Wild, Twins, Berlo fill 2-month sports absence

John Gilbert

If you were sent off into outer space for a two-month ride in a spaceship, what would happen in your private world of sports in your absence? Interesting concept to ponder, eh?

It happened to me, although the spaceship was the product of my own mind, vividly recording a series of crazy hallucinations that were the product of a concoction of exotic drugs that were first used to keep me alive, and then to help bring me back to the real world. It all happened during a trip to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., where – completely unknown to me and not hinted at during a clean physical a year ago – I suffered a lack of oxygen and was whisked to a hospital in Fond du Lac, Wis.

Brilliant work by a battery of doctors and nurses inserted three stents into three blocked arteries, and when I came to the next morning, it wasn’t the next morning at all, but a full week later. The incident happened on May 23, and I was hospitalized for a full month, driven home by my wife, Joan, on the day of Grandma’s Marathon, which I never miss covering. I’m another full month into recovery, during which my heart is regaining its efficiency after I was brought back to life three times by those doctors in Fond du Lac.

I also checked out just as Twin Ports teams were heading off to state tournaments, and I was intensely interested in watching the Proctor and Superior softball teams make valid runs at state titles, and the Marshall baseball team completing its magical season with the same intention.

I was able to keep up with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it became a nightly ritual for three weeks that Joan and our two sons, Jack and Jeff, gathered in my hospital room to watch whichever game was being broadcast. It was an eventful tournament, and the best two teams reached the final, with Colorado a fitting winner against Tampa Bay in the final.

Before the playoffs ended with a first-round series against the St. Louis Blues, it seemed that the Minnesota Wild had become a valid challenger for the Stanley Cup. But a series of team decisions seriously jeopardized their chances, leading to the thud against the Blues in six games. First, the acquisition of Marc-Andre Fleury seemed the perfect way to support the proven leadership of Cam Talbot, who was acquired to be a No. 1 goaltender and proved his worth down the stretch.

When the Wild chose to start Fleury in the playoffs, I was astounded. When they started him in the first five games of the series, then turned to the frustrated and slighted Talbot for the futile Game 6, it was predictable. Wild boosters and media kept repeating that it was a logical move, because Fleury had won three Cups in his long career, and is a future Hall of Fame.

So maybe the Wild should go try to hire Ken Dryden to return – after all, he played seven full seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and won six Stanley Cups and is already in the Hall of Fame. I think Fleury is fun to watch and capable of shutting down and opponent in a one-game shot, but he’s past his prime as a starter, while Talbot is still rising to his peak. But general manager Bill Guerin reportedly had a volatile meeting with Talbot’s agent, so he traded him to Ottawa, turning the starting duties over to Fleury.

Trading goal-scorer Kevin Fiala away was understandable. After a career-high goal-scoring season, it became evident that when Calgary physical pounded the Wild into submission, the Wild was too faint to beat a physical team, and Guerin obtained Nic Desrosiers – a big, forceful winger, with 20 games remaining in the regular season. Immediately the Wild’s most timid players followed the aggressive hitting pace set by Desrosiers, and the Wild finished 15-5 in those 20 games since Desrosiers. One of the biggest beneficiaries was Scott Bjugstad, a huge winger who played the best hockey of his career during that stretch. Yet in the playoffs, the fourth line rarely played, so Desrosiers was scarcely used, and Bjugstad never dressed. The worst was yet to come, however. My comment as Krill Kaprizov established himself as the team’s identity as well as its top scorer, was that with the current Russian invasion of Ukraine still going on, causing most of the world to create ideological and economic boycotts against Russia, was that the Wild should tell Kaprizov he must not return to his Russian homeland. Maybe they could find a way to bring his parents to the U.S. instead. But Kaprizov did go back to Russia after the playoffs ended, and now he is hung up. It turns out, he obtained a fraudulent waiver as a student deferment when he was a teen, making him a fugitive. As the Masked Fan pointed out last week, twice he left Russia, but now, because of the U.S.-Russia chill, he does not have a visa to enter the U.S.

There is a real chance the fast-rising Wild might go into the upcoming season without Kaprizov, as well as Fiala, Desrosiers, Talbot, Bjugstad and a few others who were vital to the team making the playoffs this past season.

Then there are the Twins. Somehow, they staggered into the All-Star break clinging to first place. But they lost seven of their last 10 games before the break, including an 11-0 shellacking by the challenging White Sox, in which they got only one hit.

We can be proud that Luis Arraez made the all-star game, but as the top hitter in MLB, with a .338 average, he should have started. Meanwhile, amid the raves that Byron Buxton is the most exciting and possibly the best player in the game, it should be a complete embarrassment to himself and the franchise that he started in center field. He is truly worth the price of admission to watch, but, come on, his batting average has plummeted to a team-low .216. Has any player ever started an all-star game hitting .216?

Another surprise as I laid in that hospital bed in Fond du Lac, was that one of my excellent doctors was Dr. Berko. It struck me that he was only one letter different than Josh Berlo, athletic director at UMD. Then Joan told me that Berlo had left UMD to take an administrative job at Denver University. That was a shock, but he benefitted by the recent success of the Bulldogs hockey program, which has been battling with Denver for NCHC superiority. More on that later, after I make sure that wasn’t part of my drug-induced hallucination.

Getting strength back in my weakened body helped us attend the Trampled by Turtles concert at Bayfront, and the Thunderbirds at the Duluth Air Show. Life is good.