was an awful addition.

That said, it's not like he didn't try. He was active with the Brewers in their charitable efforts, and he was always visible in the community, even if he wasn't terribly popular among the majority of fans.

When the time had come where releasing Suppan was obvious, the Brewers struggled to pull the trigger. It was understandable in a way, as it's hard to admit big-money mistakes, and it's even harder when you make so few moves like this. Eating $10 million isn't an easy thing to do, either.

Suppan was released last Monday. It was telling how both sides handled the matter, starting with general manager Doug Melvin.

“Jeff has always been a true professional. He gave his best effort to the organization, whether it was on the field or in the community. I am confident that he can return to a starting rotation with another organization. We wish Jeff and his family nothing but the best.”

Suppan also issued a statement.

"I want to thank Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin for all they have done for my family and me, especially how they handled this situation. I"ve played with a number of organizations and the Brewers are one of the classiest.

"When I signed in 2007, I was committed to winning and to this day I still am. Nobody is more disappointed with how things have turned out. I enjoyed my time here in Milwaukee, as both a player and a member of the community. As such, I will continue my involvement with the Brewers Charities for the remainder of the 2010 season. My commitment to this cause and the people it serves is unwavering.

"I wish the current organization, its fans and especially my teammates all the best."

Class all the way. How can you hate on a guy like that?

It doesn't change the reality. Melvin made a huge mistake in signing Suppan, especially when the money spent was largely based on the small sample size of the 2006 playoffs. That year, virtually everything -- including Suppan -- was overwhelmingly going the way of a Cardinals team that probably wasn't better than any team it faced in the postseason.

The Brewers can't recoup that money in any way, nor should they be allowed to. It was offered up because the team felt Suppan could stabilize the pitching staff. It wasn't given to "Soup" with any promise that he would become a 20-game winner.

Since these developments last week, Suppan has decided to join the NL Central rival St. Louis Cardinals, where pitching coach Dave Duncan will try to work his latest masterpiece by finding a way to make Suppan good again.

Naturally, this opens the door for Suppan to face his old team, and you all know he'll probably no-hit them or something.

But it's still hard to wish ill will upon Suppan. He didn't complain when the Brewers skipped him in the rotation, had him on a short leash, put him on the DL with dubious injuries, and eventually kicked him to the bullpen before kicking him to the curb. He tried his best. It didn't work out.

These things happen. But Suppan deserves another chance in baseball, simply by how well he has handled adversity. As long as it's not against the Brewers, it's hard not to want to see him do well.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Demise of Big 12 Amazing

As recently as, like, two months ago, the Big 12 seemed to be on solid ground. As people published their college football season preview magazines, they debated on how high to rank Texas, Oklahoma, and emerging Nebraska.

Oh, my how things change.

The Big 12 is as good as dead, and the potential orphans left by its demise are quite surprising.

Thursday, Colorado announced it was bolting for the Pac-10 Conference, starting in 2011. This came amid reports that other Big 12 schools -- Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State -- were all going to be Pac-10 bound before too long.

Oh, and Nebraska is heading to the Big Ten.

The league is dead.

But look who the free agents are. No one is surprised by Iowa State or Baylor. Neither generates much revenue, and their football programs are really struggling. Former football power Kansas State isn't as good there as they used to be, and their overall revenues aren't impressive. It could be argued that none of these three should automatically find a home, considering where they are in terms of revenue and performance in football, obviously the most important sport to the business of college athletics.

Want to be shocked?

Kansas and Missouri are currently without a guaranteed home.

How is this possible?

Kansas has one of the best basketball programs on the planet. Lawrence has been the home to a slew of hardwood legends, including James Naismith and Phog Allen. The football program stunk for most of the 1990s, and was eventually rescued by Mark Mangino, who ran the program and led them to a few bowl games before it got out that he was (allegedly) abusing players.

Either way, Kansas shouldn't be orphaned because their conference imploded from within. They're too strong overall in the world of athletics.

Missouri isn't as good on the court, but their football program is in better shape, and they are a very good academic institution. In short, Mizzou is a perfect fit for the Big Ten, should that league look to expand further beyond Nebraska.

While the Big Ten is at it, they should forget any flirtation with elitist Notre Dame, who would probably want revenue-sharing concessions before they would consider joining. If they want to return to an even number of teams, look at Kansas.

The Big Ten is already strong in football. Ohio State is a perennial national contender, while Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska give them a solid top tier of programs capable of making serious waves nationally most seasons.

Nebraska's volleyball program is the best in the country, an annual contender for the national title. Watching them go at it with fellow contender Penn State should be fun.

Where Nebraska doesn't help the Big Ten is in the other revenue sport: men's basketball.

They're awful at men's hoops, and they don't make the Big Ten better or more competitive. Kansas and Missouri would. Add KU and Mizzou to a top tier that includes Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and sometimes Illinois, and you are talking about (maybe) the best college basketball conference in the country.

Of course, Missouri is a possibility for the Big Ten, but we've heard nothing of Kansas. Instead, there's chatter about the Jayhawks joining the Mountain West. Great for the Mountain West, but how does KU's hoops program get stuck playing in that league?

This is an incredible development. We all knew the conference structure we've seen for a while now wouldn't last forever. There's too much money in the power conferences, and if the Pac-1o launches a TV network like they want to, you're looking at a league that will only grow. Look at what the Big Ten Network has done for the league. The impact is easily seen.

Hell, they wouldn't be adding Nebraska without it.

Imagine the ratings for The Mtn network when they televise that first KU basketball game. If they play their cards right, adding KU for hoops and Boise State for football makes them a definite player in the college sports arms race.

When Nebraska slogs their way to another sub-.500 season, the Big Ten might look at KU and wonder what might have been, had they only thought of other sports besides football when deciding to expand.