Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK.
This really is the state of hockey. It's not just a self-serving slogan.
There are two Minnesotas when it comes to winter sports. There are regions of the state where basketbal rules, and there are those where every backyard holds a homemade rink.
This winter, this is the state of...you know.
The Wild is on a remarkable run that will lead to a bound-to-be-compelling playoff.
Gopher men's hockey has righted itself and made the NCAA tournament, where it will face Minnesota-Duluth and share a field with No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato and St. Cloud State.
Gopher women's hockey won its third title in four years on Sunday at Ridder Arena. (My piece on goalie Amanda Leveille is here).
Meanwhile, the Gopher basketball team did not make even the NIT, and the Wolves, for all the promise of Andrew Wiggins, are currently unwatchable.
So, until further notice, this is the state of hockey - a state filled with great arenas and great teams.
Tonight my guest will be former St. John's quarterback, keen football observer and relentless world traveler Tom Linnemann, at 5 p.m. at The Local on SouhanUnfiltered.com. We're going to talk about Peterson, Bridgewater, Zimmer, the draft, Melrose's state title in basketball (Tom's an alum), and what it was like for him to surf in Australia, or slum in Viet Nam, or live in Toronto, or return to Minnesota. I guarantee a great conversation.
You can drop by or listen live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
Keep getting asked why it's such a big deal that the Patriots deflated footballs.
The questions I'm hearing:
-Why does it matter?
-Is it really an advantage?
-Isn't it just because the Patriots win, and nobody likes Belichick?
These questions are irrelevant.
If you cork your bat and strike out, you still corked your bat. If you take steroids and fail to perform, you still took steroids.
And there is a benefit to deflating footballs. It makes them easier to throw and catch. And if the Patriots knew they were going to play with deflated footballs, I'm sure they practiced with them all week.
The Patriots would have beaten the Colts with any form of ball in play. That doesn't mean they didn't cheat, or shouldn't be punished for cheating.
Ricky Rubio is belatedly becoming in danger of being not only a draft bust, but a contract mistake.
He's been out for months with a sprained ankle. He does not appear close to returning. It's time for the young man to act like he cares about playing basketball.
The best thing that could happen to the Wolves at this point would be further tests on his ankle that reveal something more serious is wrong. Otherwise, this is the worst sprained ankle in sports history - or Rubio isn't particularly interested in playing basketball and fulfilling his contract.
After their comebacks fell short against Ohio State and Iowa, Gophers players were crushed. They had played brilliantly late in the game to force dramatic endings.
Today, if they're still talking about being one shot away from a victory, they should be ignored.
They were within a shot of Nebraska last night because Nebraska played horribly all night. The Gophers lost because they played even worse. That wasn't a dramatic loss - it was a horrific loss. Neither team deserved to win.
That might have been the most important game of the season. Had the Gophers won, they would havre moved to 2-5. They would have had a two-game winning streak, with an easy upcoming schedule. They could have made a strong move toward .500.
Now they're just a lousy team in a mediocre league.
Tonight at 5 p.m. at Kieran's Irish Pub, great local rocker G.B. Leighton will be my guest for my podcast at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
Thursday at 3 p.m., Strib hockey writer Michael Russo will be my guest. Friday at 5 p.m. at O'Gara's, USA Today football writer Tom Pelissero will be my guest. Monday at 5 p.m. at The Local, Twins president Dave St. Peter will be my guest.
Thanks in advance to all of these people who have been so generous with their time. You can listen to the podcasts live, or anytime later, at the website.
And thanks for listening.
Andrew Wiggins still doesn't show much emotion on court. He still doesn't look like he's always passionately engaged with playing in the NBA. But let's stop looking at body language and look at results. The kid is playing at a remarkably high level for a rookie, especially one at his age.
He's scored 20 points or more in five straight games. Last night, against Phoenix, he was remarkably efficient, scoring 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting and making four of his five free throws.
He's increasingly willing to drive into the heart of a defense, and to be the Wolves' go-to scorer.
Yes, the Wolves have lost 13 straight, and yes, Ricky Rubio may take two or three more years to come back from an ankle sprain, but the most important person in the Wolves' organization is Wiggins, and he's starting to perform like a budding star.
The Wolves drew a small crowd for an 8:30 start on a freezing night, but at least a few fans were there to chant ``R-O-Y'' - meaning rookie of the year - when Wiggins went to the line late in the game.
While my appreciation of Wiggins grows, I'm having trouble watching Thad Young play. He's Kevin Love Lite - he can amass a certain number of points and rebounds, but his defense is horrid.
At 3 p.m. today Strib hockey writer Michael Russo and I will run a live podcast from the XCel Energy Center press box. We'll talk about the passing of J.P. Parise, and the predicament in which the Wild finds itself, plus the usual music, pop-culture and other-sport nonsense. You can listen live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
Haven't done Local Power Rankings for a while, so this week's ranking should look far different from the last.
We now have good teams in town. And promising teams. And interesting teams. Today's LPR, which ranks the local high-profile revenue sports based on current performance and promise:
1. Minnesota Lynx
Going for back-to-back. Sometimes I leave the Lynx out of the rankings because they seem to be in a different category. They play in a small league that is subsidized by NBA owners. But let's give the Lynx credit for making it to the Finals for the second straight year while playing an entertaining style.
2. Minnesota Vikings
I thought this team would win five or six games, and that this season would be about making sure they had the right quarterback and coach in place. I was half right.
This team could still stumble, of course, but it should no longer look at any game on the schedule as unwinnable, and the work Frazier and his staff did in their first full offseason together has yielded a smart, well-run team. Christian Ponder and Bill Musgrave are far better at their jobs today than they were a year ago.
3. Gopher hockey
This team should be a powerhouse. You're on notice, Mr. Lucia.
4. Gopher basketball
This team should be a powerhouse. You're on notice, Mr. Smith.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
This might be the most entertaining and intriguing team in town, and if Ricky Rubio were healthy, this team might be playing for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. As it is, the roster is vastly improved, Rick Adelman is getting to run his first full training camp, and I expect Kevin Love to find some way to improve on last year's remarkable performance.
6. Gopher football
Losing to Iowa on the road isn't shameful. This team still has a chance to go to a bowl, or at least establish that Jerry Kill has made improvements in his second season.
7. Minnesota Twins
I know, I know, they stink. They stunk in 2011 and they stunk again last year. But you can't accuse them of not making changes. In the last year, they've changed GMs, a handful of coaches, their head athletic trainer, their Triple-A manager and a few behind-the-scenes positions.
In Terry Ryan's first offseason of his second tenure, he hit home runs with Josh Willingham, Jared Burton and Ryan Doumit, and got good value out of Jamey Carroll. He hasn't fixed the biggest problem, which is pitching, but he's earned the benefit of the doubt.
8. Minnesota Wild
The easy thing to say is that the NHL can't afford a lockout, that they're damaging their product.
But is that the way the NHL works? Or will hockey fans always return to the rink?
I think the latter. So while the lockout isn't a good thing for anyone, let's not pretend that the X is going to be empty when the bickering ends.
-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey to talk Vikings and Twins moves. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
-Amazing what some people think they read and hear.
On Sunday Sports Talk on 1500espn yesterday, I did not say I thought it was a good thing that Terry Ryan was firing people. I said it was proof that the perception that he's overly loyal to his employees is false, that he frequently makes moves, and that he's as loyal to people moving their way up through the organization as he is to the people who hold their current positions.
Kevin Love is embracing his role, perhaps embracing it better than any Wolves player since Sammy Cassell.
Against a good team, and a good defensive team, Love struggled for three quarters against Philadelphia. Then he won the game. He took over offensively, and he took the ball with a little more than three seconds left and his team down one, drove, drew the foul, hit the free throws and won the game.
As he has improved almost monthly over the last two seasons, Love has erased the reasons for doubting that he can be a superstar.
He's scoring like a superstar. He's rebounding like a superstar. He passes better than most superstars. He's improved defensively. And now he's leading his team.
This was a big victory for the Wolves, who only a handful of days ago looked like they had hit a wall.
Love, Rubio and Pekovich have all exceeded expectations this season. That's quite a compliment to Love, who faced high expectations coming in.
Covered the Wild game today, and wrote about Chad Rau's crazy day and his game-winning goal for the Monday paper.
I was left with this impression: Mike Yeo is not crazy. Sometimes he sounds a little wacky because he's so talkative and during this losing streak he's been so desperate to change his team's fortunes.
But every time I've been around him, I've liked him, and found him to be honest and blunt. Let's face it, no coach sounds good when his team is losing. This was an impressive win today, though, beating the defending Stanley Cup champs a day after looking like dogs in St. Louis.
I don't see this as a playoff team anymore, but I still believe, despite all of the struggles the last two years, that the braintrust of Leipold, Fletcher and Yeo has a chance to produce a winner in St. Paul sometime soon.
The reactions to my Joe Mauer column today were predictable. Many emailed to say they liked it. Some even took it to an extreme and attacked Mauer in ways I never would. Some criticized me for writing it, or for the way in which I wrote it.
I appreciate the feedback, and I'll answer a few FAQ's here:
-I don't write headlines. I didn't call him ``Clueless Joe,'' the headline writer did.
-No, I couldn't get anyone to go on the record criticizing Mauer. So I went through the team media guide, counting all of the people I've spoken with about Mauer since last summer. I counted 18 people who are either in key positions or who know Mauer well. Of those 18 people, 15 were either disgusted or confused by Mauer's demeanor. Three defended him, by saying he didn't know how to deal with his ailments or how to explain his predicament to the public.
But the people I've known the longest and trust the most expressed severe disappointment with Mauer, both because he did not seem in a rush to take the field, and because he didn't see anything wrong with his approach.
I think one possible excuse for Mauer could be that he feels he was misled or given poor advice by medical people employed by or used by the Twins, and was worried that playing with pain would cause reinjury. But he's never said that.
Maybe he can't say that.
But for every person who tried to find a way to defend Mauer, a bunch of other people just thought he didn't understand how important he is or how symbolic he is, now that he's a $184-million player.
-Thanks to all the people who wrote to say ``You'll never get another Joe Mauer interview!''
I don't think newspapers do a good job of explaining the different roles of different writers. Beat writers are employed to cover teams, to provide news and analysis. Sometimes they write opinion, but usually it's their job to simply cover the team.
I'm an opinion columnist. It's my job to write opinion, to write bluntly. Not always: I also write features and soft stories and nice columns. But I feel I owe readers my honest opinion, whether that opinion will please my editors or alienate readers or not. After talking with people about Mauer all winter - and in light of conversations I had myself with Mauer - this is a perspective I thought was important for our coverage of the Twins.
True, Joe probaby won't want to talk to me now. That's OK. If I wrote opinions only to endear myself to athletes and coaches, I wouldn't be doing my job.
-No, I don't hate Joe Mauer. I generally like him. I've been covering him since he was in high school. I like his family and friends a lot, although I'm sure they aren't pleased with me right now.
-How do I think he'll do this year? My guess is he'll bounce back and hit .330 and catch about 110 games. He's very capable of doing that for the next five years.
But that won't change the fact that, in my opinion, he did not fulfill the requirements of being a franchise player last summer.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Monday. I'm heading to spring training this week and will be in Fort Myers for a while. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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