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Bemidji got the jump on Denfeld at Heritage Center last weekend, although the Hunters battled back to make a game of it. Even when they couldn’t hope to pull it out, the Hunters tried hard to overtake the speedy and impressive Lumberjacks.
At the end, Denfeld defenseman Nick Thompson roamed in by the net and tried to jam in one more goal from the right edge of the goal. Bemidji goaltender Garret Atteberry held his ground, refusing to yield the post, and turned away Thompson’s final swats. The two were tangled together as the buzzer sounded, and it looked as though Thompson had Atteberry in a headlock. But Thompson released his hold, stood up, and patted Atteberry on top of the helmet, as if to say, “Good job, kid.”
It was a wonderful small moment in a fiercely competitive game, even though Bemidji prevailed. Bemidji, by the way, had lost a 3-0 game to Cloquet in a battle of Lumberjacks in the semifinal, while Denfeld beat Owatonne in the first round before losing to Rosemount in the semifinals. So the Denfeld-Bemidji game was a third-place game, and yet it was played hard but without animosity, so that final small act of sportsmanship stood out, to me.
As New Year’s Resolutions go, we could do worse than trying to make a mass decision to appreciate sports for the very “sport” involved, and try to be less consumed with the win-at-all-cost mentality that prevails from top to bottom in the world of sports competition.
For example, every pro team in every sport announces boldly that they know they should be a contender, and if they aren’t, then they must fire the coach and try a new direction. Overlooked, of course, is the fact that some team must lose whenever another wins, and that every opponent is trying to win and improve to the stature of being a contender, if not a champion.
It goes all the way down to youth sports, where parents seem to subscribe to the simple formula that either their kid is a star, or the coach is a jerk.
It was with that in mind that I went out to watch a few games in the Heritage Classic high school hockey tournament. These weren’t the best eight teams in the state, but they were good, competitive teams that worked hard for their success.
Rosemount beat Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 3-2 for the championship, jumping ahead 3-0 and then holding off the spirited rally to the finish by the Lumberjacks. But it was fascinating to watch other dramas play out along the way. Bemidji, by the way, has enough talent and moxie to make a run at Section 8 honors in the new year. Owatonna lost all three games, but played all-out and nearly upset Apple Valley in the consolation semifinals before AV tied the game late and won in overtime.
Notre Dame, the undefeated and No. 1 ranked defending Wisconsin state champs, won the Marshall tournament by beating Madison West 3-2 in overtime at Mars-Lakeview. Marshall intended to be in that final, but instead absorbed a stinging upset against Appleton - outshooting their foe 54-10 but losing 3-2 in a shootout. Superior also was beaten in the first round, so those two had a tough battle in consolation as well, with Superior winning 2-1.
Meanwhile, Duluth East was thumped 6-3 by undefeated and No. 1 ranked Hill-Murray in the first round of the Schwan’s Cup tournament, but the Greyhounds bounced back to beat a good Prior Lake team 4-1, then beat Breck, the No. 1 ranked Class A team, 2-1 on Philip Beaulieu’s goal. Breck had beaten St. Thomas Academy, the former Class A power now in AA, in a 5-4 consolation battle. Hermantown won a pair of romps to reach the final of the South St. Paul tournament, but fell 4-1 to Eagan in the final.
None of those teams that lost had a Nick Thompson nearby to pat them on the helmets and congratulate them for their effort. Hopefully, their effort alone will propel them to success in 2014.
A VERY GOOD YEAR
As 2013 takes its place in history, it was a good year -- a very good year -- as all of them are, if we make it through. It was not a sports year filled with championships, but rather with good, hard-working, and competitive teams.
Think of Anders Broberg setting the all-time scoring record for the Lakeview Christian Academy basketball team. Or the strength of Duluth East, Hermantown and Marshall in hockey. Or the football teams at both UMD and St. Scholastica, which made it to NCAA tournament status before falling. And the Duluth Huskies, who made a stirring second-half run into the Northwoods League baseball playoffs. I said it a month ago, and it stands, however, that the biggest single sports moment in Duluth in calendar year 2013 was the magnificent five-set victory by the UMD women’s volleyball team over Concordia University of St. Paul in the final game of the regular Northern Sun season. That victory gave UMD a split of the two games with Concordia, which had won six consecutive NCAA Division II championships.
When UMD stunned Concordia in three straight sets for an extremely rare victory, let alone sweep, on Concordia’s floor in the NSIC tournament final, it gave the Bulldogs a chance for one last round at Romano Gym as hosts to the NCAA regional. The Bulldogs played flawlessly to gain the final match, as did Concordia. The two collided in a memorable winner-take-all finale, and Concordia prevailed in four sets.
True, the Bulldogs were crushed by the loss, but after a couple of weeks, and the naming of UMD star Kate Lange as the player of the year nationally, the pain has to subside - particularly when Concordia moved on and won the NCAA D-II title for an astounding seventh consecutive year.
Who knows what 2014 will hold for our Northland sports? There will be great performances, and good, competitive performances that fall a tad short. Let’s make a resolution to support, and appreciate, all of them.
NFL SECOND SEASON
After hurtling through the end of the regular season, the NFL playoffs will rise up this weekend. While the Vikings Leslie Frazier was one of five NFL coaches fired within 24 hours of their last games, four of the more successful teams in the league will end their seasons suddenly on Saturday and Sunday.
In the NFC Wild Card round, New Orleans, the Drew Brees powerhouse that doesn’t always play like a powerhouse outside, must play at Philadelphia, a team that is one of the lowest time-of-possession teams but leads the league in number of plays run per game. San Francisco, one of the NFL elite teams and the Super Bowl runner-up last year, must go to Green Bay and face the Packers, who are rejuvenated by the return - and return to game-winning form - of Aaron Rodgers. Those winners advance to play at Carolina and at Seattle.
In the AFC Wild Card games, Kansas City tries to regain form at Indianapolis on Saturday and San Diego goes to Cincinnati on Sunday. But in the AFC, it seems that the two bye teams - New England and Denver - will be heavily favored to win the semifinals and stage a fantastic showdown for the AFC title.