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TYBEE ISLAND… I’ll be quick! There is a Stanley Cup tournament to get to! I must say that for excitement, emotion and just flat out hockey nirvana, this past weekend had it all! The UMD Bulldogs came up just short against the Denver Pioneers in the National Title tilt in a 3-2 nail biting festival. That makes the Dogs the 2017 National Runner-up. I say congrats, sorry you came up short, and this Golden Gopher fan is very happy for you and the success on your season. While I get the berries from Dogs fans that I know quite frequently, all I can say is that if I had grown up in Duluth I would be one of the biggest Dogs fans around here. It’s a matter of tradition and loyalty, that’s gotta count for something. Coach Sandelin has built this program into a National powerhouse. I will say one thing, I am glad to see the UMD roster now dominated by Minnesotans. THAT makes me smile….
FRIDAY NIGHT WAS the warm-up for Saturdays nail biting. In the IIHF Women’s World Championships, once again it was the United States going up against our friends from north of the border, Team Canada. It didn’t begin well with the Canadians scoring 1:02 into the tilt. The USA eventually tied, and went ahead before Canada tied the game at 2 each. This contest went into OT and at 10:17 of the 1st OT the USA’s Hilary Knight took a drop pass from Kendall Coyne and absolutely smoked one off of the crossbar and into the net and the celebration was on. This was the 1st time the team has won a WC on home ice. This was as exciting a game as you will see from either gender at any age group. I don’t think I sat down once during the OT. Way to go Team USA!
IF YOU DON’T KNOW the story of Bryan Bickell, formerly of the Chicago Blackhawk’s and recently of the Carolina Hurricanes, he is the player that got the tying goal in the 2013 Cup final that tied the game between the Bruins and Hawks late before Dave Bolland got the Cup winner seconds later in their G6 of that series. Bickell was diagnosed with MS earlier in the season and shut down for a bit to adjust to the meds and to see if he could resume playing. He did, and went to the Canes farm club in Charlotte and recently was called up to the big club. In fact his return game was versus the Wild in St. Paul, so he got to see fellow MS patient and former Wild net minder, Josh Harding, who he forged a friendship with for help and guidance. Through the course of the past few days Bickell decided it was time to retire and dedicate himself to fighting his battle and getting on top of it.
To say it was an emotional week for Bickell and the Canes would be an understatement.
He could hardly make it through a presser to talk about his situation and in his final home
game on Saturday, the fans and team were effusive in their applause and love for “Bicks”.
On Sunday in the season finale at Philly, with the score tied at 3 post OT, Canes Coach
Bill Peters sent Bicks out for the shootout. He scored! It was cool beyond belief. As he
went to the Canes bench for the fist bump fly-by, some Flyers held out their gloves as
well. I’m choking up just writing this. Look it up at NHL/Canes….
THE GREATEST HOCKEY TOURNEY in the world, the NHL Stanley Cup, starts up
Wednesday eve and I am drooling at the thought of it. I’ll have to be brief, but here are
my brackets, Home team for the 1st round listed first;
In the East; MONTREAL vs. NY RANGERS. Goalies Carey Price versus
Henrik “The King” Lundqvist. Oh man. Both teams are a little banged up, the Habs are
better defensively this year with Shea Weber after the PK Subban trade and I give
Montreal a slight edge here, HABS in 6. OTTAWA vs. BOSTON, this one is tough as
well. Ottawa enters the playoff with several injured players including their star Erik
Karlsson. Boston has been hot and cold and net minder Tuukka Rask has been good, but I
have seen games where he was just flat. I’m taking Sens in 6.
WASHINGTON vs. TORONTO, the upstart Leafs have made the tourney once again
ahead of schedule in their rebuild. They aren’t that far ahead though and I see the veteran
Caps taking this series in 5 games. PITTSBURGH vs. COLUMBUS, the Pens are the
defending champs but they are a hurting unit right now and will not have star Kris Letang
for the playoff however long they should last. I have seen CBJ put on some real heat this
year when they play with determination and Coach Tortorella will be certain that they do.
CBJ in 6.…
In the West; CHICAGO vs. NASHVILLE, I have thought of a few ways that NASH
could pull this series off, but in the end, they don’t. CHI in 6 games. WILD vs. STL, you
know who I am pulling for in this series. This one is a hard call though. The Wild limped
through the month of March and while STL has put up a strong record since Mike Yeo
took over the coaching reins there are those that are saying they did so upon an easier then
usual schedule. The Wild’s Devan Dubnyk was the odds on Vezina fave in December and
is nowhere near that level now. STL’s Jake Allen is short on playoff experience. Give me
the Wild in a hard 6 gamer….
These two series came down to the last game of the regular season in the league, literally.
So, ANAHEIM ends up facing CALGARY and I have to believe that if the Ducks play to
their top level they should prevail. However, they will be missing star D-man Cam
Fowler. I believe they still win out in 6. Then, EDMONTON vs. SAN JOSE, the Sharks
have two major pieces ailing right now in Joe Thornton and Logan Couture. Jumbo Joe
has an injured knee and Couture took a puck to the dental work a week back. The OIL are
in a bit better shape and will be flying into their first playoff in 11 years. The Sharks went
deep last year, had a few guys in the World Cup last fall and I don’t think they have the
juice to best the youthful rejuvenated Oilers. Oil in 6 tilts.
NEXT WEEK; I will give you updates and the remainder of my brackets. Until then,
enjoy the best hockey time of year! PEACE