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It was close to being the perfect scenario. Or at least turning a difficult decision into a great night out.
On Tuesday, we faced the dilemma of desperately wanting to attend the Trampled by Turtles concert at Clyde Iron Works, starting at 9 p.m. However, the Minnesota Wild, after a breathtaking finish to the regular season, which ended with them clutching the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference of the National Hockey League, was to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Chicago on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
If we stayed home and watched the Wild-Blackhawks game, we’d obviously miss the start of the Turtles concert, and even getting there on time meant being unable to find a vantage point. So I made a phone call to Clyde Iron Works. Knowing they were going to have both the main stage and the mezzanine going as part of this week’s Homegrown Music Festival, and also knowing they serve food, I asked if, by any chance, there might be television sets in the eating area where we might watch the Wild game. We were assured there was, and we could.
So my wife, Joan, and I got to Clyde about 6:30 p.m., as a couple of pretty good bands were already getting ready to start at 7 p.m. We went upstairs and found a table with a pretty good vantage point of one of the large flat-screen TVs on the wall, and ordered hamburgers. First of all, these weren’t just hamburgers. They were half-pound beauties that took the whole first period to consume. These were burgers that were so good, The Reader should have another “best of” issues, just to name the Clyde burgers as the best in the Twin Ports. There are a lot of good burger places in Duluth and Superior, but the Clyde burger, with a slice of smoky cheddar (Joan got pepper jack and grilled onions), went immediately to the top of the list.
Despite a continuing stream of young adults who had gotten a good start on the Clyde’s supply of beer walking right in front of us and stopping to talk, loudly, between us and the television set, we had a great vantage point as the complete underdog Wild took the ice to warm up for Game 1 against the No. 1 seeded Blackhawks. There was no sound, in the Clyde, naturally, but we watched as Josh Harding pulled on his goalie mask and skated out to the Wild goal. Josh Harding? Yes, we didn’t need sound when a video replay came on to show ace goaltender Niklas Backstrom go down awkwardly attempting to make a save on a warmup rush, then get up and hobble to the bench, and then straight to the dressing room. They will call it a “lower body injury,” although it looked like he either wrenched a knee or pulled a muscle. Whatever, Josh Harding -- he of the heroic fight after learning he has multiple sclerosis, and he who hadn’t started a game since January -- stalked valiantly out to the nets to start the game. If the Wild were 100-to-1 longshots, it just went to 1,000-to-1.
But Harding is capable, to say nothing of courageous, and he made a couple good saves in the first five minutes. About then, on his second shift on the ice, Cal Clutterbuck carried across center ice and curled in on the left side. Clutterbuck, a right-handed shot, skated hard to the left faceoff circle, then snapped a shot to the inside of a retreating defenseman, and the missile glanced off the arm of goaltender Corey Crawford and went in on the short side.
Harding and the hustling Wild prevented the powerful Hawks from any scoring threats and the score stayed 1-0, Wild, into the second period. Early in the second, Charlie Coyle, one of three rookies in the Wild lineup, rushed in on the left and fired a hard backhander that Coffman blocked, uncertainly. Zach Parise, always hustling, and willing to play half of each shift while being sprawled prone seeking the puck, came hard at the net, as a pair of Blackhawks tried to shove him into the goal. They shoved enough that Parise fell over Coffman and play was whistled dead. The referee, however, called Parise for a penalty for running into the goaltender. It was an awful call, and although the Wild killed nearly all the penalty, right near the end of the power play, Patrick Kane rushed up the middle, attracting three Wild defenders. Kane, one of the slickest men with a stick in the game, made a deft move, then snapped a backhand pass wide to the left, where Marian Hossa was breaking at full steam, and he fired the puck in behind Harding before he could cover.
The 1-1 tie stayed through the entire rest of the second period, and on into the third. We had to choose, and we went into the main hall about then, to try to carve out a vantage point on the balcony. I figured once we did, I could sneak back out every once in a while for a glance at the third period. And then the overtime.
As so often happens in a clash of two teams with some potent big-gun players, the game came down to lesser-names. After 16:35 of sudden-death overtime, Viktor Stalberg rushed up the right side for the Blackhawks, threw on the brakes to freeze the defense, then sent a perfect pass across the slot to Bryan Bickell, who outraced two Wild skaters to break in alone with speed, cut to his right and tuck in the winning goal. Chicago wins Game 1, by 2-1 in overtime.
The Wild played ferociously. They played their best. And Josh Harding was nothing short of sensational. After having absorbed scorn from media types who don’t know hockey, and polite finger-crossing from hopeful fans who thought maybe the Wild could steal a game -- just one -- had outplayed the Blackhawks through most of the night, and battled them with all they had when the home team gained momentum in the second period.
Remember, the Blackhawks had the best record in the entire NHL, just as the Vancouver Canucks had last season. And the Los Angeles Kings, who were seeded No. 8 in the West a year ago, beat the Canucks and went all the way to win the Stanley Cup. These Blackhawks are better than those Canucks were a year ago, but the Wild, if they can keep playing the same way in Game 2 on Friday night, could get on a roll and be better than the LA Kings were last year, too. As for the Blackhawks, recall also that they were beaten in six games by upstart Phoenix in the first round last year -- and five of those games were in overtime. Remember also that our own Masked Fan, just one week ago, picked the Wild to finish ninth in the West and falter their way to finish short of making the playoffs. Oh ye, of little faith! Turn the page and see what he thinks about the Wild now!
Meanwhile, Trample by Turtles was outstanding, playing a lively set that enthralled a mob scene that clogged the main floor of the Clyde Iron Works. We were lucky to be up near the railing in the balcony, although we weren’t lucky enough to get a clear view of the full stage at any one time. But it was a great show. I wonder if they’ve got another Homegrown concert scheduled for Friday night, when it’ll be time for Game 2, and we’ll be about ready for another Clyde Burger.
Speaking of good food at sports events, last Friday was the perfect time to take a walk in the sun and find a vantage point at Jim Malosky Stadium. The event was UMD’s annual spring football game, and new coach Curt Wiese had arranged for the usual feast that the players get to have to instead be turned out for any fans who attended, free of charge. I mean the game was free of charge, and the food -- including barbecue from Texas Roadhouse -- was free, too.
That time, so dedicated was I to watching the two UMD split squads play football that I passed up the chance to stand in line amid some of the more than 1,200 fans for the barbecue -- settling later for a little cole slaw and a couple of other salad-type things -- and watched Wiese watch his players. The big turnout celebrated a rare sighting of the sun, and 60-degree temperature, and also was a fund-raiser for UMD lineman Jordan Bauman, who is battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma for the second time.
The new coach has had a little knee surgery, so he’s on crutches these days, which didn’t prevent him from getting out there in the middle of the field for the special-rules game, where nobody was allowed to blast any quarterbacks, or make runbacks of kicks or turnovers. That way, nobody could impress the coach by running over him, either.
The Bulldogs proved the answers to at least two questions: 1. Is there life after Bob Nielson? and 2. Is there life after Chase Vogler? Nielson, who lifted UMD to a pair of NCAA Division II national championships before leaving after last season for a Division I job, appears to have set the table for Wiese, who was his offensive coordinator for the last five seasons. In the last four of those, Chase Vogler was the quarterback, breaking all sorts of UMD records and proving to be a one-man catalyst for Wiese’s clever offense.
The score didn’t matter, although the Whites beat the Maroons 10-7 for those keeping score. Tyler McLaughlin kicked an extra point and made a 22-yard field goal for four of the White’s points. And the quarterback situation appears to be adequately filled, even though competition will continue right on through next fall’s camp. Junior Brent Jorgenson is one of the prime candidates, although freshman Drew Bauer from Eagan might be a better scrambler and runner from the gang of five that are fighting for the job. Bauer was 5-for-8 with a touchdown pass, and ran well, although those quarterbacks were getting special-ed treatment with their orange no-hit jerseys, so we really didn’t get the chance to see him scramble for real.