Historic Settings for Blues, and Hunters

John Gilbert

Darren Shykes doubled home two runs to spark Denfeld to a 3-0 first inning lead over Grand  Rapids in the final game. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Darren Shykes doubled home two runs to spark Denfeld to a 3-0 first inning lead over Grand Rapids in the final game. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Nobody could have predicted the result of Wednesday night’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, at least not with anything approaching certainty. The Boston Bruins seemed to have taken a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series before the St. Louis Blues won a stunning reversal in Boston to take a 3-2 lead in games.

That put the Blues in perfect position to capture the elusive Stanley Cup — which they had never won — in Sunday night’s Game 6 in St. Louis. Instead, the Bruins roared back from a seeming rude end and whipped the Blues 5-1, albeit with an empty-net goal and a rally that widened the final margin.’
So it was back to Boston, and while again it seems inevitable that Boston will have claimed the Cup on home ice, the result could go either direction. As UMD fans, we all were pulling for former Bulldog captain Karson Kuhlman to duplicate his Cup final debut goal with another. Even if you hate the Bruins and love the Blues, a Boston triumph would be tolerate if our guy from Esko by way of Cloquet-Esko-Carlton and UMD gets a chance to come through.

I was able to cover the Minnesota North Stars every year of their existence, including the playoffs in that first year when they got past the Los Angeles Kings, and engaged St. Louis in a tough, often-nasty playoff series. So when the announcers keep saying St. Louis is the longest-standing team without winning the Cup, remember that the North Stars never won it either, and now that they’re extinct, that record will stand forever.

Denfeld's Payton Budisalovich, frustrated in the 5-0 first game loss, had better success in Denfeld's 10-3 title victory over Grand Rapids. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Denfeld's Payton Budisalovich, frustrated in the 5-0 first game loss, had better success in Denfeld's 10-3 title victory over Grand Rapids. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Going back historically is always fun in sports, and the 65th year is significant this season, because it’s been 65 years since Duluth Denfeld last went to the state high school baseball tournament. The Hunters are there this week, and it is a cause for celebration.
Sixty-five years ago was 1954, which was the year the Cleveland Indians had a fantastic team, and happened to be my favorite team as a kid growing up in Duluth. I knew every player in the Indians lineup, and focused on every game they played. The fact that my dad, the late Wally Gilbert, played third base for the Brooklyn Dodgers back when Al Lopez was the Brooklyn catcher didn’t hurt, either. Lopez managed the Indians, and my dad gave me the birthday gift of a lifetime when he took me for a train ride to Chicago, where we watched the Indians take two out of three from the White Sox in a pivotal Amreican League season.

The Indians won the pennant and won 111 games out of 154 in the process. The hated New York Yankees were second and the White Sox third, with all three over 100 victories. I can even live with the World Series shock of having Willie Mays and the New York Giants sweep my beloved Indians in four straight games.

FORMULA 1 HAS A GLITCH

Getting up early to watch every Formula 1 Grand Prix race is a rite of summer for me every year, because those cars are the absolute best, high-tech racing machines in the world. It’s always more fun when it’s competitive, and this year, the Ferrari team led by Sebastian Vettel has had its troubles trying to keep up with the dominant Mercedes team, led by Lewis Hamilton-Valtteri Bottas tandem.

But at Montreal last Sunday, Formula 1 officials took a giant step backward for their sport and its heritage. Vettel won the pole in his Ferrari, held the lead to Turn 1, and was off. He led all the way, except for two laps when he pitted ahead of his rivals, and when they came in, he regained the lead.

Hamilton was a close second around that wonderful course in downtown Montreal, trailing by anywhere from 2.5 to 0.8 seconds, but Vettel was smooth as silk, and the crowd seemed to be behind him. With about 20 laps remaining, an odd thing happened. Vettel came into an area just short of the chicane’s right-quick-left combination, and his car broke traction for an instant.

Vettel caught it, but with those cars going in bursts up and over 200 mph, he already was at the chicane, and his car went off the track and into the grass. Vettel held it straight, and his trajectory carried him across the small grassy area and back onto the track. Hamilton, meanwhile, saw a chance and went hard for an outside pass for the lead.

But suddenly, Vettel’s car was heading straight for the wall ahead of Hamilton, so Hamilton hit his brakes hard while Vettel straightened out his Ferrari. The two continued, nose to tail, the rest of the way, and all seemed in order. The thought occurred to me how fortunate both were that they didn’t make contact, and that Vettel was skilled enough to maintain control while Hamilton was skilled enough to avoid a collision.

Near the finish, however, the officials decreed that Vettel should be penalized 5 seconds for violating the rule of returning to the course dangerously. Vettel was outraged, and, properly in my mind, yelled into his intercom “What could I have done?”
Vettel came to the checkered flag first, with Hamilton second, about 1.5 seconds back, and Charles Leclerc, Vettel’s teammate, third. The victory was thus awarded to Hamilton. Vettel ducked the post-race press conference for a while, then showed up. As he walked toward the podium, he came to the top three cars, with Hamilton’s car parked in the middle and a slim pylon with No. 1 on it in front of it. The pylon with No. 2 was in the absent spot where Vettel’s car should have been, but wasn’t, and the No 3 pylon was in front of Leclerc’s car.

As Vettel walked toward the podium, he spotted that arrangement, and walked up, pickup up his No. 2 pylon and exchanged it with Hamilton’s No. 1 — to the delight of the big crowd of 300,000 fans.
Hamilton certainly didn’t want to win that way, and when they put the three on the stand, Hamilton pulled Vettel up onto the top level with him — a very neat and sportsmanlike gesture.
However, the rule for dangerous re-entering the track is in place in case someone spins off the track, and carelessly barges back out onto the racing line ahead of cars closing fast. It was never intended to be there for a car that went slightly off line and continued back onto the track. I’ve seen other drivers — Hamilton, in fact — do a similar off and back on move earlier this season, and no penalty was issued.

So now, the two Mercedes drivers have won every race. I love to attend Grand Prix races, but you only go because there’s a chance for a question of who will win. You don’t want to go if Hamilton is going to win them all, and when he doesn’t, the officials give him the victory anyway.