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STONY POINT… As I type I am watching the 2017 World Junior (U20) Tournament and in the middle of the 3rd period Team USA is leading Team LATVIA 3-1. The USA entry has been dominating play and offensive zone time for the most part and in typical fan fashion I believe they should be ahead by 4 or 5 goals, but they aren’t. It’s their first official game together and I am certain they are still ironing out some of the finer points of their game. As of right now I firmly believe they will win this tilt and next up for the team will be a Wednesday evening game versus Slovakia. The tourney is north of the border this year with games in Toronto and in Montreal. Next year the tourney comes back to the States out in Buffalo, NY and I have been to the newly renovated and renamed KeyBank Center and it has the best of everything.
The NHL Buffalo Sabres zillionaire owner Terry Pegula has made some substantial investments in the building and around it and it shows. The NHL held it’s 2016 scouting combine there and will be there for the 2017 event as well. Next years tourney will also feature the first outdoor game ever held as part of the World Juniors. That game will be the New Years eve contest between Team USA and Team CANADA and will be played at the Buffalo Bills football venue. So, how will this tourney unfold for the Yanks? As always there are 5 teams that have a shot at Gold with the Canadians, Americans, Finns, Swedes and Russians in that group. As usual the Scandinavian clubs will be highly skilled with an edge toward the Finns team-wise. The Canadians will be tough as well and so will the Russians. The USA has a very highly skilled team and I believe that with a couple of breaks, a lack of any serious injury and a conviction to have more hockey will then their competition that this team could certainly medal, and dare I say a Gold is not out of the question.
These are the best young players in the world and so are their teams and the difference between them is razor thin at best. That is what makes these kinds of events so exciting. The USA entry has a heavy lean toward Eastern collegiate players and local UMD star Joey Anderson is a 4th liner on this team. He is currently skating with Patrick Harper and Kieffer Bellows, the son of former NorthStars forward Brian Bellows. With a little less then 8 minutes left against the Latvians the USA scored and added 2 more before time ran out for a 6-1 final. They played with extreme pace and I think the Latvians just flat
out ran out of gas in this one. All in all, not a bad outing for the 1st game of the tourney.
THE MINNESOTA SPORTS STORY OF THE YEAR is an easy one for me. It’s easy because the players upon it are first class from one end of the roster to the other, they excel at what they do, they are also first class student-athletes, and good citizens as well. I am talking about the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Women’s Volleyball team. Yes, I know, this isn’t Gopher Country up here, quite the contrary actually. But to me, when I look at the sports scene in the state in it’s entirety and analyze who might fit this title, there is no other choice. That’s not to say that their aren’t other contenders, but this group of young women clearly comes out ahead of the others.
They made it to the Volleyball Final Four for the 2nd consecutive year, and sadly, lost their first match against the eventual Champion Stanford Cardinals, but did have the National Player of the Year in Senior Sarah Wilhite. She is one of 6 graduating seniors this season and this group under last years National Coach of the Year, Hugh McCutcheon went 107-29 in their 4 seasons together. The team has a variety of All Big Ten players, All-Academic’s as well as 2-First Team All Americans in Wilhite and sophomore Samantha Seliger-Swenson, and 2nd Team selection Hannah Tapp, one half of the Tapp twins, 2 remarkable players from Stewartville, MN. This team makes you proud to be a fan.
I can’t honestly sit here and tell you that I am the biggest volleyball fan in the world, but I have been a keen observer of it in the Olympic games mostly, on both the Men’s and Women’s sides. It is exciting and intense and all I can say about this team is that I started watching them early in the 2015 season and it was really entertaining. Whenever they have a match that is televised, I’m there and looking forward to attending in person somewhere in the near future. This team is first class and very deserving to be the Minnesota Sports Story of the Year…..
THE MINNESOTA WILD RETURN to action tomorrow versus Nashville in the Music City. The Wild will be looking to add to their team record of 10 straight wins after besting the NY Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens on the road last week prior to the 3 day NHL Holiday break. I have got to be honest and state that I did not see this coming when I was thinking through the possible fortunes of the team for this season. Without any “superstars” or red hot number one draft picks on the roster all they have done recently is win. Perhaps the younger guys that fans have been waiting on are finally coming into their own.
Perhaps the concept of “team” has been bolstered by an Eric Staal and the affable Coach Bruce Boudreau. Maybe the group needed someone like Boudreau who is loose and understanding but honest to get them through the rough waters of an NHL regular season. Whatever they are doing it is working and if the club keeps winning they will be on a collision course of the “streaks” with the also very hot Columbus Bluejackets in St. Paul on Saturday eve. A mid-season battle between the two hottest teams in the show right now. Lets hook it up!! PEACE