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RandBall: Watching one of the greatest Gophers games (that never happened)

bobbyHere are all the things I remember about the Gophers men’s basketball team defeating Michigan 55-54 on Feb. 26, 1997 — 20 years ago Sunday — to clinch the Big Ten title.

*I was there. That’s important. I was the beat reporter covering Gophers men’s hockey at The Minnesota Daily that season, but the game was big enough that we sent two writers — myself and beat writer Todd Zolecki, who now covers the Phillies, along with a photographer — to a Wednesday night game in Ann Arbor. Lest you think this meant three plane tickets, think again. We drove, as usual, the 10 hours to Michigan.

*The game itself was kind of dull for a while and wasn’t at all going Minnesota’s way. Despite entering the game 24-2, the Gophers trailed the Wolverines by eight points with 10 minutes to play and still by four points with two minutes to play. But Bobby Jackson (who else) saved the day. I remember him hitting a baseline jumper to tie the game in the final minute. Then, as Michigan tried to hold for the final shot, fellow guard Eric Harris dove for a steal and knocked the ball to Jackson, who was fouled. He made one free throw with 2.9 seconds left, providing the final slim margin.

*The memory of covering this game is about as strong as any other game I’ve ever covered. Right up there: Game 163 at the Metrodome in 2009 and Game 2 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium in 2004 (when the Twins had a chance to take a 2-0 series lead but lost in extra innings). It stands out not only because of the frantic finish but also because of these work-related points: 1) After the game, Zolecki and I each had about 45 minutes to write one story each (his the game story, mine the sidebar) and combine on another story comprised of notes from the game. These days, that would feel like plenty of time. As a college journalist who didn’t often work on deadline (covering hockey, with no web responsibilities and a Monday-Friday publishing schedule, our game stories from the weekend series didn’t appear until Monday’s paper), it felt like a nanosecond. 2) The Daily’s modem connection for sending in stories remotely was often tenuous at best. But somehow, some way, we not only wrote our stories but magically sent them from Michigan to Minnesota. I still remember talking to Quincy Lewis, a sophomore on the team, about some trash-talking the Wolverines had done. “That was like throwing gasoline on the fire,” he said, as I practically sprinted out of the victorious interview area to write my story.

*Remember, this was a year before the Big Ten added a postseason tournament. The regular-season title was the only one up for grabs. The Gophers claimed it for the first time in 15 years, and tough wins like the one at Michigan were the hallmark of that Final Four team.

*Because we were crazy, we drove back from Michigan the night after the game, arriving back in Minneapolis around 8 a.m. Thursday. I can’t remember if I went to class that day. I do remember it rained on our drive back, and it was so hard at one point that Zolecki, driving, turned off the wipers because they were so useless and declared he was just going to “use the force” to get us home. Hey, we made it.

*I don’t know if you can compare any Gophers team before or after that one to the 1996-97 squad. But I will say this year’s team has a flair for the dramatic and a defensive spirit that the team of 20 years ago would have to admire.

*Whenever people mention the 1996-97 Final Four eventually having to be vacated by the academic fraud scandal, I tend to think of that game at Michigan. You can wipe out record books, but you can’t wipe out memories. I will never forget that game and that team.

Out 40 years, 'Slap Shot' still resonates with players half that age

slapshot“Slap Shot,” the greatest hockey movie ever made and the most memorable sports movie ever made, was released in theaters on Feb. 25, 1977 — otherwise known as 40 years ago exactly as of Saturday.

Sure, the parts about “greatest” and “most memorable” are the stuff of debate, but I make those declarations as someone who didn’t even play hockey growing up. I encountered the movie for the first time at a neighbor’s house at around age 8 (I’m the same age as the movie, plus a few months). By now, thanks to hockey-loving friends and a genuine love of the movie, counting the number of viewings would be impossible.

As the movie about the ragtag bunch of minor league players for the Charlestown Chiefs aged, though, this thought crept in: does the younger generation — particularly hockey players — have the same reverence for the movie as those past? Could millennials relate to [redacted] machines taking quarters and brawling players putting on the foil?

I’m happy to report from a small but meaningful sample size — a Gophers men’s hockey locker room filled with players half the movie’s age — that “Slap Shot” is alive, well and still quoted with abundance.

Tyler Sheehy, a Gophers sophomore from Burnsville, said the movie was on a couple weekends ago when Minnesota was on a road trip.

“The team was in our hotel room, and on the team group chat, a message went out that ‘Slap Shot’ was on whatever channel it was, and so all the guys started watching,” Sheehy said. “It’s an awesome movie, and it’s great that it’s still part of hockey.”

Teammate Justin Kloos, a senior from Lakeville, agreed. He and road roommate Eric Schierhorn immediately put the movie on after getting the group message. But it was hardly the first time he had seen it.

“A lot of the dads passed it down. It was one of the first hockey movies they showed us when we were younger,” Kloos said. “We still think it’s funny. We’ve watched it multiple times at our house with the guys and still laugh at all the great parts.”

Kloos said the team will go on streaks where “Slap Shot” quotes are tossed about freely in the locker room.

“There’s not one line that stands out, but there are a lot of Ogie Ogilthorpe jokes,” he said, referring to one of the memorable goon characters in the movie. “I was a Hanson brother for probably four or five straight years for Halloween. We go in streaks with the quotes. If we watch it with a bunch of guys, we’ll quote it for a couple of months.”

Sheehy said part of the appeal is that there just aren’t a lot of great hockey movies. He checked off the Big Three — “Slap Shot,” “The Mighty Ducks” and “Miracle,” adding that there are “definitely not enough.” Kloos said players “try to incorporate ‘Happy Gilmore’” into their movie rotation “because there aren’t enough great hockey movies.”

More than anything, though, “Slap Shot” is just a hilarious hockey movie that really gets to the heart of the sport and the locker room.

“When you’re in locker room with 20 guys for a full year, there is going to be a lot of humor,” Sheehy said. “You’ll have those three guys that are goofballs. It resonates with the team and that kind of brotherhood.”

Said Kloos: “You rarely say nice things to each other, but that’s why we love each other. We build chemistry by making fun of each other.”

He paused for a moment and then added, “I’ll love that movie until the day I die.”

And that’s how a movie lives on.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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  • Miami at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Los Angeles at Wild

    7 pm on NBCSN, 100.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Sacramento

    9:30 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Tampa Bay at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Wild at Winnipeg

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Pittsburgh at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Utah

    8 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Twins at Baltimore (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Gophers women's basketball vs. Penn State

    5:30 pm on BTN

  • Wild at Columbus

    6 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Nebraska at Gophers men's basketball

    6 pm on ESPN, 1500-AM

  • Twins at Philadelphia (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Michigan

    5:30 pm on ESPNEWS, 1500-AM

  • Minnesota United FC at Portland

    8:30 pm on FS1

  • Toronto at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Gophers women's hockey vs. UMD

    5:07 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Michigan

    7:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Twins at Washington (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Wisconsin at Gophers men's basketball

    5 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

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Today's Scoreboard

  • Houston

    Atlanta

     

    - F

    3

    2

  • Pittsburgh

    Baltimore

     

    - F

    3

    8

  • Washington

    Minnesota

     

    - F

    2

    5

  • Toronto

    NY Yankees

     

    - F

    2

    7

  • Miami

    St. Louis

     

    - F

    4

    7

  • Boston

    Tampa Bay

     

    - F

    3

    7

  • Philadelphia

    Toronto

     

    - F

    10

    3

  • Detroit

    NY Mets

     

    - F

    2

    5

  • Cleveland

    Chicago Cubs

     

    - F

    1

    1

  • Colorado

    Chicago White Sox

     

    - F

    3

    7

  • San Francisco

    Cincinnati

     

    - F

    9

    5

  • Texas

    Kansas City

     

    - F

    6

    4

  • LA Dodgers

    Milwaukee

     

    - F

    10

    8

  • LA Angels

    Oakland

     

    - F

    5

    3

  • Arizona

    Colorado

     

    - F

    1

    6

  • San Diego

    Seattle

     

    - F

    2

    13

No NFL games today

  • Phoenix

    Milwaukee

     

    - F

    96

    100

  • San Antonio

    LA Lakers

     

    - F

    119

    98

  • Memphis

    Denver

     

    - F

    105

    98

  • Utah

    Washington

     

    - F

    102

    92

  • Boston

    Detroit

     

    - F

    104

    98

  • Portland

    Toronto

     

    - F

    106

    112

  • New Orleans

    Oklahoma City

     

    - F

    110

    118

  • Charlotte

    LA Clippers

     

    - F

    121

    124

  • Boston

    Dallas

     

    - F

    6

    3

  • Calgary

    Carolina

     

    - F

    3

    1

  • Edmonton

    Nashville

     

    - F

    4

    5

  • Columbus

    NY Rangers

     

    - F

    5

    2

  • St. Louis

    Chicago

     

    - F

    2

    4

  • Ottawa

    Florida

     

    - F

    2

    1

  • Buffalo

    Arizona

     

    - F

    2

    3

No MLS games today