Lou Nanne is Mr. Hockey in the State of Hockey, a man who knows the game as well as anybody. He gives the Wild a chance to beat Chicago in Game 3 of their playoff series Sunday at Xcel Energy Center.
“Chicago is the top team in the league, and so the Wild have their hands full,” Nanne said. “[The Wild] have been playing hard. They’ve had some chances. They aren’t going to get as many chances as Chicago, so when they get them they have to put something in.”
Nanne pointed out that the Wild could have won Game 1 on Tuesday but got outplayed in the second game Friday, despite having some chances.
“They have to make the chances count. It’s really tough to play Chicago, because their defense is so good and they get the puck out of the zone so fast, so the Wild haven’t been able to put too much pressure on,” Nanne said.
In Nanne’s opinion, the matchup with the Blackhawks is not favorable for the Wild.
“Chicago has got such a good puck-moving defense and really a lot of high-skilled, scoring forward on two lines. The Wild have to play real, real defensive to stay in the game,” he said.
Nanne does believe home ice will be a big plus for the Wild.
“I think it’s going to be real good for Minnesota if they don’t get too nervous or anxious, because they’re playing at home for the first time, if they don’t get excited and just focus on the game, the crowd support could help them,” he said. “I think the Wild is in good position to win.”
What does the Wild have to do to win?
“They have to play real tight. They have to try and frustrate Chicago,” Nanne said. “They can’t open it up and they have to be better on the power play. The power play hasn’t been good. They have to score goals on the power play.
“Chicago is a team that won the Stanley Cup. They had an unbelievable run of wins this year, so they’re accustomed to playing anywhere. The crowd should help Minnesota more than it’s going to hurt Chicago.”
At a news conference Friday announcing Flip Saunders as the new Timberwolves general manager, owner Glen Taylor brought up the long relationship the two have had.
“When I bought the team [in 1995], one of the first guys that wrote to me was a fellow named Flip Saunders,” Taylor recalled. “He wrote me a letter and said, ‘If there’s some space in here for me, I’m very interested.’
“He was in Sioux Falls, I was in Mankato. I responded and he drove over to Mankato and I can remember us sitting in the office. If you know Flip at that time he brought what was called the ‘Playbook: History of Basketball,’ all of the opportunities that go forward. We had a great day of talking about basketball and how he might fit in.”
Taylor added that from that conversation, Saunders was offered the job of general manager.
“I was new, he was new, we spent a lot of time talking, getting to know each other about things even up and above basketball,” Taylor said.
“Our families got to know each other very well. And then a decision was made that Flip would become the coach. We had already established a very close relationship, so when he was coach here, we continued on that close relationship. We talked about all facets of basketball and got to know each other.”
Schedule changes coming
The Gophers have probably sold more tickets to football games at TCF Bank Stadium playing schools from North and South Dakota than they did playing some Big Ten opponents, and certainly against other nonconference foes.
But in the future, they will no longer be able to play FCS teams, as per a new ruling by the Big Ten Conference, in order to get member schools to play more competitive nonconference schedules.
The Gophers will not have to reschedule any games already scheduled against FCS opponents, unless both schools reach a mutual decision.
So as of right now, the Gophers’ last game against an FCS opponent would be in 2019 when they play host to South Dakota State on Aug. 29. They will not face South Dakota, North Dakota or North Dakota State ever again unless the schools move up to FBS.
Hicks sticking to what works
Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks, who hit his first major league home run on Saturday, knows he can’t get too down about his early-season hitting troubles.
“Well of course it is tough, I had a lot of at-bats in spring training and it’s just a matter of time. Guys go through ups and downs and that’s part of the game,” said Hicks, who is now hitting .123. “I’m starting to get back on track now and I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Hicks added that he hasn’t altered his approach.
“I’m sticking to what worked in spring training and what works for me as a hitter,” he said. “I’m still attacking fastballs and getting good pitches to hit.”
• The Vikings season ticket renewal program ends May 23, and ticket manager Phil Huebner expects a renewal of over 90 percent. The team has sold 3,000 new season tickets to date, as well, compared to 500 at this time last year.
• Tim Brewster, who is now the recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach at Florida State, got a good pitch for future recruits when the Seminoles had 11 players drafted last weekend — the most of any college in the country, and a school record. “Get a degree, win Championships and get ready for the NFL at FSU!” the former Gophers coach wrote on Twitter. It was the Vikings’ selection of Everett Dawkins in the seventh round that set the record.
• The Aspire Group, which was hired by the Gophers to help with ticket sales, have sold 600 new football season tickets for 2013. They have also sold nine basketball suites, leaving only one to be filled for next season.
• The U.S. men’s hockey team defeated Austria 5-3 to start the men’s world championships in Finland on Saturday. Former Gophers defenseman Erik Johnson had two goals, one of which was assisted by Edina native Jamie McBain, and former Minnesota Duluth forward Tim Stapleton added a goal. Three more players with local ties had assists: South St. Paul native Justin Faulk, former Gophers standout Nick Bjugstad of Blaine and Eden Prairie native Danny Kristo.
• Former Twins center fielder Carols Gomez is off to the best start of his big-league career, hitting .373 with six home runs, 12 RBI, 20 runs scored and seven stolen bases with the Brewers. Remember that the Twins received J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee in exchange for Gomez and then traded Hardy to Baltimore for reliever Jim Hoey, who currently is out of professional baseball.