Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He previously covered the Minnesota Vikings for four years, starting in 2008. In addition, he covered college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.

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Fan's desire to GIF-wrap all things hockey

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: May 1, 2015 - 11:27 AM

I was covering Game 1 of the Wild-Blues series and with the late start – thanks a ton NHL for those 8:40 p.m. puck drops – I missed a replay of an important play because my head was buried in my laptop writing a column.

A few seconds later, I noticed that someone I follow on twitter happened to retweet a GIF of that particular play, which brought great deadline joy to me.

I mentioned something to our inimitable hockey writer Michael Russo, who told me about Stephanie Vail, who goes by @myregularface on Twitter and spends a remarkable amount of time making GIFs for all things hockey during the season and playoffs.

I decided to contact Vail to find out more about her passion for GIF-making.

Vail is a 28-year-old college student and free-lance contributor to the Boston Bruins blog on Boston.com.

She started making GIFs – short video clips sent out on twitter – last year after she got a MacBook for Christmas. A few friends told her about a GIF-making App and she became hooked.

She’s now sent more than 166,000 tweets and no, that’s not a misprint.

“Well, I had twitter for a long time and I only started doing GIFs last year,” she said. “For the first four years I would just tweet random stuff. That’s what the first 100,000 tweets were.”

Vail’s interest in GIFs – and her twitter following – took off during the Sochi Olympics. She learned that her GIFs became popular with fans and media, and she began doing them for all NHL games, not just Bruins, although that is her job and primary focus.

Vail puts together a GIF recap of Bruins games on Boston.com after every game. Now, she does GIFs for all the playoff games, meaning she sends GIFs all night long.

“The other Saturday it was like 3 p.m. until 1 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “I would be watching hockey anyway so I like doing it because it forces me to pay better attention.”

Vail doesn’t get paid for her time and passion – except when she’s working on Bruins games – but her followers occasionally send her money through a PayPal account.

“Other than that,” she said, “doing it for fun.”

Vail grew up in New Hampshire surrounded by hockey. She didn’t play the sport but she has an older brother who played competitively. She followed the Bruins her entire life.

“I’ve been a hockey fan forever,” she said.

When she first got her MacBook, Vail said it took about 10 minutes for her to make on GIF of a certain play. Now, her GIFs hit twitter about 30 seconds after the play happens.

She has her cable TV hooked up to her MacBook so she’s able to watch games on her computer. She actually has two computers going at one time.

She also uses her parents’ computer and watches one game live and a second game on NHL GameCenter Live.

She monitors both for possible GIFs. What is she looking for?

“Anything that’s interesting,” she said. “Anything worth seeing. Sometimes it’s things that people will want to use in the future like a reaction – a player getting really angry on the bench or celebrating a goal.”

Vail’s GIFs have become popular. She started the season with 3,000 twitter followers, which grew to 8,000 by the end of the regular season and has now reached nearly 13,000.

Many of her followers are media members who consider her a valuable resource because she provides instant replays of key moments that can be cataloged.

Vail said she often gets requests from fans or reporters asking for GIFs of particular plays.

“People will specifically ask if this happened at 5:01 in the first period, can you make a GIF of it,” she said. “I get a lot of requests throughout the night.”

Vail said she angers a team’s fans occasionally with her captions that she attaches to the GIFs.

“I do get a lot of people telling me that I don’t know what I’m talking about,” she said. “I try and stay neutral during playoffs so I don’t make people angry.”

Vail said her most popular GIF in terms of retweets was a video clip of Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson winking. Once TV captured the wink, Vail’s twitter account was bombarded by requests for a GIF.

A number of Wild fans sent her a request for a GIF of Zach Parise’s goal celebration in the Game 6 clincher against the Blues.

Vail said her career goal is to find a job that allows her to make GIFs of the entire league.

I asked if her friends think she’s crazy for spending so much time on the computer watching hockey and making GIFs, especially on nights when the Bruins aren’t playing.

“I’m a college student so I don’t have a lot of money, I don’t go out a lot,” she said. “I love watching hockey. I usually do it anyway. So on Bruins’ off-nights I’m always making GIFs.”

Wild frustrates Blues to take series lead

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: April 20, 2015 - 9:42 PM

The Wild-Blues playoff series was billed as a contrast of styles: speed vs. physical play.

It was no contest on Monday night.

The Wild used its superior speed to frustrate the Blues and make them look slow in a 3-0 victory in Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center.

The Wild won Games 1 and 3 decisively by dictating its desired pace. The Blues' physical play hasn't been much of a factor at all so far in the series, outside of the first period in Game 2.

The Wild took control of Monday's game with a dominating second period. The scoring started when Mikael Granlund blew past Vladimir Tarasenko along the wall that led to a tap-in goal by Jason Pominville.

Zach Parise outworked Jay Bouwmeester for the puck in the slot on his goal to make it 2-0.

That play crystalized the night for both teams. The Wild looked more determined, more desperate and quicker to pucks all game long.

The Blues looked deflated by the Wild's speed.

The Blues managed only 10 shots through two periods and resorted to pushing and extracurricular nonsense after the whistle in the second period.

Hard-throwing Graham pushing to make Twins roster

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: March 24, 2015 - 4:56 PM

FORT MYERS, FLA. – J.R. Graham, a Rule 5 draft pick, doesn’t look like an intimidating presence on the mound. He’s listed generously at 6-0, 210 pounds, though he’s probably more like 5-11.

He’s not big in stature but he has a big arm, and the hard-throwing reliever helped his cause to make the Twins roster by pitching out of an inherited bases loaded jam in the seventh inning Tuesday against Toronto.

Graham came in after Brian Duensing took a line drive off the leg. The bases were loaded with no outs in a tie game, 1-1.

“I just wanted to get out with as little damage as possible,” Graham said.

He cleaned up the mess with no damage after getting a strikeout and a double play to end the inning.

“I loved that,” manager Paul Molitor said. “That kind of got my blood going the right direction.”

Graham allowed three hits and one earned run the next inning. J.D. Williams butchered a play in right field that made the inning worse than it should have been.

“I don’t think I pitched the cleanest that inning,” Graham said. “But I was feeling good. I was going right after people. I wasn’t going to give in. I feel good about everything.”

Graham’s performance this spring has put him in the mix for one of the bullpen jobs. As a Rule 5 pick, the Twins either must keep the 25-year-old Graham on the roster the entire season or offer him back to the Atlanta Braves, his original team.

“If we think a guy has a ceiling, we’ll take care of it, but first he has to make the club,” general manager Terry Ryan said. “It’s tough to carry a Rule 5 guy that doesn’t contribute. We’re hoping that J.R. Graham, if he does pitch well enough this spring, he could give us thoughts of carrying him.”

Graham doesn’t get short-changed on his fastball. His fastball topped out at 96 Tuesday. He hit 100 once as a junior in college and again as a minor leaguer.

“It’s a cool number,” he said. “Not too many people have done it. More people are doing it now. I can say that I’m in that class.”

Graham said he’s always thrown hard, starting in Little League, even though he wasn’t a big kid. Power pitchers, he noted, come “in all shapes and sizes.”

His secret to throwing hard?

“People think I’m crazy when I say this, but the way I learned to throw harder was actually by throwing harder,” he said. “If you want to throw hard, throw hard.”

Um, OK. Seems logical enough.

“When I’m playing catch, I’m not just going to just lob it out there,” he said. “I’m letting it loose every throw. It builds up your arm strength.”

Graham also gained velocity over the years through strength training and running sprints. He said he does 10-yard and 20-yard sprints to increase his explosiveness.

Graham pointed to a large red spot on the outside of his big toe. That’s his sure sign that he’s pushing hard on his delivery and getting maximum velocity on his fastball.

“It’s everything,” he said. “It’s arm strength, it’s leg strength, it’s core strength, it’s total body.”

He also knows that part of throwing that hard comes down to natural talent, too.

“I have been blessed with some good genetics,” he said.

Graham has opened some eyes in camp and looks like he has a decent chance to make the team if he finishes strong.

“I don’t want to go back,” he said. “I want to stay on the team, I want to make the team. I looked at this as my opportunity. I’m planning on staying.”

Peterson situation exhausting but Vikings shouldn't budge

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: March 24, 2015 - 10:39 AM

I have a serious case of Peterson fatigue.

Anyone else?

The rift between the Vikings and Adrian Peterson and his camp continued to grow wider Monday when agent Ben Dogra told reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix that he doesn’t feel it’s in Peterson's best interest to play in Minnesota.

"Why would it be?" he asked.

Peterson’s camp continues to offer up tough rhetoric with the hope that he can force his way out of Minnesota. If I’m the Vikings, I sit and do nothing.

It’s clear that Peterson and his camp are floating his unhappiness at every opportunity because they want to create that fatigue. They want the Vikings to get to a point where they see no alternative but to trade him as soon as possible.

They’re trying to back the Vikings into a corner to a point where the organization throws its hands up and says, “This situation is hopeless. Let’s just move on.”

The Vikings shouldn’t budge UNLESS a team comes in and blows them away with a trade offer. That apparently hasn’t happened yet so why rush into a bad deal?

The Vikings hold all the leverage in this situation. Peterson is under contract for the next few seasons. He’s scheduled to make nearly $13 million this season.

Make him honor his contract for one more season.

Peterson might return disgruntled but I don’t think he would give a half-hearted effort on the football field. That’s not his nature.

He cares too much about his legacy in the game and he’s too competitive to just go through the motions because he’s mad at the Vikings.

He might pout in the locker room or boycott the media, but I’m guessing he has too much respect for Mike Zimmer and his teammates to give less than his best on game day.

Nobody wants an unhappy star player, but the Vikings have to do what’s best for their organization, too. They shouldn’t make a dumb, hasty trade just because Peterson’s camp is trying to orchestrate his exit.

Both sides look like their digging in their heels. This situation could become even uglier and more bizarre than it already is, but unless another team brings an attractive trade offer too good to refuse, the Vikings should give Peterson two options: Play this season or sit.

Kill reflects on bowl decisions, Leidner, future expectations

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: January 5, 2015 - 11:52 AM

Jerry Kill had some free time Saturday morning as he recharged in Florida after the Citrus Bowl so he gave me about 30 minutes for a phone conversation.

We talked about a number of topics. I was critical of Kill’s conservative approach in the final minute before halftime in a 33-17 loss to Missouri so our conversation started with his decision-making in that situation.

Kill wasn’t angry or testy, but he elaborated on why he elected to run out the clock rather than attempt to try and get points with his team trailing 10-7.

“I’ve been doing it for 31 years and I’ve been on two sides of that,” he said. “We’ve done something like that [try and score] and the ball went the other way and it cost us the game. On the other side of it, we’ve done it and been successful. …

“In my opinion, there are times to roll the dice. We had control. We had the ball 19 minutes to their 11 [in time of possession]. They were not dominating us. I felt like we could get right back out and score and be smart.”

Kill said he wasn’t worried about Mitch Leidner throwing as interception as much as he was Leidner getting sacked and possibly fumbling the ball deep in their territory. Leidner lost one fumble on a sack in the first quarter. He lost another fumble in the second half.

Kill said he had a lot of respect for Missouri’s defensive ends, Shane Ray and Markus Golden. In studying the Tigers on film and talking to coaches who have faced them or scouted them, the coaching staff was concerned about taking shots down the field because it would force Leidner to hang onto the ball.

“We did some things protection-wise to help us,” Kill said. “You don’t want to hold onto the ball against those guys. Well, in the situation that we were in, you’re going to have to hold onto the ball because they knew you were going to throw it. …

“When you’re in that two-minute deal, you’ve got to go down the field even with the timeouts we had. It was more about them and us being in control the game. Even though we were down, I felt as a head coach, I felt good. I felt we controlled the game in the first half. …

“If we wouldn’t have turned it over on a sack [earlier] … in a coach’s mind, that plays into it because [what] if that happens again. If we do that and the ball gets knocked out, people are going to go, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s my opinion. It doesn’t have to be yours.”

I still would have preferred Kill take a more aggressive approach in that situation, but I appreciated hearing his explanation and philosophy in more detail.

Kill and his wife Rebecca stayed in Florida for a few days to re-energize before jumping back into the recruiting cycle.

I asked Kill about his expectation for Leidner next season:

Kill: “He’s just like me. I’ve got to take the one step better as a coach and he’s got to continue to grow and take the next step. He’s got to do what [Michigan State’s] Connor Cook did.”

I asked Kill if there’s a chance that redshirt freshman Jacques Perra could challenge Leidner for the job next season.

Kill: “You know what, come back and ask me – a lot of people forget about [Chris] Streveler too – but come back and ask me that question before we start spring. I need to see the offseason. But it will be hard because I think Mitch is going to take that next stride.

“I understand, it’s like people talk about me making decisions. I get that. But I would just tell you that I’ll know a lot more about everything in the spring. But I anticipate that Mitch -- certainly in the bowl game on a big stage, I thought he did a good job. I know what he can do. He’s just got to continue to work.”

I asked Kill if he has an idea of what running back Jeff Jones might bring to the offense. Jones sat out this season to focus on his grade.

Kill: “I know there’s not many athletes that are like that. He is a very, very gifted athlete. We’ll just have a lot more skill players and he’s one of them.

“Isaiah Gentry is 6-4, 205 and has got unbelievable speed. The two guys that people forgot about is Desmond Gant. He is a big, strong, fast kid. Then, Melvin Holland. All three of those kids have got talent out the tail end.

“All of those guys can really, really run. We have not had that since I’ve been here on the offensive side of the ball.”

Finally, I asked Kill about how expectations will be different for his team next season. The Gophers were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten West Division by writers before this season. They will be expected to contend for the division title in preseason opinions.

Kill: “That’s a good thing. If there’s no expectations, that means you’re probably going to get fired. You’re not moving the program forward. I actually think that’s good for our program and it will be good going into the offseason. It’s going to be different. But Minnesota has waited a long time for it to be different.”

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