As we enter the month of November, we reach the exciting intersection of winter sports beginning and fall sports looking toward the postseason. Here is a quick review of some fall teams through October 29th and a preview of some winter teams here in Minnesota:
To Jerry Kill’s credit, he has taken a destroyed-to-the-ground program and has steadily laid layer after layer of brick to the ever-improving football team. Rome wasn’t built in a day. This team won’t be rebuilt in three years. But they’re close.
Kill’s greatest achievement so far is rebuilding the fan base. Ticket sales have vastly increased over last year’s numbers, and impressive wins over Purdue and other non-conference teams show team and morale improvement. Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson has showed that perhaps he has the poise and stability for this team to be built around, primarily since Marqueis Gray will be graduating in the spring. Don’t count them out of a bowl this year, but don’t count on them making one either.
Like the Gopher Football team, the Vikings lack consistency. An impressive win over San Francisco a few weeks ago generated quite the buzz among NFL analysts regarding the Purple. Unfortunately, dismal performances against Indianapolis, Washington, and Tampa Bay put many questions in the minds of Vikings fans.
Quarterback Christian Ponder definitely works hard and has improved over last year’s stint. But the fact remains that the whole of the Vikings offense is Adrian Peterson, assuming the opposing team’s run defense is not above average, and Percy Harvin, either rushing, receiving, or kick returning. The Vikings defense is solid and probably their best attribute… unless you have a decent running quarterback or running game. Bottom line, if the Vikings are going to be contenders, they need to become more consistent.
The Minnesota Lynx basketball team once again proved its new Minnesota-sports dominance by winning the Western Conference and advancing to the WNBA Championship to defend their crown. Unfortunately, a surging team from Indiana decided to end their bid at a repeat championship, and beat them three games to one in a best of five series.
Where the team goes from here is up to the owners and coaching staff. This team, assuming salary caps and contracts do not affect the starting roster, should be a perennial contender led by former Gopher standout Lindsay Whalen. Either way, this team is quite entertaining to watch and have been a nice way to cope with the past failures of the Timberwolves.
The Minnesota Timberwolves could be a bright spot of Minnesota’s winter sports this year. (I don’t think I would’ve ever seen myself actually put that in print, but hey, I just did.) Some offseason moves, a healthy Ricky Rubio, and a blossoming Kevin Love should combine to put the Timberwolves in a playoff-potential mindset. ESPN Magazine put the Timberwolves finishing third in the Northwest all while obtaining the fourth seed in the playoffs. Though I thought this a bold prediction at the time, the Timberwolves preseason has dictated otherwise.
The Timberwolves finished the preseason atop the Northwest Division and second in the Western Conference at 5-2. Effectively, if the team’s starters can stay healthy, I don’t see why this team couldn’t erase the last few years of fan depression and become a contender. They looked very good last year before Rubio became injured, so I imagine they can do it again.
The Minnesota Wild may not play this year. This saddens me more than ever. But if they do play, this team will be entertaining to watch. Recent acquisitions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter should bring this team back into the playoffs and [we can only dream] possibly to the Cup where the State of Hockey belongs. Unless an act of God, I don’t see any NHL action happening until after New Year’s at the earliest.
Men’s and Women’s Gopher Hockey
Both Men’s and Women’s Golden Gopher Hockey is in full swing and both look to be championship contenders again this year. For the women, no team has gotten close to touching them in a game yet this year. In ten games, the Gophers have outscored opponents 64-6, recorded six shutouts, and have limited every team to two goals or fewer. A staggering feat. An October 22nd voting of the top teams in the nation put the Gophers unanimously at first. Well, I mean come on. It’s not obvious? The Gophers are clearly favorites to win the WCHA this year are showing that a back-to-back National Championship is not out of the question either.
The Men’s team, on the other hand, rivals something of the Gopher football team: they lack consistency. This team is overloaded with offensive young talent coupled with Hobey Baker Award candidates Nick Bugjstad and Erik Haula. The only major question going into this season was goaltending. Lucia mentioned at the beginning of the season that the job in net would go to the star that would rise between either Michael Shibrowski or Adam Wilcox.
Though early, Wilcox has emerged as the go-to goalie for consistency and poise. What has plagued the Gophers thus far is actually sloppy offensive play. In a sense, the Gophers are playing exactly the opposite of the way most projected. Either way, WCHA play has already begun, and the Gophers need to find a way to score and win on a consistent basis.