Monday, March 14, 2011

All The Negativity That's In This Town Sucks

It’s difficult for me to remember a worse time to be a local sports fan. The Metrodome roof was far from the only thing to collapse around here of late. A quick survey of the sad scene:

At this point, the Vikings still don’t have a stadium (new or old) or a quarterback. To make matters worse, the Packers won the Super Bowl and will likely be even stronger next year. A lockout of the NFL season might just be the best thing Vikings fans can hope for right now.

The Gopher football team comes off yet another losing season with yet another new coach promising to turn things around. It remains to be seen whether the opening of “Faster, Gopherrats! Kill! Kill!” opens to rave reviews or is yet another bomb.

The Twins have apparently decided that getting swept by the Yankees in the playoffs is extent of their post-season expectations. Which explains why they did little in the off-season to improve in any meaningful way. I don’t know which is worse: the team’s attitude that winning the division is good enough or Twins fans passive acceptance of said approach.

The Timberwolves are in a tunnel so long, so deep, and so dark that it will likely takes years before even a glimmer of light appears. There is nothing in the current crop of players, coaches, or management to provide any real reason for hope.

The Gopher basketball squad was ranked in the national top twenty and considered to have a good shot at an NCAA tournament bid. They finished the season in a death spiral ending with a Big Ten tourney loss to noted basketball powerhouse Northwestern. To add insult to injury, they weren’t even invited to the NIT.

In all this gloom and doom, there were a couple of potential bright spots on the horizon. And considering that Minnesota is known as “the state of hockey” it seemed appropriate that would be the sport to provide hope.

The Gopher hockey team had been wildly inconsistent all season, but had closed the regular season playing pretty well. They finished fifth in the twelve team WCHA and had what appeared to be a fairly easy matchup against Alaska-Anchorage in the first round of the playoffs. Beating Anchorage would put them in the WCHA Final Five (now six) in St. Paul and if they won a couple of games there, they could possibly find their way to a NCAA tournament bid. Things seemed to be coming together for them just at the right time.

Then, they actually played the games. Well, the games were played, the Gophers didn’t really show up for either one. They fell behind 3-0 in last Friday’s opener, rallied to tie it up at three in the third, and ended up losing 4-3 on a late power play goal by the Seawolves. Sometimes an inferior team beats the better team in hockey when their goalie stands on his head. This wasn’t what happened on Friday. For most of the game, the Seawolves were the better team and they outshot, outskated, and outworked the Gophers. They deserved to win.

Being down a game in a best of three series is a difficult, but not impossible position especially when you’re at home. All the Gophers had to do was win Saturday to force a game three on Sunday. While they came out stronger on Saturday night than on Friday, it wasn’t the kind of effort that you would have expected from a team facing elimination. After two periods, the game was scoreless. As a Gopher fan, I knew that was not good and could sense the shadow of defeat looming. Sure enough, the Seawolves scored once early in the third and then late on a breakaway. The Gophers could not find a way to get the puck past the Anchorage keeper, who was good but hardly great between the pipes. Being shutout and swept by noted hockey powerhouse Alaska-Anchorage at home in the WCHA playoffs? Inexcusable.

Over the years, Gopher hockey fans have had to stomach some tough season enders. Losing the NCAA title game in overtime to bleepin’ Harvard in St. Paul. Blowing a four-goal third period lead against UMD in the third game of a WCHA playoff series. Being upset by Holy Cross in the opening round of the NCAA tournament as a number one seed. But last weekend’s series sweep at the hands of Anchorage ranks right up there.

In the same week that the University of Minnesota’s mascot Goldy was punched in the face, the basketball team was punched in the face by Northwestern, and the hockey team by Alaska-Anchorage. Ski-u-mah.

The other team that showed promise for the desperate Minnesota fan was the Wild. Despite a general lack of scoring punch, the team had managed to get enough timely goals and quality goaltending to put itself in the middle of the hunt for a Western Conference playoff spot. Then, in back to back road games, they suffered 4-0 shutouts to Nashville and Dallas. The losses were bad enough, but to lose these games in the manner they did to two of the teams that they’re battling to make the playoffs was crushing. It’s too early to completely write the Wild off yet and they still could reel off enough wins to qualify for the post-season. But the number of games left is shrinking (thirteen) and the number of teams they need to climb over is growing (they’re now sitting in the eleventh spot).

Oh well. At least we’ve got the weather, right?