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CARLTON PEAK… The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers radio broadcasting legend Ray Christensen has passed away at the age of 92. Christensen wore many hats when it came to his radio work but it was doing Gopher football and basketball where he made his mark and was most well known. He called 510 Gopher football games in 50 years and 1309 Gopher hoops games in 45 years beginning in 1951 before retiring from those in 2001. I have heard a lot of sports radio broadcasts over the years and I must say that Christensen was a pro’s pro. His smoothness and efficiency on the microphone was endearing to all fans and Governor Mark Dayton was quoted as stating that Ray “made the best wins sound sensational and the worst losses almost bearable.”
He began his career at the University radio station KUOM in 1951 and the broadcasts soon moved to WLOL radio. When I was a kid growing up in St. Paul, ‘LOL’ was right out my back door and in the early sixties my buddies and I carved out our own baseball diamond right beneath their antenna towers across the Mighty Mississippi from Fort Snelling. Gopher sports moved to WCCO radio in 1963 and Christensen of course went with them. I am not certain I could ever tell you how many games I heard him broadcast on the radio over the years. In 1963 for Christmas I got a pocket sized transistor radio from my late Grandmother. It ran on a 9 volt battery and was about the size of a pack of smokes. If I was going to a game in person, the radio went with. If it was a game that I couldn’t attend, that little radio was with me and it was tuned in to the Maroon and Gold. I still have it and yes, it still works as well as the day I unwrapped it.
Many a winter night when my folks said it was time to hit the hay, the lights went off in my bedroom, the earplug came out and I would listen to the tailend of some tremendous Gopher basketball tilts, making sure I didn’t give myself away by yelling out when things were getting exciting. That radio went with me to Memorial Stadium, to Williams Arena, and to the MetroDome and it’s small speaker was graced by the voice of Christensen hundreds of times. He has an athletic scholarship in his name at the ‘U’, was inducted into the Minnesota Broadcast Hall of Fame in 2002 and is also a member of the Gopher Athletics Hall of Fame. While those are lofty accolades, they just don’t seem to be enough to honor the greatness of this state treasure. I know this is Bulldog country, but I also know there are a lot of Gopher football and hoops fans here that are as big of fans of this man as I was. A piece of all of us is gone today but the memories will live forever. Job well done Ray….
THE NHL, IOC, IIHF, NHLPA AND NBC brass met late last week to once again, yes, one more time, discuss the 2018 Winter Olympics and whether or not the NHL and it’s players will be participating. Well, I am about drained out on this topic. We had the leagues bait and tease offer from last fall where the league said if the IOC was willing to sweeten the financial pot for the league expense wise, that the league would participate. To Commissioner Gary Bettman’s surprise the IOC did just that. Well with that “barrier” removed the Commish then changed the target and said they would agree to player participation in exchange for a 3 year extension to the league friendly CBA in place right now. The trouble is was that Bettman already knew that there was a snowballs chance in Hades that the players would ok that. And of course he was right, they balked at the thought of that like, immediately. So here we are, still fiddling around with this issue.
Since Bettman basically represents the owners to the players and the rest of the hockey world, there must be some owners who are wanting him to play hardball with this issue and I can’t quite put my finger on the reasoning behind this indifference to Olympic participation. Yes, it is a disruption to the season. Yes, there are some financial sacrifices to the clubs, and there is risk to the players who go. On the other hand there is no other platform like this for the league and thus the game. For casual fans or non-fans, the Games are the biggest brochure you can hand out to potential “buyer-fans” who might tune in to check it out. I personally think this waffling is counterproductive if the end game is to grow the game around the world. In addition, whenever Bettman is asked to specifically clarify the debate against participation he usually does his best political pontificating and hands out a lot of non-answer answers. It’s getting old Gary.
I absolutely love the Stanley Cup tournament. I also love the Olympic tournament and would place it a definite cut above the recent World Cup of Hockey. It’s not the end of the world if the worlds best players aren’t allowed to participate, but if you don’t go this time, you can never go again. Look, the NHL has already pissed off enough diehard fans with their lockouts and the like. We do not need to keep adding to fan consternation over the leagues handling of their business affairs. And frankly I am tiring of waiting to see which side of the Olympic bed Bettman will get up on which day of the week. Come on Gary, say we are going and that we will always be going. You support the Games or you don’t. Make the announcement. Quit playing games with the Games.
AS OF THIS WRITING THE MINNESOTA WILD are still atop of the Western Conference with some very important tilts coming up. The team finishes up with their current road trip in Winnipeg on Tuesday eve before returning to the Xcel Center for an all encompassing game with the Chicago Blackhawk’s. The Wild are the owners of a 7 game regular season win streak versus the Hawks, however, tackling a game of this magnitude on the backside of 2 games in 2 nights is a daunting challenge for any club. To ever increase that, the Hawks will have been off since last Saturday eve. Can the boys from West 7th prevail? The factors don’t favor them, however…. PEACE