Thursday, July 25, 2013

Greg Jennings Showing Sensitive Side

The Star Tribune's Dan Wiederer has a great feature on new Vikings and former Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings in Thursday's editions.

Jennings has taken some veiled shots at the Packers -- most notably quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- since leaving Green Bay. He's talked of his desire to be a true No. 1 receiver, something that wasn't going to happen in Green Bay, where the offense is designed to spread the ball around.

In Thursday's story, the veil is removed. And in doing so, Jennings shows some sensitivity.

It's funny, because people -- including your humble correspondent -- have ribbed Rodgers for his well-known sensitivity. He's not the only elite athlete to do this, but Rodgers seems to feed off even the slightest of slights.

If Rodgers feeds off some of the stuff he admits to, I can only imagine what he can do with Jennings' comments. Let's cue up Wiederer here.

Jennings isn’t sure enough outsiders remember that during Rodgers’ first year as a starter in 2008, he was the quarterback’s top target, catching 80 passes for 1,292 yards with nine TDs. Or that he continued to aid Rodgers’ ascension with more than 2,300 receiving yards and 16 scores over the following two seasons.

“I was kind of that comfort blanket so to speak,” Jennings said. “But this is a quarterback-driven league, so people forget about the guys around the quarterback.”

Jennings wanted his abilities appreciated. So in his final months with the Packers, he started thinking more about what was next.

“Maybe,” he said, “I need to go back to my college days where the quarterback wasn’t just viewed as oh-so-great and still prove that I can be successful.”

If Jennings hadn’t tired of Rodgers specifically, he certainly had his fill of the environment in Green Bay, wondering if the ubiquitous Rodgers lovefest had created a narrative that de-emphasized the strength of the group.

Throughout this offseason, Jennings has subtly jabbed Rodgers, rarely calling him by name and referring to him instead as “12” or “the guy they have now.”

“A lot of times when you have a guy who creates that spotlight for himself and establishes that and takes a lot of that, it becomes so-and-so and the team,” he said. “It should always be the team.”

Asked in a later conversation to clarify those sentiments, Jennings expanded.

“For me, I’m such a team person, I’m going to defer to my teammates,” he said. “I’m going to defer to the team, to the team, to the team. And I think when you reach a point where you’re not deferring any longer, it’s no longer really about the team.”

Jennings paused and looked around.

“Don’t get me wrong, ‘12’ is a great person. But when you hear all positives, all positives, all positives all the time, it’s hard for you to sit down when one of your teammates says ‘Man, come on, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable for this.’ It’s hard for someone to see that now because all they’ve heard is I’m doing it the right way, I’m perfect. In actuality, we all have flaws.”

Lots to chew on here. We'll start on top.

First part of his jives with his interview on KFAN with Paul Allen shortly after signing with Minnesota. Jennings talked there about wanting to prove he can be a No. 1 receiver, but he wasn't going to get that chance in Green Bay. Not only do the Packers not really employ a No. 1 receiver, the offense is designed to make everyone look like a No. 1 receiver, at least on occasion.

Then we get a little more interesting.

In this excerpt, Jennings basically calls Rodgers a glory hog. It was the same thing people said about Favre, oddly enough. Favre got all the accolades and attention in Green Bay, too. Actually, if you look around, Tom Brady gets most of the attention in New England, Peyton Manning in Denver, and the same is true for Drew Brees in New Orleans.

Good thing Jennings didn't play for Seattle. He probably would have walked out in November, what with all the love Russell Wilson was getting.

Jennings is a hell of a player, and while this interview is going to tick off some Packers fans (and maybe some Packers, too), Jennings is an honest dude who is going to put everything he has into making his new team -- and Christian Ponder -- better. Unfortunately, part of the price of being honest is something like this, where you show more about yourself than maybe you intended.

People rip and tweak Rodgers for being sensitive. But Rodgers has nothing on Jennings, who comes across in this story as caring way too much about the perception of him as a football player. The fact the quarterback gets a ton of the credit for a team's success is nothing new in the NFL. And Jennings hasn't at all escaped it by signing with the Vikings.

Ponder has a ton of pressure on him this season. I firmly believe that, for Minnesota to return to the playoffs, Ponder has to have a very good and consistent season. Adrian Peterson is the best player in the NFL, but he can't do all of this by himself. Ponder and Jennings are charged with improving Minnesota's biggest offensive weakness: the passing game.

And if that passing game improves, who is going to get the credit?


I wonder how that will make Jennings feel.

Actually, thanks to Wiederer's work, I already have a good idea what the answer is. Of course, we won't find out until Jennings (or Ponder, I guess) leaves the Vikings.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ryan Braun Suspension Taints Brewers History

In 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers chased down their first playoff berth since 1982.

Over the final week of the season, Brewers fans experienced some real goosebump-type moments.

Three years later, more of the same, this time for the NL Central title.

Nearly five years later, those moments have suddenly taken on a different meaning.

And it isn't good.

The man responsible for many of those moments -- Ryan Braun -- has been officially outed as a cheat and the ultimate fraud.

It's one thing for a pro athlete to take performance-enhancing drugs and lie about it. Unfortunately, guys do that all the time.

But Braun took it to another, nauseating, degree.

I spent 23 minutes under the warm Arizona sun two Februaries ago listening to Braun earnestly, arrogantly and pointedly proclaim his innocence, blaming the man who collected his urine for "chain of custody" issues. That's how he beat the rap, on a technicality that he would never admit while professing his innocence.

That day, I listened to him say that upon learning he tested positive for testosterone at "three times higher than any number in the history of drug testing" on Oct. 19, 2011, he said he told the players association: "I promise you on anything that's ever meant anything to me in my life, the morals, the virtues, the values by which I've lived in my 28 years on this planet, I did not do this."

Monday, I watched Braun accept a suspension without pay for the rest of this season, 65 games and about $3.5 million worth, and lamely say, "As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes."

Fine time to get religion, isn't it? With his Brewers in last place, 18½ games out? Cutting a deal when he's making a mere $8.5 million this summer, before his salary increases to $10 million next year, $12 million the year after that and then leaps to $19 million in 2016?

What we already suspected, but sadly learned beyond reasonable doubt the minute he signed off on this deal, is that Braun is a phony and a liar. And he is the worst kind of liar: the kind who stares straight into your eyes as he's lying to you.

It's one thing that Braun lied. Sad fact is that people lie all the time, often about stuff not worth lying about, and more often than that about stuff they'll eventually get caught for lying about. And here's the thing: We all know we're going to get caught, but still lie!

But Braun's lies and deceit are only trumped by the awful statement he followed Monday's suspension announcement with.

"As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect," Braun said in a statement. "I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country.

"Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed -- all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love."


When the initial suspension was overturned, Braun had the nerve to call out the man who took his urine sample in October 2011. He went through back channels to impugn this man's character, even going so far as to insinuate that there was some sort of intent behind the chain of custody issue that got Braun out of a 50-game suspension.

None of this gets Major League Baseball out of its responsibility, but this is not the time to attack Bud Selig. I don't disagree with Brew Crew Ball, which closed its piece on the suspension by saying Selig "got the feather" in his cap that he "so desperately wanted." Part of this was clearly a personal vendetta on Selig's part, but I'm not going to sit here and act as if Braun is some sort of victim.

Ryan Braun put himself in this spot. He did so with what has been reported to be a long pattern of PED usage, not just a one-shot deal. He chose to not only lie about what he had done when presented with the evidence, but he chose to throw a drug-test collector guy to the wolves as part of his defense.

No, Dino Laurenzi, Jr., didn't follow procedure to the letter. But that didn't mean Braun had to go out of his way to point fingers and accuse Laurenzi of acting maliciously. Braun did so knowing that Brewers fans were likely to stand by him, and they did just that.

Now, it's the job of Brewers fans to send their own message.

Not going to suggest vandalism or running on the field to attack, or anything dumb like that.

But here's a novel idea to separate Brewers fans from the neanderthals in San Francisco that cheered Barry Bonds throughout: Make Braun earn it.

After all, the fans are the ones who bought the tickets to fill the coffers and allow the team to pay Braun an absurd amount of money. And the fans are the ones who stood, cheering and screaming when Braun hit home run after home run to get the Brewers to the playoffs twice after a more than quarter-century drought. Those moments -- memories for fans of all ages -- are forever tainted by Braun's use of PEDs. The memories might last, but so will the questions.

Would Braun still have been an MVP without drugs? Would CC Sabathia still have been able to hoist the Brewers to the playoffs in 2008 with not even a half-season's worth of starts? Would the Brewers still have beaten Arizona in 2011 without Braun getting hits in half his 18 at-bats over the series?

We'll never know.

He can't change what he did. But he can make himself a better man for having put himself -- and others -- through what his choices have put them through. No one made him ingest PEDs, but he can make sure it doesn't happen again, and he can earn back the trust of those he has let down.

That's true in his clubhouse, and it's true in Section 218, too.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Commissioner For A Day: NHL

Let's get back into this vibe.

The NHL doesn't have as many dumb rules as college hockey, but there are some things we can change to improve the sport. As always, I want your thoughts via Twitter or the comments, but here are mine.

Bye bye, puck over glass rule

It has run its course.

This was a well-intentioned if unfortunate change coming out of the 2004-05 lockout. Basically, officials refused to call penalties when the puck was clearly sent out of play on purpose. So the NHL took away the discretion.

But enough is enough. Players are NOT doing it on purpose anymore. And when officials aren't calling the most blatantly obvious fouls late in regulation or in overtime, but won't hesitate to call a penalty for the puck going out of play, it just looks silly.

"Want to slash a guy in the chops? GREAT! Just be careful to keep the puck in play!"

It's no secret I want this rule to die. It's not because I want players to feel free to throw the puck out of play with no repercussions. Instead, it's because I see this play as no different than icing. Yeah, sometimes a player takes an icing to get a whistle. When that happens, you don't see an uproar for said player to be penalized for delay of game, do you? It's the same thing. You're doing something to stop the game. Quite often, it's done on purpose. Why is it handled differently?

In college hockey, icing and pucks out of play from the defensive zone are handled identically. Faceoff in the defensive zone, and that team can't change personnel.

Do that in the NHL, and see what happens. No one is marrying the league to this rule, and it isn't going to hurt to try.

Hybrid icing/mandatory visors

There isn't much reason to list this, now that the rules are coming. But I talked about the visor bit in 2006, and it took this long to make the change. Yikes.

The hybrid icing change should have come before Kurtis Foster got hurt, but it's insulting that it took this long after Foster's catastrophic injury. College hockey has used this rule for a while, and it works much better than I ever thought it would going in.

(In fact, when it was first talked about, I was on record as practically hating the idea. I was totally wrong, and NCAA referees and linesmen should be saluted for the job they've done enforcing it.)

I wish visors were the law for all players, but the compromise is understandable. Many veteran players are already smart enough to use them, and hopefully more follow suit.

Stop suspending to the injury

Part of the maddening inconsistency with the NHL's Department of Player Safety comes from its insistence on over-evaluating injuries before suspending players for illegal hits.

If a hit is 1) clearly illegal, 2) particularly dangerous, or 3) it's either clearly intentional or exceptionally reckless, it shouldn't matter if the "victim" is injured.

An illegal hit is an illegal hit, whether the offending player gets lucky and doesn't injure someone or not. And illegal/dangerous/reckless hits need to be consistently punished if there is to ever be any hope of eliminating them from the game.

Consistent enforcement of the guidelines set forth by DPS should lead to an increased respect for the sport among its participants. Then we can hope that trickles down to the lower levels where checking is still permitted.

And if it doesn't work, well, hell, at least we tried.

No more three-point games, at least not this way

A win is two points, whether in regulation, overtime, or a shootout. A loss that happens after regulation is a point. So if a game goes overtime, it's worth three points. Otherwise, it's worth two.

I don't have to tell you how dumb that is.

The answer is right under the NHL's nose, and if it wasn't the NHL we were talking about, it'd be shocking that the NHL hadn't changed this system.

Here is how you do it:

Regulation win: Three points
Overtime/shootout win: Two points
Overtime/shootout loss: One point

Every game is worth the same number of points. Regulation wins can still be a primary playoff tiebreaker, but using that doesn't excuse having games worth two different point totals depending on where they finish.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ryan Braun, Others Targeted by Angry Bud Selig

Bud Selig is mad. I mean, he's pissed, man. He's mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore.

Selig is tired of his sport being torn down by steroid cheats.

If you don't believe he's mad, look at what he's reportedly about to do.

Commissioner Bud Selig's office is expected to suspend (Ryan) Braun and (Alex) Rodriguez, along with as many as 20 players sometime after next week's All-Star break, for their roles in the Biogenesis case, several sources told "Outside the Lines." As OTL reported, MLB started building cases against the players last month after Bosch agreed to cooperate with investigators.

The question is the length of the suspensions.

Sources said the commissioner's office was considering 100-game bans for Braun and Rodriguez, the punishment for a second offense, even though neither player was previously suspended for violating MLB's drug policy.

The argument, one source said, would be that they -- and possibly other players -- committed multiple offenses by receiving performance-enhancing drugs from Bosch and by lying about it.

Yeah, he's going to do that.

(I'm not going to touch the 100-game bit. Hardball Talk already nailed that.)

Listen, I'm not in favor of steroids or steroid users. I think PEDs should be pushed out of sports, but I'm also not stupid. It isn't going to happen.

But let's not hide from what's going on here. Selig wants to catch high-profile PED users in his sport (no, Melky Cabrera doesn't qualify), and his testing system is apparently antiquated to the point where any advanced user is able to beat the system.

In other words, baseball has -- before our very eyes -- turned into cycling, another sport where it seems participants are assumed guilty until proven innocent because no one can believe in the athlete being clean anymore.

It no longer matters if the athlete looks everyone in the eye and denies using anything, and it sure as hell doesn't matter if the athlete passes drug test after drug test. Just ask Lance Armstrong. Or Barry Bonds.


No Brewers fan wants to believe Braun juiced. But the facts make it impossible to believe he didn't juice. Yes, Braun has been betrayed by the system that was supposed to protect him. He's faced endless scrutiny since word leaked that he failed a test and was facing a suspension.

If anything is worse than MLB's handling of the Biogenesis case, it's MLB's inability to keep this stuff secret, despite a policy that clearly calls for confidentiality.

The Biogenesis case is Selig's opportunity to punish people he's been dying to punish. He's wanted to punish Braun and Rodriguez for years, to set an example for players and fans that this stuff isn't going to be tolerated. But he's doing so in this case without either player failing a properly-administered drug test under MLB's policy, a policy Selig helped write and get approved.

Milwaukee scribe Michael Hunt offers this on the situation.

Once you might have asked why Braun would risk his good reputation here by using banned substances. The answer, at least for now, is that he likely stands to lose little locally. If — more likely, when — the 100-game suspension is done, he will return sometime next season as if nothing had happened. Certainly, no one is going to blame him for taking down a season that is already lost.

But beyond the five-county area that finances the house in which he plays, Braun is going to take a nasty hit.

He is somewhat fortunate that the national story will always be led with Alex Rodriguez's name, but the damage will be in the fact his accomplishments from 2011, one of the greatest in franchise history, always will be tainted by the public court Triple Crown of suspicion, disbelief and mistrust.

Baseball is to be applauded for its belated crackdown on cheaters, but this whole slimy Biogenesis affair doesn't exactly have credible sources on either side. Whom to believe? I don't even think that's a legitimate question anymore. Braun has twice been in situations he should have avoided. If he is innocent as he claims of putting banned substances in his body, he certainly is guilty of placing himself in circumstances that project more than a veneer of guilt.

This is well-done by Hunt. It's spot on.

No one wants to take the side of Braun and Rodriguez, especially the latter. Cheaters are the scourge of sports, the guys who make it impossible to truly believe in athletes the way that people used to. But I don't want Braun and Rodriguez suspended because two guys -- Tony Bosch and his partner -- who have virtually zero credibility (they've lied to MLB and other investigators, as well as the media, and now MLB is taking their testimony as gospel to the point that players will be suspended based off it) decided to talk to avoid federal lawsuits. Basically, MLB made a deal with these guys so they could nab the players they want to nab.

This is a personal vendetta by Bud Selig. He doesn't care how he catches players. He wants them caught. CBA and drug policy be damned. By going this route, Selig is unknowingly delegitimizing his own drug policy and testing program.

Braun and Rodriguez (and the others implicated) are hardly innocent here. In fact, they are more than likely guilty of this and probably other drug-type crimes. That's not the point. The point is that MLB crafted rules designed to catch the cheaters. Unable to do so within the auspices of the system, Selig and his cohorts have resorted to means that can't be reasonably justified.

This is a sad time for baseball, for many reasons. He doesn't understand why, but Selig is a huge part of it.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Matt Cooke Conundrum

Listen, fans are going to react to things.

Remember, "fan" is short for "fanatic." defines "fanatic" as "a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal."

No reasonable person expects a diehard fan to not react to news that involves said fan's favorite team.

However, a lot of Minnesota Wild fans went far enough over the weekend to embarrass themselves. Over-the-top reactions are part of sports fandom, yes, but you'd expect a little more out of Minnesota hockey fans than a lot of the stuff we saw after the Wild announced the signing of Matt Cooke.

You'd think Cooke had actually gone Happy Gilmore on the bit at some point, taking off his skate and trying to stab someone with it. Actually, it appeared that at least some fans thought that happened at some point.

Yes, Cooke has a history. The Marc Savard hit, which was deemed legal but was sadly far from that, was a stain on the sport. An awful, unnecessary, completely dirty play that reeked of intent to injure. The hit on Ryan McDonagh wasn't necessarily a good one, either, but the Savard hit practically makes the McDonagh hit look clean in comparison.

The suspensions Cooke has received in his career are completely justified. He probably should have gotten more, given what happened with Savard.

But Cooke hasn't been suspended since the McDonagh shot. That means that in the last two years, Pierre-Marc Bouchard has missed more games due to suspension.

No, Bouchard is not a goon. Cooke really isn't anymore, either.

(I'm not even going to address the Erik Karlsson bit. No reason to bother. If any other player on the Penguins roster does what Cooke did on that play, nobody bats an eye. Even Mike Milbury, discussing the incident on NBC Sports Network that night, acknowledged Cooke's history was the only reason the conversation started. It was a hockey play. After 20-plus years of playing hockey, Cooke didn't just up and decide to sever someone's Achilles.)

Even taking the history of Matt Cooke into account, the reaction of Wild fans on Twitter was scathing, and it's still going on. Do a search for his name on Twitter and enjoy some of the dumb things Wild fans have been saying about this move.

Based on that vitriol, I have to think Wild tickets will be readily available this season, because there are a lot of people who don't seem to want to watch a team Matt Cooke plays for.

Perhaps "embarrassing" is a bit over the top as well, but I've always thought of Minnesota people as being smarter than to fall into traps like this.

Cooke hasn't been suspended in so long that he is no longer a repeat offender in the NHL's eyes. He hasn't taken a major penalty for an illegal check in a regular season game since that ill-fated blow to the head of McDonagh in 2011.

He's been nearly a model citizen in the time since as a Penguin. Good in the community, good in the room, and good in his role on the ice.

His start with Minnesota has been rocky because of the overreaction of many fans, but he's done and said all the right things so far. This is from Michael Russo, chronicling an interview with him Monday on KFAN.

In my opinion, the best part of the interview came at the end when I asked about his number, 24. That number holds a special place in the hearts of many Wild fans because it was the number worn by the late Derek Boogaard. It’s also the number Cooke has worn his entire nearly 1,000-game NHL career.

“The team told me they’re OK with me wearing it because Marty [Havlat] wore it after [Boogaard],” Cooke told me. “I don’t really feel comfortable putting it on without his mum and dad’s blessing. I’ve sent emails off to them. I want to let them know that by putting it on I’m absolutely not doing anything disrespectful. It’s been my only number in the NHL, but at the end of the day, I don’t want anyone’s feelings hurt. I don’t want anyone to think that I am being disrespectful and I want to make sure I take care of that before I even entertain the thought of putting it on.”

Cooke has indeed received that blessing.

It's a class move on his part to even ask. 24 is not a retired number for the Wild. Yes, Boogaard was a legend around these parts, but the Wild were probably never going to retire that number based on what he did while with the team. Typically, cult heroes don't get their jersey numbers in the rafters.

Instead, Cooke -- in a great show of respect to what Boogaard meant to this team -- asked the team first and then Boogaard's family for its blessing before he went ahead with No. 24.

A lesser man would have just taken the number he's always had in his pro career without thinking twice. Cooke understands the history of the franchise he's joining, and he's sensitive to the way Boogaard was lost.

If anything, it probably should diffuse some of the anger toward this signing. Of course, I'm convinced that there is a legion of Minnesota Wild fans not reading anything about Cooke at this point. All they can see is red, and they'll be angry about Cooke until he does something to justify their anger.

I've never hid from the fact that Cooke's agitating and often dirty style of play has worn on me. But I like to watch former UMD players play in the NHL, meaning I've seen plenty of Pittsburgh games the last two seasons (Matt Niskanen). Cooke isn't the same guy, something Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski made clear with Russo Monday (same link as above):

“Some national media and especially NBC and especially Mike Milbury have been living in the past on Matt Cooke. Like Matt Cooke is not that guy. Matt Cooke is no longer the guy who took off [Marc] Savard’s head, who hit McDonagh from behind, who was injurious and nearly played himself out of the National Hockey League because of that play. He had a lot of personal issues that year, he solved them or at least worked through them. Go on and see how many major penalties this guy’s taken in the last two years (none). You’ll be stunned because it’s like nothing. He’s not that player anymore. He’s a serviceable guy. Does he play on the edge? Yeah, of course he plays on the edge much like [Cal] Clutterbuck did. But he’s no longer the headhunter, he’s no longer the guy that you don’t think should be in the National Hockey League because he can’t behave himself. He’s a good contributor to a team. In the last two seasons under this Brendan Shanahan Department of Player Safety stuff, I think he’s earned the right to at least get a chance without being crucified by fans and media in Minnesota without having seen him play all that much with Pittsburgh in the last two years.”

Couldn't say it better. He signed for less than Cal Clutterbuck -- the man he's basically replacing here -- got from the Islanders after the Nino Niederreiter trade. He's probably a more effective player in this role than Clutterbuck was and is. As long as the talk about Cooke's better path as a hockey player is truly not just talk, this should work out fine for the Wild.

Give it ten games, and Wild fans will warm up to this guy.

Now, Todd Bertuzzi, on the other hand ...

Damn, Carlos Gomez

That's all I've got on this one. Wow.

The Carlos Gomez Breakout Campaign is easily the highlight of a generally miserable season in Milwaukee.

Bill Smith: The Gift That Keeps On Giving.

Monday, July 08, 2013

UMD Players Past, Present, and Future at NHL Camps

Summer means a lot of downtime for hockey broadcasters. I've already taken a vacation and spent a lot of time at work watching old WWF YouTube videos working.

For hockey players, it's a good time to get some conditioning work in, as well as seeing where you stack up when it comes time to step to the next level.

A number of current and former UMD players are participating in NHL prospect development camps this month. These events do not affect college eligibility, unless you're Nick Leddy, who wowed the Blackhawks at a summer camp after his so-so freshman year at Minnesota to the point where he got signed practically on the spot.

Some players are at the camp of the team that drafted them. Others are free agents and are hoping to get a look for now or the future.

The list, via the good folks at College Hockey News, is as follows:

Current or future players
Sophomore defenseman Andy Welinski, Anaheim
Freshman forward Alex Iafallo, Buffalo
Senior forward Joe Basaraba, Florida
Freshman defenseman Carson Soucy, Minnesota
Sophomore forward Tony Cameranesi, Toronto
Freshman forward Dominic Toninato, Toronto
Committed (2014) defenseman Blake Heinrich, Washington
Junior forward Caleb Herbert, Washington

Former players
Defenseman Chris Casto, Boston
Goalie Kenny Reiter, NY Islanders
Forward Travis Oleksuk, San Jose
Defenseman Drew Olson, Tampa Bay

Meanwhile, former UMD All American goalie Alex Stalock re-signed with the San Jose Sharks on Friday, as NHL free agency opened. The move came after last season's San Jose backup goalie, Thomas Greiss, inked a deal with Phoenix. Stalock will compete with Harri Sateri to back up Antti Niemi for the Sharks this fall. Indications from reports in San Jose are that Stalock is expected to win this battle and start the season in the NHL. He has appeared in three NHL games over the course of his pro career, but has yet to make a start.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Josh Fenton Named New Commissioner of NCHC

This from the NCHC Monday afternoon, announcing the appointment of Miami University associate AD Josh Fenton as the league's second commissioner, before it's played its first game.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Board of Directors announced today that longtime Miami University administrator Josh Fenton has been named conference commissioner. Fenton will begin his appointment as commissioner on July 15.

 Fenton played an integral role in the formation and development of the NCHC, involved with athletics director meetings and assisting legal counsel in drafting documents creating the conference. Fenton also helped secure CBS Sports Network as the conference’s national broadcast partner, created the operating financial models, secured the Target Center in Minneapolis as the tournament championship site and served as the conference’s liaison on legal and financial matters.

 “Josh brings solid administrative experience, an exceptional business mind, a real depth of knowledge of the workings of the NCHC and a passion for the game to the position of commissioner,” said North Dakota Athletics Director and NCHC Chair Brian Faison. “He has been heavily involved with the work of creating the conference since the very beginning. That background means the NCHC won't miss a beat in getting ready for our first season of competition.”

 Fenton has a wealth of intercollegiate athletics experience, most recently serving as senior associate athletic director for finance and administration at Miami. He was responsible for assessment and management of the athletic department’s $21 million annual budget and was the sport administrator for men’s ice hockey, football, field hockey and men’s golf. Fenton served on the athletic director’s executive leadership team and was the athletic department’s liaison to the university president, vice-president for finance and university general counsel.

 “I am excited, honored and humbled by the opportunity to lead eight great institutions and their hockey programs into the inaugural season,” said Fenton. “I am appreciative of the support of each institution’s president or chancellor, athletics director, hockey coach and faculty athletic representative as we develop the best conference in college hockey. I want to thank Jim Scherr for laying the foundation for the conference’s early development, and to Brian Faison for having the vision to lead the board of directors through the conference’s early evolution. We will work tirelessly to create a conference which will engage our passionate fans and provide our student-athletes with life enriching experiences. My wife, Lindsay, and our two sons are excited to immerse ourselves into the collegiate communities this great conference represents, including our new home in Colorado Springs.”

Fenton’s duties at Miami also included negotiation and management of department contracts, key prospect and donor relations, selling of naming rights, oversight of personnel management, and the supervising of strength & conditioning and equipment services areas. Specific to hockey, Fenton assisted in bringing the 2014 NCAA Ice Hockey Regional to Cincinnati, negotiated Miami’s participation in the Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field in Chicago, and led discussions to secure Bauer Hockey as the official team equipment supplier. He has also represented Miami at Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) and NCHC meetings, along with serving as a current member of the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee.

Fenton was appointed to his most recent role at Miami in 2012 after spending the previous two years as Miami’s associate athletic director for external relations. From 2010 to 2011, Miami saw a 20-percent increase in football season ticket sales and a 65-percent increase in overall football revenue. Additionally, Fenton was integral in developing the ticket sales strategies for the men’s hockey program, consistently selling out Steve Cady Arena since it opened in 2006. He was involved in donor strategies for numerous sports programs, resulting in over $3 million raised for scholarships, salaries and capital projects.

 Fenton joined Miami in 2002 as a volunteer assistant hockey coach while completing his master’s degree. Upon completion of his degree, he was hired as the ice hockey program’s first director of hockey operations, while also doubling his time within the department’s sponsorship area as an assistant director of corporate relations. In 2006, Fenton was promoted to assistant athletic director where his focus was sport administration (ice hockey, men’s golf, baseball, volleyball, and field hockey) along with overseeing all department strategic planning.

 Fenton is a member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) and most recently served on the CCHA Executive Committee in 2012 and 2013.

 A native of Litchfield, Minn., Fenton received a bachelor’s degree in finance in 2001 from Iowa State University, where he was a member of the men’s golf team. He earned his master’s degree in sport studies from Miami in 2004. His family includes his wife, Lindsay, and sons Ryan (3) and Luke (1).

 Fenton replaces Scherr, who resigned as NCHC Commissioner in May to accept the position of chief operating officer with the European Games.

 The NCHC, which begins its inaugural season in 2013-14, includes member institutions Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, and Western Michigan.


Brad Bates, Boston College Athletics Director: “There would be no NCHC without Josh Fenton. From the very origins of the concept of the league to the press conference in July of 2011, Josh’s leadership was inspiring, his commitment unwavering, his passion uplifting, and ultimately his perseverance drove an idea to reality. He is savvy, bright, motivating, tenacious, competitive and genuinely cares about the game and the student-athletes. He is a rising superstar in college athletics. The member institutions have an extraordinary individual leading them into the inaugural season and every constituent of the NCHC can be confident that Josh Fenton will compel the conference to realize their lofty visions.”

 Rico Blasi, Miami University Head Men’s Hockey Coach: “Josh has been a big part of Miami hockey for the last 12 years. He has served as a coach, director of hockey operations and senior associate athletics director. He is very dedicated and hard-working, and leads with detailed integrity and passion. He will be a huge asset to our conference.”

 Brian Burke, Director of Player Personnel, 2014 U.S. Olympic Team: “Josh Fenton is a bright leader who has a tremendous amount of integrity and vision. This is an excellent hire to lead the conference and is great step forward as they begin their inaugural season.”

Joel Maturi, assistant to the President, University of Minnesota: “The NCHC found a perfect fit to lead the conference when it selected Josh Fenton as its commissioner. Josh’s knowledge of the sport, coupled with his expertise and experience in financial management, marketing and revenue generation, are what is needed as the conference embarks on its inaugural season.”

Fare Thee Well, Patesy

It's no secret that longtime Duluth News Tribune scribe and UMD men's hockey guy Kevin Pates is hanging it up. He announced it about a year ago, I believe, and Monday is his last day at the paper.

Kevin worked at the DNT for three and a half decades, spending more than half his time covering UMD hockey. For anyone in the sports media business in this town, UMD hockey is the big deal. No disrespect is intended to any other beat we have around here, but nothing that happens packs the punch the Bulldogs do.

Whether it was Mike Sertich's heyday or Scott Sandelin's tenure (which has, of course, included the school's first -- and so far only -- Division I men's national championship), Pates has seen so much with the UMD program that it is impossible to lay it all out in one blog post.

For the last eight years, I've gotten to know Pates' quirks -- as he has mine. We've been travel partners for UMD road series, at least the ones that are a driving distance. Sometimes I drive, sometimes he drives. No matter what, there weren't a lot of dull moments.

When you travel with someone on these types of trips, one of the challenges becomes to keep each other awake during the Saturday night/Sunday morning trip home after the series finale. Sometimes, it's making fun of whatever can be found on the radio (Coast to Coast was always a favorite, but we found different things to pick apart, including some hideous play by play). Sometimes, it's hashing out what we just saw on the ice. Others, it's (mainly Kevin) telling stories from the unbelievable career he's had. Sometimes, it's a combination of those things.

But we never ended up in a ditch because the driver fell asleep.

Of course, there was that time we almost ended up in a ditch because the road was covered with ice of a better quality than what UMD and Bemidji State played on that particular night at John Glas Fieldhouse.

Here's my short account of the ordeal. It was short because Kevin wrote it up like it was a news story, as if anyone gave a crap what happened to us. It'll never be forgotten, and it was certainly a topic of discussion any time the weather got dicey during future road trips, or any time we went to Bemidji, even in good weather.

On this day, Patesy retires. He'll soon move to Sun City, Ariz., where I'm guessing he won't ever have to again worry about spinning into the wrong lane of a two-way road because he drove into a patch of glaze ice during a freak freezing rain storm.

However the DNT goes about replacing Kevin, know that it will never replace Kevin. His hard work and exceptional fairness toward everything and everyone he ever covered will be missed in this town.

2013 NHL Draft: UMD, Area Represented

The 2013 NHL Draft brought plenty of interesting moves and decisions.

While we didn't get the blockbuster trades that were rumored (does that ever really happen in any sport?), it's always fun to see the best player in a draft (Seth Jones in this case) go fourth overall.

And you wonder why the teams in the top three were in those positions, and why two of them seem to have been there quite often, at least lately.

(I'll get off my soapbox now. Nathan MacKinnon is a good hockey player, but Jones is a special talent, and this reeks of the years where NFL teams felt they had to take a quarterback with the first pick, even if the quarterback wasn't the "best player" on the ol' board.)

Anyway, the Wild didn't have a first round pick. It was sent to Buffalo in the deal to acquire Jason Pominville. Efforts to move into the first round failed, so the Wild moved to acquire a recent first-round pick via trade.

Minnesota sent forward Cal Clutterbuck to the New York Islanders -- along with a third round pick -- for forward Nino Niederreiter. "El Nino" was a first-rounder in 2010, fifth overall. He was rushed to the NHL, with some speculating he was only on the Islanders' roster so they would hit the payroll floor mandated by the CBA. Niederreiter struggled in a fourth-line role, was banished to AHL Bridgeport, and demanded a trade when he wasn't invited to training camp after the lockout.

The Wild also dealt defenseman Justin Falk to the Rangers, hopefully ending the endless stream of "Didn't he play for UMD?" tweets. No, that's Justin FAULK. This is Justin FALK.

Anyway, the draft was also successful for college hockey. 63 current or future NCAA players were picked Sunday, marking the 12th straight year that number was at least 60.

The Wild picked up a future UMD defenseman, Carson Soucy, in the fifth round. Soucy will start at UMD this fall. He's a big body at 6-4 and the Wild like his ability with the puck. He will be the first Wild draft pick to suit up for UMD.

Grand Rapids star and (most likely) future college player Avery Peterson went to the Wild in the sixth round. Peterson is undecided on a college, and also undecided on high school or junior hockey this winter.

(Unsolicited advice: Stay in school. Peterson can still get better with Rapids, and he'll have memories he can't duplicate anywhere else in life. Play in juniors next season, then go to college.)

2014 UMD recruit Blake Heinrich -- a defenseman -- went in the fifth round to Washington. Future Bulldogs Adam Johnson and Neal Pionk were among those passed over. Both will join UMD after plying their craft in the USHL.