Home-ice advantage? Not in the Stanley Cup Playoffs 

John Gilbert

  Denfeld’s Gracie Anderson is among the strong-armed high school fast-pitch pitchers who seem  to thrive in Duluth’s short spring season. Photo credit: John Gilbert
  Denfeld’s Gracie Anderson is among the strong-armed high school fast-pitch pitchers who seem to thrive in Duluth’s short spring season. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Hockey teams fight all through the long NHL season just to get the upper hand in points and maybe earn home-ice for the deciding game in any seven-game playoff series.

But how big an advantage is it?
Back when Glen Sonmor coached the University of Minnesota hockey team, he used to stress that everybody should win their home games most of the time, but the really superior teams win on the road. He was great at instilling that type of character in his teams, and his young assistant, Herb Brooks, took that idea and turned it into an art form.

Herbie’s run as Gopher coach was from 1972 through 1979, and he recruited players that brought the motto to life: “Hockey is for Tough Guys.” He didn’t mean they had to fight, but they had to be tough enough to play their game on the road as well as at home. Brooks had no time for players who could score and play free-wheeling at home, but disappeared on the road.

If you ask any good, successful players you might be surprised to learn that the majority actually prefered to play on the road. A couple of players I asked last week said the most fun of all was when you take on a team in their arena, when everybody is against you — that’s when the satisfaction from winning bubbles over.

Another factor in this debate is that if a team is good, and it plays at home, there is tremendous pressure on them from hometown fans and media to win. The visiting team only has to disrupt those lofty plans to succeed.
Look back now and perhaps you’ll agree that the Wild acted impulsively in dismissing general manager Chuck Fletcher. True, the Wild didn’t win the Cup, but they lost to a Winnipeg Jets team that took out Nashville, and is battling Vegas for a berth in the Stanley Cup finals.
Then there’s the Washington Caps, who got off to a great start at Tampa Bay, before returning home and promptly losing to the Lightning in a series where home ice seems to have assured not winning.
This is a long way around to get to my point of trivia, because I heard a couple days ago that in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the visiting teams have won 39 games, and the home teams 33. My guess is you won’t find anything like that remarkable edge for the road teams in any other sport but hockey. In baseball, football, basketball — I think home-field advantage is significant to success. We might have suspected the same would be true for hockey. But when I heard those statistics, I flashed back to the days of Glen and Herbie, who made the Gophers a force to be reckoned with.

Bulldogs join Gophers in Softballs NCAAs

Everybody in Duluth can celebrate the University of Minnesota’s softball team for winning its third straight Big Ten softball tournament championship and now heads into NCAA play. The Gophers are loaded with talent, and if you get a chance, catch them on the Big Ten Network.
For Duluthians, the coach is Jamie Trachsel, daughter of Pokey Trachsel, former Duluth Cathedral and UMD hockey star.
But just as amazing, on a Division II level, the UMD Bulldogs got on a roll and used power hitting and great defense along with consistent pitching to win their Central 1 Regional in Winona. The Bulldogs knocked off Emporia State and Arkansas Tech, spanking Emporia’s No. 1 seed 4-3 and then 9-1 in the double elimination.

UMD had dropped a 1-0 game to Emporia State before roaring back to win all the rest of their games. Jordy Thomas, a freshman from Hermantown, hit a 3-run home run in the first inning of the 9-1 revenge. Hannah Schmoll hit a 3-run homer for a 4-1 lead and second baseman Natalie Wright homered for the 14th time this season to turn it into a rout.

As if to provide more inspiration, Schmoll, who is from Grand Rapids, and Wright, who is from Wyoming, Mn., both were named first team all-Central Region. In the tournament, Schmoll went 10-for-18 with 2 home runs and 8 RBIs, and for the year she has the second most hits in Division II with 93, 46 stolen bases and is batting .472. Wright has a .363 batting average and has started 220 consecutive games at second base.

UMD is in Magnolia, Ark., for its first venture to an NCAA Super Regional. Th eBulldogs will play Southern Arkansas in a best-of-three elimination round, with the winner advancing to the Division II World Series in Salem, Va.
The success of these teams from Minnesota, and Northern Minnesota, provide great inspiration for the high school girls coming along, and maybe that’s why so many outstanding players keep coming out of area high schools despite the ridiculously short season.
Same goes for high school baseball, which produces some great players and teams.
By the way, the Gopher men’s baseball team is on an amazing roll and has climbed into a tie with Michigan for first place in the Big Ten with two weekends to go.

Frank Quilici will be missed by Twins

When I worked at the Minneapolis Tribune, my primary responsibilities were to cover all levels of hockey, and auto racing, but it was also a kick to fill in on some coverage of the Minnesota Twins. That was back when the Twins were good, but not great. They had Rod Carew as a brilliant young star, and they had a young manager named Frank Quilici.

Quilici and I got along very well, but that doesn’t make me special. I think everybody got along well with him. But I do think that we had a special bond, during my irregular stretches of covering the team, because I asked him good questions, and we could talk at length about the game, and he appreciated that.

Along with a few games at Metropolitan Stadium, I had the thrill of going with the Twins to Cleveland for a series, and also to Boston, and to New York to face the Yankees. The Red Sox were just emerging from a long rebuild, and they had a couple of fantastic young hitters in the No. 3 and No. 4 slots — 

Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. It was near impossible for a pitcher to get through those two without one or both blasting one somewhere.
After he managed the Twins for several years, I ran into him at a game and he had a huge smile and we renewed acquaintances. Quilici has had some serious kidney problems, and he was pretty well incapacitated since a transplant seemed to wear out. He died this week, and he’ll be remembered as a gritty, sharp-witted infielder who could play second or anywhere. And he’ll also be remembered, fondly, by everyone who ever met him.