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Moah Teng (4) and Ian Christian (21) lead the charge to congratulate Caden Cole, whose goal gave Duluth East a 2-0 lead in what became a stunning 6-0 rout for the Greyhounds at Essentia Heritage Center. Photo by John Gilbert.
The college football season came to a merciful ending Monday night with Georgia’s throttling of Texas Christian 65-7, while the NFL is just about to start its second season with a wide-open playoff this weekend.
Those games may dominate the media, but Up North here it should not be overlooked that both UMD hockey teams and basketball teams won everything in their paths last weekend.
Both UMD basketball teams won twice on the road last weekend, sharing the spotlight with their Division 1 hockey counterparts, while the high school hockey scene continues to be dominated by Hermantown’s undefeated Hawks and Duluth East’s surprising Greyhounds.
The biggest story statewide remains the Minnesota Vikings, who ended their regular season 13-4 and open the NFC playoffs at home at 3:30 pm Sunday against the New York Giants.
The Vikings beat the Giants 27-24 back on Christmas Eve, when Greg Joseph kicked a career-record 61-yard field goal as time expired, and Kirk Cousins had one of several games this season where he genuinely played above his station, connecting on 34 of 48 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Elsewhere in the NFC, Seattle plays at Buffalo Saturday at 3:30, Dallas is at Tampa Bay at 7:15 Monday night, and Philadelphia has a bye.
The field is ragged enough that the Vikings could make a run, if they play their “A” game and resist the fragile, self-destructing tendencies that have punctuated this season.
It will also be the umpteenth test of Cousins’ validity.
My pick to win the NFC is the Dallas Cowboys – also inconsistent, but awesome when they play their best, as they did in thrashing the Vikings 40-3.
Saddest thing in the NFC is that neither Detroit nor Green Bay made the playoffs. We can live with the Packers missing, simply because they’ve been the Yankees of the Central Division, but Detroit has been the hottest team in the NFC the last six weeks, and Jared Goff has emerged as arguably the best quarterback in the division.
Vikings boosters can be relieved that neither the Lions nor the Packers will be coming to Minneapolis for a playoff game.
In the AFC, Kansas City is the top seed and deservedly gets a bye this weekend, while on Saturday the Los Angeles Chargers are at Jacksonville and on Sunday Miami is at Buffalo and Baltimore is at Cincinnati.
My pick to win the AFC is Cincinnati, the AFC’s hottest team as it rides an 8-game winning streak into the playoffs, including victories over the Panthers, Steelers, Titans, Chiefs, Browns, Buccaneers, Patriots and Ravens, and now they get to duplicate last weekend’s 27-16 victory.
And Joe Burrow has eliminated all doubt about being one of the league’s premier quarterbacks.
On the UMD front, it’s time to pay serious attention to the Bulldogs women in both hockey and basketball. On the court, the women won both games on the road last weekend to remain undefeated atop the Northern Sun, and their victory at Mankato’s No. 5 Mavericks verified their status.
This weekend, they return home to face Upper Iowa at 5:30 Saturday and Winona State at 3:30 Saturday. The men, who also won twice on the road last weekend, are still in contention and face the same two foes immediately after the women at Romano Gym this weekend.
In hockey, the UMD women posted their biggest weekend of the season, going to Madison and sweeping the Badgers 3-1 and 1-0 behind Emma Soderberg’s two dazzling efforts in goal – stopping 72 of 73 Badgers shots.
The top of the WCHA shows, in league games, Minnesota 13-1-2, Ohio State 13-2-1, Wisconsin 12-3-1, and UMD fourth at 9-6-1. Two things of note: Had UMD been swept by the Badgers, they would still be in first place at 14-1-1 and UMD would be struggling at 7-8-1, but by stunning the Badgers twice, they now have three WCHA losses, and all of them inflicted by UMD.
The Bulldogs stung Wisconsin 2-1 in overtime at AMSOIL earlier in the season.
This weekend, the UMD women are back in AMSOIL to face Bemidji State, at 6 Friday and 3 pm Saturday.
They also have the local focus, because the men are at Omaha for what should be a tough series, and then they go to Denver, for a tougher one.
The Bulldogs seemed to get things in order by beating a tenacious St. Thomas outfit a week ago, then they proved it by sweeping Bemidji State home and home last weekend.
Officially, Friday night’s 2-1 victory is a 1-1 tie, but be serious – the reason college hockey plays a 5-minute overtime and then a shootout is so that nobody at the game has to go home from the inconclusive result of a tie.
The Bulldogs tied the Beavers late, and won it on a shootout goal while Zach Stejskal stopped the Beavers. Saturday, the Bulldogs hit top gear to get ahead 4-2, but it took an empty-net goal to subdue the battling Beavers.
Some in the media call the first game a tie, but if you ask any of the players, they know who won and who lost.
“A win is a win,” agreed Jesse Jacques, who scored the ultimate game-winning goal on a power-play pass through the crease from Luke Mylymok, who later scored himself on a big night for the fourth line.
On the high school front, Hermantown hit the road to whip Eden Prairie 6-2 last Saturday, rising to 9-0-1 and expanding their lis of AA conquests, while looming next week is a huge battle at Warroad.
The Hawks, undefeated or not, beat Warroad in an overtime classic to win last spring’s state tournament, but they were bumped from their No. 1 rank by Warroad, which is also undefeated, so the state final rematch should be a sizzler.
Still, Duluth East requires more attention, despite blowing a 5-3 lead in a 5-5 tie at Stillwater. Last week, Grand Rapids came to Essential Heritage Center and East thumped the Thunderhawks 6-0 as defenseman Aidan Spenningsby scored twice with slap shots from the blue line.
Considering that East also had whipped Andover 5-1 during its resurgence, it means the Greyhounds have not only beaten but routed the teams likely to be the top two seeds in Section 7AA!
As for the enormous, week-long buildup to the NCAA football championship game, I expressed hope that Texas Christian could stay with No. 1 Georgia and maybe even spring an upset.
I was wrong. Georgia repeated as national champions with an embarrassing 65-7 crushing of the Horned Frogs.
Oh well, for true sports drama we can still go back to our local teams in college and high school.