Monday, September 28, 2009

Off to a Good Start

The Gopher football team entered the fourth quarter of Saturday's game against Northwestern trailing 24-21. Then, Duane Bennett took over.

The sophomore running back scored his third touchdown of the day midway through the fourth quarter, giving the Gophers the lead 28-224. Eric Decker's 1-yard TD reception from Adam Weber with just over 90 ticks left salted away a 35-24 Gophers' win in the opening game of the Big Ten schedule.

One week after collapsing in the fourth quarter against Cal, the Gophers closed out the Wildcats. A big reason why was Bennett. Carrying the load in week four, Bennett rushed 21 times for 89 yards and 3 TDs. After missing virtually all of last season with a knee injury, the team's leading rusher of 2007 has moved to the head of a crowded backfield, ahead of runners such as DeLeon Eskridge, Shady Salomon, and Jay Thomas.

Weber was ok. He completed 15-26 for 186, 2 TD, and 1 interception. As usual, Decker was his favorite target (8 catches for 84 yards, 2 TD), but he also found TE Nick Tow-Arnett five times for 65 yards. WR Brandon Green caught the other two completions for a total of 37 yards.

One year after allowing Northwestern QB Mike Kafka to rush for 217 yards in a 24-17 loss to NU, the Gopher defense played much better against the run, allowing just 64 yards. Although Kafka threw for 309 yards against the defense, the team forced 3 turnovers, including a key interception in the red zone by CB Kim Royston at the end of the first half with NU trailing 14-10 but knocking on the door. The defense bent but didn't break on Saturday, but the secondary must play better next week.

Next up is 4-0 Wisconsin in the first conference game at TCF Bank Stadium. Bucky crushed Michigan State 38-30 Saturday behind 3 TD from WR Garrett Graham and 4 TD passes from junior QB Scott Tolzien. The junior QB is 66 for 99 passing this season with 8 TD against 2 interceptions. Sophomore RB John Clay has rushed for 398 yards and 4 TD in the season's first four games. In the air, the Badgers are led by TE Graham (16 catches, 200 yards; 4 TD), as well as WRs Nick Toon (18 catches, 236 yards; 2 TD) and Isaac Anderson (10 catches, 236 yards; 1 TD).

The Minnesota/Wisconsin rivalry has heated up again since coach Tim Brewster's arrival in 2007. Brewster and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema clearly do not like each other much, and the recruiting rivalry between the two coaches has gotten hot as well. The atmosphere should be electric for the first conference game at the new stadium. The Gophers will need to play better than they did last week against Northwestern to defeat Wisconsin, but if they carry over the fourth quarter momentum from the Northwestern game to the Wisconsin game, they'll have a chance.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Fillers

  • The Gopher football team played reasonably well last weekend against #8 California. The score was tied going into the 4th quarter, but in the end, it was Cal escaping TCF Bank Stadium with a 35-21 victory last Saturday. Cal's spectacular running back Jahvid Best carried the ball 26 times for 131 yards and a staggering 5 touchdowns. He was clearly the most talented players the Gophers will see in 2009, and the defense had no answer for his brilliance. Still, the Gophers had their moments. WR Eric Decker had 2 receiving touchdowns, including a spectacular fade in which he survived a crushing blow before getting one foot in bounds. He later threw a TD pass of his own to freshman MarQueis Gray. In the end, one can look at the Gophers garnering only 37 rushing yards, as well as being out-gained by the Bears 415-270, as the two main reasons why they lost. QB Adam Weber was not as sharp as he was in the season's first two games, completing 21 or 32 for 226 with 2 TDs, but also throwing 3 interceptions. They played well for three quarters against elite competition, but it wasn't enough.
  • The Big Ten season gets underway Saturday, as the Gophers travel to Evanston to take on Northwestern. Like the Gophers, Northwestern is 2-1 in the non-conference part of the schedule, with wins over Towson and Eastern Michigan, and a loss at Syracuse. The Gophers defeated Syracuse in OT in the season's opener. The Gophers should have an edge in this one, but NU has a two-game winning streak, and is playing at home. Kickoff is 11am CDT.
  • We'll have a game recap and accompanying story on Sunday for this game. During the conference schedule, we'll try to have stories soon after the game concludes.
  • Gopher hoops coach Tubby Smith has secured another addition to his 2010 recruiting class with the commitment of 6-4 G/F Austin Hollins of Germantown, TN. Hollins's father, Lionel Hollins, is the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. He joins Nebraska C Elliott Eliason, who committed the week prior. As Myron Medcalf reports, the Gophers have one more scholarship remaining for the 2010 class, and will likely add a point guard with that selection. This class appears to not be as highly-acclaimed as the 2009 class, but will definitely fit the team's needs going forward.
  • How cool would this be? If the Gophers reciprocate and play at Kansas's Allen Fieldhouse, I will definitely make the trek. My dad, brother, and I snuck into the Fieldhouse a few summers ago, and it's the best college arena I've ever seen, and one can only imagine how loud the place gets during the Big 12 season.
  • More on the previous bullet.....It's good to see the Gophers trying to improve the quality of non-conference opponents at the Barn. I do hope the Louisvilles, Marquettes, and Iowa States of the world re-consider and try to sign home-and-home deals with the Gophers, similar to what Tim Brewster has been able to achieve with USC and Texas agreeing to play football against the Gophs. The more quality opponents will help attendance as well as the Gophers' RPI.
  • Check out the latest from Strib Wolves' beat writer Jerry Zgoda here. Chucky Atkins and Mark Blount were waived this week, and Zgoda has a lengthy piece about his talk with "The Meerkat" David Kahn. I'll say it again, the Wolves will lose a TON of games this year, but will be very exciting to watch.
  • On the WCHA front, I published season previews for MSU-Mankato and North Dakota this past week. I'll complete the circuit with St. Cloud State and Wisconsin next week. It's hard to believe the season gets going a week from today!
  • Also regarding the WCHA, in case you missed it, here is my Gopher preview, published last week. I think the Gophers, Denver, and North Dakota are the three best teams in the conference, and they happen to be three teams which should not have goaltending issues. I believe Alex Kangas will be a bounce-back season, and that's why I picked them so high in the league. This is arguably coach Don Lucia's most talented squad, and they need to play like it.
  • In the NHL, former Gopher hockey player and current New York Islander Kyle Okposo is out with a concussion suffered last weekend courtesy of a hit by Calgary Flames' defenseman/headhunter Dion Phaneuf. The hit is dirty - he left his feet - and certainly uncalled-for in pre-season play. What is interesting about the video is that you see something you usually don't see - a player coming off the bench to challenge Phaneuf. The player, rookie Pascal Morency, received a 10-game suspension, and Phaneuf skated away not only from this fight but without any suspension. Gotta love the NHL's star system, no?
  • Speaking of stars, Wayne Gretzky resigned as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes Thursday, citing the team's uncertainty as a reason. The 'Yotes are in limbo and the owner wants to sell the team to a guy who wants to move the team to Hamilton, Ontario, and he's tried to buy at least two other teams - Pittsburgh and Nashville. Good luck selling tickets down there for a lame-duck franchise. Gotta wonder if they'd be in this situation if the Winnipeg Jets had just moved to Minneapolis in 1995 instead of Phoenix? Regarding Gretzky, I am a staunch defender of his and he was the greatest hockey player who ever lived. I opposed him taking the job initially, given that it would tarnish his legacy. The Coyotes were never going to be any good, with or without him behind the bench. His legacy was cemented by managing the 2002 Canada team to its first Olympic gold since 1952, so there was no need for him to take the Phoenix job a few years later. Hopefully, this is the last coaching foray for the Great One.
  • Check out Strib beat writer Michael Russo's blog concerning the Wild. The team is battling through pre-season injuries, and it's beginning to frustrate rookie coach Todd Richards. The season opens in less than two weeks, and it's a crucial one for the franchise. Will the team get back into the playoffs? Will the consecutive sellout streak end? We'll wait and see.....

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Fillers

  • Week two of TCF Bank Stadium will feature not only one of the nation's best teams in Cal but some stadium improvements from last week's opener. Cal is favored in this one, but a victory over the Bears would be Coach Tim Brewster's first "signature win" since taking over as Gopher coach for the 2007 season. A 3-0 start would be nice, but I don't think it'll happen.
  • Gopher basketball coach Tubby Smith scored a big recruit for the 2010 class in Nebraska big man Elliott Eliason. He was Nebraska's player of the year as a junior last season, and averaged 15 points, 10 boards, and 4 blocks per game. As the Strib's Myron Medcalf points out, the 6-11 Eliason will provide some depth with current Gophers Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson heading into their junior seasons, and it's never bad to have an abundance of big men.
  • It's getting to be the time of the year when college hockey polls start tricking out, and the College Hockey News website came out with its version this week. Denver is #1 (I predicted DU to win the WCHA in my season preview of the Pioneers) in this one and the Gophers are #6. I can't really argue with any of CHN's top ten, given that nobody has hit the ice yet this season, but it seem reasonable.
  • Here is Western College Hockey's WCHA predictions for this year, and it has the Gophers 4th. The explanations follow. Some good points about the Gophers, indeed, but I'm seeing a big bounce-back season for goaltender Alex Kangas in 2009-10.
  • Speaking of season previews, my Examiner site this week featured the season previews of the Gophers and UMD. As always, I am curious as to your thoughts of my previews, especially the predictions part. Minnesota State-Mankato and North Dakota will follow next week. The following week will feature St. Cloud State and Wisconsin, as well as my predictions for the post-season individual awards as we gear up for another great WCHA season.
  • In other awards news, the Western College Hockey site handed out its predictions for WCHA awards this week.
  • The Wild officially signed Petr Sykora Thursday after having him come to camp on a tryout basis. The one-year, $1.6M deal is affordable for the veteran who should bring some punch up front with Mikko Koivu and Martin Havlat.
  • In the linked piece above from Michael Russo, the Wild's 365-game sellout string may be in jeopardy due to some light season ticket renewal figures. The rate was still 95%, which would be parade-worthy for most NHL teams. However, the heat is on for the team to be more exciting and successful this season, as the staggering economy has increased the competition for tighter entertainment dollars.
  • The Timberwolves signed shooting guard Sasha Pavlovic. Yawn.
  • I am participating in Twins' blogger extraordinaire Seth Stohs's annual NFL "Expert" picks this year, along with some familiar names. After a solid 14-2 week one, I'm looking to build on that success and picked a few upsets this week.
  • A reminder, check out my Twins and WCHA Examiner pages, and be sure to check me out on Twitter and Facebook. I need the friends and followers!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday Moments

  • After taking last Friday off as a reminder of the 8-year anniversary of the terror attacks on the United States, we return to the less important world of sports.
  • TCF Bank Stadium opened to rave reviews last Saturday in the Gophers' 20-13 victory over Air Force. The team is back on campus for the first time since 1981, and a beautiful day - capped by a victory - was the perfect way to christen the new digs. The hope is that Gopher football can become more competitive - especially with top in-state recruits - because of the new facility. I am going to take a cautious approach here. Winning begets recruiting, and a new facility should serve as a tie-breaker. Coach Tim Brewster and his staff have blanketed the state and the country in search of top talent, and the current Gopher roster has a lot of young talent on it. Now, the team just needs to win. For now - at least until Cal invades this coming Saturday - it is a time to celebrate the return of on-campus outdoor football to Minnesota.
  • Wild camp is in session and here is the roster from Strb beat writer extraordinaire Michael Russo. The Wild also brought in former NJ Devil Petr Sykora on a tryout basis this week in hopes he can compete for a spot on the top three lines. The exhibition schedule gets under way this week in St. Louis. It's hard to believe NHL season is here.
  • The Timberwolves had another active few weeks. First, they signed Milwaukee Bucks' guard Ramon Sessions to an offer sheet and then acquired him when Milwaukee elected not to match the deal. The deal is 4 years for $16.4M, and gives the team a cheaper backup to Jonny Flynn in the point guard mix. Secondly, they lost guard Rodney Carney to the Philadelphia 76ers via free agency. Carney showed some athleticism in his lone season in Minnesota and the Wolves had hoped to sign him. However, he elected to return to Philly. Finally, the Wolves landed veteran guard Antonio Daniels from the New Orleans Hornets in a trade for Bobby Brown and Darius Songaila. Daniels arrives with a draft pick and an expiring contract - two things Basketball Ops head "Meerkat" David Kahn covets. Brown arrived late last season in a deal with Sacramento for Rashad McCants and had limited impact. Songaila was part of the Randy Foye deal in which the Wolves landed the 5th draft pick this past summer from Washington.
  • In case you're wondering, the Wolves' current roster and salary situation looks like this - minus the Sessions contract. Third-year man Corey Brewer is the longest-tenured Timberwolf.
  • The situation surrounding Gopher basketball incoming freshman Trevor Mbakwe continues to unfold, as the University has allowed him to practice with the team but not participate in any games. Mbakwe is charged with felony battery during an incident in Miami in April.
  • On my WCHA Examiner page last week, I included the season previews for Denver and Michigan Tech. Minnesota and UMD follow this week. Stay tuned there and at my Twins' page for updates.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9-11-01: Never Forget

Eight years ago today, September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked four jumbo jets, each with specific targets in mind. At 8:46am (EDT), one slammed into the North Tower of New York's World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, followed by another hitting the South Tower less than 30 minutes thereafter. Hours later, both buildings collapsed. Over 2,700 persons were killed in the buildings, on the planes, or on the ground, ranging in age from babies to seniors.

A half hour later, a third jetliner crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, VA, killing nearly 200 more persons at work in the world's largest office building or on the plane. Only the actions of the heroic passengers of United Flight #93 prevented a fourth building from being attacked, as passengers wrestled control of the plane from the terrorists and crashed it to the ground near Shanksville, PA, killing 40. The reported target of that plane was the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

It is easy to forget the attacks as time goes on. It is human nature to try to pick up the pieces and move on and try to forget. We were all attacked on that late-summer day eight years ago. The terrorists wanted to shake our very way of life, but the aims of those attacks failed. Americans did what Americans do, and that's to brush off the dust and get back to work.

Baseball played a large part in the healing process. After a suspension of games which lasted a week, baseball got underway on September 18 and was highlighted by a great poem delivered by the ailing Jack Buck. The Mets returned to Shea Stadium on September 21 for the first game played in New York City since the attacks, and Mike Piazza's homer sparked a comeback victory. George W. Bush's perfect strike in throwing out the first pitch of the 2001 World Series in New York was symbolic of a city and a nation on its way back.

America was wounded that day. We were changed forever. Our resolve as a nation was tested but not destroyed. Now, we must remember that day and never forget the sacrifices of the police and firefighters, the passengers on Flight 93, the military and civilian workers at the Pentagon, and so many others.

Never forget the 3,000 lives which were extinguished that morning.

God Bless America.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Fillers

  • Alex Tanguay spurned the Wild in favor of lowly Tampa Bay last week. The capped-out Wild could only offer the sniper a one-year $2.5M deal, and it was reported Tanguay took a one-year $2M deal from Tampa Bay. However, he gets to play alongside Vincent Lecavalier with the Lightning, and that was too good to pass up. TB is the most dysfunctional situation outside of Phoenix, with its ownership squabbles, but they still have a lot of talent. However, they won't win this year, so it's somewhat of a curious decision.
  • Gopher junior-to-be Patrick White was traded last Friday - his rights, that is! He was part of the deal in which San Jose sent defensemen Brad Lukowich and Christian Ehrhoff to Vancouver for White and fellow prospect Daniel Rahimi. This one was purely a salary cap positioning move, and White's style may fit San Jose's better than Vancouver's long-term.
  • Former Gopher hockey assistant coach and recent Colorado College assistant Mike Guentzel resigned from CC this past week to assume the head coaching position with Des Moines in the USHL. A former Gopher captain, Guentzel spent 14 seasons on the Gopher bench and was interviewed to replace Doug Woog as head coach before the hiring of Don Lucia. He stayed with Lucia for nine seasons before resigning and accepting the position at CC under head coach Scott Owens. His resignation from the U was shrouded in controversy, as it was viewed as Guentzel being the fall guy for a sixth-place finish in 2007-08. However, Guentzel wants to be a head coach and he will get a chance to do so in the USHL, where he's been successful in the past. After missing out on the Nebraska-Omaha job that eventually went to Dean Blais, Guentzel will bide his time with Des Moines before someone finally gets smart and hires this tireless and passionate man as a head coach at the D-I level.
  • As indicated earlier in the week, I decided to do the WCHA team previews two a week starting this week with Alaska-Anchorage and Colorado College kicking things off. I'll do Denver and Michigan Tech next week. In the previews, I also take a stab at predicting where the teams will finish, so feel free to take issue with my prognostications.
  • The Gopher football team fires up the engine this weekend at the Carrier Dome to take on lowly Syracuse. The Gophers will be improved in 2009 and will likely win fewer than the 7 games they won last year. The schedule is tougher - Penn State and Michigan State come on the schedule while Indiana and Illinois (both victories in '08) come off. Coach Tim Brewster has a lot to sell this season, namely TCF Bank Stadium, but the third offensive scheme in less than two seasons poses a lot of questions. New Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch's program is highly-complicated, which replaces Tim Davis's run-first smash mouth football, which replaced Mike Dunbar's complicated spread offense - well, you get the picture. Color DP skeptical as "Gopher Nation" heads into 2009, but at least the stadium will be nice!
  • The Twins decided to bring Bert Blyleven back for another season in the TV booth. I like Blyleven as a person. He was a good pitcher for a long time, and may one day be a Hall of Famer. Of course, his incessant campaigning for the induction is annoying to me. However, his analysis in the booth is not good. The Twins could have done themselves a favor and parted with Blyleven and Dick Bremer for the move into Target Field for 2010, citing a new beginning of sorts. I argue with my brother and dad about this all the time - they both like Blyleven and are lukewarm on Bremer, and cite the team's high ratings as proof that the public likes the tandem - but we should expect baseball analysis which is deep and insightful, neither of which is found on Twins broadcasts.
  • Switching topics to good baseball announcers, if this is true, it's awful news about longtime Tigers' mainstay Ernie Harwell. His easy-going Southern drawl style kept things conversational and comfortable. Harwell represents a fading era of longtime great baseball announcers, and there just aren't many left. Of course, Vin Scully is still in LA, so the old guard is still represented. DP wishes Harwell all the best in his recovery.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Rubio Changes Mind, Remains in Spain

The Minnesota Timberwolves thought they had a deal over the weekend to bring Ricky Rubio to the Wolves for the 2009-10 season. By Sunday night, basketball operations head David Kahn had reached a deal with Rubio's current team DKV Joventut on a buyout putting Rubio in Minnesota this season. By Monday, however, Rubio informed Kahn he had changed his mind and was choosing to play in Barcelona, signing a 6-year deal with Regal Barcelona.

The Barcelona contract contains a buyout clause which is less than the $8.1M clause he had with Joventut. He can opt out after two seasons, meaning the earliest Rubio can be expected in Minnesota is for the 2011-12 season.

This is disappointing to Kahn and the Timberwolves, who were hours away from having Rubio on board and being in a position to sell some tickets for the upcoming season. Instead, he'll develop in Europe for two seasons and join the Timberwolves, or another NBA team, at age 20.

The Wolves have a nice back-up option in fellow first round draftee Jonny Flynn. In the Jerry Zgoda piece linked above, Kahn mentions that Rubio will be "two years behind Flynn" when he joins the Wolves, which suggests the team will ride it out with its rookie point guard. Flynn's a nice player with tons of upside and he'll do well.

It's disappointing not to have Rubio in uniform for this season. After all, it was Rubio himself who declared for the 2009 NBA Draft, which meant he had every intention of playing in the NBA for the 2009-10 season. Instead, he opted for another European contract. Perhaps he just didn't want to come to Minnesota? That's not likely. More likely is that he is 18 and is want to change his mind, as many 18-year-olds are.

The Timberwolves are on the high road here. They drafted both Rubio and Flynn high in the draft and they play essentially the same position. They made a good-faith effort to sign Rubio, but it didn't work out. They said all the right things to Flynn all summer long, saying that they'll use both of them in the rotation. Flynn played well in the team's summer league and has a lot of potential. Most importantly, Rubio's path to the NBA goes directly through Minnesota, meaning they have options once he decides to play here. They can hold onto him and let him develop in Europe for two seasons, or they could trade his rights to another NBA team (the Knicks?) for draft picks and more cap flexibility. Either way, they'll be fine.

WCHA Team Previews Begin Today

I changed my mind, like Ricky Rubio.

I decided to publish my first WCHA team preview today on my WCHA Exmainer page, starting things off with the UAA Seawolves. Tomorrow, we'll look at the Colorado College Tigers.

We'll do two previews a week leading into the start of the season the first weekend of October. The publishing will be done alphabetically, so as not to display any favoratism.

Check the Examiner page often for other WCHA news in addition to the team previews from now until the start of the season.