2011: Great stories, not-so-great year

  • Article by: MICHAEL RAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 30, 2011 - 9:34 AM

The year was filled with so many newsmaking events on the local sports landscape that paring it down to a top 10 was difficult.

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Twins catcher Joe Mauer

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune file

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Nobody would call 2011 a great year for Minnesota sports. But that doesn't mean it was devoid of big stories. On the contrary, 2011 was filled with so many newsmaking events on the local sports landscape that paring it down to a top 10 was difficult.

Several major occurrences -- to name just a few: Kevin Love's double-double streak, Trevor Mbakwe's torn ACL, the resurgence of Gophers men's hockey and the free agency departures of several long-time Twins players -- couldn't even crack the list. But the following 10 stories did. Here they are, as chosen by and ranked from No. 10 to No. 1 by the Star Tribune's Michael Rand:

10 THE VIKINGS DRAFT QB CHRISTIAN PONDER

With Brett Favre retired for good (we think), the Vikings drafted a quarterback in the first round for the first time since nabbing Daunte Culpepper in 1999. Given the intense speculation around the NFL draft and the importance of the QB position -- as well as Ponder's subsequent on-field play -- this was a defining moment in 2011.

9 THE WILD FIRES TODD RICHARDS AND HIRES MIKE YEO

After two seasons that ended without a playoff appearance, the Wild fired coach Todd Richards and replaced him with Mike Yeo, who like Richards had no previous NHL head coaching experience. The Wild jumped out to a hot start under Yeo, 38, and at one point had the best record in the NHL. Minnesota has since slumped but is still among the top eight teams in the Western Conference.

8 MINNESOTA-DULUTH WINS NCAA MEN'S HOCKEY TITLE AT XCEL ENERGY CENTER

As the lone representative from Minnesota at the Frozen Four in St. Paul, the Bulldogs not only represented the state well, but also won their first men's hockey national championship ever. They defeated Notre Dame in the semifinals before downing Michigan in overtime of the title game in April.

7 THE TWINS FIRE BILL SMITH AND RE-HIRE TERRY RYAN AS GM

After a 99-loss season for the Twins, it appeared for a while like there might not be any major shakeups. But in early November, that notion suddenly changed with the news that GM Bill Smith was out and Terry Ryan -- who stepped down after the 2007 season -- was coming back to replace him. The move made sense from the standpoint of 2011 results, but it still surprised many because of the loyalty so often exhibited by the Twins.

6 GOPHERS FOOTBALL COACH JERRY KILL HAS A SEIZURE DURING A GAME

TCF Bank Stadium fell nearly silent on Sept. 10 as Jerry Kill -- coaching in the home-opener, a loss to New Mexico State -- had a seizure on the sidelines during the game's closing moments. Further reporting noted that Kill had previously experienced seizures (and in fact has experienced them since the one in-game), but the shock of the episode at the Bank is a lasting moment from 2011.

5 FORMER TWINS GREAT HARMON KILLEBREW DIES

The Hall of Famer and great slugger Harmon Killebrew died in May, casting a pall over Twins Territory but also bringing out tributes to both his great career and his legendary character. "The reason he's made such an impact on this world was because of who he was outside of baseball," said Michael Cuddyer, who earlier this month said he was going to wear No. 3 with Colorado in honor of Killebrew.

4 RICKY RUBIO ARRIVES WITH THE WOLVES

There are scant few results early after just two regular-season games, but a few nicely placed bounce passes and some badly needed buzz put Rubio -- the Spanish sensation chosen in the 2009 draft -- high on this list. The announcement of his arrival in Minnesota -- along with upgrades such as Derrick Williams and coach Rick Adelman -- brought new life to the Wolves and Target Center.

3 THE VIKINGS LOSE ADRIAN PETERSON TO A TORN ACL IN THE MIDST OF AN AWFUL SEASON

It wasn't bad enough that the Vikings were limping toward one of the worst seasons in franchise history. After all the collapses, Donovan McNabb bounce passes (not the good Rubio kind) and opposing QBs throwing at will, the final blow in 2011 came last weekend when Peterson's 2011 season ended and his 2012 season was jeopardized by a torn ACL.

2 THE LYNX WIN THE WNBA TITLE

The Lynx would have been a nice story any year. But in a 12-month span filled with so much bad news on the local sports scene, their run to the WNBA championship was particularly welcomed by fans. They were clearly the league's best team, and they showed it not only during the regular season but also in the playoffs. How often throughout history has that been written about a Minnesota pro sports team?

1 INJURY-PLAGUED YEAR FOR JOE MAUER SETS THE TONE FOR 99-LOSS TWINS SEASON

As nice as the run was for the Lynx, however, the story we just couldn't escape for so much of 2011 was the mighty fall of the Twins. A mysterious ailment that helped limit Joe Mauer to just 296 at bats (and three homers) was the perfect symbol for a season devoid of victories, accountability and so many other things. It was a year-long nightmare for a three-time batting champ and former MVP as well as a team that won six division titles the previous nine seasons.

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Pittsburgh - LP: F. Liriano 0 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto 4
Tampa Bay - LP: J. Odorizzi 0 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: M. Gonzalez 3
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Hammel 0 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 3
St. Louis - LP: J. Kelly 1 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: W. Peralta 5
NY Mets - WP: D. Gee 5 FINAL
Arizona - LP: B. McCarthy 2
Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran 1 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: C. Lee 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wood 0 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Pineda 2
Cleveland - WP: Z. McAllister 3 FINAL
Detroit - LP: A. Sanchez 2
Washington - WP: D. Storen 6 FINAL
Miami - LP: M. Dunn 3
Seattle - LP: F. Rodney 2 FINAL
Texas - WP: P. Figueroa 3
Boston - WP: C. Capuano 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: L. Garcia 4
Kansas City - WP: D. Duffy 6 FINAL
Houston - LP: J. Williams 4
Toronto 0 Postponed
Minnesota 0
Oakland - LP: D. Pomeranz 4 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: J. Smith 5
Colorado - LP: J. De La Rosa 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: A. Cashner 4
Los Angeles - LP: J. Howell 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Machi 2
Chicago 86 FINAL
Charlotte 91
Indiana 101 FINAL
Orlando 86
Atlanta 111 FINAL
Milwaukee 103
Dallas 105 FINAL
Memphis 106
Detroit 111 FINAL
Oklahoma City 112
Houston 100 FINAL
New Orleans 105
LA Lakers 113 FINAL
San Antonio 100
Brooklyn 85 FINAL
Cleveland 114
Philadelphia 100 FINAL
Miami 87
Utah 136 FINAL
Minnesota 130
Washington 118 FINAL
Boston 102
Toronto 92 FINAL
New York 95
Golden State 116 FINAL
Denver 112
LA Clippers 104 FINAL
Portland 110
Phoenix 104 FINAL
Sacramento 99
Montreal 5 FINAL(OT)
Tampa Bay 4
Columbus 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 4
Dallas 3 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 2

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