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Thomas U. Tuttle

Wild ghosts of days gone by…

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

When I was a young guy, there was a youth hockey team called the Minor Hawks that played out of Chicago and traveled around playing the best teams that could be found. Unlike the famous NHL Blackhawks, indoor ice time was at a premium and outdoor rink hockey was at the whim of the weather spirits. Still, this early traveling all-star team was about as good a squad as any in the Midwest.

Or should I say “lower” Midwest. Because of a fair amount of local-area success, the coaches decided to play some more serious competition late in a 1970’s-era season, so up we went to Madison, Wisconsin, where the competition ramped up and the losses, while consecutive, were fairly competitive.

Then it was on to tournaments in the Twin Cities and Duluth, and soon a whole new understanding of the  game of hockey was brought to our attention – along with fast skating, solid checking, tape-to-tape passing, wicked wrist-shots, solid slap-shots and serious goaltending. There was a group realization by the Chicago kids that not only were we overmatched and outscored – we really really didn’t belong in the same building with the guys from Minnesota. They might have been 13 and 14 years old, but the dudes from the State of Hockey schooled us big-time and the numbers on the scoreboard reflected that.

I’m not sure this reminiscence has much to do with the Minnesota Wild’s demise in the first round of the NHL playoffs, although the Wild ended up being schooled in five games by the St. Louis Blues and coach Mike Yeo. Yes, goalie Jake Allen was stellar in the nets – particularly in the first game when he stood on his head in making 51 saves on 52 shots – and the Blues were timely on offense, but it seemed like Mike Yeo knew what needed to be done for victory and executed his plan perfectly.

While Allen certainly deserves all the credit for the victory in game one, Yeo ramped up his defense for the rest of the series, using his knowledge of Minnesota and its players to turn up the heat on the Wild scorers. The Blues played a super-physical brand of hockey and made the Wild work hard to get any scoring opportunities, using guys with names like Bortuzzo and Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo and Parayko to clog up the middle and make sure the W’s offensive threats knew what they were up against.

And actually, this reminded me of our best guys on the Minor Hawks, Ray and Eddie and Big Al, being shut-down in the Twin Cities and Duluth on our trip up north. Every time our top players started to move up the ice, looking for some space to execute, here would come two or three big kids ready to bust things up. In our case, we had never seen pressure like that, and it didn’t let up. Just scoring a goal was a cause for major celebration (I think we scored six during our week in Minnesota).

The Wild have been in tight checking games, and they are not young kids. But take a look at the production of Minnesota’s top offensive threats in the playoffs versus the regular season. Leading scorer Mikael Granlund was almost invisible, with no goals in the playoffs. Nino Niederreiter and Zack Parise were largely neutralized, as was the power play – and the normally strong blue line contribution was minimal. Hey, Minnesota scored just five goals in the first four games of the series – a mere 1.25 goals a game. When they finally busted loose for three goals at home in game five, it fell short again in a 4-3 overtime loss.

Bruce Boudreau’s history of getting knocked off in the playoffs continues (this was his ninth playoff exit, four with the Washington, four with Anaheim, and now the Wild) and the pressure on the coming season will be intense. Part of his problem is the perception that he’s a great coach (leading the Mighty Ducks to first place each year of his tenure; the Wild to their best record ever) who simply can’t win in the playoffs – a leader who is unable to  “win the Big One,” if you will.

You have to know this dilemma will carry over to next year and, unfortunately, lead to the regular season being a kind of tune-up for the “real” season: the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It really is a different deal in post-season hockey, with the top-seeded Blackhawks vanishing in four straight against the Nashville Predators and the number two Wild departing to the Blues – sayonara to Montreal as well.

Us old Minor Hawks kids know the feeling of getting beat, if not by close scores. Ray and Eddie, our leaders and most talented players, never quit (unlike accusations that Parise and Ryan Suter cost Mike Yeo the locker room prior to his exit from Minnesota) and I don’t believe the Wild gave anything less than their best. But it simply wasn’t enough against a tough defensive team that knew how to play the Wild and executed a solid game plan. And it is hard to argue that Yeo wasn’t the better coach in the series.

Mike Yeo was genuinely classy in victory, as many of us in the media knew he would be. Minor Hawks coach Atkinson was classy, too, when we succumbed to defeat by big numbers. We never won the big one (or any big game), but we learned a great deal and still had fun.

Unfortunately for coach Boudreau, he needs to win a big one badly, and that rough road is going through Chicago or St. Louis or somebody tough – that just how NHL hockey goes in the springtime. Fun only accompanies winning.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Ervin Santana’s mound magic is good news for the Minnesota Twins

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By Eric Nelson
April 18, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the land of April showers...

•Fast Start: MLB does not hand out Cy Young trophies in April, but if Ervin Santana keeps pitching like he has been, he might win the award. Santana (3-0, 0.41 ERA) has been outstanding with 15 strikeouts and just five walks in 22 innings. Santana’s most recent outing was a gem. He threw a complete game one-hitter in the Twins 6-0 win over the Chicago White Sox on Saturday…

•Mound Showdown: Santana’s next start is Thursday against Cleveland in Minneapolis. RHP Corey Kluber (1-1, 6.38 ERA) will start for the Indians. Kluber won the 2014 AL Cy Young award with an 18-9 record…

•Sputtering Starts: Twins’ CF Byron Buxton and 1B Joe Mauer are struggling this season. Buxton is batting .093 (no home runs, no RBI and 23 strikeouts), while Mauer’s average is .213 (no home runs, 6 RBI). All of Mauer’s 10 hits have been singles…

•Crowd Counts: Despite a respectable 7-6 start and mild April weather, people are not exactly flocking to trendy Target Field. Monday’s Indians-Twins game drew just 16,961 fans. In seven home dates Minnesota is averaging 21,677, which is 28th out of 30 MLB teams. Only Tampa Bay (17,977 average) and Oakland (17,131) attract fewer to the ballpark. St. Louis leads the majors in attendance (44,992)…

•Sparse Gathering: The Gopher football team knows all about small turnouts. The estimated crowd for Minnesota’s spring game was a meager 5,000, proving once again that on the college football map Minneapolis is light years away from hotbeds such as Ann Arbor, Baton Rouge, Columbus, Gainesville, Lincoln, Madison, State College, South Bend and Tuscaloosa…

•Free Fall: It’s a worst-case scenario come true for the Minnesota Wild. The Wild trail 3-0 in their first round playoff series and are on the brink of elimination. Compounding the misery is that the Wild are losing to St. Louis. Yes, the same Blues who are coached by Mike Yeo, a guy Minnesota kicked to the curb last season. It’s mind boggling that the Wild are in this spot, after they had their best regular season in franchise history with 106 points…

•Perception is Reality: If the Wild get bounced in round one it will add fuel to the fire for Bruce Boudrerau critics. Boudreau is the NHL’s version of Marty Schottenheimer – a great regular season coach who stumbles in the post-season…

•Hawk Shock: It’s also hard to believe, but the Blackhawks are in the same precarious predicament as the Wild. Nashville defeated Chicago 3-2 in overtime Monday in Tennessee. The Predators have a commanding 3-0 lead in that playoff series and have outscored the Blackhawks 9-2…

•Bad Timing: If the Wild and Blackhawks both get knocked out in round one, Minnesota fans will be saying, “woulda, coulda, shoulda” all off-season. Chicago historically has been playoff kryptonite for Minnesota and this would have been the Wild’s chance to advance without having to get past the Blackhawks…

•Home Cooking: After a 2-2 draw last week in Houston, Minnesota United returns to the Twin Cities for three straight games. Minn U plays Colorado on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium, then hosts San Jose on April 29 and Sporting KC on May 29…

•Knick Knacks: I am tired of the constant media hype surrounding Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. Who cares? This soap opera is only relevant in the 212 area code. The Knicks are not a well run franchise and don’t have a great history. They get attention simply because they play in NYC. If the Knicks were in Denver, Indianapolis, Minneapolis or Salt Lake City they would be off the grid…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Timberwolves should give KG some love

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By Eric Nelson

February 14, 2017

GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the tropical Twin Cities…

 

• Valentine’s Salute: Since it’s Valentine’s Day, it only seems fitting to bring up an athlete that Minnesota sports fans love – Kevin Garnett. KG is the greatest Timberwolves player ever, and brought unharnessed energy and pure passion to the floor every game. Garnett loved to play and Minnesota fans loved his desire and motivation…

•Hoops Breakup: After 22 NBA seasons (14 with the Wolves) Garnett is into year one of retirement. When Flip Saunders brought KG back to “Sota” in 2014, it appeared to be a storybook ending to a spectacular career. Garnett had come full circle and even had aspirations of becoming part-owner of the Wolves. But, all that changed when new HC Tom Thibodeau took over last summer and quickly sent Garnett packing. KG was treated more like a guy on a 10-day contract – instead of someone who will someday be in the Pro Basketball HOF and was part of eight straight playoff teams in Minnesota (1996-2004)…

•KG Night: Was the parting acrimonious? Possibly. Should the Wolves have handled Garnett’s departure better? Probably. But, the Association is a cold, cruel business and what’s done is done. However, what needs to be done is for Minnesota to bring Garnett back and have “KG night” at Target Center. Retire his number 21 Wolves jersey and throw a festive bash. Show KG some love…

•Bronze Tribute: When Target Center’s $150 million renovation is finished in November, Minnesota should put a KG statue outside the arena. Garnett’s resume (former MVP, 15 time All-Star and 12 time all defensive team) has earned him that kind of salute…

•Lovey-Dovey: Both the Timberwolves and the Wild are playing on Valentine’s night. Lebron James and the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers will be at Target Center, while the Anaheim Ducks go against former HC Bruce Boudreau at the Xcel Energy Center. The matchups have plenty of juice, but for obvious reasons, kiss-cam could be the highlight of the evening in both arenas…

•Missing Love: Former Wolves star Kevin Love has an injured left knee and will not play for the Cavs against  Minnesota. All of which means there will be no Love for Cleveland on Valentine’s Day…

•Triple Digit Streak: The good times continue for the U-Conn women’s basketball team. The top-ranked Huskies knocked off No. 6 South Carolina 66-55 Monday night for their 100th consecutive win. This is clearly one of the most impressive accomplishments in sports history and ranks right up there with UCLA’s 88-game winning streak from 1971-74…

•Just a Hunch: I am guessing that Tracy Claeys and Mark Coyle did not exchange Valentine’s cards this year…

•Raw Deal: The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that Claeys did not get a fair shake from the U of M. Despite dealing with off-the-field turbulence, Claeys and the Gophers were 9-4 last season and finished with an impressive Holiday Bowl win against Washington State. Claeys deserved better…

•Parade of Champions: If you’re keeping score at home, Boston has now celebrated 15 sports championships since 2001. The Patriots (5) lead the way followed by BC hockey (4), the Red Sox (3), Bruins (1), Celtics (1) and BU hockey (1). Winning titles is so common in Beantown, that Boston would be wise to add championship parade costs to the city budget…

•Skiers Mecca: Iconic Mt. Hood in Oregon has 29 feet of snow, which is 200 percent more than normal. All that powder should have skiers flocking to Hood…

 

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Podcast

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Gameday Gold Radio – April 27, 2017 – s.4

Wild Burial: GDG’s Tom Tuttle Recaps the Short Postseason Run

Segment 4: The Wild are out before they could get started.  The guys welcome in GDG COO Tom Tuttle as they pick up the pieces from the team’s disappointing first round playoff exit against St. Louis.  They also give their takes on current coach Bruce Boudreau and former coach Mike Yeo.

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Gameday Gold Radio – October 21, 2016 – s.6

Rip-Roaring Wild and the MLB All-Star Effect

Segment 6: The Wild are off to a winning start under new coach Bruce Boudreau.  Eric and Larry dig into the new-look squad.  With the additions of Boudreau and Tom Thibodeau, how good is the current conglomeration of Twin Cities pro coaches?  And we have one participant waiting for a World Series opponent.  Will the Cleveland Indians have the decided advantage, no matter whom they face?