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Sports is an ideal tool to teach us important life lessons, and that has never been more true than in this, the year of the pandemic. Life lessons are all around us, as we hunker down in self-imposed semi-quarantine to give our reluctant country the chance to control the spread of COVID-19, and maybe we picked up some valuable ideas as we lived without sports, real or on satellite.
So we had to learn some alternatives to sports to keep us active and interested, while wearing masks and avoiding crowds.
For my wife, Joan, and me, living close to the North Shore provided an obvious and easy choice. In the process, we found a previously undiscovered and magical area up the shore close to Silver Bay. It is called Iona’s Beach, and not only had we never checked it out, we had never heard of it.
The nearly mile-long alleged beach makes you feel as though you have been transported to another planet. I went back there, with my older son, Jack, last weekend, in the fading light of Sunday afternoon.
We will be back often, now that we know what and where it is, because it has given us a worthy alternative to getting too far into the resumption of televised but fanless sports.
As we waited and worried to find out what the high schools, and area colleges would do for fall sports, we learned that UMD has canceled fall sports.
No football. No volleyball – two of the best Bulldogs sports elite programs. both of which had held intense and heavy workouts for a season that may not happen.
Saint Scholastica is facing similar problems, and we all share the dilemma.
Do we start school? Do we start fall sports and play games with no fans in the stands, the way Major League Baseball, the NHL the NBA, Major League Soccer, the Pro Golf Tour and the world of motorsports have done?
Then Tuesday morning, as we were feeling bad for Bulldog football, and to see the final year of the fan-tastic development of Kate Berg as volleyball’s top hitter, word came that the Big Ten has decided to bypass the football season. The Pac-12 – my favorite major conference to watch because of its wide-open offensive creativity – are both eliminating participation in football, volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer.
Of course, we in the Duluth area are waiting apprehensively for what might happen to UMD hockey, which is by far the biggest sport in the area, to say nothing of at UMD. And the Bulldogs are still the two-time defending champ-ion until someone beats them.
My intentions to watch the Twins get off to a roaring start, and then the Wild get their shot at Vancouver in a best-of-5 NHL playoff series, upended our life even more.
On the beautiful evening when the Twins were holding their home opener, without fans, I sat down in my favorite recliner and clicked on Fox Sports North on our DirecTV satellite. But the screen said no service was available for Fox Sports North. Same thing the next night, when the Wild were about to play their only exhibition, against Colorado up in Edmonton. No service.
Now, we had divested ourselves of all extraneous channels, trying to corral the always-rising price, and we had gotten it down to $85 a month. I stressed that Fox Sports North was more important to me than all the movie channels and everything but a couple of news outlets.
We got a new bill, for $125 or so, and I spent a few hours on the phone with the satellite outfit, and finally got a helpful woman in Singapore. She listened to my tale, sympathized, and then found the answer: The only way we could get Fox Sports North was to sign up for the top Premium package. How much? I asked. Two hundred twenty nine dollars, she said.
I apologized to the woman and said I suddenly realized it wasn’t DirecTV’s fault, but the bean-counters at Fox Sports North realized nobody could go to Twins or Wild games, and everybody would be intensely interested in watching both – so let’s do a little gouging!
I have no evidence of this, but why else would my long-standing service, for more than 20 years, be curtailed?
We have found an alternative. So I watched the Twins win six in a row before they suddenly quit scoring runs. They came back Monday, at Milwaukee, when Eddie Rosario, my favorite aggressive hitter, socked a grand slam for a 4-2 victory to snap a 4-game losing streak.
The Wild, meanwhile, were elimi-nated from entering the Stanley Cup’s actual playoffs when they followed up a perfect game 3-0 opening victory by losing three straight to Vancouver.
Kevin Fiala started off hot, but after he scored twice in the closing minutes for a narrow 4-3 loss, he joined his teammates in a study in ineptitude.
Their final hope in the berst-of-5 series came when the game went overtime. Captain Mikko Koivu, who was as effective as any forward on the club despite centering the fourth line, went out and won the opening face-off against the Canucks top line, but nobody gained possession and Vancouver scored at 0:11 on that first shift.
End of game, end of season.
General manager Bill Guerin decided he had to take some action, so remarkably he fired Bob Mason, the former UMD and International Falls star goaltender, who had been the Wild goaltending coach since they started.
He brought Alex Stalock along to challenge for the starting job, and his soft-spoken demeanor surely would have brought Devan Dubnyk back for an intense 1-2 punch next season.
Guerin said he had no complaints about Mason, but felt he had to make a change somewhere. Can’t fight decisiveness like that!
So the Stanley Cup chase begins in earnest.
Here’s how I see it: In the East, with all games in Toronto, I like the Philadelphia Flyers over Montreal, and Washington over the New York Islanders in their best-of-7 round, and I’m picking Tampa Bay to subdue Columbus in a wildly close match-up, and I’m picking the Carolina Hurricanes to upset the Boston Bruins.
In the West, with all games in Edmon-ton, I like the 12th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, with a rejuvenated Jonathan Toews joining Patrick Kane, to upset the Vegas Golden Knights, the top seed.
Also, I’ll pick St., Louis to take out Vancouver, Dallas over Calgary, and Arizona over Colorado.
My pick to win the Cup is Washington. Every team seems to have two forwards capable of scoring with regularity, but the Caps have a Big Four that I don’t think anyone else can match, with Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and the vastly underrated Tom Wilson who all can beat you.
With four games every day, afternoon, evening and late night, sports fans will learn anew that having complete parity is not always the best way to go. But indeed, anybody could win.
In the first game, on Tuesday after-noon, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Bluejackets went toe-to-toe, and 2-to-2, through three periods, as well as three full, 20-minute overtimes. and on into the fourth OT. You want parity? I’ll give you parity.
The tie wasn’t solved until Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point drilled a 30-foot shot into the Columbus goal at 10:27 of the fifth overtime of the NHL’s fourth longest playoff game ever, and it ended the record-shattering performance of Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, who made made 85 saves on the Lightnings’ 88 shots. Andre Vasilevskiy made 61 saves for Tampa Bay. The game lasted nearly six hours and forced the following series opener between Boston and Carolina tp be postponed until Wednesday morning.
To get away from it all, you take on the expanding numbers of Twin Cities tourist traffic and head up the North Shore on Highway 61. Your destination might be the Rustic, where you can get the best ribs, the best Reuben, the best meatloaf and, for sure, the best pie (try the North Shore Berry, made of blueberry, blackberry, strawberry and raspberry combined), or the carrot cake, which is absolutely the best and tastiest piece of cake you will ever find. If there was a state tournament for desserts, the Rustic would wind up with its pie against its cake in the final.
Then you drive northward, having already gone through both tunnels before you get to the Rustic, in Castle Danger, and after you pass Gooseberry Park, where we love to hike, keep your eye sharp for Twin Points Park, on the right. Pull in there, park on the left, and head for the little trail to Iona’s Beach.
Iona fell in love with the North Shore back about 1930 and she and her husband eventually built a resort there. Her husband died, and so did Iona, but the DNR agreed to name this beach after her.
Of course, there is no sand on this beach. Just rocks. Rocks of all sizes, and a billion or so of them. Big ones up near the woods, then as you drop down two or three plateaus to the lake, the rocks get smaller and smaller.
When you get to the final ridge before Lake Superior’s waves can reach you, you hope for some waves because each one will cause a rustle that sounds like a giant sack of marbles rubbing against each other, as they are washed down toward the lake water it has tried for years, decades maybe, to escape. It is a thrill to eye and ear.
Off to the western end of the “beach” there is a large rock formation jutting out into the lake. Flat on top, it is the ideal place to have a picnic.
As we came in, an older fellow and his wife came toward us on the trail.
“Where do you live?” I asked him. “Duluth,” he replied. I went on: “How many times have you ever been here?” and he said, “This is the first.”
There it is. A newfound treasure. And I guarantee you, if you find it and check it out, you will be back.
Life goes on, for all of us, and for all the billions of stones on Iona’s Beach, too.
And if you go, you won’t care if you have Fox Sports North or not.