Slugging Twins start, Wild follow
The late, great Eddie Shore was considered the Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb of hockey.
Optimism remains high for both the Twins in Major League Baseball and the Wild in the resumption of the NHL stretch run to the Stanley Cup, and both of them are getting into unique tangents of competition without fans and with involvement of everybody up to the President.
The Twins started off with a healthy run against the Chicago White Sox, winning the actual open-er 10-5, then losing 10-2 before capping the 3-game series with a 14-2 whopping of the White Sox.
Home runs and power and spotty pitching – the Twins showed it all before coming home to Target Field for their home opener. Without fans, though, we wonder how effective the home-field advantage will be.
In hockey, the bizarre effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has put the top 24 teams into Edmonton in the West and Toronto in the East.
All teams are cloistered into a variety of hotels near the respective arenas, and games will be piled up in batches of two or three a day, which should make for spectacular watching on satellite TV.
Reports are that very few reporters have ventured to Edmonton from U.S. cities, and they will be greatly restrict-ed in access to players, with all post-game interviews conducted on video.
But here is the breakdown of the first week of best-of-5 competition to qual-ify for the actual 16 teams that will form the Stanley Cup quarterfinals for both East and West.
On Saturday – this Saturday – you can tune in your big flat-screen for a long day of NHL action.
At 11 a.m., the New York Rangers play Carolina Hurricanes to open Toronto’s East slate; at 2 p.m., the scene shifts to Edmonton, where the Chicago Blackhawks face the home-standing Edmonton Oilers; at 3 p.m., back to Toronto, where the Florida Panthers face the New York Islanders; at 7 p.m., Montreal tackles the Pitts-burgh Penguins in the East; at 9:30 p.m., back in Edmonton, the Winnipeg Jets face the Calgary Flames.
On Sunday, after you’ve gotten up early to watch the British Grand Prix from Silverstone at 9 a.m., you’ve got time for brunch before 1 p.m., when actions starts in Edmonton with the Nashville Predators taking on Phoenix; at 2 p.m., in Toronto, the Philadelphia Flyers meet Boston in what should be an epic first-round qualifying series; at 5:30 p.m., the St, Louis Blues meet Colorado; at 7 p.m., in Toronto, the Columbus Blue Jackets meet the Toronto Maple Leafs; and at 9:30 p.m., back in Edmonton, the Minnesota Wild tackle the Vancouver Canucks.
All of those games are the first games of best-of-5 series that will send the losers home and the winners staying put for the divisional quarterfinals.
The action gets hotter quickly, because on Monday, at 11 a.m. in Toronto, the Rangers-Hurricanes play Game 2; at 1:30 p.m. in Edmonton, the Jets-Flames meet; at 3 p.m. in Toronto, Washington faces the Tampa Bay Lightning; at 5:30 p.m. in Edmonton, Dallas opens against Vegas; at 7 p.m., in Toronto, the Canadiens meet the Penguins; and at 9:30 p.m. in Edmonton, the Blackhawks face the Oilers.
Coming right back on Tuesday, in Toronto, Florida meets the Islanders at 11 a.m.; and in Edmonton, Arizona faces Nashville at 1:30 p.m.; at 3 p.m., in Toronto, Columbus meets Toronto; and ate 5:45 p.m. in Edmonton, Calgary faces Edmonton; at 7 p.m. in Toronto, Carolina take on the Rangers; and at 9:45 p.m., the Wild face Vancouver in their Game 2.
That action continues, every day, and after the long layoff, the pace of games nearly every day will be nothing short of frantic. When action was interrupted by the virus shutdown, the Wild had a 35-27-7 record to stand sixth in the Central Division, while Vancouver was 36-27-6 to stand eighth in the Pacific.
LOCAL SPORTS HOLD
On the amateur front in the Duluth area, UMD’s fall sports were shoved back to a later September start, with football cutting down to eight games in the Northern Sun race, and chances of a repeat title challenged by the news that the league will combine its two divisions into one this fall.
Volleyball and soccer are also backed up, and the coaches and athletes in all those sports are holding their breath hoping that the virus will slow down in time to prevent later reevaluation and possible closure of the whole season.
Other leagues have chosen to elim-inate full seasons in some sports, and others are saying they will move football to the spring, which would make a weird year overlap into another year.
Zach Edwards, St. Scholastica’s dominant quarterback last season, has signed a contract to start his pro career in an American football league in Spain, which starts play in January.
High school and college hockey may have lucked out in the whole exchange, because their seasons start a little later, with more time to solve the pandemic.
But for Duluth East coach Mike Randolph, the season can’t start soon enough. It will be a challenging season, and Randolph said his Greyhounds don’t have a star scorer or a go-to player, which makes it all the more exciting.
“Everybody can score, and everybody will have to score,” said Randolph, currently finishing the allowed summer workouts high school coaches can have with their teams.
“We don’t know who will score, but we’ve got a good mix of experienced guys and a few 10th and 9th graders. Nobody will be able to guess who will score, so fans will have to buy a ticket for every game.”
The Greyhounds took part in a big tournament at St. Louis Park last weekend. It didn’t go too well, except from the development standpoint.
“Our first game we played Gentry Academy,” said Randolph. “We didn’t know anything about them, but they’ve got a lot of really good players. We played ‘em 1-1 at halftime, but in the second half they handled us and won 6-1. We can’t worry too much, though, because they went on to win the tournament.
“We played better in the second game, but lost 4-2 to Champlin Park. In our third game, we played our best of the three and beat Eastview 4-1. That shows how we improved game by game, and our JV, which played at Braemar, went all the way to the finals. So it was a good week. I liked what I saw from a lot of players. We looked at a lot of players and pretty much threw the lines together and just rolled all our lines.
“We’ve got a good senior class, and they understand what we’re trying to do and play to their roles. And our young guys will get better every game. We’ll have three or four guys battling it out to see who wins the starting goalie job, too.”
Randolph has had a lot of overpow-ering teams at East, and while last year was a departure, this coming season will be a work in progress. But Randolph, who loves the intricacies of putting a cohesive team together, knows it’s going to be an enjoyable year.
Another of Randolph’s grads has signed a pro contract. Phil Beaulieu, a powerful offensive defenseman for four years at East, went off to play junior hockey. He committed to Nebraska Omaha, but when time got close after he had played at Waterloo and Madison in the USHL, the Mavericks pulled his offer. Eventually, Beaulieu wound up at Northern Michigan, in the WCHA. The team played pretty well, and Beaulieu wound up as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
“When he came to our varsity as a ninth grader, he had always been a forward,” Randolph recalled. “I told him I wanted to make him a defenseman, and he said he couldn’t skate backwards so he couldn’t do it. I told him I wanted him to rush the puck and be an offensive force, and I was really impressed at how much work he put in to improve his skating. And he ended up as a finalist for Hobey.”
FIRST PITCH PROBLEM
You may have seen Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the national Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the star of President Donald Trump’s erratic guidance against the pandemic, get a chance to throw out the first pitch of the New York Yankees-Washington Nationals season opener.
I thought it was odd that Trump didn’t seize the chance to go out to the mound, but apparently he wasn’t asked. Anyway, Fauci wound up and threw one of the worst ceremonial pitches ever – a wide-left bouncer that went to the backstop. Everyone forgave him because he’s a doctor, and he’s old!
But it turns out, Fauci was unapol-ogetic afterward. He grew up in Brooklyn, playing shortstop for the St. Bernadette’s Grasshoppers kid ball team, and he was a huge fan of the Yankees, from the Joe DiMaggio era on up.
When the Washington Nationals franchise started, he switched allegiances, but throwing out the first pitch to his two favorite teams was something he was eager to do.
So he went to Horace Mann Elemen-tary School, where he found a local high school kid to play catch with. He threw, and threw, for about 30 minutes. Having not thrown for five decades, it was too much. He said when he got up the next morning, his arm was sore and hanging limp. But he tried to carry out his duties, only to find that when he wound up and came overhand, he had nothing there, and the ball dribbled wide left.
The aftermath of Fauci’s courageous effort was that Trump was apparently jealous, and announced that he had been invited to throw out the first pitch at a Yankees game on Aug. 15. But the next day, the Yankees said they had never made such an offer. Squelched, Trump then had his staff announce that he was going to be busy that day, anyway.
One last note: Eddie Shore died at age 83. Eddie Shore was one of the late coach Glen Sonmor’s favorites. He also was made famous in the movie Slap Shot, when the guys were trying to get fired up and yelled, “Old time hockey … Eddie Shore.” We’re losing a lot of the classic old-time characters, but the world keeps turning.