John Gilbert Sports

Hockey Tournaments Offer Relief from Football 

John Gilbert

Fortunately, we in the Great White North have an alternative to shoveling and watching mediocre football games on television at Holiday Time. We can go out and watch some truly entertaining high school hockey.
Duluth East is off to the Twin Cities to play in the biggest tournament of the holidays, and the Greyhounds have their work cut out for them by being scheduled against Hill-Murray in Thursday’s first game, at Ridder Arena. That Schwans Cup has such a potent field that a team could well lose all three games and still be good enough to win its section and make a run at the state tournament,
Closer to home, Heritage Center will put on an interesting tournament Thursday through Saturday, with Denfeld and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton -- a pair of teams that have been surprisingly good so far -- acting as co-hosts.
   East got past a tough Andover team last Saturday at Heritage in a 3-1 game. The Greiyhounds stormed out at the start and outshot Andover 14-4 in the first period, but it remained scoreless, thanks to stout goaltending by Ryan Olson. The second period gave East’s ace Philip Beaulieu the chance to show his stuff. After an experiment as both a center and defenseman, Beaulieu is back where he belongs, at defense. He proved it by moving in from the point and scoring with a deadly wrist shot at 2:29 of the middle period.
Just 10 seconds later, Andover was called for a penalty, and on the ensuing faceoff, the puck went back to Beaulieu again, and he scored again, at 2:43. Rare to see a defenseman rifled in two goals from long range in the span of 14 seconds, and it was worth a 2-0 lead for East.
Andover’s top gun, Tyler Tomberlin, broke free later in the second period, dashing past the East defense on a power play and sailing in to beat goaltender Gunnar Howk with a deke and a backhand to cut it to 2-1. East got another power play, and Nick Altmann scored  with a neat feed from Beaulieu, and Howg and his teammates made that clincher stand up for a 3-1 victory.
Having watched Denfeld nip Superior in overtime last week, I realized that both the Hunters and the Spartans could give East a battle when they meet in January. Denfeld is a pleasant surprise, having lost twins Zach and Alex Thompson, and sparkplug Levi Talerico, among others, from last year’s strong team. But Nick Thompson, the remaining brother, and Steven Maciver, lead a more balanced Hunter group, and the Hunters are getting solid goaltending.
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton already gave East a scare, and the Lumberjacks have played well and competitively in every game. Last Saturday was an exception, as the Lumberjacks battled Forest Lake 3-3 through two periods, then fell apart in the third, losing 7-3. But coach Dave Esse will bring them along, and this weekend’s tournament might be a good place to watch it.

WHO DO YOU LIKE?

At the start of the NFL season, I projected that Chip Kelly’s coaching style and prefered up-tempo offense would translate well to the NFL and revolutionize the game. Michael Vick made it happen in the first game. But Vick got hurt, and the Eagles pulled in their talons for a few weeks. To this day, you can hear commentators talking about how Kelly was a flop in trying to install his Oregon Ducks offense on an NFL team.
Well, somebody named Nick Foles was named by Kelly to be starting quarterback, and he held the position even after Vick returned to health. And somebody else, named LeSean McCoy, seemed to be running recklessly through various Eagles foes.
Last weekend, if you had the chance to tune in after the Vikings collapse, you saw that Foles leads the entire NFL in quarterback efficiency, and that McCoy is all but assured of supplanting Adrian Peterson as the top rusher in the NFL. Rare indeed for the top quarterback and leading rusher to be from the same team. They get to put it on display this weekend, in Dallas, when the two meet for the division title.
Furthermore, the Eagles lead the NFL in the rapidity with which they run plays, leading to a very interesting pair of statistics. Going into last Sunday’s game against the Bears, the Eagles led the league with the most plays per game, and also were last, or nearly last, in time of possession. Normally, time of possession is an ironclad way of assuring success, but when a team runs off play after play with the rapid-fire style of the Eagles, they turn that asset upside down. If it only takes a minute and a half to march the length of the field, why bother holding possession for 10 minutes?
The other thing that will be interesting to watch in this playoff season is if the old guard of great quarterbacks can succeed against the amazing new crop of young talent at quarterback. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and maybe Aaron Rodgers, stand as the proven best veteran QBs. But Voles joins an expanding list that includes Andrew Luck at Carolina, Russell Wilson at Seattle, Colin Kaepernick at San Francisco, and Cam Newton of Carolina among impatient younger players demanding to claim spots among top signal-callers.
Ahh, to be an NFL team and have a great quarterback!
We can go back to training camp and review suggestions I made about the Vikings situation. Coach Leslie Frazier anointed Christian Ponder as starter, and treated him like a star. He played two plays in the first game, two series in the second, and sat out the last exhibition game. My point was that he was not a superstar; he, in fact, needed a lot of reps in order to rise to the level of competence. I don’t blame Ponder for failing to show a take-charge presence when the season started, and he looked ready to start the exhibition season.
The fiasco of switching form Ponder to Matt Cassell, and then the hiring of Josh Freeman, created nothing resembling consistency, and assorted injuries to Ponder and Cassell didn’t help.
The other suggestion I ventured was the opportunity to put on a revolutionary offense. Use Ponder (or Cassell), and send Joe Webb, the flashy running QB switched to flanker, out there to catch passes and make passes, then run some offensive plays that add double pass plays -- to Webb wide on either side, and then Webb running or throwing from there. A rapid-fire offense with weapons such as those complementing Adrian Paterson could have made the Vikings a super team, this season. It might have even kept the Vikings defense awake long enough to function up to standards.