Saturday, August 02, 2014

Red Zone Radio Network Launches

My apologies for not being around much this summer. This project has been a great learning experience for me, along with being quite time-consuming. It has taken me away from blogging time, though it thankfully hasn't affected family time. No offense, but they're more important. :)

Check out our company's press release, and if you're in one of these areas, we invite you to check out Red Zone Sports Radio.

I'll be around soon with UMD hockey-related content. Our 100 day season countdown is underway on Twitter (follow me @bruceciskie if you aren't already), with a UMD hockey fact every day until the Oct. 9 lid-lifter against Minnesota.
Red Rock Radio Corporation is proud to launch the Red Zone Sports Radio Network.
Starting Monday, August 4, 2014, Red Zone will be comprised of six radio stations within the Red Rock Radio Corporation group, and will blanket northern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Red Zone is designed to deliver comprehensive sports coverage to all six stations.

Red Zone’s properties include existing sports stations KQDS-AM 1490 (“The Fan”), based in Duluth, as well as KRBT-AM 1340 (“The Fan”), which is run out of Eveleth, MN. They will continue to air programming from The Fan Radio Network, which is run out of KFXN-FM 100.3 in the Twin Cities.
Joining the network for its initial launch on August 4th are KKIN-AM 930 (Aitkin, MN), WCMP-AM 1350 (Pine City, MN), WHSM-AM 910 (Hayward, WI), and WXCE-AM 1260 (Amery, WI). These four stations will primarily air programming from NBC Sports Radio.

Shawn Skramstad, President of Red Rock Radio, says, “We have been looking for ways to use the power of the group and the various assets of our stations to help build something together that individually would be difficult. The Red Zone Sports Radio Network is a good example of this new strategy.”

“Red Zone represents a new brand for sports programming in the region,” Red Zone Sports Director Bruce Ciskie said. “These stations will continue to cover local sports in their markets while giving listeners comprehensive coverage of the sports news and issues that interest them.”

Ciskie will provide daily sports updates on network stations. Red Zone will include comprehensive local sports coverage, outdoor programming, and bring listeners the latest weather information.

Red Zone Sports Radio Network can be found on the internet at http://www.radioredzone.com.

For more information on this announcement, contact Karina Bite, Promotions Manager, Red Rock Radio Corporation: 218-728-9500.

Red Rock Radio Corporation operates 25 radio stations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ray Rice Punishment Misses the Mark

I could sit here and list off all the NFL suspensions over the years that help make this punishment look completely non-sensical.

After all, Terrelle Pryor got five games for getting some free tattoos. While in college.

You don't need to know anything more than that.

I could just post Keith Olbermann's epic takedown of the NFL from Thursday night. But I only need to mention a few words. The last ones.

While noting that NFL Network's Chris Rose -- a rock-solid broadcaster, to be fair -- had the audacity to talk about Rice's suspension while coining the term "the iron fist of the NFL," Olbermann had this to say:

"Right now, the iron fist of the NFL has just been used ... against Ray Rice's wife ... and against every woman in America."

Many people love NFL football. Hell, I watch every weekend. There are countless web sites, blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, and other media dedicated to covering the NFL and living the NFL. The league has made a lot of people -- and not just those directly participating as owners, players, coaches, administrators, broadcasters, or whatever else -- a ton of money.

The NFL's success is largely related to its marketing. They're always trying to grow the league, instead of being content with what they already have. In this world, you're either growing or dying. There is no third direction.

(That's from "Tommy Boy," and it's still completely valid some 20 years later.)

That marketing has stretched to females. The NFL has smartly recognized that women around the world have become huge football fans. They might not be fans for any reason besides the fact their significant other is a huge fan, and they've turned football Sundays into a huge part of their relationship, but they're fans.

(Don't misread that. There's a slew of females out there who are football fans without any coercion from the opposite sex. No matter how they've become fans, they matter to the NFL, as they should.)

That means you can coax them into spending their money on the league, and many of them do just that.

Unfortunately, the NFL doesn't treat all women well.

Look what they just did to Janay Palmer-Rice.

The Ray Rice suspension should bother you as a human being. It isn't a tacit endorsement of the behavior caught in that video, where Ray Rice callously drags his unconscious (then) fiancee out of an Atlantic City elevator. He's not dragging her out of the elevator because he's concerned and wants to get her medical attention. He's not dragging her out of the elevator in a panic because he thinks something is wrong. Instead, his actions appear calm and, yes, callous.

Janay Palmer didn't pass out. Ray Rice knocked her out. And he got a two-game suspension for it.

And then Ravens coach John Harbaugh had the utter nerve Thursday to talk about how kids can learn from Rice's actions and the subsequent punishment.
“It’s not a big deal, it’s just part of the process. There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray. He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since. He makes a mistake, alright? He’s going to have to pay a consequence. I think that’s good for kids to understand it works that way. That’s how it works, that’s how it should be.”
Ray Rice might be the nicest guy on Earth. But that should not -- hell, can not -- matter when levying a punishment for something as severe as this.

And I don't want my 12-year-old son learning from any part of what has happened here. This is where the NFL's past punishments become more than just a valid argument. They become downright scary.

I'm not pro-marijuana, but I'd much rather my son smoked marijuana during the NFL offseason than knocked another human being -- worse yet, his significant other -- out cold before dragging that person's lifeless body out of an elevator with no regard for safety or well-being. And the NFL has just sent the message that it would rather you did the opposite.

Justin Blackmon -- who unquestionably needs help before he could ever even consider a comeback -- might never play football again. Ray Rice will be back on the field in Week 3.

It's the wrong message, and it's one I'd like to think the NFL is smart enough to get right. It's failed in this case.

It failed not just women around the world, but it failed its players, even Ray Rice.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thinking Out Loud: Tony Dungy's Irrational Fear of Distractions, Chris Kluwe's Fight

The idea of an openly gay player in a professional sports locker room is one that's been danced around for years. Many have been afraid to discuss it, and while it's unquestionably true that we've had gay professional athletes, none have been willing to come out during their playing careers.

Before going through the combine and the NFL Draft, Missouri linebacker Michael Sam decided it was time to do just that. He came out as gay, saying his teammates knew last season.

You know the rest of this story. The St. Louis Rams took Sam in the seventh round, and he will have a chance to make the team during training camp, which starts this week.

Good thing Tony Dungy wasn't in Jeff Fisher's spot.

"I wouldn't have taken him,'' Dungy told the Tampa Bay Tribune. “Not because I don't believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it.

"It's not going to be totally smooth ... things will happen."

Keep in mind: Dungy blazed a trail for African Americans to become head coaches in the NFL. He wasn't the first, but he was one of the most successful, and his presence made a huge difference for those who thought the NFL was not providing African Americans the opportunity to become head coaches.

Dungy is a man who stared racism down and persevered despite it.

Sam is blazing a different kind of trail, and Dungy says that trail is too distracting to a team.

That tells you all you need to know about the NFL and its priorities.

Michael Sam's gay. That's a distraction.

Ray Rice drags his fiancee around a casino, and that isn't.

Take it away, Mike Freeman.
Unfortunately, Dungy isn't alone, but Dungy is supposed to know better. He's supposed to be a leader, a man of principal, a man who knows the sting of bigotry. Quite simply, he's supposed to understand.

... Dungy should know better, but he is clearly a good man with a weak spot. Imagine if an NFL team, when Dungy came into football, decided not to draft him because they wouldn't want to "deal with all of it" by picking a black man. Or if Dungy's hero, Chuck Noll, instead of hiring Dungy as an assistant coach, decided, "You know what, the attention will be negative. I don't want to 'deal with all of it.' "

When Dungy was trying to be a head coach, he was rebuffed in many instances because of the color of his skin. Or other superficial features. The late George Young, who was the general manager of the Giants, once told Dungy (as told in Michael MacCambridge's book America's Game): "I want to help you. I want to see you succeed in this business, and I think you can. But you'll never advance any farther with that beard. It's just not seen in the NFL."

When Dungy told Steelers owner Dan Rooney about Young's words, Rooney said: "In some organizations, that's probably true. But we like people to be themselves."
I like people to be themselves, too. I like Richard Sherman as Richard Sherman. He adds to the experience of watching football. As much as Jermichael Finley's flamboyance drove me nuts at times, it'll be missed in Green Bay if he can't play again. I believe the Vikings will miss Jared Allen's personality, possibly as much as the Bears will appreciate having him around.

Some guys stand out because of their uniqueness. If they're doing their jobs and the team isn't suffering because of that "individuality," there's no reason to think that player is a distraction.

Sure, Finley's gestures after every random catch look stupid if the team is down 30-7 or if the record is 3-9. Same for Allen's calf-roping sack dance. But if the team is winning, it's like a rallying cry.

It's amazing that Dungy -- a well-spoken, intelligent man who went through a lot of crap before he finally got the opportunity he needed to prove himself as a coach -- would so easily dismiss a guy like Sam.

Michael Sam's a distraction, but the guy who was thrown in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring (Michael Vick) deserved a second chance at the NFL.

OK, Tony.

I wonder how Dungy would have handled Chris Kluwe if the two had worked together at any point. There's another story.

Kluwe basically took a live grenade to his NFL career in January, when he penned a piece for Deadspin.com where he alleged he was let go by the Vikings because of his outspoken support for gay marriage. If that wasn't enough, Kluwe threatened to sue the team (and apparently will file that suit on Wednesday) if they didn't release the results of their commissioned investigation that resulted from Kluwe's piece, as well as levy heavy sanctions against the main subject of that story, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.

The Vikings called Kluwe's bluff. He wasn't bluffing.

Do I think Kluwe is a bit of an attention seeker? Yes. But I also believe he is standing up for something he feels strongly about: gay rights. And he thinks he is still doing that in trying to get the Vikings to change what he insists is a broken culture within the organization and, more specifically, in the locker room.

This isn't a money grab from Kluwe. He said he will donate every dime he may be awarded from the Vikings. It also isn't a ploy to get back in the NFL. Between the Deadspin piece that started all of this in January and the pending lawsuit, Kluwe knows he's done in the league.

And as the Vikings tried to deflect Kluwe's barbs by leaking word that he had taken part in some ribbing of a Penn State alum on the Vikings' staff (making fun of the Jerry Sandusky scandal), Kluwe went back on the offensive. He said (correctly) that his behavior, while not necessarily right, doesn't justify anything Priefer is alleged to have said in team settings. Priefer is a leader and held to a higher standard, Kluwe says, and he's right.

Just ask the Miami Dolphins, who fired offensive line coach Jim Turner last year after he was found to be taking part in the bullying of lineman Jonathan Martin.
"The language and behavior as described in the Ted Wells report are against the core values of our organization," Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in a statement. "After receiving the report, I conducted my own internal review of the facts to determine the appropriate steps for our organization. Jim Turner and Kevin O'Neill are good people who care a great deal about their profession and the players whom they serve, but both exhibited poor judgment at times which led me to this conclusion.

"As owner, I know firsthand of the high-character and dedicated professionals in our building. I believe in our team and know the hard work and sacrifices they make every day on the field and in the community. However, this is an opportunity and a teaching moment not only for the coaches, staff and players in our locker room, but also for participants throughout sports."
I don't know if Priefer should have been fired, but the results of this Vikings investigation -- even our limited knowledge from that report -- make it clear that locker-room behavior continues to be a problem for the NFL.

Guys are going to kid around, have fun, and get on each other's nerves. But there has to be a line where words and actions start to genuinely offend people. And those people have to be encouraged to speak up, not ripped limb from limb when they do.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Thinking Out Loud: California Chrome Fails, So Do Hockey Fans

Listen, I'll be the first to admit. I'm not a horse racing guy. I bet on the Kentucky Derby in Vegas four years ago (won), but it was nothing more than a lucky guess.

I'm a passive fan when it comes to the Triple Crown, but I'm fully aware of how it works. When a horse wins the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, he will inevitably face a horse in the Belmont that did not run each of the first two legs.

The co-owner of California Chrome, Steve Coburn, clearly isn't happy about this fact. Here is his rant from after Saturday's Belmont Stakes.



Coburn didn't back off Sunday.

"It says Triple Crown. You nominate your horse for the Triple Crown. That means three," Coburn said in the track-side interview with ESPN on Sunday. "Even the Triple Crown trophy has three points on it. So when you earn enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby, those 20 horses that start in the Kentucky Derby should be the only 20 allowed to run in the Preakness and the Belmont for the Triple Crown."

He also made a questionable analogy of why Tonalist's participation Saturday was unfair.

"These people nominate their horses for the Triple Crown and then they hold out two [races] and then come back and run one," Coburn told ESPN. "That would be like me at 6-2 playing basketball with a kid in a wheelchair. They haven't done anything with their horses in the Triple Crown. There were three horses in this race that ran in the first two -- California Chrome, Ride on Curlin and General a Rod -- none of the other horses did.  You figure out. You ask yourself, 'Would it be fair if I played basketball with a child in a wheel chair?"

Coburn made the analogy in both interviews Sunday morning. He was asked in the "Good Morning America interview" if he considered the comparison offensive.

"No, I'm just trying to compare the two," he said. "Is it fair for me to play with this child in a wheelchair? Is it fair for them to hold their horses back?"

Coburn said he has no problems if people label him a "sore loser" and even proceeded to give out his phone number so people can call him with their complaints.

Listen, I'm not an expert on this. But the Triple Crown has been run the same way for 146 years. When Affirmed won in 1973, he beat horses that didn't run all three races. When Secretariat won two years earlier, same story.

Whether Coburn likes it or not, this is how the sport works. If he doesn't like it, maybe he should bring it up with racing commissions who run the Triple Crown. I highly doubt anything will change, but perhaps Coburn will feel better.

I get that it's a quick turnaround for the horses who run, but I'm not in favor of anything that will make the Triple Crown easier to win. It's been done 11 times, and it should be difficult. Otherwise, it wouldn't carry nearly the prestige it does. Then the sport suffers, and horse racing has suffered enough over the years.

******

Coburn wasn't the only person putting his foot squarely in his mouth over the weekend.

Hello, hockey fans.

As soon as LeBron James left Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday because of leg cramps, the internet started in.

I'm as pro-NHL as the next guy, but this is a great example of hockey fans' inferiority complex. The sport doesn't do as well on television as the NBA does, and that drives people crazy, because they don't think there's any competition when it comes to the quality of the games.

I don't argue that. What I argue is how NHL fans choose to articulate themselves.

LeBron James might be an egomaniac, but he's a two-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, and an Olympic gold medalist. He isn't a quitter. If he's not finishing an NBA Finals game, something is wrong.

And I've seen what leg cramps can do to elite athletes. I've seen some of the best marathon runners in the world crippled by cramps less than halfway into a 26-mile race. These folks train their entire lives to run distance, but end up unable to stand without help when the heat and humidity prove to be too much for them.

Comparing LeBron James to a hockey player just doesn't work. All it does it make hockey fans look petty and silly.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

UMD Completes 2014-15 Recruiting Class, Announces Awards and 2014-15 Captains

In case you missed it earlier this week, UMD (presumably) finished up its 2014-15 recruiting class this week. The Bulldogs secured a commitment from defenseman Nick McCormack. The Elk River product played last season for the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He scored 12 goals and totaled 39 points in 59 games. Before that, he played for the SIJHL's Minnesota Wildnerness (based in Cloquet), where he scored 14 goals and picked up 40 points in 47 games.

McCormack is the final player who will jump into the UMD program this fall. He gives UMD eight defensemen to go along with 15 forwards and three goalies. He is the only defenseman who will be a freshman next season.

That 2014-15 team will be captained by Hermantown's Adam Krause, who will enter his senior season and serve as a back-to-back captain for the Bulldog program. Krause's assistant captains will be senior forward Justin Crandall and junior defenseman Andy Welinski of Duluth.

UMD also announced its 2013-14 postseason awards this week. Led by team MVP Aaron Crandall, here is the lowdown.
The fifth-year senior from Lakeville, Minn., eclipsed previous bests for victories (he was 14-12-3 overall), goals against average (2.76), saves percentage (.900), starts (29), appearances (31) and minutes (1,738:55). One of only three individuals to be selected the National Collegiate Hockey Association's Rookie of the Week three or more times in 2013-14 (he earned that honor on three occasions), Crandall closed out his career ranking third among all-time Bulldogs in  UMD's all-time in winning percentage (.559 off a 30-23-6 record), fourth in goals against average (2.83), and fifth in both career saves percentage (.895) and shutouts (five).

The Jerry Chumola Rookie of the Year Award went to left winger Alex Iafallo, a member of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference All-Rookie Team who racked up 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points while skating in all 36 games. Freshman defenseman Dan Molenaar landed the Mike Sertich Award (Most Improved Player) while junior right winger Adam Krause was the recipient of both the Goldie Wolf Award (Most Inspirational Player) and the Bulldog Community Service Award.
UMD opens Oct. 10 at the IceBreaker in South Bend, where it matches up against Minnesota while host Notre Dame takes on RPI.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Thinking Out Loud: NBA Playoffs, Baseball, Lacrosse

I'm going to try to do this more often, by the way.

The NBA wrapped up its first round of playoffs over the weekend. Plenty of fun games were played, with defense optional all over the place. Nowhere was this more true than with the Clippers and Golden State. Caught a good chunk of Games 4 and 7 of this series, which was probably the best of the first-round series. Donald Sterling's idiocy made it a newsworthy series, but it was already a highly-watchable one.

The Clippers just couldn't defend DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin enough, and Stephen Curry couldn't hit enough shots to render the Clips' bigs moot. It was a lot of fun to watch, however, because you new you saw Golden State give LA its very best. The Warriors didn't lose because of poor coaching, or a bad GM, or because a starter took too many minutes off. The Warriors lost because the Clippers were (barely) a better team.

By the way, Brooklyn and Toronto played 11 games this season between the regular season and playoffs. They each scored 1,070 points. Couldn't get more even than that. Of course, that doesn't make the Raptors feel any better.

Conference semifinals are Indiana vs Washington and Brooklyn vs Miami in the East, with Portland vs San Antonio and Oklahoma City vs the Clippers in the West. Thunder-Clippers could be every bit as entertaining as Clippers-Warriors was, and the Blazers might give San Antonio a run if Damian Lillard hits enough shots to keep the Spurs honest. Otherwise, they clamp down on LaMarcus Aldridge and the series is over.

******

Despite losing three of four to Cincinnati, the Milwaukee Brewers still sport the best record in baseball. That advantage is down to a half-game over San Francisco at 21-11 versus 20-11.

I'm not here to be a Debbie Downer, but this team has to start hitting if it is to have any chance. The Brewers' pitching has been nails. The rotation has gotten great outings from all five starters, and all but third starter Matt Garza have given them multiple great outings. Garza is about the only one of the five who hasn't gotten going. That's bad -- the Brewers paid him a hell of a lot of money, presumably not to post an ERA over 5 -- but it's also good, because he's bound to figure things out.

The bullpen has been fantastic, though it faltered a couple times in Cincinnati. Over the course of a 162-game season, even the best pitching staff experiences the occasional meltdown. What the Brewers need is for the offense to start pulling its weight.

If that happens, Milwaukee has a contender.

******

My son is in his first year of lacrosse, and he's amped about it. Loving the game.

The pinnacle of the lacrosse season nationally is the NCAA Tournament, which opens this week. The field has been expanded to 18 teams from its previous 16, with the top two seeds facing the winners of two play-in games during the week.

Defending national champion Duke is the top seed, followed by ACC rival Syracuse and 15-1 Loyola of Maryland.

The field is always dominated by East teams, but there are a couple entries from Colorado, including the No. 5 national seed Denver, which enters at 14-2. Air Force is in for the first time and will play in a play-in game for the right to get hammered by play Duke on Sunday.

The national semifinals are May 24, with the title game May 26 in Baltimore.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wild, 15 Others Chase Lord Stanley

You can have your March Madness, your September football openers, your October baseball playoffs/cranking-up of football season, December bowls into NFL and college football playoffs, or whatever sports time of year you prefer.

Nothing makes goosebumps form on top of  goosebumps like the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I mean, well, um ... hold on. Just watch this.



Says it all.

First team to 16 wins gets the spoils. And the tears.

Anyway, the playoffs start Wednesday. I'll deliver some predictions later, but here are some thoughts on the Wild as they prepare to open up Thursday at Colorado.

This is really simple, in many ways. Colorado is a great story, but the story masks some problems with this team.

The nerds like to note that Colorado is the worst possession team in the tournament. The Avalanche get by that issue by carrying the best shooting percentage of any of these 16 teams. Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, and Gabriel Landeskog are elite. Semyon Varlamov had a great run this season.

However, Colorado's possession problem could rear its ugly head in this division bracket. St. Louis and Chicago are going to go to war for the right to advance, but both teams sport the kind of hard-nosed forwards it takes to break down the Avalanche.

So does Minnesota.

Ever since a 5-1 loss to St. Louis had the Wild on the brink of a lot of bad things, the group has banded together. If you're enough of a diehard, you probably know about the off-day "summit" the Wild on-ice leadership had in Phoenix after that St. Louis debacling. If not, stud beat writer Michael Russo wrote a lot about it, including here.

Bottom line: This team has been much more system-strong since that day off. Zach Parise made a comment after the St. Louis loss about the Blues' commitment to their system, and it was a subtle shot at his guys for a bevy of blue line turnovers that led to chances (and sometimes goals) for the opponents.

The Wild have been much better since then at getting pucks behind defensemen and going after them on the forecheck. It's one part of the success story, but it's a huge one, especially going into this best-of-seven.

Colorado isn't weak on defense, but the Avs aren't strong there, either. There are some young guys there, and some potentially vulnerable players. I'd like to see the Wild make them work for possession and make them earn their space up the rink. Colorado wants to play a rush game, but if the Wild can make them get away from firewagon hockey, the Avalanche can easily be beaten in this series.

Make Colorado break out more slowly, and make their forwards more engaged in the defensive zone. Puck retrievals and wall play take energy. Sap their will by making them earn every puck they get and every rush they're able to generate. Colorado has been really good this season at getting into run-and-gun type of games.

Remember the structure and the system. Stick to it, and good things will happen.

Of course, it ultimately comes down to goaltending. Varlamov has been great, and while Ilya Bryzgalov has been good for the Wild, the sample isn't very big. I did say when the Wild got him from Edmonton that I thought Bryzgalov would be solid playing for a team that has some structure in front of him, as Minnesota certainly does.

If Bryzgalov, who has a promising .923 even-strength save percentage, even matches what Varlamov (.933, by the way) can do, Minnesota probably wins. Ultimately, the talent gap in goal, which I do believe exists, is the biggest reason I have Colorado beating the Wild. If the Wild avoid getting suckered into run-and-gun hockey and get good goaltending, they very much have a shot in this series.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

College Hockey Almost Certainly Not Done Changing

One-time Minnesota Wild executive Bill Robertson was named the new commissioner of the WCHA Tuesday. Robertson will replace Bruce McLeod, who ran the league for 20 years and will retire in June. Robertson will actually join the league next month, providing a bit of a buffer between his official arrival and McLeod's official departure.

(Notice how I resisted jokes about McLeod's departure actually having taken place about a decade ago. I'm actually proud of myself for that.)

Robertson's task is not a small one, but he's not alone.

College hockey is not in a stable position, for a variety of reasons. Namely, there are schools in virtually every league that aren't happy. Something is irking them, be it travel, scholarships, finances, or administrative issues of some sort.

I'm not here to say everyone was happy with the old arrangement. I'd bet there were unhappy types back then. It just wasn't as vocal a group, and everyone had their traditional leagues to lean on. The WCHA and CCHA had their warts, but they'd also been around for a long time and had experienced a ton of success, both on the ice and off.

(Example of off-ice success in the old alignment? Look what the WCHA Final Five became at its zenith, in the early and mid 2000s.)

When the Big Ten and NCHC plucked all the "big-name" programs from those leagues, the CCHA died completely and the WCHA changed dramatically.

Now, it seems the majority of hockey people involved in these leagues would probably revert back to the way things used to be, if only it was that easy.

Since we know that won't happen, it might be time for fans to resign themselves to more changes.

With that potential inevitability in mind, here are a few ideas -- both mine and others -- that could help alleviate the concerns of programs and remove some of the "buyer's remorse," as Mankato Free Press scribe and wonderful human Shane Frederick tweeted Tuesday.

The WCHA should cut to 24 conference games.

Will this create more holes to fill in non-league schedules? Absolutely. But the NCHC (ten) and Big Ten (14) have plenty of them, too.

Why should the WCHA cut from 28 to 24? Money.

Last season, every WCHA team visited Alaska at least once. Four teams went twice, playing road series against both Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska. Two of those teams made two separate trips north, while Michigan Tech and Minnesota State spent a whole week up there. With a 24-game league schedule, it could be structured so three teams don't go to Alaska at all during a season, and certainly you wouldn't have four teams going twice.

Not only does it remove some of the financial strain, but it makes travel a little less than a pain.

The WCHA should seek to expand.

This one will be a little controversial. I know that there are some teams in Atlantic Hockey that want to go to 18 scholarships. That's been the case for a while. If the WCHA finds two of them, expands to 12 teams, and goes to a two-division format where the Alaska teams are in separate divisions but locked into playing each other four times a season, the league could settle travel concerns without necessarily cutting the league schedule.

A so-called Eastern Division would comprise the two AHA teams, one of the Alaska schools, Alabama-Huntsville, Ferris State, and Bowling Green. The upper Michigan teams, Bemidji State, Minnesota State, and the other Alaska team would make up the West.

Structuring a full league schedule could be difficult. If each team in the division played a home-and-away, that would be 20 games. With a 24-game conference slate, that would leave four games, two home and two away, to be played outside the division. Doing that would mean only two teams out of 12 would have to make the double-trip north, and that would be easily handled around school breaks to minimize academic impact of the travel. At 28 games, you'd have eight games to play against the opposite division. Either way, there would be teams in the league that did not meet during the regular season.

In addition, I'm told the travel arrangements for UAA and UAF are different, and it's more expensive for teams to go to Anchorage. I'm not sure how this is possible, but Robertson needs to fix it if it's the case.

The NCHC should run its tournament the way the Big Ten does.

This has been suggested to me multiple times.

I'm not sure how it would be executed, but there are a couple options.

The first is to bring every team to Minneapolis, which would allow for travel arrangements to be made far in advance, thus making that side of things cheaper than it is now, where arrangements are made on short notice. The negative? Four games on Thursday. You think the tournament wasn't attended well this year? Wait until -- as an example -- Denver and UNO are playing a quarterfinal game at like 10am on a Thursday.

The other option? Take six teams to Minneapolis and play single elimination. Top two get byes into the semifinals, and there are two quarterfinal games Thursday. Same format as the Big Ten. Teams couldn't arrange their travel until late notice, but the tournament would be structured to succeed. Gives the teams at the bottom even more to play for at the end of the season, because they have to fight for inclusion into the conference tournament.

Why go this route? Look at the crowds drawn for first-round campus-site playoff series this season. It could be argued that teams are better off playing in a centralized location and building a cool event that way.

******

None of this is guaranteed to help, but it's clear change is coming.

I don't know what that change will be, but I'd be stunned if we kept this configuration in place any longer than schools are contractually obligated to stick around for. We might see new leagues formed, we might see current leagues dissolved.

We welcome Robertson to college hockey. Hopefully he doesn't end up regretting what he got himself into, and hopefully all the leagues can find common ground and work together for the good of the sport.

UMD Men's Hockey Schedule 2014-15

As published in Tuesday's Duluth News Tribune, here is the UMD men's hockey schedule for next season.

Oct. 10 -- vs. Minnesota at Icebreaker, South Bend, Ind.
Oct. 12 -- vs. Notre Dame or RPI at Icebreaker, South Bend, Ind.
Oct. 17 -- Minnesota State
Oct. 18 -- at Minnesota State
Oct. 24-25 -- Denver
Oct. 31-Nov. 1 -- Miami
Nov. 7-8 -- at St. Cloud State
Nov. 14 -- at Minnesota
Nov. 15 -- Minnesota
Nov. 21-22 -- at Nebraska-Omaha
Dec. 5-6 -- Colorado College
Dec. 12-13 -- at Michigan Tech
Jan. 9-10 -- at North Dakota
Jan. 16-17 -- Western Michigan
Jan. 23 -- vs. Bemidji State at North Star College Cup, St. Paul
Jan. 24 -- vs. Minnesota or Minnesota State at North Star College Cup, St. Paul
Jan. 30-31 -- at Denver
Feb. 6-7 -- Northern Michigan
Feb. 13-14 -- St. Cloud State
Feb. 20-21 -- at Miami
Feb. 27-28 -- Nebraska-Omaha
March 6-7 -- at Western Michigan
March 13-15 -- NCHC playoffs first round
March 20-21 -- NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Target Center

A few things:
  • Expect at least one home exhibition game to be added, especially with there being a month between games over the holiday break. That seems like a good spot for something.
  • No North Dakota in Duluth next season, and UMD will not visit Colorado Springs. Sad face.
  • Home non-conference is Minnesota and Minnesota State for single games, then Northern Michigan for two. UMD plays in two tournaments -- the Icebreaker and North Star College Cup -- and also visits Michigan Tech in December.
  • As for the Icebreaker, it's a Friday/Sunday event in South Bend because Notre Dame football is home to take on North Carolina that Saturday. If you're traveling out for that event, the football game is probably a must if you're at all a football fan. Actually, I'd carve out time for a campus tour of some sort if you've never done that before. And go to the football game.
  • 2014-15 will be the fourth time in five years that UMD's final regular season home series has come against Nebraska Omaha.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Thinking Out Loud: Twins, Brewers Seek Improvement

Baseball is back. I'll have to admit: I didn't watch much of it last year. The Brewers stunk, and the Twins were much worse. Our local nines were stuck in the bowels of sucktitude. Once June hit, there was no real reason to watch baseball, and I might have seen a couple games through the summer.

In the words of Canadian alternative band Evans Blue, this time it's different.

Maybe.

The Twins look miserable once again. Yeah, they went out and bought themselves some requisite major league pitching. That was good, because they didn't really have any in 2013. For an organization that home-grew guys like Brad Radke, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano (yeah, I know he wasn't drafted, but most of his development was as a Twin), and others, the well ran dry in a hurry.

While Trevor May and Alex Meyer mature in Rochester, the team needs Ricky Nolasco, Philip Hughes, and 2013 newcomers Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey to lead the way. Monday, Nolasco sure didn't start well, giving up five runs and ten hits in six innings as Minnesota fell 5-3 to the White Sox.

I'm actually optimistic about Minnesota's pitching. Less so about the bats.

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know I've been pretty consistent with the stance that Joe Mauer will have a big offensive season, by his standards. I said that when the team announced his move to first base. I'm thinking 15-20 home runs, the typical 30-35 doubles, .400 OBP, and a jump in slugging percentage, closer to his MVP season (.587) but not quite hitting that unsustainable number.

Mauer won't be the problem. If Monday's lineup is any indication, the problem will lie above him in the batting order.

Spare me the "two hits, three RBI" talk with Kurt Suzuki. He's a good defensive catcher and only a passable, replacement-level bat for the position.

He hit second in Monday's game. Brian Dozier, who makes outs for breakfast every day, was the leadoff hitter. Ahead of Mauer. Poor guy -- figuratively speaking, of course, since we all know Mauer is filthy rich -- is going to lead the American League in "at bats with two out and nobody on base" this season (had one Monday, three total two-out at bats).

I'd love to rip Ron Gardenhire, but until Aaron Hicks proves himself, the Twins don't have a viable leadoff hitter, or No. 2 guy.

Unless you put Mauer in the leadoff spot. And even that's not ideal, because while he gets more at bats, it also takes him away from more of a run-producing role.

And, no, Byron Buxton isn't ready yet.

Meanwhile, the Brewers actually have a pretty formidable top of the order. Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Jonathan Lucroy can all rake. Youngster Scooter Gennett has shown promise at second base, where Rickie Weeks has sufficiently flamed out and has little use to this team in his current form.

This team can score runs from the top of the order. It's the bottom that has me concerned, but lots of teams can say that.

Who's playing first base? Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay.

Who's in left instead of Braun? Khris Davis.

Yuck.

They better get runs out of the top five guys, and some production out of Gennett, because whatever they get from left field and (especially) first base is going to be a bonus.

The pitching staff is solid (the Matt Garza signing was genius, because now Milwaukee has three proven starters in a pitching-rich division), but the NL Central is stacked. The Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates are all contender types, so the Brewers are lost in the shuffle in the division race.

I have hope for Milwaukee, though. Ownership is committed to competing, and since the young talent pool is dry compared to, say, Minnesota, the Brewers have to make moves like the Garza and Kyle Lohse (last year) signings to stay above water.

What do the teams have in common? Solid bullpens. Minnesota's has more upside, but both should be just fine, at the worst.

For the Twins, the offense and the lack of high-end pitching will hold them back in a division that isn't exactly stacked.

For the Brewers, it's more about the top teams that already exist, along with the lack of balance in the batting order. Damn, do they miss Prince Fielder in Milwaukee.