Monday, April 30, 2012

Season two complete for Austin Bruins

The 2011-12 season for the Austin Bruins came to a close Saturday night at the hands of the Bismarck Bobcats. It was a 4-1 loss at home in game four in the best-of-five North American Hockey League Central Division Championship Series that ended the second spectacular season for the Bruins. Bismarck advanced to the national championship in Texas.

Games one and two in Bismarck were spilt by the teams as they headed to Riverside Arena for games three and four. After a too-little-too-late 3-2 loss for the Bruins Friday night, it was do-or-die Saturday. I have been to a fair share of games this season, including the clinching win of the first playoff series and even the growingly-popular "Paint the Rink Pink" night.

Boys came to play
The first period between the Bruins and Bobcats was about everything you could ask for in a good hockey game. It was clear the boys on both sides were ready to play - and hit. Players were flying on their skates, bodies were being thrown hard into the boards and the crowd of 1,778 came to Riverside with tons of energy.

It was the Bruins who struck first, with a power-play goal by No. 9 Chris Fischer at 8:14 of the first period. Little did they know it would be the last goal of the season. Bismarck tied it up on the power play with just under five minutes remaining in the first period.

Bruins just didn't have the magic
Neither the second or third periods were as energy-filled and evenly-paced as the first. The Bobcats nabbed the momentum early in period two with a goal just about a minute in for a 2-1 lead they wouldn't look back from. It came from a nice rush into the zone, beating Austin goalie Tyler Bruggeman.

As the second wore on, I just had a feeling the Bruins were not going to get it done. Bismarck was a strong team and their pressure on the Bruins when they tried to set up offensively was pretty darn good. The back-breaker for the Bruins came with about 10 minutes left in the game when the Bobcats made it 3-1. The fourth tally was an empty-netter.

Clever visiting goalie in a good atmosphere
Not a bad hockey game. Although, I could have done without the macho-type goaltender for Bismarck. He seemed to have quite the temper on him. Right from the first whistle, he took issue with players getting anywhere near his crease. He was a little too quick to get upset that early in the game, in my opinion. There were a couple times where I thought he also knocked the goal off its pegs when there was some scrambling pressure in front of him. Not cool, dude.

Going back to the atmosphere, it wasn't just the Bruins fans that were cheering. Bismarck had a good contingency of fans in the arena as well, maybe the biggest visiting crowd I've noticed at Riverside. Good for them for making the drive to support their boys. I also liked the Bobcat jerseys; black and "Andover Huskies" gold, as opposed to the Bruins and their black and yellow-gold.

Season two in the books
Even though the Bruins season ended with a tough loss, I'd say it was a pretty successful second year for the hockey club. As I've learned from my stories as work, their attendance at Riverside doubled this year, and they continue to be out helping the community. I just wrote a story last week about some Bruins players helping to move books for the Austin Public Library's spring book sale.

I look forward to going to more games next year. The Austin Bruins have gotten this community excited about hockey, even if they sometimes do get a little more excited to see the fights than the end-to-end play. Good luck next year, Bruins.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Twins need to win, stop the skid

The Minnesota Twins were rained out for their Saturday game at home versus the Kansas City Royals. Maybe that's for the best. Look at it this way: If the Twins don't play a game, they can't lose a game either.

That may not be a very optimistic attitude, but at the moment, the Twins haven't given fans many reasons for optimism in this still young 2012 season. They are 5-15 and are riding a six-game losing streak. They were swept at home by the Boston Red Sox, who are having problems of their own.

The Twins showed some signs of life in the final game of the Red Sox series, but it wasn't enough and they lost by a run. Trevor Plouffe (who could use a haircut, by the way) drove a ball deep to left-center that looked like it would be a walk-off homer, but it didn't quite get far enough.

Starting pitching is everything
Offense has been a little better lately, but one of the real problems has been starting pitching. Can we get a quality start, please? Anyone? This key struggle right now goes back to the basics of winning a baseball game. Without pitching (and defense), it doesn't matter how many runs you score, you'll be in trouble.

Francisco Liriano is pitching so poorly right now that the Twins decided to skip his next start. You have to try something, but I'm not sure how much it will really help him. From the very first inning in the game Tuesday it was clear Nick Blackburn didn't have his stuff either. In Friday's one-run loss to the Royals, veteran Carl Pavano gave up a couple runs even before an out was recorded.

The Twins were also tied with the Red Sox late in the game, before Matt Capps gave up a home run to seal their fate. After the game, he apparently still thought it was a good pitch that he threw. Maybe, but if the batter hit it out, let's agree that it wasn't the right pitch.

Bats coming alive, Mauer needs to as well
As for the Twins and their bats, it's not terrible at the moment. Danny Valencia got ahold of a pitch and put it in the bullpen, and he just missed another one Friday night. Justin Morneau is playing right now, which is good news on its own.

Joe Mauer has already taken some heat this season for his performance, and I think he should expect that throughout the season since he's the multi-million-dollar man and all. He was already booed at Target Field this year.

He has also been healthy enough to play, which is great, but he needs to really dig in this year and start smacking the ball around. Not just those 1-for-3 or 2-for-4 days where he hits some singles. I'm talking about driving in runs with doubles and hitting for power with some home runs. I don't think it's too unreasonable to put to pressure on him this season to step up and lead this team offensively.

Back in the win column
What the Twins need to focus on right now is winning baseball games. Make the pitches, get the clutch hits and come away with the win. Easier said than done, I know. But you really can't look at anything else, like standings or records, until you start getting back into a good winning rhythm.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

2012 for the Twins: It's early

The 2012 Minnesota Twins season has commenced. The boys didn't have quite the same disastrous start to the season as they did in 2011 in Toronto (remember the errors in that first game?), but they still went out to Baltimore and couldn't win a game. In fact, they could barely score a run.

I haven't been able to watch as much of the Twins as I would have liked to so far, thanks to all the day games and my schedule. Thank goodness for Twitter, though, to keep me updated as if I'm watching the game.

I did manage to see the last couple of innings of the team's first win this week, which came at home versus the Angels. (I'm simply calling them the "Angels" because it's easier than trying to keep track of which location they're identified with.) I was just in time to see the Twins get a lead, and to see a ball hit down the right-field line give former Twin Torii Hunter trouble as he crashed hard into the wall. Matt Capps even came in and didn't give up a lead, so there's that as well.

The team doesn't look the same as last year, with a few new guys on the everyday roster. I'm liking the power Josh Willingham apparently has. He seemed to be the only one who could hit a home run, until Thursday. He also had a couple of errors in a game out in left field, but at this point I'd rather have the hitting power. It's also still early in the season (let's put that as a disclaimer on the entire blog entry, sound good?)

As I followed Thursday's game on Twitter, it was pretty interesting how it went from a disaster where Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau got booed by the impatient home fans, to a 10-9 win with the M & M boys each crushing the ball out of the park in the process. Don't like getting booed? I'd say that's a perfect way to respond.

I'm not sure the Twins have what it takes to get back to their Central Division winning ways like we've seen over the past decade. Last year and even the few games so far this year have made me realize how lucky I've been since I started seriously following the Twins in 2000.

My biggest hope for this season is that the Twins can stay healthier than last year. With a 162-game season, every team goes through injury battles, but last year seemed like it was just one thing after the other with the Twins. They've already had a couple issues on their pitching staff this year, but Mauer and Morneau are healthy right now (please, go bang on some wood).

If nothing else, Target Field is still a beautiful ball park to watch baseball, especially if the weather is on your side. I hope to get there again this year, and this time I need to plan an outing with my friends from work so they can experience it, too.