A Big Week in Sports: Spring Training, NFL, Hockey, NBA, NCAA Tournament

It just occured to me that this may be the most sports intensive week of the year. Where no major championships are on the line, virtually every major sports enterprise is in the news.

First, the NCAA tournament selections will occur tomorrow and fans are eager to see if their team, mine being the Minnesota Gophers, will make the “Big Dance.” Thirty one of the sixty-eight selections are automatic and go conference champions like Belmont of the Ohio Valley Conference, Florida Gulf Coast of the Atlantic Sun Conference, Liberty of the Big South, and Harvard of the Ivy League. The first action is the play-in round with the bottom four automatic teams playing the bottom four at-large teams for tournament spots. The methodology for selecting the at-large teams is a convoluted statistical system that picks teams based on difficulty of schedule, big wins and stuff like that. I think is sounds very random. Because of that, my Gophers may just make it.

Second, we are near the end of baseball’s Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic. As for Spring Training, it is an interesting period but its relevance will disappear on April 1 when the real season starts. As for the World Baseball Classic, I must admit this event is gaining some traction with the media and, it is assumed, fans around the world. With Puerto Rico’s defeat of the USA team, my own interest in the outcome lagged, but my interest in the event increased as this will be a more important event as time goes by.

Third, the NFL has the ability to remain in the forefront of media reports with its free agent period and coming league meetings. The NFL and Vikings ability to dominate the local media is an indication of its overall dominate position. The Vikings dominate by trading a disgruntled receiver, Percy Harvin, and then dominate by signing a free agent ex-Packer, Greg Jennings. Of great interest is the proposed rule change suggested by the Commissioner to make illegal helmet-first contact by a running back outside the “tackle box, ” that area of the field between the tackles and extending a few yards downfield. This is a major change in the way the game is played but is necessary given the concussion problem. This would make my high school football coach, Eddie Willamoski, angry as he thought the way to play was to plant your head in a tackler’s chest like a battering ram.

Fourth, the NBA is heading for playoffs with the unbeatable Heat leading the way. That doesn’t get much play here as our Wolves are well out of it. This has been a very discouraging year for the Wolves, who started well. The loss of All-Star Kevin Love has been devastating, but the loss of a single player should not doom a team that is otherwise solid. so there is a lesson there.

Lastly, hockey is dominating the local news with the Wild in second place in the NHL’s Northwest Division. So the team is playoff bound. Such is the local interest that the NHL is covered on page C8 of the Star Tribune. The big hockey stories are about the University of Minnesota Women’s and Men’s teams that are advancing in the WCHA Tournament. Of these teams, it is the Gopher Women who get the most interest. The women are 38-0, that’s right, 38-0 this year, and are the most dominant team Minnesota has ever had since the First Minnesota stopped Wilcox Confederates at Gettysburg in 1863. It is my favorite team and I think they will continue to win for a long time. Considering in-coming freshmen, this team will improve next year.

We can look forward to the frenetic NCAA tournament starting next week and extending until The Final Four April 6-8. The NHL and NBA playoffs will come with most interest local, as baseball takes over until the World Series, and the NFL season captivates us until the Super Bowl. That will take us into the new year and it all starts again. It is a wonderful time to be a sports fan. Go Gophs

The State Hockey Tournament

This is the day that the boys hockey champions are to be determined with class 1A game at noon and the class 2A at 7PM. All games are played at the Xcel Center, the Wild’s home ice. Attendance yesterday for the 2A semifinal was 19,351, a sell out, and such is the level of interest in these magnificent games.
In semifinal games, Hermantown beat Breck in double overtime, 3-2 and will play St. Thomas winner 11-0 over East Grand Forks. Experts say St Thomas is the best team in the state, even though it plays in 1A, the small school division. It may move to 2A next year. The exciting 2A games saw Hill-Murray beat Wayzata 3-2 and Edina beat Duluth East 3-2. The Hill Murray game ended with the last Wayata shot bouncing off the goalie with. 4 seconds remaining. It seems the theme song for these games is Tom Perry’s “I Won’t Back Down.”
I grew up in a non hockey area and was only introduced to the hockey tournament by accident in the 1970’s when a friend suggested we go to a game. From then on, I ‘ve been hooked and have invented excuses to be there. I was compelled to attend games earlier but now they are streamed on prep45.com so I can watch the games worldwide.
It is now two hours before game time, so I need to get some stuff done, because nothing will keep me away from the 1A game at noon,

Update: St. Thomas won 5-4 with a power play goal with 6 seconds to go. It is their third straight and now they move to class 2A. This is the Minnesota State High School League concept of the English promotion and relegation scheme. So far, no 2A team has been relegated to 1A. The MSHSL doesn’t actually have a promotion and relegation scheme, but it is something to think about!

Final update: Edina beat Hill=Murray 4-2 to take the 2A crown. The deciding factor was the Edina goalie and the Hill-Murray habit of hitting the pipe. I guess the two go together. All in all, the hockey gods decided it was an Edina evening.