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It was the recently deceased Yogi Berra, as I recall, who first put the humorous redundancy – “Deja-vu, all over again” -- into our lexicon. But the phrase took on new impact for me when my crazed interest in taking in as many sports events as possible crossed the circuitry of the UMD hockey team’s wrenching double-overtime loss to St. Cloud State Saturday night with the almost simultaneous end of the Green Bay Packers wrenching overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals in a classic NFL playoff battle.
Of course we all remember watching in startled awe when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was chased out of the pocket against Detroit and heaved a 60-plus-yard bomb for a game-ending Hail Mary touchdown pass. It was flat incredible, and might stand up as the No. 1 highlight video of the whole season.
So now we flash to Saturday night, and I had spent a long day at AMSOIL Arena watching some exciting hockey. The UMD women, struggling to reach .500 in the WCHA, scored two late goals to tie North Dakota 3-3 and force overtime, then lost 4-3 to absorb a painful sweep at the hands of the Fighting Hawks. Then came the men’s game, and the Bulldogs went after a St. Cloud State team that also was seeking a sweep. Between periods of that game, we switched the press box monitor over to see how the Packers were doing against Arizona, a team that had just recently embarrassed the Packers on the same field. It went back and forth, but then we turned back to the live hockey game.
The Huskies held off UMD’s persistence, forcing a second overtime. In the NCHC, the game stands as a 1-1 tie. The second overtime is a 3-on-3 spectacle worth an extra point in the standings, and, as luck and UMD’s struggle to score goals would have it, the Huskies won it 2-1.
I hustled downstairs to talk to the coaches and returned to the press box, where several fellows were focused on the tv monitor where the Packers were making their last bid to catch the Cardinals, who had just extended their lead to 20-13 with a field goal with 1:55 remaining. There was no sound, but have you ever noticed that often a good football game is better without the constant over-analysis? We didn’t need sound. The Packers started on their 14, out of timeouts. Rodgers threw incomplete, then incomplete again. Then he got sacked. Time, and luck, appeared to have run out even for miracle-worker Rodgers. But on fourth down, he launched a 60-yard bomb to Jeff Janis and the Packers had one gasp left.
It was about then that I bent down to gather up all my implements of function, like scoresheets, scorebook, camera, and what all. When I looked up, all I saw on the monitor was a pile-up of jubilant Packers in the end zone. “What happened?” I asked. “Rodgers couldn’t have done it again!”
The guys got a good laugh out of my comment before they informed me that no, this was just a replay of that previous spectacular game-winning Hail Mary touchdown. I laughed too, because no way could that bit of lightning strike twice. It’s sometimes unfortunate that our deja-vu – that feeling that you’re experienced before what you’re experiencing now -- is now hammered into our consciousness by countless instant and not-so-instant video replays.
One more play, and only five seconds remained. Rodgers, at the Arizona 41, scrambled free and, as time expired, launched what would surely be his last pass of the season. High, arcing toward the end zone. Suddenly between two ace defensive backs there was this Jeff Janis character, arriving late but just in time under the trajectory of the ball, leaping high and coming down with it for a touchdown. It was his second TD catch of the game, giving him two for the season.
Because of my brief little look away from the screen for a few seconds, allowing the “old” replay to be shown, it was the first time that deja-vu could, indeed, happen all over again. Now there are two nearly identical Hail Mary game-ending touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers. When he retires, and the time comes to put him into the NFL Hall of Fame, all they need to do is show those two replays.
The extra point, singular please, tied the game 20-20 and forced overtime, where the coin flip took on a life of its own. Rodgers saw that when the ref showed the coin, it was heads up, so he called tails. The coin went up and landed without a single revolution, and Arizona won when it was heads. The Packers pointed out that the coin never even flipped over once, so the ref, having accomplished something nearly impossible, hurriedly agreed that a non-flipping flip wasn’t a flip at all. Apparently tails was up this time, and he flipped it well, and again Arizona won. Rodgers later said he wished he had time to change his call, but the ref merely re-flipped without asking for another call.
In NFL overtime, if a team is stopped and kicks a field goal, the other team gets a chance to duplicate or beat it, but if a team marches for a touchdown, it wins. The Cardinals didn’t march, they moved at supersonic speed, with Carson Palmer firing a short, first-play pass to Minneapolis’s own Larry Fitzgerald, who raced away a zig-zagging blur in his usual impersonation of a muscular antelope escaping from a lion. Or maybe a Packer or two. He went 75 yards before the Packers hauled him down. On second and goal, the Packers bunched, and Palmer flipped a little shovel pass to Fitzgerald – touchdown.
The 26-20 Cardinals victory sends them to Carolina for a classic NFC final Sunday, between the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds with the two best records. But that game won’t soon be forgotten. The Hail Mary pass was, in fact, the last pass Rodgers threw for the season, although not by his choice. He never got his hands on the ball in overtime, which might have been extra inspiration for Arizona to score.
And for me, it was evidence that Yogi was right, and deja-vu can, indeed, happen all over again.
The other spectacular game last weekend was at Carolina, where the Panthers astounded me and the Seattle Seahawks by scoring two immediate touchdowns and riding Cam Newton to a 31-0 lead. The Seahawks – my pick to win the Super Bowl – were outplayed in every facet of the game. Even Russell Wilson got intercepted twice, once for a touchdown.
Stubbornly, I insisted on watching at least the start of the second half. Rookie Tyler Lockett set the spark with an electrifying kickoff return, and suddenly Wilson and the Seahawks snapped back into form. They came at Carolina quicker than Terry Bradshaw could utter his halftime analysis that there was no way Seattle could even think of coming back from 31-0. The Seahawks pulled off a fake punt, and Wilson threw touchdown passes to Jermaine Kearse and Lockett in the third quarter. Lockett had already forced replays to prove his spectacular sideline catch, and replay was required again when he made a diving, lunging escape and catch flying out of the back of the end zone.
Wilson then hit Kearse again for a fourth-quarter TD pass that seemed impossible, because Wilson was off-balance and it required micrometer precision to get over the defensive back and be catchable by only Kearse. Three of the most artistic touchdown passes of this or any season closed it to 31-21, and the Seahawks got a field goal to close it to 31-24. They ran out of time when an onside kick failed, but proved a lot by being outscored 31-0 in the first half and outscoring 16-1 Carolina 24-0 in the second half. Tell me you wouldn’t like to see those two teams play a rematch right now – Cam Newton against Russell Wilson, the two best new-breed quarterbacks, firing on all cylinders for both halves.
In the AFC, we’ll see two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in the final. New England halted Kansas City’s 11-game winning streak 27-20 while Denver and Peyton Manning outlasted Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger 23-16. That gives us Tom Brady against Manning when New England goes to Denver Sunday.
I’ll go with Denver’s defense stopping the Patriots, relentless though they appear to be, and I think Cam Newton and Carolina’s stout defense will find a way to cage Larry Fitzgerald and get past Arizona and the vastly underrated Carson Palmer.
UMD proves level of NCHC’s competition
UMD was swept in both games by St. Cloud State last weekend at AMSOIL Arena, in a pair of games that seemed to cement the Huskies as half of a two-team race with North Dakota atop the NCHC and possibly doom the Bulldogs to four-team middle of the pack.
More than that, though, the games told the story of exactly why the National Collegiate Hockey Conference is the toughest league in men’s college hockey. By far. Scoring goals is extremely important to a team’s hockey success, just as preventing them is, and UMD’s inconsistency in that regard has been mind-boggling at the very least.
UMD seemed to find its rhythm back in a four-game stretch of domination as November wrapped into December. The Bulldogs won two at Colorado College and two more at home against Western Michigan as goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo set school records with three consecutive shutouts – 5-0 and 6-0 at CC and 7-0 in the first Western Michigan game. Winning the second Western game 6-2 meant UMD had scored a whopping 24 goals and allowed only two in that four-game surge, which is exactly the kind of differential that could win a championship. But then, long before ice had formed on Lake Superior, the Bulldogs seemed to hit a figurative iceberg.
They played very well at home in both games but lost a pair of 3-0 shutouts to North Dakota, then they went to Miami of Ohio and tied 1-1 (losing in a second overtime) before erupting to win 5-2. The two games against St. Cloud last weekend were a 3-1 loss and then a 1-1 tie that the Huskies won in the second overtime. Forget that UMD yielded the extra standings points for two second-overtime losses. Even counting them as ties meant UMD had come off the four-game winning surge to go 1-3-2 in the big picture. In the bigger picture, the Bulldogs scored only eight goals in the six games while giving up 14 – five of them in one game, meaning UMD was outscored 12-3 in the other five games, none of them victories.
There were little things that affected UMD against St. Cloud State. In the first game, freshman Mikey Eyssimont rushed up the left side, put a deft move on Willie Raskob to get inside him, and before Carson Soucy could come across to get him, Eyssimont beat Kaskisuo with a well-placed backhander up high. UMD’s fourth line countered when senior Cal Decowski got his first goal of the season with a one-timer from the slot, after a neat set-up from freshman Adam Johnson. But senior Kalle Kossila, who assisted on the first goal, scored a power-play goal from the slot in the second period.
UMD thought it had the equalizer again, when Dom Toninato broke free coming up the right side. Just after he crossed the blue line, St. Cloud senior Joey Benik, backchecking like a madman down the middle, was taken off his feet by UMD freshman Neal Pionk. As he landed on his rear, Toninato was reaching the goal, and just moments after the whistle blew for the obvious interference penalty, Toninato scored.
The crowd and the Bulldogs were upset. One fellow said it shouldn’t have been interference because it happened so far from the play. Maybe he was thinking about football, because in hockey, it’s textbook interference to impede the progress of a player without the puck. Such as a backchecker. So instead of 2-2, it stayed 2-1 until Blake Winiecki made it 3-1 with a bad-angle goal midway through the third period.
The shots were pretty even in the first game, but the Bulldogs stormed out for the second and outshot St. Cloud 39-22, taking a 1-0 lead on Toninato’s first-period goal. Benik scored with an off-speed shot in traffic midway through the second period, and the Huskies hustled to retrieve the puck and present it to Benik, who had just scored his 100th college point. The 1-1 tie stayed through the scoreless third period and 5-on-5 overtime, but in the NCHC, teams stand tied at that point, then play 3-on-3 for a second 5-minute overtime for an extra standings point.
It was then that the Huskies, masters of slick little passes that seem to be the benefit of playmaking on their home Olympic-size rink (200x100 instead of 200x85), made one more, with Kossila sending a great pass in toward the slot where Patrick Russell put it away at 4:26 for the 2-1 victory.
“This was a big win for us,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “We have to play these guys four times in the second half of the season. These guys (UMD) have a lot of talent and a backline. Everyone has their moments, but we hadn’t played in good rhythm since Christmas. So these games were huge.”
The standings show St. Cloud State in first place at 10-3-1, and North Dakota right with the Huskies at 10-2. Then there’s a drop to the cluster of Denver (6-4-2), UMD (5-6-3), Nebraska Omaha (5-6-1), and Western Michigan (4-7-1). The lower echelon has Miami (2-8-2) and Colorado College (3-9). It is that middle group that UMD must strive to conquer, because the top four teams get home ice for the first round of playoffs. But it will be tough. The Bulldogs this weekend go to Denver, then they get a break from NCHC play to go to Northern Michigan before coming home to face CC and a one-game exhibition against Bemidji State. After that? How do you like two straight road trips, to North Dakota and to St. Cloud State? Miami comes to Duluth for the final league series, but by then, the standings and home ice should all be decided.