Thursday, December 31, 2009

Final Challenge for Brewster to Prove His Worth

The Gophers make their third appearance in the Insight Bowl on Thursday to take on Iowa State in a battle of 6-6 teams. The game will mark coach Tim Brewster's second bowl game in as many seasons, something which may have seemed inconceivable after the team's 1-11 disaster in 2007.

Despite reports by Kent Youngblood in the Star Tribune that Brewster and Athletic Director Joel Maturi are in negotiations for an extension, a loss to the Cyclones in Tempe could indeed spell the end of Brewster's tenure in Minnesota.

Look, much analysis has been performed about Brewster's tenure with the Gophers, and a 14-23 overall mark (6-18 in conference play, including the first winless season since 1983) may or may not warrant an extension. I have gone on record saying that the Gophers should wait until next season to decide if there is progress in the program before discussing an extension (Brewster has two years left on his contract at $1M per season), and I think that is still the case.

However, if the Gophers lay an egg in Tempe on Thursday, Brewster could still get the ax now, and there is precedent for this.

The Gophers played Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl and blew a huge lead in the second half before losing in overtime to a talented team. Despite the fact the Gophers were 6-6 going into that game and were coming off four consecutive winning seasons, Maturi bowed to public pressure and canned coach Glen Mason upon the team's return the next day. Brewster was hired a month later.

Iowa State provides this season's opposition. The Cyclones had a string of three consecutive losing seasons coming into this season, and are on their third coach in four seasons. Dan McCarney was fired after a 4-8 finish in 2006, and Gene Chizik somehow got the Auburn head coaching position despite a 5-19 mark during his two seasons in Ames. New coach Paul Rhodes has managed much more success in his rookie campaign.

Iowa State finished the regular season with a 6-6 mark (3-5 in Big XII play). The season's highlight was a 9-7 victory over Nebraska in Lincoln, the first for ISU since 1977. In that game, the Cyclones forced eight Nebraska turnovers.

Still, it's not like ISU rolled through Big XII play. The other conference victories came against bottom-feeders Baylor and Colorado. Non-conference victories over North Dakota State (hold the jokes), Army, and Kent State don't exactly make one mention ISU among the nation's elite. Still, 6-6 coming off four losing seasons is something upon which to build.

Former De La Salle High School player Alexander Robinson is Iowa State's most prolific offensive weapon. Robinson rushed for 1,058 yards on 210 carries (5.0 yard average) and six TDs during 2009. QB Austen Arnaud completed 57% of his passes and rushed for 485 yards and seven TDs, but was somewhat erratic (11 TDs vs. 13 INT). The Cyclones prefer to spread the ball around to different receivers, and seven of them picked up at least 100 yards this season.

In a way, Iowa State is very similar to the Gophers. They are two programs struggling for respect in tough conferences and hungry for stability. The major difference is that ISU has its coaching situation solid for 2010 and beyond while the Gophers are in flux.

Whether or not progress is evident in the Gopher program is debatable (I believe there has been progress, for the record). However, a victory over a Big XII team in Tempe will get some of Brewster's critics off his back for the time-being. I mean, the Gophers HAVE to beat Iowa State, no?

Prediction: Gophers 34, Iowa State 28

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Westbrook Carries the Day for Gopher Hoops

Penn State guard Talor Battle is viewed as one of the Big Ten's top pro prospects. On Tuesday night, he did not disappoint the patrons with his performance. However, the Gophers' Lawrence Westbrook was a bit better, and Minnesota jumped on his back for a 75-70 victory over the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten conference opener for both teams.

Westbrook poured in 29 points on 11-16 shooting on Tuesday night to lead the way. Only Blake Hoffarber (11 points) also reached double-figures for the Gophers in scoring, as the team struggled offensively.

Battle's 23 points, six rebounds, and four assists kept the Lions around. However, it was Westbrook which carried the day. The senior scored 16 of his points in the game's final 11:30 and his 29 points tied a career high mark, set last season in the improbable come-from-behind victory at Wisconsin.

The rest of the game wasn't pretty for Minnesota. The Gophers struggled with flow the entire night. The team shot just 49% from the floor. Take away Westbrook's 11-16 mark, the overall shooting percentage was 41%. The Gophers were out-rebounded (33-28) and needed a comeback effort in the second half to record the win. Part of the reason PSU stayed around was the 61% shooting percentage the Lions recorded in the second half, including 6-10 from three-point land. One positive area for the Gophers, however, was the eight turnovers for the game. The defense forced 16 Penn State turnovers, many of which occurred in the first half.

The Gophers' winning streak has now reached six games, and the overall record has reached 10-3. A matchup against Iowa looms on Saturday in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes were competitive against #4 Purdue on Tuesday night before losing, but Iowa is in a state of flux right now, and it is a game the Gophers should win. Iowa is 5-8 on the season and averages just 64 points a game - most of that notched in 12 non-conference games (The Gophers average 80 a game). Minnesota won in Iowa City last season and should do so again this year. They'll need the momentum, because, as the Star Tribune's Myron Medcalf points out, the month of January features trips to Purdue, Michigan State, and Ohio State.

It wasn't pretty on Tuesday night, but the winning streak continues and the Gophers are perfect in Big Ten play - albeit 1-0.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

US Juniors 3-0; Canada Showdown Next

Latvia provided the United States with no test on Tuesday afternoon, as the Americans pounded them 12-1 in preliminary round action. The Americans are now 3-0, have outscored their opponents 22-4 in the three games, and will face Canada on Thursday in Saskatoon in the final preliminary round contest.

The US netted five goals in the first period and poured it on from there. After a lone second period tally, the Yanks exploded for six in the final stanza.

Chris Kreider (Boston College) notched a hat trick for the Americans. Derek Stepan (U. of Wisconsin) scored twice and added two assists. Danny Kristo (U. of North Dakota) and Jason Zucker (USNTDP) each notched two goals. Kyle Palmieri (U. of Notre Dame) added four assists in the game, and Philip McRae (London Knights), Jordan Schroeder (U. of Minnesota), Jake Gardiner (U. of Wisconsin), and Jerry D'Amigo (RPI) each picked up two assists.

Mike Lee (St. Cloud State U.) played the entire game in the nets and turned aside 18 Latvian shots. The US team made good on 12 of 62 shots for the game.

Canada is next for the US. The defending WJC champs have cruised through their initial games and will face off with the Yanks in a prime time contest on New Year's Eve. Although the Americans will be sure not to show the Canadians everything, arguably the tournament's top two teams will certainly provide quite a show.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Good Start for US at World Junior Championships

The United States came away with two victories in their first two starts this weekend at the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. On Saturday night, the US overcame a slow start to defeat Slovakia 7-3. On Sunday opposition was provided by Switzerland, and the US prevailed 3-0.

Things did not start off well for the US on Saturday night. Forward Tyler Johnson (Spokane Chiefs) picked up a high-sticking major penalty and a game misconduct just 2:05 into the match, and Slovakia cashed-in twice on the power play. The US found itself down 2-0 just 5:33 into the game.

Defenseman John Carlson (Washington Capitals) knocked home a pass from Derek Stepan (U. of Wisconsin) to cut the deficit to 2-1 after the first frame. The US started out quickly in the second period when Jeremy Morin (Kitchener Rangers) notched an unassisted tally to tie the score almost three minutes in. Stepan blasted home the tie-breaker three minutes later, and the US never looked back. Matt Donavan (U. of Denver) made it 4-2 before Slovakia got one back. However, Danny Kristo's (U. of North Dakota) tally midway through the second period made it 5-3. Jordan Schroeder (U. of Minnesota) and Jerry D'Amigo (RPI) scored in the third period to make the final score 7-3.

Stepan was the leading scorer in Saturday's game with 1-2-3, while Kristo, Carlson, and D'Arrigo each notched 1-1-2.

Mike Lee (St. Cloud State U.) got the start in goal and was not overly-busy, stopping 17 of 20 Slovakia shots. The US fired 46 shots on Slovakia's goaltender Marek Ciliak.

On Sunday, US goaltender Jack Campbell (USNTDT) turned aside all 22 Swiss shots to record the shutout. Campbell made 14 saves in a busy first period, highlighted by two Swiss power plays, but coasted throughout.

The Yanks fired 49 shots on the Swiss net, and Chris Kreider (Boston College), Matt Donovan (U. of Denver), and A.J. Jenks (Plymouth Whalers) found the back of the net. Kredier's tally in the second period was all the US would need, and the other two tallies came in the game's final nine minutes. Six different Americans notched points in a balanced scoring attack.

The US takes Monday off and will face Latvia on Tuesday at 3pm CST in Saskatoon. A looming matchup with defending champion and host nation Canada will follow on Thursday night with a prime time 7pm CST face-off in Saskatoon. The medal round will follow that game.

Canada looked good in its tune-up this weekend (16-0 win over powerful Latvia on Saturday), but the US also looks strong. The game against Canada on Thursday will tell a lot about the US entry in the WJC, and may go a long way in predicting what color medal the Yanks will take home from Saskatchewan.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Gopher Basketball Wins Final Tune-up

The Gopher basketball team closed out the non-conference portion of its schedule Wednesday night with a 92-62 victory over South Dakota State at Williams Arena. Minnesota overcame a sluggish start to pummel the Jackrabbits, using a 17-2 run to close out the first half.

Blake Hoffarber led the team with 16 points, the fifth-consecutive time the junior sharpshooter has been the Gophers' top scorer. He was 4-7 from three-point range and 6-9 overall. Eleven Gophers played in the game, each for at least 10 minutes, and all but freshman Justin Cobbs reached the scorebook. Six Minnesota players reached double figures, including Lawrence Westbrook (12 points), Devoe Joseph (11), Al Nolen (10 points, 6 assists), Damian Johnson (10), and Paul Carter (10).

The Gophers shot a blistering 63% in the first half, but struggled somewhat in the second stanza while shooting 46% for an overall mark of 54%. They won't lose many games when they are around 55%. The tight defense held the Jackrabbits to just 32% shooting and forced 20 turnovers.

Minnesota reached 90 points for the fourth time in the team's five-game winning streak, and scored 89 points in the only game they missed.

Minnesota is 9-3 heading into Big Ten play and will face Penn State at the Barn next Tuesday night. PSU is 8-4 this season but it is a game the Gophers should definitely win. A trip to Iowa City follows for the Gophers on January 2 to play a terrible Hawkeyes' team, followed by a big test against Purdue in West Lafayette on January 5.

One has to wonder what the Gophers' season would look like heading into Big Ten play if they had beaten either Portland, Texas A&M, or Miami? Either way, the team seems to have righted the ship and is playing good basketball heading into league play, dude!

Happy Holidays, Gopher Fans, and we'll be back after Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gopher Basketball Decade

Note: The Gopher hoops team will play its final games of the decade Wednesday night against South Dakota State and next Tuesday against Penn State, both at home . Barring the inconceivable, Minny will win the game and will go into Big Ten play with a 9-3 record. Because we're superstitious, however, we will not include a potential victory in the analysis which follows.

After the previous decade was ruined by an academic scandal which cost coach Clem Haskins his job and the University a bunch of wins (and seasons, for that matter), the Gopher basketball squad managed to put together a moderately-successful decade of the 00s. Haskins was fired in March of 1999 amid a scandal which wiped away six full seasons of results (1993-94 through 1998-1999 officially read as "0-0" seasons) and forced the U to look elsewhere for a coach. Gonzaga bounced the cagers from the NCAA Tournament (unofficially, since the records - and tourney appearances - have been wiped clean) that season, and its head coach, Dan Monson, was brought to Minneapolis to clean things up. Monson accepted a job which was turned down by at least two others, and stepped into a near-impossible situation.

With scholarship limitations for much of his tenure, Monson struggled at the helm. The Gophers were 12-16 in his first season (1999-2000), but just 4-12 in the Big Ten. Improvement was made over the next two seasons, and the 2004-05 squad rode Vincent Grier all the way to a 21-11 (10-6) record and a NCAA Tournament appearance.

However, the decade will always be clouded by controversy, including:
  • Kris Humphries' disastrous one-year run at the U. The local kid spurned Duke for the Gophers at the last minute and decided to take all the shots in his one season in maroon and gold. He was Big Ten player of the year, but his toxic presence split the locker room (another local kid, Maurice Hargrow, left the club mid-season) and resulted in a 12-18 (3-13) 10th place finish.
  • Another local kid, Rick Rickert, backing out of his Arizona commitment at the last minute and coming to the U. However, Rickert and the Gophers fell far-short of expectations.
  • A third local kid, Joel Pryzbilla, quitting school mid-season after academic questions in Monson's first season at the helm.
  • A fan base which turned against Monson and left the Gophers playing before a half-empty Williams Arena.

Monson was fired after a 2-5 start to the 2006-07 season and replaced on an interim basis by top assistant Jim Molinari. The overall numbers on Monson's eight-season tenure aren't horrible - 118-106, but he was just 44-68 in Big Ten play and no finishes higher than fourth. Granted, success for any coach in the situation that was Minnesota basketball at the beginning of the decade would have been highly unlikely. However, the numbers don't lie, and the fact that the Gophers finished 10th three times during his tenure, were Monson's undoing.

After Monson's mid-season dismissal, the Gophers were clearly in flux and desperately in need of a big-time hire. Athletic Director Joel Maturi hit a home run in the spring of 2007 with the surprise hiring of Tubby Smith, late of the University of Kentucky. Smith's hiring brought instant credibility and renewed local interest to the program, and the team qualified for the NCAA Tournament in his second season.

Smith's recruiting classes at the U have been heralded nationally, which was an area in which Monson struggled mightily. The Monson-era Gophers relied heavily on local kids who changed their minds about their initial commitments and junior college transfers. Smith went after and snagged some of the country's top talent.

Overall, the numbers for the decade, defined as beginning with the 2000-01 season, are as follows:
  • Total mark: 163-135 (.547)
  • Big Ten record: 60-88 (.405)
  • NCAA Tournament Appearances: 2
  • Big Ten Upper Division Finishes: 1
  • Big Ten 9th or 10th Place Finishes: 5

All and all, a disappointing run. However, there is hope. Although the jury is out on the current version of the Gophers, a team with a nucleus of Ralph Sampson III, Al Nolen, Rodney Williams, and Devoe Joseph looks solid for the future, and veteran leaders like Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson complement this group nicely. There are heightened expectations in Gold Country this season, which is a departure from the start of this decade.

One thing is certain. After three decades in which results were either forfeited or wiped clean, or ruined amid scandal (rape allegations in 1986-87) the Gophers can count every game played during the decade of the 00s.

That's gotta count for something!

Monday, December 21, 2009

US U-20 Team Wins in WJC Tune-up

The United States Under-20 hockey team defeated North Dakota Saturday night in its pre-WJC tune-up game before a packed house at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. The US squad netted three third period goals to secure the victory.

Boston College freshman Chris Kreider had two goals in the contest, while North Dakota freshman Danny Kristo and Denver recruit Jason Zucker notched the other two tallies. Wisconsin sophomore forward Derek Stepan set up two of the tallies for the US.

St. Cloud State freshman Mike Lee and Michigan recruit Jack Campbell shared the goaltending duties for the US. Lee started and stopped all 12 North Dakota shots, while Campbell played the last period-and-a-half, allowing two goals on 22 shots.

The US junior squad has a final exhibition tune-up scheduled for Tuesday night against the Czech Republic entry in the WJC. After the game, the US will get its roster down to the mandated 22-men (it currently stands at 24) before the actual tournament begins in Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan next Saturday.

The US has a very good chance to medal at this year's WJC, and has an outside chance at capturing the gold. A look at the roster shows that what the team lacks in experience (only three players have prior WJC experience) it makes up for in size and scoring ability. Of the eight defensemen currently in the mix, seven are six-feet or taller, and five of them are at least 6-2. This will play well with the big Canadian team playing on its home ice in Saskatchewan. The collegiate players making the trek are off to good starts this season, many of them in freshmen seasons.

Another area of strength should be in the nets. Lee and Campbell both played well on Saturday, but look for Lee to get the nod. He has started off very well in his freshman season at St. Cloud State (2.19 GAA and .918 Sv% in 15 games) and played extremely well in the team's evaluation camp this summer.  

The Gophers' Jordan Schroeder is the team's most experienced player, with two WJC tournaments under his belt. He will be looked upon to provide leadership to this bunch, and should also provide plenty of scoring touch. He led the team in scoring in the summer's evaluation camp (5-9-14 in six games) and is a dynamic playmaker. He is the lone Gopher representative this season on a team which has historically taken many Minnesota players off the roster for two weeks around Christmastime.

The Canadians will be loaded, but will also have plenty of pressure to perform on home soil. The Russian team is always solid, but the US throttled them three times in the evaluation camp's exhibition games this summer, winning 8-1, 6-1, and 6-0.

This is a very talented US squad which should have expectations to medal. I like coach Dean Blais' team's chances to take home the ultimate prize up in Canada - which should make it all the more sweet.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Rant: Enough, Already, With the Gimmickry

I entered the University of Minnesota in the fall of 1992 with a plan. I was going to join the campus radio station, study journalism, get a degree in fewer than four years, and replace Al Shaver as the play-by-play man on Minnesota North Stars' radio broadcasts.

Well, as it turns out, I did work in campus radio - for about two months, I changed my major after seeing the employment prospects for new grads working in radio was something like $12-grand a year, and the North Stars left for Dallas in the spring of 1993. It's a good thing I didn't pursue my radio broadcasting ambitions, since I did not have a gimmick.

In many respects, the emergence of ESPN over the past 30 years has changed the way we watch sports. Most of this has been good; some has been not so good. Case in point: If one watches SportsCenter on a nightly basis, seldom does an announcer get through a highlight package without some cutesy catch phrase or some over-stated drama. Gone are the days of an announcer simply narrating a highlight package, followed by some level-headed analysis of the game. It still occurs on ESPN, occasionally, but not all the time.

Not to pick on ESPN solely, TV and radio broadcasts of games have become ridiculous. Let's examine hockey for example, and some samples of actual working broadcasters in action:
  • Mike Lange, Pittsburgh Penguins - I simply believed I was the only one who was perplexed of whether I wanted to cry or wind my watch in a given situation. Thanks to Lange, I now know I am not alone. His voice is good, but the cheesy lines ruin it. I'm sure Penguins' fans have gotten used to it, however.
  • Randy Moller, Florida Panthers - It sounds like someone kicked him when he lets out his primal screams after rare Panthers' goals. The movie references make one wonder if he screamed "We've got a man down, dude!" after Keith Ballard nearly decapitated Tomas Vokoun a few weeks ago.
  • Dave Mishkin, Tampa Bay Lightning - Winning the Stanley Cup is exciting; screaming like this sounds like the WWE.
These three examples prove everything that is wrong about radio broadcasts today. Lange has been around for awhile and is certainly the better announcer among these three, but one expects Gordon Bombay to appear at any time to order the Ducks to form "The Flying V" at any time when hearing one of his kitschy sayings. As for Moller and Mishkin, one has to throw them a bone for trying to keep things exciting for dead teams in dead hockey markets. However, the stupid movie references (why any motorboat reference is allowed on a team's radio broadcast is beyond me, anyway) and primal screams make them sound like carnival barkers.

Radio broadcasters are the last of a bygone era. The great thing about radio is that a good announcer paints a picture of the action for a game a fan cannot see. He (or she) has to be descriptive and creative. The excitement level much be matched by what is going on in the game, and good ones show plenty of emotion. However, having to resort to gimmicks is essentially telling the audience that "the game needs MY ramp-up and I am going to be the show." This should have no place in today's game.

However, announcers like Moller and Mishkin represent the future of radio broadcasting, and guys like me represent the past. I'm sure fans in the South Florida and Tampa Bay markets have become used to the movie references and screaming and probably have even grown to enjoy it. That's a shame. The games should stand on their own and shouldn't need snake oil salesmen adding their own inane comments.

Give me Al Shaver on radio and Tom Mees on TV, and I'll even start following the NHL again!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hoffarber Continues Red-Hot Play As Gophers Roll

Coach Tubby Smith's decision to put junior sharpshooter Blake Hoffarber into the starting lineup continues to pay dividends for the Gopher basketball team. Hoffarber scored a career-high 26 points, thanks to 8-10 three-point shooting, to help the Gophers to an 89-48 win over Northern Illinois Tuesday night at Williams Arena. 

Hoffarber set a school record with eight three-pointers in the game and was clearly in a zone. Since being put into the starting five four games ago, Hoffarber has reached double-digits in scoring each game and has also managed consecutive 20-point games. More importantly, the Gophers have won all four games.

Lawrence Westbrook (15 points) and Ralph Sampson III (14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks) also notched double-figures for the Gophers. All ten Gophers who played scored.

The mismatch with Northern Illinois was stark on Tuesday night. The Gophers shot 56% from the floor for the game while holding the Huskies to just 32%. Minnesota was 11-20 from three-point range, while NIU was 2-20. Rebounds were tied at 36 for the game, but Minnesota won the turnover battle 21-14. One thing coach Smith will not be happy about is the Gophers' allowing 12 steals.

Minnesota takes the rest of the week off before facing South Dakota State next Wednesday to conclude non-conference play. The Gophers' RPI isn't improving because of these victories over inferior competition but these are games the team needs to win and they are doing so.

  • Freshman Rodney Williams was held out of Tuesday's game with a sore foot. He had an MRI Tuesday which came up negative, but did not play as a precaution.
  • Hoffarber tweaked an ankle tripping over Sampson's foot during the game. He was treated in the locker room and returned to action.
  • The on-campus investigation surrounding a theft of a laptop is expected to continue for at least another month. Freshman Royce White is a potential suspect in the November theft and has been suspended indefinitely from the team. He pleaded guilty last week to disorderly conduct in an altercation at the Mall of America. 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sweep Gives Gophers Momentum Heading Into Holiday Break

The Gopher hockey team desperately needed a sweep of lowly Michigan Tech this weekend in order to have any chance of making noise in the WCHA standings this season. With a 3-2 victory Saturday night in Houghton, the Gophers got their sweep and are now riding a three-game winning streak going into the holiday break.

Jake Hansen, Taylor Matson, and Mike Carman scored for the Gophers on Saturday, and eight different players notched points. Alex Kangas made 22 saves to pick up the victory.

With the win, the Gophers stretched their winning streak to a season-high three games. They have won four out of their last five starts to improve to 8-9-1 on the season and 6-7-1 in WCHA play.

The team's record is certainly not one over which to rejoice. However, there has been a fair amount of drama in the season's mythical first half, including:
  • Being shut out four times this season, including consecutive games against Denver for the first time in 60 years
  • The loss of Jay Barriball to season-ending knee surgery
  • Sam Lofquist's departure from the team left the Gophers with six healthy defensemen for over a month
  • Nick Leddy missed nine games with a broken jaw
  • The team is 2-6-0 in Friday night games, including being shut out on three occasions
  • A disappointing 3-6-0 mark at Mariucci Arena
  • A low power play success rate of 13.7% (11.5% in WCHA games)
  • Rumors of Jordan Schroeder and/or Aaron Ness leaving the team mid-season for the NHL
Give the Gophers a little credit for battling through the adversity of the first half. Coach Don Lucia has had to search for answers all season long. However, there is far too much talent on this roster to be battling through as many of the issues present early on. The lack of effort in Friday night games, for example, is simply inexplicable.

One area of non-concern for Gophers fans is in goal. Alex Kangas (7-6-0; .912 Sv%; 2.64 GAA) and Kent Patterson (1-3-1; .913 Sv%; 2.92 GAA) have been solid, and their numbers in conference play (.922 Sv% and 2.45 GAA for Kangas; .921 Sv% and 2.61 GAA for Patterson) have been even better. The issue in far too many games has been the team's spotty defensive play. The Gophers have been sloppy in their own end and have been significantly out-shot in far too many games. One has to wonder how dire the Gophers' straits may have been but not for the solid play of their goaltenders?

Still, despite everything, the Gophers are in seventh place in a tight WCHA, just three points out of first round home ice advantage. They are one point behind North Dakota in league standings.

Minnesota has the rest of the month off and will return to the ice in the Dodge Holiday Classic on January 2 and begin a string of six consecutive home games. In the DHC, Bowling Green, Northern Michigan, and Clarkson round out the tournament, and the Gophs are also in action the following weekend with a non-conference series against struggling Harvard. Conference play returns on January 15 against North Dakota. One imagines the Gophers will not have to struggle too hard to get up for that series after being embarrassed up in Grand Forks at the beginning of the season.

With four winnable home games before the UND series, the Gophers have a chance to build some more momentum before heading into the season's final seven weeks - all conference games. They have a chance to improve the inexcusable poor home record and get back over the .500 mark. Not seeing Minnesota anywhere in the PairWise is a bit surprising, but it is still early. Although the non-conference schedule will not help the Gophers' RPI, the team still has conference games remaining against North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, UMD, Wisconsin, and St. Cloud State, which should definitely have a positive impact on their PairWise mark should they win the games.

There is still much of the season yet to be played, but the Gophers head into their three-week break feeling much better about themselves than they did a few weeks ago.

Elsewhere in the WCHA:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lights-Out Shooting Paces Gopher Hoopsters

The Gopher basketball team throttled struggling St. Joseph's Saturday afternoon 97-74 at Williams Arena thanks to the outside shooting of Blake Hoffarber and the inside work of Ralph Sampson III.

Hoffarber led the Gophers with a season-high 20 points on 7-14 shooting (5-9 from three-point range). Sampson scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and managed three blocks for Minnesota.

Colton Iverson (11 points, 6 boards), Lawrence Westbrook (14 points), and Devoe Joseph (10 points) each reached double-figures for MInnesota.

The Gophers used a 14-2 run to close out the first half after St. Joe's had tied the score at 24. 

The main reason why the Gophers won so handily was the dominance in the paint. The Gophers outscored St. Joe's 52-20 in the paint, which also accounts for much of the high overall shooting percentage. If the Gophers can establish the a similar presence inside during Big Ten play, they will definitely be a force with which to be reckoned. One has to wonder about the further inside impact suspended players Trevor Mbakwe and Royce White would provide to a team whose inside game is emerging?

Hoffarber has reached double figures in each of the three games he has played since moving into coach Tubby Smith's starting rotation. The streaky-shooting junior from Hopkins is managing to convert his opportunities from beyond the arc. However, as pointed out in today's telecast, Hoffarber's opportunities will be curtailed once Big Ten play begins, something evident in his previous two seasons in maroon and gold.

The Gophers are now 7-3 on the season and have won three in a row after losing three consecutive games. Next up is Northern Illinois on Tuesday night at the Barn. The non-conference portion of the Gophers' schedule has two winnable games remaining, and the Gophers should head into Big Ten play sitting at 9-3 and riding a five-game winning streak.

If only they could have won one of those games over Portland, Texas A&M, and Miami?

Gopher Pucks Finally Get Elusive Friday Win

It wasn't particularly pretty, but the Gopher hockey team took game one of the series with Michigan Tech 3-2 in Houghton. More improbably, the victory came on a Friday night, and the Gophers simply do not win games on Friday nights.

Mike Hoeffel scored twice to tie the score after the Gophers spotted the Huskies a 2-0 lead on their home ice. The teams jockeyed through a scoreless third period before Patrick White's goal with 26 seconds remaining clinched the victory for Minnesota.

The Gophers are now 2-6-0 in Friday night games. The two most recent Friday games, at Michigan and against Minnesota State, were perhaps the Gophers' two worst performances of the season, so the win over Michigan Tech came at an opportune time.

The effort was much better Friday than the previous two Fridays. Minny threw 40 shots on Michigan Tech goaltender Kevin Genoe who was simply spectacular all night long. In the first period, Genoe kicked aside all 17 Minnesota shots.

However, the Gopher penalty kill was non-existent all night long. MTU received only two power plays the entire game, but cashed in on both chances. High-scoring Brett Olson notched the game's first goal midway through the first period and Jordan Baker notched a PPG early in the second to give Tech a 2-0 lead. The Gophers began their comeback shortly thereafter, led by Hoeffel's two goals.

Alex Kangas played well, making 23 saves, to pick up a victory.

Game two is Saturday night in Houghton, as the Gophers go for their first sweep since late October.

Elsewhere around the league:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Rant: Yeah, The Insight Bowl Isn't Great, But.......

The Gopher football team found out it will play Iowa State in the Insight Bowl on New Year's Eve this season while the rest of the college football world held its collective breath waiting to see who snagged BCS bids. While Iowa will head for its BCS bowl, the Gophers will settle for the Insight Bowl for the third time in four seasons.

Still, it could be a lot worse.

In 1985, the Gophers finished 6-5 and accepted an invitation to play in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, AL. It was the fourth bowl game in school history, and under head coach Lou Holtz, it promised to be the first of many. Of course, "The Music Man" (if ever there were a "Snake Oil Salesman," Holtz was one) left after his 6th place conference finish for greener pastures (no pun intended) at Notre Dame, and the Gophers were coached by John Gutekunst. They defeated Clemson 20-13 in the game and the '85 season was deemed successful at 7-5. By the way, the Gopher victories that season came against Wichita State, Montana, Purdue, Northwestern, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Clemson. Not one of those teams had a winning record in 1985 - so Holtz turned around the program by beating losing teams; hmmmm......

Things looked promising in 1986. Gutekunst's victory in the Independence Bowl led him to be named permanent head coach, and the team defeated Bowling Green in the season opener. However, the Gophers were then throttled 63-0 against Oklahoma and then lost to the University of the Pacific at home to start 1-2 in non-conference play. The Gophers would rally to finish 6-5, highlighted by a comeback victory over #2 Michigan on a last-second Chip Lohmiller field goal. Other than Michigan, the Gophers defeated nary an above-.500 opponent in 1986, but 6-5 was still good enough to get them an invitation to the Liberty Bowl. Tennessee defeated the Gophers 21-14 in Memphis that year, and the Gophers were 6-6.

The football program would go a full twelve seasons before playing in another bowl game. 

Granted, the collegiate bowl landscape has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. While there were once a half-dozen bowls, highlighted by the Rose Bowl, in which the Gophers have not appeared since 1962, there are 33 bowls which will be played this season. A full sixty-six teams will earn the right to play in the 2009 post-season, featuring such instant classics like the MAACO Bowl, the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, the St. Petersburg Bowl, and the International Bowl. The Insight Bowl seems none the less prestigious.

However saturated the bowl landscape has become, one cannot escape the fact that the Gophers still managed to go from 1986 to 1999 without playing in a bowl game of any kind - major or minor. Glen Mason's arrival in 1997 started a resurgence of the program which ended up making its first of seven bowl appearances before his dismissal after the 2006 Insight Bowl. Yes, he made three appearances in the Music City Bowl, two at the Sun Bowl, and one each at the Insight Bowl and Micron bowl, but seven appearances in ten years for a program which had made five bowl apperances EVER prior to his arrival would have elevated some coaches to deity status. At Minnesota, we became so used to post-season football that we decided that second-tier bowl games weren't enough, and pressured Joel Maturi to fire Mase.

Now, Tim Brewster is in his third season at the U, and his success (or lack thereof) has been much-debated. Still, he has back-to-back bowl appearances on his resume for his three seasons at the helm. Looking at the 2009 schedule during summertime, most realistic Gopher fans would have accepted a 6-6 mark overall, given the improvement in the non-conference schedule (Air Force, Syracuse, Cal, and South Dakota State are a much more talented lot that 2008's games against Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Montana State, and Florida Atlantic), coupled with a Big Ten schedule which saw the Gophers forced to play Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa all on the road. As I have written before, a lot of the anti-Brewster discussion would have been mitigated had the Gophers beaten Illinois to finish 7-5 (4-4), but losing to the Illini was a bad thing. Period.

Still, now that the season has ended, the Insight Bowl jokes abound, blowhards like Patrick Reusse and Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune are making continual pleas to have Brewster dismissed, and guys who preach some patience (like me) get compared to Sid.

However, things could be much worse at Minnesota than the current situation. The team has a nice new stadium on campus after decades of whining from the fan base that it was absolutely necessary. The recruiting classes brought in by Brewster in his first two seasons are better than any Mason class over his final five years on campus, and the 2010 class is expected to be strong as well (Seantrel Henderson or not). The team has a tough schedule ahead in 2010 (non-conference games are against Middle Tennessee State, South Dakota, USC, and Northern Illinois), but now has home games against Ohio State, Penn State, and Iowa for which to look forward. And finally, the seniors have a bowl game for which to look forward.

Iowa State will be a good challenge for the Gophers at this year's Insight Bowl (Why don't these teams play more often? ISU is the closest D-1 campus to the U of M.), but this is a game the Gophers should win. A victory would end the season 7-6 and a winning record is certainly better than the alternative, especially for a program which has been stuck in neutral for as long as Minnesota's.

Of course, even an Insight Bowl victory will be viewed with skepticism by the Gopher detractors who want nothing more than somebody else's coach roaming the sidelines at Minnesota next fall. Of course, those folks will be looking for THAT coach's replacement within two seasons should the new coach finish anything less than 11-1 by year two.

I mean, hell, we have a new stadium! 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Sweep Is Vital For Gopher Hockey

The Gopher hockey team has gone six weeks without recording a weekend sweep. In fact, the sweep of Alaska-Anchorage on October 30-November 1 is the only sweep recorded by the Gopher Six all season. Still, with this weekend's matchup in Houghton against Michigan Tech, a sweep must be viewed by Gopher observers as attainable and necessary.

Michigan Tech is predictably residing in last place in the WCHA this season with a 2-10-0 league record. The Huskies have been out-scored 56-23 this season and are coming off a weekend throttling courtesy of the Wisconsin Badgers. On home ice, Sconnie beat MTU by a combined score of 14-2. Coach Jamie Russell's crew has lost five straight and eight out of its last nine.

The Huskies are not without talent. Their top scorer, sophomore Brett Olson, has notched 7-8-15 in 14 games this season. Senior captain Malcolm Gwilliam (pictured right) has managed 6-6-12 in 12 games, and freshman defenseman Steven Seigo has picked up 1-9-10 from the blue line. It's admittedly thin in the scoring ranks after those three, but the Huskies have managed to secure production from some familiar sources all season long. 

A major issue for Michigan Tech has been in goal. Freshman Kevin Genoe has picked up the majority of duty in the nets and has managed a 2-7-0 mark in 11 games, with a respectable save percentage of .896 coupled with a less-respectable goals against average of 3.86. Sophomore Josh Robinson has managed some scary numbers in his seven games: 1-4-0 record, .856 Sv%, 5.06 GAA. For a team which averages fewer than two goals per game, MTU has needed its goaltenders to step up and steal games; something which has not occurred too often thus far.

Residing in the WCHA's basement is nothing new for Michigan Tech. Coach Russell managed a winning record in 2006-07 (18-17-5), but one has to go back to 1992-93's mark of 17-15-5 record to find the last occurrence of a better-than-.500 Michigan Tech team. Recruiting quality players to Michigan's Upper Peninsula has proven very difficult for Tech for quite a while and this year's crew appears to be no exception.

Still, the Gophers need only to look to last season for a reason not to overlook the Huskies in Houghton. Michigan Tech was on a 23-game winless streak within the conference until it beat the Gophers in overtime last March. The victory was the final one for MTU last season and the loss cost the Gophers a NCAA Tournament bid.

This season has proven very difficult for the Gophers. The team has had well-documented problems in Friday night games and has had much trouble sustaining effort game-to-game, weekend-to-weekend. The team has managed back-to-back weekends in which they played some of their worst games on Friday night only to rebound with solid efforts on Saturday. The Gophers are mired in the WCHA's second division, and any designs on a WCHA title, let alone first round playoff home ice advantage, must be started by a sweep of Michigan Tech this weekend.

If the Gophers come out dead on Friday night like they have done the last two weekends, they will lose to Tech. If they can channel their effort present last Saturday night in Mankato for both games, they'll sweep this weekend's series handily. It's not desperation time yet, but this is a series the Gophers should definitely sweep........and will.

Donny Puck Prediction: Gopher Sweep

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brewster's Name Surfaces For Kansas Job

The University of Kansas fired (I mean, accepted the resignation of) football coach Mark Mangino last week and is the case with all openings, the rumor mill is churning with names of potential successors.

Buffalo coach Turner Gill has reportedly interviewed for the job. The former Nebraska star QB is 20-30 in four seasons with Buffalo. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt pulled his name from consideration Tuesday.

However, a new name surfaced Tuesday: Gopher football coach Tim Brewster. Brew has spent three seasons in Minny, leading the Gophers to a 14-23 record and two-consecutive bowl appearances. With two years remaining on his contract, reportedly at $1M a season, Brewster's future in Minnesota is very uncertain. He was an assistant at Texas before leaving for the NFL, and has a reputation within the Big XII as a solid recruiter from his time at Texas.

However, he is a candidate for the Kansas job, although KU athletics director Lew Perkins has not formally asked for permission to interview Brewster from Minnesota AD Joel Maturi. Still, in the Kansas City Star piece linked above, Maturi certainly made no pronouncements that he would prevent Brewster from being interviewed.

Of course he wouldn't. If Brewster leaves for another job, Maturi will not have to weigh whether or not to fire Brewster after the season. If he bows to public pressure - like he did when dismissing Glen Mason three seasons ago - and fires Brewster now, he'll be forced to pay a buyout and then justify his hiring of Brew in the first place with a skeptical public. However, if Brewster leaves on his own terms, the buyout won't apply, Maturi has cover for the hiring ("Look, he was a Big XII guy at heart and left to coach in a conference in which he was familiar."), and can save face with the media.

The Kansas job is no better than Minnesota. KU may pay its football coach more money, but the stadium is worse than Minnesota's, and it's a school ruled by the basketball program. The only appealing thing about KU is the lack of constant media pressure. Lawrence is 30 miles or so from Kansas City, and there is somewhat of an isolation from the fever swamp. There is pressure to win at KU, but most folks there are more concerned about by how many games KU hoops will win the Big XII title this season. If Brewster is looking for a break from the media pressure here in Minnesota, then Kansas is for him. If he is looking to win next season, he should stay in Minnesota.

Joel Maturi is certainly hoping for the former.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gopher Hoops Crush Morgan State

The Gopher basketball team picked up its sixth win of the season Tuesday night with a 94-64 victory over the Todd Bozeman-coached Morgan State club at Williams Arena. Although Bozeman achieved success and later scorn with his rules-bending methods at California in the 90s, his Bears were no match for the Gophers in this one.

Minnesota swung out to a 43-21 halftime lead, shooting 53% from the floor, and never looked back. Although the club allowed 43 second-half points, the Gophers scored 51 themselves, and shot an impressive 49.1% from the floor. In the second half alone, the Gophers managed to get to the free throw line 39 times, making 27 shots (69.2%).

Blake Hoffarber led all Gophers with 18 points on 8-11 shooting, including 2-5 from three-point range. Damian Johnson (11) and Lawrence Westbrook (14) also reached double-figures for Minnesota. All eleven Gophers who played scored points. 

On the negative side, the Gophers turned the ball over 17 times, shot 71% from the free throw line, and allowed Morgan State's Reggie Holmes to notch 26 points.  

On the plus side, Devron Bostick played nine minutes in the game and managed to get to the foul line 10 times. He was 7-10 from the charity stripe. Freshman forward Rodney Williams was a force again Tuesday night, scoring seven points and blocking four Morgan State shots.

Up next for the Gophers is St. Joseph's at the Barn on Saturday afternoon. At 6-3 and with two straight victories this week, the Gophers appear to be back on track in non-conference play.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Saturday Night Energy Level Much Better As Pucksters Earn Split

After a lackluster game on Friday night on home ice against Minnesota State, the Gopher hockey team scored the first three tallies in Saturday night's contest in Mankato and held on for a 6-2 win over MSU to earn a series split.

The effort was much, much, better Saturday night. The Gophers came out with some energy in the first period and controlled the play from the opening drop. The team also improved its defensive play, holding Mankato to just 22 shots one night after allowing 42. Improving the team's defense is paramount to the Gophers' having success in the WCHA the rest of the way, and the return of Nick Leddy to the lineup should help the d-corps.

Leddy scored his first collegiate goal on a shot from the blue line, and Josh Birkholz pumped in the next two for Minny, also his first two goals in the M&G. The Gophers definitely need production from their freshmen, and Leddy's and Birkholz's contributions were welcomed. Tyler Pitlick, a Minnesota State freshman from Centennial, scored the next two, the second coming on a horrible misplay in front of the Gopher net by goaltender Alex Kangas midway through the second period, cutting the deficit to 3-2 and giving the Mavericks some momentum in a game controlled by Minnesota to that point. MSU ended up out-shooting Minnesota 13-7 in the second period to suggest an interesting finish. Instead, the Gophers dropped a hammer on the Mavericks in the third period.

Sophomore Nico Sacchetti scored early in the third to push the lead to 4-2. Goals by Patrick White and Taylor Matson (his first collegiate goal as well) sealed a much-needed win.

Kangas picked up the victory, his first since November 14, and made 20 saves in the contest.

The Gophers are now 6-9-1 on the season (4-7-1 in the WCHA) and will spend next weekend on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to take on struggling Michigan Tech. MTU has lost five games in a row and was hammered at Wisconsin this weekend, losing the two games by a combined score of 14-2. The Gophers need a sweep next weekend and would then near the .500 mark both in the league and overall as they head into the Christmas break of their schedule. A little bit of confidence heading into the holidays will also ease some of the pressure of what has been a very disappointing start to the season.  

Elsewhere in the WCHA:
  • St. Cloud State at Alaska Anchorage: SCSU 3, UAA 1 (Real barn-burner with 33 total shots on goal); SCSU 3, UAA 2 (Aaron Marvin with two goals for St. Cloud) - St. Cloud State Sweep
  • Denver vs. Colorado College: DU 2, CC 1; DU 4, CC 4 (Mike Testwuide with a hat trick for CC; Rhett Rahkshani with two goals and assist for DU) - Denver Win and a Tie
  • North Dakota at UMD: UND 4, UMD 2; UMD 3, UND 2 (OT - Justin Fontaine with game-winner 12 seconds into OT) - Series Split
  • Michigan Tech at Wisconsin: UW 8, MTU 2 (Blake Geoffrion with a hat trick, Brendan Smith with four assists for Wisconsin); UW 6, MTU 0 (Scott Gudmandson with a shutout and Brendan Smith, Derek Stepan, and Michael Davies with three points apiece for Wisconsin) - Wisconsin Sweep
  • Conference Standings
  • Updated PairWise

Gopher Gridders to Return to Tempe

The Gopher football team learned its bowl fate Sunday evening, and it will be a return visit to the Insight Bowl in Tempe, AZ. This year's opponent is 6-6 Iowa State, and the game will take place on New Year's Eve at 5pm.

The Gophers will be making their third trip to the Insight Bowl in the past four seasons, and the venue has not been kind to them. Minny lost to Texas Tech in the 2006 edition after blowing a huge first half lead, leading to the dismissal of coach Glen Mason one day later. Last season, the Gophers lost to Kansas in Tim Brewster's first bowl appearance.

Here's my favorite comment thus far, courtesy of the Star Tribune's readers:
"The gophers don't deserve to go. A 6/6 season earns an F. The U is a Public University and WE should not spend the money it costs to travel the team. They will lose money."
We'll have a preview as the game approaches. For now, relax and start thinking about some "Insight Memories" in the making.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Back to Normalcy for Gopher Hoops

After losing three consecutive non-conference games in a week's time, the Gopher basketball team returned home Saturday afternoon to throttle the Brown University Bears 91-55. All five Minnesota starters (Blake Hoffarber, Damian Johnson, Lawrence Westbrook, Ralph Sampson III, and Al Nolen) reached double figures in the game, and Devoe Joseph had 11 points off the bench, in the balanced scoring attack.

Suspended senior forward Devron Bostick made his first appearance for the team, but did not score for Minnesota. The Gophers did not need his scoring ability, however, as the rest of the roster notched at least two points in this game. The Gophers shot 54% from the floor for the game and held Brown to just 33%. Minnesota also limited its mistakes in this one, turning the ball over just seven times and creating 14 turnovers the other way. The Gophers also blocked ten shots and forced nine steals.

A fast start was key to the Minnesota victory. By the twelve-minute mark of the first half, the Gophers were shooting 63% from the field, including 3-4 from three-point territory, to open up a 28-8 lead. At the same point of the game, Brown was shooting 2-14 from the floor, and both field goals were three-point baskets, which was a testament to the Gophers' tough defense early on. Minnesota kept the pressure on throughout and skated away with the victory.

The Gophers improved to 5-3 on the season and will face Morgan State at the Barn next Tuesday night. St. Joseph's, Northern Illinois, and South Dakota State are the remaining non-conference games - all at home - so the opportunity to rack up four additional victories leading into the Big Ten opener is available. However, with the three consecutive losses to Portland, Texas A&M, and Miami last week, the opportunity for "signature" non-conference victories to pad the Gophers' NCAA Tournament resume was lost.

Still, it's too early to panic, and the Gophers proved that Saturday afternoon. This team will take care of business the rest of the way and should definitely be in the hunt for a Big Ten title.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Night Woes Continue to Plague Gopher Pucksters

It was the same old, same old, for the Gopher hockey team on Friday night against Minnesota State. MSU controlled the play much of the night, did not beat itself (evidenced by one penalty against the Mavericks all night long), took advantage of Minnesota mistakes, and came away with a 3-1 victory on Friday night at Mariucci Arena.

The Mavericks completely controlled the play for the first half of the game, out-shooting Minnesota 29-8 at one point late in the second period, and only a late Gopher flourish to tie MSU in shots 11-11 in the second period prevented a total mis-match. Yet, thanks to the big play of sophomore goaltender Kent Patterson, the score remained tied at one, as Jake Hansen and Jerad Stewart traded first period goals for the Gophers and Mavericks, respectively. Rylan Galiardi cashed in after a teriffic play by teammate Mike Louwerse to give 'Kato a 2-1 lead with under eight minutes remaining in the third period. Zach Harrison's empty-netter put the icing on the cake, and MSU had its third-consecutive victory over Minny stretching over two seasons.

Friday night games have been problematic for the Gophers all season long. The Gophers are now 1-6-0 in Friday night games, including being shut out three times. Minnesota also dropped to a disappointing 3-6-0 at Mariucci Arena on the young season. The heat on the Gophers will be intense unless they manage a split in this series with Mankato, and it is certain that the Gophers will head into Saturday's game residing in ninth place in the WCHA standings.

A chance at redemption lies in Saturday night's rematch against the Mavericks in Mankato. 

PS - A big hat tip to Mankato Free Press Mavericks' beat writer Shane Frederick and his blog "PucKato." I followed his live blog feed throughout Friday night's game, as FSN elected to air the epic Wild/Ducks' game and put the Gophers on tape delay. Maybe the network knew something we didn't? Great job, Shane.

Friday Rant: Replace Keith Olbermann on "Sunday Night Football"

Note: Beginning each Friday, I will take a break from my Gopher-related coverage and post a rant about a random topic. It will largely be sports-related and may include some Minnesota-based content.

In an October post, I outed myself as a conservative. In the same post, I blasted the NFL, specifically NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith and Indianapolis Colts' owner Jim Irsay, for their comments about wanting to keep Rush Limbaugh from joining a group looking to buy the St. Louis Rams. Limbaugh ended up being tossed out of the group once scrutiny of comments never uttered by Rush but reported as fact by various media outlets became commonplace. The point was that the NFL was no place for someone who was controversial.

In fact, Irsay put it best when he uttered:
"....When there are comments that have been made and are inappropriate, incendiary, and insensitive.....our words do damage, and it's something we do not need."

Why then is the NFL a place for the comments of one Keith Olbermann? The former popular ESPN anchor has been the host of MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" since 2003. The show is a news commentary program which reports what Olbermann deems the biggest news stories of the day in reverse order, although the ones reported first tend to be hard news stories which warrant the most analysis. The network as a whole has a decidedly center-left bias, and Olbermann's show is no exception. Regular guests of the program include liberals Howard Fineman (Newsweek), Jonathan Alter (Newsweek), and Rachel Maddow.
In Olbermann's mind, George Bush and Dick Cheney still occupy the White House, given the amount of negative coverage given to the former President and Vice President. With the "Worst Person in the World" segment, Olbermann selects whom he happens to hate the most on a given day, often conservatives like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Bill O'Reilly, or Laura Ingraham, not to mention Bush and Cheney.

The incendiary dialogue used by Olbermann and his guests marginalizes conservative thought and is completely controversial. Consider, for example, this gem:
"the leading terrorist group in this country right now is the Republican Party,"
Or, this snippet from an article by National Review's Stephen Spruiell.
"But Olbermann's most incredible performance by far came after Bill Clinton's outburst during his interview with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. When Wallace asked Clinton why he hadn't done more to connect the dots and stop al-Qaeda, Clinton accused Wallace of doing 'Fox's bidding ... your nice little conservative hit job on me.' Olbermann took it a step farther. In his telling, Wallace was not only 'a monkey posing as a newscaster,' but also a 'proxy' whose 'sandbag effort' had been orchestrated by the Bush White House. What's more, Clinton was 'brave' for standing up to this 'smear by proxy,' and he 'told the great truth untold about [the Bush] administration's negligence.' Naturally, Olbermann quoted 'Eric Blair, writing as George Orwell,' and elucidated the many parallels between America under the Bush administration and the totalitarian dystopia described in 1984."
He belittles all who dare disagree with him on a nightly basis, has few, if any, opposing viewpoints on his show, and operates a divisive program.
As Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz pointed out:
"He {Olbermann} positions his program as an increasingly liberal alternative to the 'O'Reilly Factor' and frequently bestows on 'Bill-O' his "Worst Person in the World" award."
O'Reilly still smokes Olbermann in the ratings, and it's fine that Olbermann provides this service to his viewers. But, does he really need to be part of NBC's "Sunday Night Football" telecast?
The pregame show is co-hosted by Olbermann and former SportsCenter colleague Dan Patrick. Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, and Tiki Barber provide color commentary and analysis in the studio, and Bob Costas provides ego from the game site. Patrick is capable enough of carrying the studio on his own without Olbermann's input, and Costas could probably do the entire show by himself in his own mind.
Of course, NBC may be required to have Olbermann do this broadcast via some provision in his contract. Who knows? However, the NFL sells broadcast rights for its games and probably has some say about who can grace the airwaves leading into their games. NBC and the NFL clearly have no problem allowing someone with a record of toxic remarks toward over 50% of this country actively participating in its pregame show. However, if a conservative commentator like Rush Limbaugh wants to buy 1% of a football team, we're all of the sudden about unity. The NFL is having it both ways.
Could one imagine the backlash if Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, or another conservative talker on the dais of the Fox NFL pregame show? Yet, Keith Olbermann manages to occupy such a seat despite his divisive remarks on his cable show. Of course, he may be the only broadcaster in America who can make Bob Costas seem humble.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gopher Pucks Hope History Doesn't Repeat

The Gopher hockey team heads into this weekend's series against Minnesota State in a bit of a funk. The team is off to a 5-8-1 start overall (3-6-1 in the WCHA) and currently resides in ninth place in the WCHA. Prior to last Saturday's victory over Michigan State in East Lansing, the Gophers had lost four games consecutively, including perhaps the worst performance in recent memory, the 6-0 loss to Michigan the night prior to the victory.

The problems for Minnesota have been many. The defense has been spotty all season long, often leading to uncontested opportunities for their opponents against goaltenders Alex Kangas and Kent Patterson. The team has lacked scoring punch and has been shut out four times already this season. Players counted on for goal-scoring ability, such as Jordan Schroeder, Mike Carman, and Cade Fairchild, got off to slow starts (although Schroeder has come on nicely of late). Senior forward Jay Barriball is out for the season with a knee injury, and freshman defenseman Nick Leddy has missed a month with a broken jaw. Sophomore defenseman Sam Lofquist quit the team, leaving the Gophers with just six healthy defensemen in Leddy's absence. In short, it has been a trying season for coach Don Lucia, who is beginning to feel some heat due to the Gophers' spotty play.

Enter the Minnesota State Mavericks. The Mavs come into this weekend's series winners of three of their past four games, including a home sweep of Michigan Tech last weekend. MSU is 6-7-1 overall (4-7-1 in the WCHA), and is situated in seventh place in the league.

Offensively, MSU is led by a couple of senior forwards. Jerad Stewart (6-6-12) and Zach Harrison (4-8-12) have paced the Mankato offense, and Harrison picked up co-WCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors for last weekend's 2-3-5 performance against Michigan Tech. Junior defenseman Ben Youds (0-10-10) has provided plenty of playmaking ability from the blueline for an experienced defensive core. In goal, junior Austin Lee has carried the bulk of the duty, posting a 5-4-0 mark in nine starts, with a GAA of 2.54 and a Sv% of .913. The goaltending situation was a big question mark for MSU heading into the season, when the Mavericks had to replace three-year starter Mike Zacharias. So far in 2009-10, Lee and freshman Kevin Murdock have answered that question.

This weekend features a home-and-home format. The Gophers will host Friday night, while the Mavericks will play host on Saturday. This will be the only regular season meetings between the two clubs.

The Gophers own a 28-5-6 advantage over MSU over the years. However, two of the losses came at the expense of MSU last season. The Mavericks swept Minny for the first time in school history in late-January which began the Gophers' late season free-fall. MSU went 2-1-1 against the Gophers last season and proved they are capable of beating the Gophers on any sheet of ice.

Minnesota has winnable series this weekend against Minnesota State and next weekend at Michigan Tech before heading into Christmas break. The Gophers need to look no further than one season ago to know that over-looking Mankato can have serious negative consequences. I like them to right the ship this weekend.

Prediction: Gopher Sweep

Elsewhere in the WCHA:
  • St. Cloud State at Alaska-Anchorage
  • Denver at Colorado College
  • North Dakota at UMD
  • Michigan Tech at Wisconsin