Friday, December 31, 2010

The best and worst 'Thoughts' of 2010 - Part two

Part one of The Best 'Thoughts' are certainly more fun than looking at The Worst 'Thoughts.' But sports aren't always about what goes right; a lot can go wrong over the course of a season for teams. On the bright side, I did find fewer Worst moments than Best, so that should make you happy.

I left the moments in chronological order because that seemed easier than trying to rank in order of the biggest/worst moments.

The worst...

Free Petr! Veteran Sykora sits out
When the Wild and coach Todd Richards sat veteran player Petr Sykora while others like James Sheppard played, it was not one of the finer moments for the organization. Sykora was not given a fair shake. Plus, my negative feelings for Shep kept going strong.

The most dreaded words for a pitcher: Tommy John
Twins' closer Joe Nathan went down before the season started. Some discomfort in a spring training outing led to one of the biggest injury setbacks a pitcher can have: Tommy John surgery. He was out for all of 2010. Time will tell if he can return to the same form at some point in 2011.

Twins get swept, time to reflect
Sigh. Another great season and division title, and it all comes crashing down (again) with an early exit from the postseason. This was the year I (and everyone else) was really pulling for the guys to go further, or perhaps all the way. This is certainly one of the most difficult 2010 moments to swallow. (Also see: Pondering the Twins)

Tommies end season with a snow-filled loss to Bethel
It was really too bad St. Thomas had to have its magical season come to an end. Without two of their star players, they fell to MIAC rival Bethel 12-7 at home. The snow also dampened things, from my perspective anyway.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The best and worst 'Thoughts' of 2010 - Part one

As the year draws to a close, I wanted to organize some of the best and worst sports moments that I have written about throughout 2010. Since this is the first entire calendar year I have been maintaining my blog, I thought it would be kind of fun to look back.

I left the moments in chronological order because that seemed easier than trying to rank in order of the biggest/best moments.

The best...

A golden finish
The Olympics in Vancouver held one of the greatest gold-medal hockey games since perhaps the Miracle on Ice. Quite fitting too, since it was the 30th anniversary of the Miracle. Team USA skated its way to the final game against hometown-favorite Canada. It was a thriller that ended with a 3-2 overtime win for the Canadians after a goal by golden boy Sidney Crosby.

At last, Mauer's deal is done
If the hometown hero Joe Mauer could leave Minnesota in search of more money with another team, then there would be no hope for anyone sticking with one team for an entire career. Luckily, the Twins and Joe agreed to terms on an eight-year, $184 million deal.

Another opening, another "outdoor" show
Perhaps one of the biggest stories of the year was the return of outdoor baseball to Minnesota with the opening of Target Field in April. The facility is simply stunning, and Mother Nature went against logic by blessing the 2010 season with gorgeous weather. (Also see: Target Field: The inaugural visit)

Walking off the Sox
I was there for the first Twins walk-off win in Target Field history. Of course, this win may get overlooked because it wasn't a walk-off hit, but oh well. The Twins came from behind by knocking around White Sox closer Bobby Jenks in the ninth on the way to a 7-6 victory.

Mid-Ohio - Days one and two
Checking out a new race track with my dad was a highlight of my summer. I was very excited to watch the IZOD IndyCar Series race at the beautiful track, and then have the chance to write about it for, too.

Touring the Brickyard
Of course, part two of the highlight of my summer was taking the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grounds tour. Talk about acting like a youngster on Christmas morning.

Two in a row: 2010 AL Central Division Champions
The Twins did it again. They managed to win yet another division title to round out the decade. No Game 163 this time; they were the first team in baseball to clinch. Let's just enjoy this memory. There's no need to think ahead. (See the Worst section if you want to ruin this happy memory.)

Covering tennis for the Strib
This was a very proud moment for me. I was given the opportunity to cover part of the high school girls' tennis state tournament. It was so great to cover a sport I played, and seeing your name in print isn't half bad either.

A perfect season for the Tommies
Watching the St. Thomas football team have a perfect season, that also lasted a couple games into the NCAA playoffs, was pretty cool. A big congrats to coach Glenn Caruso and the Tommies on a record-setting season of accomplishments.

Check out The best and worst 'Thoughts' of 2010 - part two for some of the not-so-great moments from this past year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wild make it two straight against the Flames

I was watching the Minnesota Wild at the Calgary Flames game on television from a local establishment Saturday night when the boys pulled out a 3-1 win on the road.

While I was glad for the victory, I also thought this meant the Wild would have the usual letdown game when they came home to face the Flames again on Monday night - and more importantly, when I would be in attendance.

The boys proved me wrong.

Two-game streak

Minnesota came up with a 4-1 (really 3-1; Cal Clutterbuck threw in an empty-netter to seal it) win over the division rival Calgary Flames on Monday at the Xcel Energy Center. It was a very snowy night, one a majority of Minnesotans will remember for the Vikings versus Bears game played at TCF Bank Stadium.

It's really too bad the Wild were overshadowed by the local football team, although I'm sure they're used to it by now. There were some shining moments on the ice, as well as some not-so-great moments.

The Wild were outshot all night long, with the final totals 35-23 in favor of the Flames. Early on, I was very surprised Calgary didn't score. They were getting all kinds of chances, but kudos to Niklas Backstrom for making some great saves.

Niklas Backstrom stretching in the crease before making 34 saves. Photo credit: Kyle Rule.

Second period slump... again
What's a bit of a head-scratcher for me is that the Wild managed to score two power-play goals; the first time since Nov. 14. Their power play didn't look too hot at times during the night. In particular, the Wild held the man advantage nearing the end of the second period.

It was pretty hard to watch, what with not being able to set up plays and multiple Wild men turning the puck over. That was not a good way to end the period, and they were hearing it from the fans (yes, myself included.).

Of course, the second period wasn't a complete slaughtering, at least on the scoreboard (1-1 after two). The Wild still struggled a lot, as has been the story of the season, in the second. But it was the superb play by goalie Backstrom that kept them in the game.

Havlat on a roll
Martin Havlat continues to produce, this time he was patient and netted the puck with a slick backhander right in the crease. Veteran John Madden scored a power-play goal, and recent call-up Marco Scandella got an assist on Kyle Brodziak's first-period goal.

This was the first game my family and I have been to this season, and therefore the first since the sell-out streak ended. There were quite a number of green seats at the X. I'm sure the weather, traffic and the football game were factors too.

Opening faceoff. Let's play hockey! Photo credit: Kyle Rule.

Attendance and other notes
My dad told me, "Now you know what it was like to go to a North Stars game when they weren't doing so well." Official attendance was 18,315, but there were not that many people in the seats.

One other interesting note from the evening. On part of our side-roads drive down to the game, we hit a heavy traffic spot and were crawling for a while. From the backseat, I looked over to the driver on our right, and the guy is working on a power point from his laptop that he had positioned on the passenger seat next to him - while driving. Idiot.

But at least we got there and were able to enjoy the game and some good food. It was also a nice treat to see my friend Michael, who stopped to say hi after his shift.

'Til the next game, Go Wild!
Me in my Wild gear. Photo credit: Kyle Rule.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tommies end season with a snow-filled loss to Bethel

Below freezing temperatures, mounds of snow and... football. While two of those items may go together better than the other, they were all snowballed this past Saturday as the St. Thomas Tommies hosted the Bethel Royals in the NCAA quarterfinals.

It was a rare and exciting matchup to have two teams from the same conference playing each other in the playoffs. The Tommies bested the Royals earlier this year in a 10-6 homecoming victory.

But this time it was the school from just a few miles north that came away with the win. Bethel topped St. Thomas 12-7 to move on to the semifinals next weekend against powerhouse Mount Union.

Photo Credit: Joe Henke

One score early, then D takes over
With the snow and parking ramp adventures, I was walking up to the ticket booth as I heard the PA announcer proclaim a touchdown for St. Thomas running back Colin Tobin. This was just a couple minutes into the game. But with the strong defensive play on both sides, I thought to myself, "Great. I'll bet that's the only time they score." Hoping, of course, that I was wrong.

I met up with my friend Joe and his friend Joan. The stands were pretty packed, a good thing to see, but we found some standing room in the front row along the 15-yard line.

As expected, the elite defenses took over the game. Both sides traded possessions and tried to convert on fourth downs, hoping the other would give just enough. Bethel scored a touchdown in the second quarter, but failed on the two-point conversion. It was a move that seemed odd to us in such a defensive game, but afterward I found out Bethel doesn't have much of a kicker.

Just not their day
The score at halftime was 7-6 in favor of St. Thomas. Bethel scored another touchdown late in the second half (again failing to convert for two points) to take the lead for good at 12-7. The Tommies had their chances, but failed to get enough first downs to move the ball down the field.

A couple big passing plays didn't go their way either. A long pass down the sideline appeared to be caught in bounds, but was ruled out of bounds. (At least according to what Joe could see, being that he had the height advantage.)

Another play later had a St. Thomas receiver with the ball in his hands, but he failed to complete the catch as he went down to the ground with a defender.

Bethel's star of the day was Logan Flannery. The 2010 MIAC MVP had 28 carries for 200 yards in his record-setting performance Saturday. He not only helped his team advance to the next round, but he also ran his way to becoming the MIAC's all-time leading rusher.

Key injuries to key Tommies
It was a pretty typical game, except two pieces were missing for the Tommies: Star All-American senior running back Ben Wartman didn't start due to injury. Junior wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel was knocked out of the game early with a hip injury.

Those were big losses for the Tommies. Wartman and Waldvogel had been two of the team's biggest playmakers. It's a shame they couldn't contribute during the final game.

Photo Credit: Joe Henke

As a result, Tobin was the main source of offense. He rushed 28 times for 122 yards, but it wasn't enough to put more than seven points on the board, a credit to the strong Bethel defense.

Penalties were once again a problem for St. Thomas, as they have been all season long. A few false-starts, holding and face masks did not help the Tommies along the way. It stopped momentum and helped the Royals on their drives.

Outdoor football in Minnesota
Several inches of fresh white powder made the day a little more interesting. Of course, we are talking about December in Minnesota; we can't expect great weather on Dec. 4. The field was scraped clean, and the snow piles were abundant around the sideline track and the end zones.

The remnants left behind after clearing the field looked like cookies-n-cream ice cream, or an Oreo blizzard, as Joe put it.

To be honest, it was a little hard to concentrate on the game at times, what with the feeling in my toes disappearing. Snow also started falling again during the second half. But it was still a fun experience.

Well done
Congratulations to the Tommies on a fantastic, record-filled season. They finished the regular season undefeated at 10-0 and finished 12-1 overall. They finally beat St. John's after a 13-year drought, and they beat Bethel for homecoming in an absolute thriller. Kudos.

As a reward for coach Glenn Caruso's hard work, he was honored as the Region Coach of the Year. Here's to a job well done coach.