Philip Nelson.

Marlin Levison, Dml - Star Tribune

Rand: 13 local sports figures of note for 2013

  • January 1, 2013 - 8:55 PM
We spent the last two weeks recapping the top stories of 2012. Now, we shift our attention to the year that is instead of the year that was. Here are 13 local sports figures who could break through to play major roles in big sports stories in 2013 (in alphabetical order):

1. Nick Bjugstad: He returned to the Gophers men's hockey team instead of turning pro, positioning himself as the go-to player on a team with lofty expectations. He had a modest start, but two goals in a rout of Boston College on Sunday -- which vaulted Minnesota back to No. 1 in the rankings -- set Bjugstad up for an important stretch of play in 2013.

2. Hannah Brandt: If you haven't heard of Brandt, you soon will. As a freshman, she is already the second-leading scorer for the undefeated Gophers women's hockey team (19 goals, 29 assists). Can she help Minnesota go undefeated all season? Play resumes Jan. 11 against North Dakota.

3. Jonas Brodin: The Wild's 2011 first-round pick is a standout defenseman who could contribute immediately when (if?) the NHL finally resumes play. He suffered a broken clavicle in early November, but given a chance to heal he could be the kind of young blue-liner the Wild sorely needs.

4. Jessie Diggins: She was a three-time state Nordic champ at Stillwater High School and has now become the new young star on a rapidly improving U.S. cross country ski team. With the Winter Olympics approaching in about a year, the U.S. could have its strongest team ever -- and Diggins could be a big part of it.

5. Gary Fasching: It's never easy replacing a legend, and Fasching knows that. The longtime St. John's assistant coach takes over for the retired John Gagliardi, the all-time winningest coach in college football history. Gags held down the St. John's position for 60 years, so it's safe to say many eyes will be on Fasching to see how his Johnnies fare.

6. Andre Hollins: We're already seeing major hints of the player Hollins can be for the Gophers men's basketball team. He exploded for 41 points against Memphis. He was terrific in Monday's Big Ten opener against Michigan State. But you get the idea the best is yet to come for the sophomore -- and how he plays will be crucial to how the No. 9-ranked Gophers fare.

7. Tyus Jones: We've known about the Apple Valley basketball phenom for years, but 2013 is an important one for Jones. Now a junior, he very likely will be making a college decision sometime in 2013. He has several suitors and has whittled his official list to eight -- including Minnesota.

8. Philip Nelson: He enters 2013 as a 19-year-old with seven career starts as a true freshman in 2012. And this makes him the QB on the roster with the most experience, with MarQueis Gray done and Max Shortell leaving the program. How well Year 3 of Jerry Kill goes could be influenced greatly by the development of Nelson.

9. Devereaux Peters: The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Lynx had the luxury of coming to a team loaded with veterans. But Taj McWilliams-Franklin, 42, isn't going to play forever -- even if it seems that way sometimes. The continued post development of the 6-2 Peters will be an important factor for the Lynx in 2013.

10. Christian Ponder: The final regular-season tally for Ponder in 2012 -- 2,935 yards passing, 18 TDs, 12 INTs -- doesn't look so bad. And to be sure, he won over some critics Sunday against the Packers. But he starts 2013 with a huge playoff game in Lambeau. That game will be the first of many in 2013 that will define Ponder's future.

11. Alexey Shved: He was hardly among the most heralded offseason acquisitions by the Timberwolves, but we have seen enough of Shved to believe 2013 could be big for him. The idea of Shved and a fully healthy Ricky Rubio playing in the same backcourt is tantalizing.

12. Norwood Teague: The new Gophers AD arrived at a good time in some respects. The football team went to a bowl game. The men's hoops and hockey teams are looking strong. But 2013 will also bring the major challenge of Teague flexing his fundraising muscle to generate the new facilities and other improvements the Gophers sorely need.

13. The Twins starting rotation: This is a bit of a cop-out to not pick one pitcher, but whom would you choose? There are so many new faces, and their collective success or failure will go a long way toward determining whether the 2013 Twins are sneaky contenders, at least on the road to recovery or bound to lose 90 games for a third consecutive year.


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