Bemidji State makes improbable run to Frozen Four

The time is now for the Bemidji State men’s hockey program.

In a story that will receive attention in college hockey circles over the next couple of weeks, the Beavers defeated Cornell on Sunday in the Midwest Regional final to gain a berth in the Frozen Four tournament, which starts April 9 in Washington.

BSU is a team that is just five games above .500. It’s a team that beat a school called Robert Morris in its conference final. It’s a team that got in only for winning its conference, that basically was given the worst seed in a 16-team tournament.

The Beavers aren’t just playing to keep their season alive. Advancing to the final four of college hockey bolsters the program’s viability.

Bemidji State is a member of College Hockey America, a four-team conference that is dissolving after next season. The school has formally applied for acceptance into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, one of the nation’s powerhouse conference which includes the University of Minnesota and University of North Dakota.

Those two teams won’t be in the Frozen Four. In fact, no member of the WCHA is among the four still vying for college hockey’s national championship.

A new 4,000-seat arena being built in Bemidji will be a boost for the school’s chances of getting a spot in the WCHA. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the arena are scheduled for April 3, which should make for a nice celebration between now and the Frozen Four.

The Beavers started 1-6 this season. Prior to facing UND at the midpoint of the season, Bemidji coach Tom Serratore told Grand Forks Herald hockey writer Brad Schlossman his team had been a little "offensively challenged." But with a 5-1 over Notre Dame and a 4-1 over Cornell in the Midwest Regional, it looks like the offense isn’t having any trouble putting the puck in the net.

BSU will make its presentation to the WCHA for admission into the league at the annual college hockey coaches conference next month in Florida. Eight of 10 teams must approve the addition.

It seems unlikely the conference would have an odd number of teams. Maybe another team steps into the fold to make the WCHA an even 12.

But with a new arena coming and a run to the Frozen Four, Bemidji State will be taking its fans on quite a ride of the next couple of weeks.

Flood blends surreal with the all-too-real

From sandbagging on the banks of the Red River to day-to-day tasks like driving to work, life in Fargo-Moorhead hasn’t been the same lately.

Hopefully, the sound of choppers flying over your head or the sight of military Humvees driving past aren’t things I’ll get used to.

Hearing and seeing those types of things is surreal. It’s like being in a movie – like Outbreak or Dreamcatcher - or something.

But when you’re in a "chain gang" of sandbaggers building a dike to try to save the south Moorhead house of someone who before that day was a complete stranger, you’re suddenly faced with an all-too-sobering reality.

This wasn’t – and isn’t – going to be easy. And while the Red River is slowly dropping, you can’t really use the past tense in the previous statement.

It ain’t over yet. It’s far from over.

I’m optimistic the worst is behind us, yet my heart aches for those who have lost their homes and for those who continue to battle lingering flood waters. Since I’m not a homeowner, I can’t even imagine what those feeling must be like.

Good luck to all who continue to battle.

I took some photos while I was taking care of some business at the Moorhead Center Mall this weekend. Here are a few if you are interested:

Coste appears to have big league job

The Philadelphia Phillies traded catcher Ronny Paulino to the San Francisco Giants last night, pretty much securing a big league job for Chris Coste.

Coste – a Fargo native and former Concordia College and F-M RedHawks standout – was battling with Paulino for the backup catcher job behind starter Carlos Ruiz.

Coste has had a difficult spring, battling injury which limited his playing time.

The Giants ended up trading Paulino to the Florida Marlins immediately after acquiring him. There was actually a story earlier this offseason that the Marlins were interested in Coste.

In other RedHawks news, it appears Jon Weber – a former RedHawks player – will not make the Tampa Bay Rays team this season. No big surprise there. I mention it because there was a nice story about him in the Bradenton Herald earlier this week. Maybe Weber can get that elusive call-up this season.

The flood fight unites all

Prior to my Wednesday night duties on the sports desk, I ventured out with a couple of my co-workers to north Fargo to help with sandbags for building dikes.

I’m not going to call it a silver lining, but I’m just going to say it was really refreshing to see people of all walks of life working together to help out a "neighbor" that many had never met.

We basically followed a sandbag truck until it stopped at a house Wednesday and joined a sandbag "chain gang" that was building a dike along the Red River.

I’m sure a lot of people were like myself, having no idea who they were helping. But there we all were. People young and old. Children who are probably in junior high school working alongside much more veteran sandbaggers. And a lot of high school and college kids.

As someone who works in sports, I couldn’t help but notice all of the area athletes. There were a number of Concordia football players who joined our chain gang Wednesday, helping to loosen up those frozen bags. The only thing more grueling than passing sandbags down a line is passing frozen sandbags.

But there we all were, a group of strangers united with one goal in mind.

Back at it again tomorrow I’m sure.

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A couple links to share

I’ve got a couple of links to share that I’m finally getting around to.

The New York Times had an interesting story a couple weeks ago about big cities going from multiple newspapers down to one and what the next step could be. The editor of Minnesota news Web site Minnpost.com acknowledged that losing newspapers is a huge blow to the industry and Web-only sites like Minnpost simply can’t replace what you get from newspapers.

The graphic on the left side of the story shows how newspapers with at least 50,000 daily circulation are doing. The Forum is one of just a couple that’s actually listed as having growing circulation.

Also, a writer for Minnesota Monthly had to "out-Sid Sid" but was finally able to complete a feature story on longtime Twin Cities columnist Sid Hartman. It’s a really good piece. Make sure to check that one out.

WBC poses challenge for teams relying on MLB

Japan and Korea are currently playing for the World Baseball Classic title tonight. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as Japan is the defending champ and Korea is enjoying its second straight strong WBC showing.

Last night’s USA loss in the semifinals leaves a guy wondering what went wrong. Anything can happen when it’s one-and-done. Is it just that the USA wasn’t good enough to win?

Well, yes. That’s true, on that particular night.

But it would be nice to see a better team on the field. USA’s offense was very productive throughout the WBC, but the pitching left something to be desired.

Four pitchers made starts for Team USA: Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, Ted Lilly and Jeremy Guthrie.

Peavy’s a great pitcher. Oswalt is very good. Lilly and Guthrie are solid good major leaguers. But are these really the four best starting pitchers the USA has to offer?

Certainly, Peavy is at least in the argument. But no Tim Lincecum? CC Sabathia? Cliff Lee? Cole Hamels?

Even dominant American bullpen guys like Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon didn’t play for USA.

It’s every baseball-loving American child’s dream to grow up and win the World Series. And I think as long as the WBC is held prior to the Major League Baseball season, players aren’t going to place any sort of priority to it.

Bison-Kansas: Let’s look back at upsets past

Anyone I am friends with or work with will tell you I love the underdog. So when it comes to the NCAA tournament, nothing beats the first two rounds. That’s when the underdog shines.

Let’s keep in mind that teams don’t make George Mason runs very often. Typically, the underdog shines in the first two rounds, making the Sweet 16 before the run ends.

There wasn’t much by way of big upsets on Day 1 (No. 12 Western Kentucky beat No. 5 Illinois, but 12s beat 5s quite a bit).

But who knows what Day 2 will bring. All eyes in Fargo will be on the No. 14 seed North Dakota State taking on No. 3 seed Kansas at 11:30 a.m.

Who knows? Odds are the Jayhawks will win, but that’s the beauty of the NCAA tournament.

Just in the last 10 or 12 years, I can remember No. 14 seed Weber State beating No. 3 seed North Carolina. Or No. 15 seed Hampton shocking No. 2 Iowa State. No. 14 Bucknell defeating No. 3 Kansas. Or even a couple years ago when No. 14 Northwestern State stunned No. 3 Iowa (see below).

 

And that’s why I watch. Even if it’s not NDSU, I hope to see a big upset on Day 2.

Tourney field seems top-heavy

I was filling out my NCAA tournament bracket, and I found it really difficult to not put the top seeds in the Final Four.

There just doesn’t seem to be that many Final Four challengers beyond the top seeds. Of course, that will all change once the tournament begins and teams get hot. But right now, probably for the first time in the 12 or 13 years I’ve had filling out a bracket, I can’t pick any team but No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. It’s easily the least interesting bracket I’ve filled out.

The two No. 2 seeds I could see doing damage are Oklahoma and Memphis, but I just don’t see North Carolina and UConn, respectively, losing to them.

In fact, in one of my bigger upsets, I got No. 6 seed Marquette reaching the Elite Eight out of the UConn/Memphis region. I really like Marquette this year. Great guard play.

I didn’t take the Gophers or Bison to win. No big surprise, I’m sure. Not too many 14 seeds win, and I just think Kansas has too many athletes for the Bison to try and match up with.

As for the Gophers, as I’ve stated before, this team really lacks scoring punch. They just don’t seem to have anyone who can score a bucket down the stretch when they really need one.

And finally, I got the Tar Heels winning it all. Really went out on a limb, huh?

What does everyone else think? Is Tyler Hansbrough (aka Psycho-T, "The media’s Hardest Working Player in College Basketball") going to lead the Heels to the title?

F-M spring training update

A number of players with ties to the Fargo-Moorhead area are competing in spring training. Here’s a look at how they’re doing. Feel free to leave a comment if I missed someone.

  • Chris Coste, Phillies catcher: Fargo native and former Concordia and Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks player has gotten just five at-bats this spring, going hitless. He’s battled some tightness in his hamstring this spring that has limited his playing time. He’s battling for the backup catcher job with Ronny Paulino, who is hitting 3-for-15 with a homer.
  • Darin Erstad, Astros outfielder: Jamestown, N.D., product is hitting 8-for-28 (.286) with three RBIs so far this spring.
  • Travis Hafner, Indians designated hitter: Sykeston, N.D., product is 3-for-15 with a double and two RBIs in Spring Training. Hafner is coming off an injury-plagued 2008 season.
  • Jon Weber, Rays outfielder: The former Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks player is 9-for-25 (.360) with a homer and 10 RBIs. Weber is expected to open the season at Triple-A. However, playing time has opened up for him since B.J. Upton is recovering from injury and Fernando Perez is out three months.
  • Casey Benjamin, Rangers infielder: Former West Fargo High School player is 0-for-4 with four strikeouts this spring. Benjamin played last season at Texas’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.

Random notes on Twins

I watched quite a bit of today’s Minnesota Twins spring training against the Florida Marlins while I was out to lunch at a local bar/restaurant establishment, though let’s face it, this time of year it’s hard to watch baseball when there’s March Madness hoops.

Thanks to the MLB Network, I’ve seen the Twins play a few times this spring. Here’s a few things – between watching games and looking at stats – that I’ve noticed:

  • First observation: Jose Mijares is H-U-G-E! Wow. He was a big guy last year, but the Twins lefty reliever is looking very Rich "El Guapo" Garces-like right now. He had a rough outing today. I don’t think he’s making this bullpen, which I know would surprise a lot of people.

"He came back in a shape," Gardenhire told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

  • Joe Crede looks like he needs some more at-bats before getting the timing back on his swing. Today, it seemed like he was swinging late a lot, and that’s against guys like Leo Nunez who don’t throw particularly hard.
  • On the other hand, Brian Buscher is one of a handful of Twins who is off to a good start. Now, keep in mind, we’re talking a limited number of at-bats. But still, I’d rather have a guy succeed with a handful of at-bats than not. Buscher is 9-for-20 this spring and tied with Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez for the team-high of five RBIs.
  • Speaking of Gomez, the Twins enigmatic outfielder is showing off a little bit of pop this spring. He leads the team with three homers. You have to wonder if this is sort of a Willie Mays Hayes, "Give me 20 push-ups every time you hit the ball in the air" situation. I’m joking, of course. I think now that Gomez isn’t hitting in the top two spots in the batting order, it’s not really a problem to have him grow at his own rate rather than force anything upon him.
  • And finally, the prospects. Those garnering the most attention with their spring outings are Danny Valencia, Wilson Ramos and Dustin Martin. Valencia and Ramos are home-grown prospects who the Twins regard as their third baseman and catcher of the future, respectively. Martin, on the other hand, suddenly finds himself in a logjam of Twins outfield prospects. He was acquired by the Twins in 2007 from the New York Mets in the Luis Castillo trade. The Mets-Johan Santana trade may not be off to a great start, but the Mets-Castillo trade looks like it’s working out a little better.