Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The best and worst 'Thoughts' of 2012 - Part two

I didn't have as many RIP entries as last year, which is a good thing. Here are some of the not-so-great moments I wrote about from 2012, in chronological order. Among them, the Minnesota Twins didn't have a very good year and the NHL had a lockout.

Also, check out part one for some of the better moments.

The worst

Post-Bulletin loses a great journalist, mentor
Long-time Post-Bulletin journalist Greg Sellnow died unexpectedly last March while driving home from the state high school hockey tournament. It was a bit of a shock, to say the least.

On a selfish note, Greg had just started mentoring me before his death. He looked over my writing and gave me tips on how to make it better. I miss having that working relationship with him. He was such a nice guy to take the time and do that with me.

Twins are not doing well
The Twins did not have a very good year in 2011. And 2012 wasn't that much better. This was just one of those times that I wrote about the non-productive team, its absent clutch hitting and poor pitching performances.

Let's hope the Twins can at least improve slightly in 2013.

Andy Roddick announces his retirement
American men's tennis isn't what it used to be a couple decades ago. But Andy Roddick had given us something to cheer about for awhile. However, he retired after the U.S. Open in September, the final Grand Slam of the year.

It was tough to see him walk away at age 30, but success didn't exactly follow him around either. He played in the same era as Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, two of the greats in the sport. Roddick was also known to choke in early rounds of slams from time to time.

I'm excited to see which players will be the new Roddicks.

Baseball ends, no hockey to turn to
With the end of baseball season, that usually means I shift my focus to the NHL and the Wild. Unfortunately, this year's lockout didn't make that possible. I guess I went through a bit of a hockey depression. Then I started following the Austin Bruins and that gave me my hockey fix.

The best and worst 'Thoughts' of 2012 - Part one

Time for my annual look back at my blog entries from the last calendar year. I like to reflect back on some of the sports highlights that I wrote about, as well as some of the items that were a little more negative.

I posted 34 entries in 2012, which accomplished my goal of writing more than I did in 2011. I still want to do a little better, but we'll see. Last year, I enjoyed blogging about the Austin Bruins hockey team, some of the woes of the Twins and an IndyCar track that I hadn't been to before.

I've put the posts in chronological order.

The best

Season two complete for Austin Bruins
The Bruins had a great second season last year. They fell just short of making it to the North American Hockey League national championship with a season-ending loss at home to the Bismarck Bobcats. The success of the Bruins really took off last season, with attendance doubling at Riverside Arena. Of course, it helps when the team does well and makes a solid run deep into the playoffs.

Tributes and tradition at Indy 500
The 96th running of the greatest spectacle in racing brought up some memories of the late Dan Wheldon, who won the race in 2011 before he was killed in the final race of that season in Las Vegas.

The tributes to Wheldon over the weekend got me thinking about some of the other great Indy 500 races that have taken place over the years. Paul Tracy got robbed in 2002, 10 years before that came the closest finish in Indy 500 history and 1982 had a lot of action at both the beginning and the end of the race.

Iowa Corn Indy 250
This was the first time I had been to Iowa for an IndyCar race. My dad and I decided it would be a fun one to try since I'm right on the way in Austin. There's nothing like going to a night race either. I really love road/street courses, but ovals offer a lot of racing action as well.

Even with a pushed-back start due to some heavy rain, it didn't dampen the spirits of dedicated race fans. We even got to see the season's eventual champion Ryan Hunter-Reay win his second race in a row.

My first Austin Greyhounds game
It took me a summer, but I finally managed to get to a Greyhounds game in the nice outdoor ballpark here in town. My first game was a good one though, as the Hounds won in dramatic fashion with a homer in the 11th inning.

Nothing really beats sitting outside to enjoy a baseball game. They're pretty entertaining, too. Target Field isn't the only place to enjoy a good ball game. Just head down to Marcusen Park.

Minnesota Wild Road Tour Comes to Austin
This was one of my story highlights from my time with the Austin Post-Bulletin. I got the chance to interview Charlie Coyle, Matt Kassian, Wild alum Antti Laaksonen and Wild television color analyst Mike Greenlay. It was a pretty exciting perk, that's for sure.

Don't forget to check out part two for some of the "worst" moments of the past year.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why I'm disappointed with the Minnesota Wild's sellout home opener

Well, the NHL is back and the Minnesota Wild have already played four games, winning the first two. I really haven't been able to watch much of them, actually. It still seems weird though, this whole partial-season thing. With the lockout that had wiped out a solid three-plus months of the season, I'm not really in a hockey mindset for the Wild this season.

Not that it matters what I think. The Wild won its first two games at home against division-rival Colorado (4-2 win) and then the next night in a 1-0 battle with rival (I think they're rivals, at least.) Dallas. Then it lost to Nashville and on the road in Detroit. It's four games in this shortened season, so we'll see what the boys bring tonight in St. Louis.

Sold out? Bad idea
The real disappointment for me when the Wild opened the season a week ago Saturday was the fact that Xcel Energy Center was sold out. It was jam-packed with eager fans. Not only that, then I saw via Twitter a couple days later that the opener was the highest-rated regular season Wild telecast ever on FSNorth. The second game also broke the previous record.

Why does this disappoint me? I mean, you'd think a big hockey fan like me would love to see so many people tuned in to the Wild, a team that normally doesn't get much love from the overall Minnesota fan base. I'm disappointed because the fans here let the NHL bigwigs win.

By going to the games and watching them on TV, fans said, "Hey NHL players and owners, you guys can go ahead and feel free to have lockouts anytime. Because we'll come back in full force for that very first puck drop."

Realistically, I'm not too surprised at how the state of hockey reacted to the return of the NHL. And no, I didn't think every fan out there would boycott the games. I guess I just hoped that something could have been done on the part of the fans to express their anger regarding the lockout.

On the other hand
It is hard though. Hockey is such a great sport for its fans, so when it comes back after being away for so long, I get why the seats were filled. As I already said, I haven't been able to watch much of the Wild, and I would like to watch them.

For my part to try and send a message, I refrained from buying any Wild or NHL merchandise as part of my Christmas shopping. And on opening night, I chose to attend the Austin Bruins game in town - support a team that's been playing all season - rather than stay home to watch the Wild.

Those were the two little things that I did to stick to some principles. Did it matter? Probably not. But what if hundreds or thousands of others would have done something similar? That could have made some kind of a dent.

It doesn't mean I'm going to boycott them for the rest of the season either. Hypocritical? Maybe. But the fans haven't done anything to push back against the lockout, so I guess the players and owners really do come out ahead.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Deal reached to end NHL lockout

The NHL lockout that has plagued this 2012-13 season, and has no doubt driven the sport further down on the popularity spectrum, is over.

It still took 113 days and 16 hours of meetings over the weekend before the NHL and the NHL Players' Association reached a deal for a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. Well, a tentative deal, anyway. I picked out the word "tentative" right away because I almost don't believe the lockout's over until I see that first game taking place.

Jan. 11 was the deadline to get a deal done. If nothing would have happened then, another entire NHL season would have been banished from existence, just like in 2004-05. So, at least the two sides got something accomplished before the 11th hour, I guess.

Money, money, money
One change in the new agreement is a 50-50 split in revenues between the players and owners. I don't like to get into the specifics of money too much with sports, because I think it's all getting pretty ridiculous. I just try to ignore it sometimes and be a sports fan. Anyway, 50-50 sounds fair enough to me.

The other thing I noticed when reading about the deal was that there's a mutual opt-out clause after eight years. Here's to hoping the NHL won't be back in a lockout situation eight years from now. They should just do it right the first time, so they don't have to keep having these lockouts every few years. It does terrible things for the sport.

Salvaged season
I'm glad the lockout's over and that the NHL was able to stop the bleeding. But another part of me wishes the whole season would have been scrapped. Just start fresh next year. So many people have stopped caring with the lockout this year.

It's been tough to follow. A few times, I'd see or hear something positive about the negotiations, like maybe there was a ray of hope that a deal would be reached. The next thing I knew, I'd hear that instead of a deal, the sides were further apart than before. A one step forward, two steps back situation, basically.
Now, it will be quite interesting to see how this salvaged season goes. How many fans won't come back at all? Will the local businesses near arenas that rely on the NHL games for revenue be able to bounce back? I wouldn't be surprised if some cities have trouble supporting a professional hockey team. There are some that struggle already (I'm thinking places like Florida and Phoenix.), so only time will tell.

For the state of hockey here in Minnesota, the end of the lockout means we'll finally get to see Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in Wild sweaters on the ice for games. They were the two blockbuster signings made in July that got this state excited about the Wild again, only to have that stifled by the stubbornness of the lockout.

Games resume Jan. 19
The Wild's schedule is still being developed. The latest I've seen from hockey journo Michael Russo is that the Wild might open Jan. 19 on the road. That last part is key because that date is also Hockey Day Minnesota.

I understand what a cool tradition this day has been for the past few years, with various high school and college games being played all day, capping it off with the Wild. But at this point, I'm going to go with beggars can't be choosers. We're getting professional hockey back folks, so if we don't get a home game for Hockey Day this year, oh well.

We've already lost the Winter Classic and All-Star Game for this season anyway.

Overall, it's good the lockout is finally over. Now it's time to wait and see how it affected the sport.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Austin Bruins beat Minot in a shootout

It was one of the lightest crowds you'll see for an Austin Bruins game at Riverside Arena. I'm sure a certain NFL playoff game at the same time Saturday night had something to do with the 689 people wanting to watch hockey, when the games usually draw at least 1,000 people.

Oh well. The atmosphere was still pretty good for the tight, physical game against Minot that the Bruins won 4-3 in a shootout. It was the second game with my parents, and my brother came along, too. When they come to a game, the Bruins win in a shootout, apparently.

All of the contests between Minot and Austin have been tight this year. Friday's game was also a shootout, with the extra point going to Minot. Saturday was also the most physical game I've seen this season from the Bruins.

No goals, just fights, in second period
The second period saw some pushing and shoving. Austin's Chris Fischer got a 10-minute misconduct penalty, and then promptly dropped the gloves after his time in the box was up. Brandon Wahlin and Nolan Kirley also were on top of their physical play.

It was with 2:33 left in the game that Austin tied it up at 3 on a goal by Easton Viitala. Nothing doing in overtime, so on to the shootout.

The real story of the shootout was Austin goalie Jason Pawloski (who's 17 years old). He stopped all four attempts by Minot players. For the Bruins, Jay Dickman and Wahlin scored to help the Bruins along to the 4-3 victory.

Back-and-forth first period
The bulk of the scoring Saturday was done in the first period. The Bruins also struggled to keep a lead. Fischer had a beautiful, unassisted, shorthanded goal on a breakaway at 8:53 to get the scoring started. But Minot came right back in less than a minute with a power-play goal.

Later in the period, CJ Smith had a top-shelf goal on the power play with 4:03 left to get the lead back. Once again, Minot came back with a quick shot off a faceoff with 2:53 left. The visitors made it 3-2 with 1:19 remaining.

Minot held the 3-2 score well into the third period.

Delay of game
There was a lengthy delay in the third (with 11:36 left) when Kirley and Minot's David Dalbec raced for the puck and lost an edge before colliding with each other into the boards. Dalbec was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher, which from the stands looked to be precautionary.

Once play resumed, it was a revolving door to the penalty box for the home team. The Bruins also had their chances on a 5-on-3 but couldn't capitalize.

The three stars of the game for the Bruins were: 1. Pawloski, 2. Viitala, 3. Smith.

Austin remains in first place in the Central Division of the North American Hockey League with 55 points. The Bruins lead second-place Bismarck by 15 points.