Grandma’s Marathon: 4 Days to Go

       The Grandma’s Marathon weekend is nearly here, headed by the 34th Grandma’s Marathon and 20th Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon on Satuday. The 17th William A. Irvin 5K is Friday.

      The final entry numbers for 2010 are: Grandma’s Marathon 7,387 (4,493 men, 2,894 women); Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon 6,876 (2,969 men, 3,907 women); and William A. Irvin 5K 1,653 (643 men, 1,010 women). The marathon total is down 1,000 from 2009, while the half-marathon and 5K totals are record numbers.

      Wednesday’s News Tribune race story focused on volunteers and is here. A Tuesday story profiled half-marathoner Fernando Cabada is here. Monday’s story looked at three runners who have milestone resumes of 100 marathons here. And Sunday we looked at how international professional athletes obtain visas to come to the United States to run here.

      Next to be profiled will be three-time defending Grandma’s Marathon champion Mark Akor of Hawthorne, Calif., on Thursday, and defending men’s champion and Minnesota native Christopher Raabe of Washington, D.C., on Friday.

Jessica Wong Honored

     Minnesota Duluth freshman forward Jessica Wong was honored recently as the Nova Scotia team female athlete of the year. Here is a UMD release:

After scoring a goal to win an NCAA title in triple-overtime and two goals to earn an Under-22 Women’s World Championship gold, Jessica Wong was bound to be noticed.

The MInnesota Duluth freshman forward was recently named Nova Scotia’s Female Team Athlete of the Year by Sport Nova Scotia.  The Ricoh Sport Awards recognize the achievements of Nova Scotia’s elite athletes, teams, coaches, officials and volunteers in amateur sport over the past year. Wong, of Baddeck, Nova Scotia, compiled 31 points in 41 games this past season in her Bulldog debut, netting 15 goals and 16 assists.  The rookie scored with just 34 seconds remaining in UMD’s third overtime with Cornell on March 21, securing UMD’s NCAA-best fifth national championship.  Her two goals helped Canada clinch the Under-22 gold medal at the World Championships in January.

“Every year I am humbled by what these Nova Scotians have achieved,” said Jamie Ferguson, CEO of Sport Nova Scotia. “In many cases, they have represented our province nationally and internationally and experienced great success.”

Bobby Hull: Enjoying the Stanley Cup

     This Associated Press story from Wednesday on Bobby Hull and his advice to the Chicago Blackhawks before their Stanley Cup-clinching victory over Philadelphia:

Associated Press

Chicago — It wasn’t until decades later, after his son Brett won it all, that Bobby Hull finally got to drink out of a Stanley Cup.

At a golf event, not after a clincher. And his shoulders were so bad he couldn’t lift it.

So as the Chicago Blackhawks neared their first championship in 49 years, Hull had some advice: "Take advantage of it now," he said.

Hull couldn’t help but think back to when he and Stan Mikita led the way to Chicago’s last Stanley Cup, in 1961.

The Golden Jet was a "22-year-old snotty nosed kid" who thought this was going to be one of many when Chicago beat Detroit, and he didn’t embrace the moment the way he should have.

"I should have really enjoyed and wallowed in it and drank champagne from it, even though there were babies that sat in it and peed and pooped in it," Hull said. "I should have been more a part of it."

At least he feels a part of this one.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Blackhawks were seen as an out-of-touch organization that had alienated a once-loyal fan base under late owner Bill Wirtz. But now?

"It’s like old home week," Mikita said.

It seems hard to believe that just a few years ago, losses were piling up. Most home games were not on TV. Crowds were dwindling. Legends such as Hull, Mikita and Tony Esposito were estranged from the organization, but everything started to change three years ago.

Bill Wirtz died and his son Rocky replaced him as chairman in October 2007, and it quickly became clear that the son’s Blackhawks were nothing like the father’s.

He started televising home games, moved longtime executive Bob Pulford out of hockey operations, and hired Cubs president John McDonough to fill a similar role with the Blackhawks, bringing his marketing touch and an encouraging nudge to reconnect with the past.

The Blackhawks rehired popular broadcaster Pat Foley and brought back Hull, Mikita and Esposito as club ambassadors. They did the same for Denis Savard only weeks after he was replaced as coach by Joel Quenneville four games into last season, easing a messy situation.

"It was just a different atmosphere right from Day 1," said Esposito, the Hall of Fame goalie who helped the Blackhawks reach the Stanley Cup finals twice in the early 1970s. "He just decided to clean out the old regime, a lot of personnel, and start fresh." And the wins started piling up, too.

Young stars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane re-energized the franchise, and key additions like Marian Hossa last summer helped push them into the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1992.

"I’m just happy that the team has come back so far," Esposito said. "They went through many years there where … you’d just shake your head. You just shook your head the way the franchise was being handled."

Hull, Chicago’s career leader with 604 goals in 15 seasons, left the Blackhawks for the World Hockey Association’s Winnipeg Jets in 1972 after an acrimonious contract negotiation with Bill Wirtz, and the ill will continued to build over the years.

Chicago claimed him when the NHL absorbed four WHA teams, including Winnipeg, in 1979, but Pulford left him unprotected and the Jets reclaimed him.

Although the Blackhawks retired his No. 9 in 1983, the bad feelings continued. Bobby Hull resented that the Hawks failed to acquire son Brett Hull on several occasions, including when he was a free agent, and there was another issue that had to be cleared up — his reputation.

He took a big hit when he allegedly told a reporter that Hitler "had some good ideas, but went too far," and it took years to live down that comment.

Now, he’s back in the fold, something he never would have envisioned five years ago.

"I’m sure that I burned all the bridges that there were to be burned when I left in ’72," he said. "All I could do from then on was be on the outside looking in."

He said he reached out to Bill Wirtz and son Peter over the years and had several meetings with them, but nothing ever came of that.

"I tried to show them how to fill the building, but they wouldn’t listen to me," he said. "They thought that I was going to get something out of it that I didn’t deserve. And it was just exactly what Rocky did. I said, ‘Guys, all you need to do is hold a press conference, tell the people that I’m back in the fold and that we’re catering to them. We’re going to try to put together a better team for them to watch and they’d come out of the woodwork.’"

He said Rocky Wirtz "has more on the ball in one minute" than his father had "in his lifetime," and Hull rates the last three years among the best of his life.

He looks at the current group and sees the potential for a dynasty, something he thought he would be part of all those years ago.

He never did drink out of the cup when the Blackhawks beat Detroit for the championship in 1961. He did, however, drink beer out of team vice president Michael Wirtz’s "dirty old felt hat" and "got sicker than a pig."

The only time Hull drank out of the cup was years later when he and Brett, who won two championships with Dallas and Detroit, were at Chris Chelios’ golf outing. They poured in a few beers and hoisted it for Bobby to take a few swigs.

Now?

"I’m looking forward to drinking some real champagne," Bobby Hull said. "I will imbibe in that."

North Dakota honors Virg Foss

      Colleague Virg Foss of the Grand Forks Herald is being honored by the University of North Dakota. Here is the information from colleague Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald:

The Virg Foss Award will be given to the player who, at the end of the year, has the most three-star selections. The three stars of the game are voted on by the media, therefore the award is named after former Herald beat writer and current columnist Virg Foss, who is in the North Dakota sportswriting Hall of Fame.

Foss has covered the WCHA longer than any writer.

"There are few things in life that have given me the joy for so many years as Fighting Sioux hockey," said Foss. "In 1969, I chose to accept a job at the Grand Forks Herald solely for the reason I knew it would give me the opportunity to cover Fighting Sioux hockey. Having done that for 35 seasons, through highs and lows, I can truly say it was the best professional decision of my life.

"To have my named linked to UND hockey for years to come is very humbling."

The award will be handed out at the end of each season at the team banquet.

NCAA Rule Changes 2010-11

     The NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee outlined some rules changes Friday for 2010-11, although the proposals must be approved by the NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel in July. Changes, as distilled by Inside College Hockey, include:

Enhancement to the contact to the head rule to include a minimum of a five-minute major penalty and either a game misconduct or game disqualification penalty

Enforcement of icing at all times, including while a team is shorthanded

Modification of the no-touch icing rule to wave off icing if an official determines that an attacking player would reach the puck before a defending player

Alteration of the delayed penalty rule to provide the offensive team with a power play even if a goal was scored during the delay

Changing which end each team defends during an overtime period (goaltenders would now switch ends after the third period)

     Stories on the proposed changes are posted at U.S. College Hockey Online.

     And Inside College Hockey.

     And College Hockey News.

     Also Michigan coach Red Berenson has a new contract and U.S. College Hockey Online has a story here.

UMD schedule tweak

     Minnesota Duluth has made one tweak to its 2010-11 lineup and now will play at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., on Jan. 3-4, a change from Thanksgiving weekend on Nov. 26-27. Below is the updated schedule:

MINNESOTA DULUTH MEN’S SCHEDULE 2010-11
(Home games in CAPS)
Oct. 8 — at Lake Superior State
Oct 9 — at Northern Michigan
Oct. 15-16 — PROVIDENCE
Oct. 22-23 — ALASKA ANCHORAGE
Oct. 29-30 — at Bemidji State
Nov. 5-6 — at North Dakota
Nov. 12-13 — MICHIGAN TECH
Nov. 19-20 — at Wisconsin
Dec. 3-4 — DENVER
Dec. 10-11 — at Minnesota
Dec. 30 — NORTH DAKOTA (DECC expansion opening)
Jan. 3-4 — at Clarkson
Jan. 14-15 — WISCONSIN
Jan. 21-22 — at Michigan Tech
Feb. 4-5 — MINNESOTA
Feb. 11-12 — ST. CLOUD STATE
Feb. 18-19 — at Minnesota State-Mankato
Feb. 25-26 — at Colorado College
March 4-5 — NEBRASKA-OMAHA

NHL prospect: Joe Basaraba

     Chris Dilks of the Western College Hockey blog continues to look at prospects for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft on June 25-26 in Los Angeles. On Thursday he graded Minnesota Duluth forward recruit Joe Basaraba of Fort Frances, Ontario, here.

     Some of the highlights are:

After playing high school hockey for Fort Frances High School as a sophomore, Basaraba was drafted by the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. But not wanting to move so far away from home — it’s a 1730 mile drive to Erie — Basaraba stayed closer to home, transferring to the Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Faribault, Minn., where he’s played for the past two years.

Basaraba has a big frame (6-foot-2 and 180 pounds), and though he still has room to add strength, he’s already very strong for his age, which makes him a punishing checker and gives him a wicked shot. Despite the big shot, he hasn’t shown a lot of potential as a future NHL scoring threat, but even if that area doesn’t develop, he could be a very talent two-way player.

Basaraba would be a very nice prospect for any team to have. As he continues to develop physically in college, he could become a punishing force along the boards. That said, teams may look elsewhere early on in the draft for players that possibly have more offensive upside and the potential to be a top six NHL forward. So he may slip a little bit, but someone will be intrigued by his size and physicality and hope the offensive part of his game comes round. If not, he’ll still likely end up being a valuable player. I’d expect him to go somewhere in the third or fourth round.

Latest Departure: Wisconsin’s Stepan

     The Wisconsin program, riding high in 2010 as Division I runnerup, has taken a few departure hits since the end of the season, including scoring leader Derek Stepan, a sophomore center from Hastings, Minn., leaving Wednesday for the NHL’s New York Rangers. The captain of the USA gold medal junior team is the third Wisconsin underclassmen to leave in recent weeks.

     A Wednesday Wisconsin State Journal story from Andy Baggot is here. And Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald has been keeping a list of early departures in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and that is here.

     Some highlights from the Wisconsin State Journal story are below:

     In addition to the departure of seven seniors and two assistant coaches — Mark Osiecki and Kevin Patrick became head coaches at Ohio State and Muskegon (Mich.) of the U.S. Hockey League, respectively — it’s possible a fourth underclassmen could leave before the summer is over.

     Defenseman Ryan McDonagh could return for his senior season and serve as captain, or he could sign with the Rangers. Eaves said last month that McDonagh will likely wait until after their prospects camp in early July before making a decision.

     The departure of Stepan, 19, means Wisconsin has lost 11 players from its 2009-10 roster, including 10 since April 10 when it lost to Boston College in the NCAA title game. Sophomore center Matt Thurber was dismissed from the team in February after he violated the school’s student-athlete discipline policy. He subsequently transferred to Northern Michigan.

UPDATED: Plante named UMD assistant





Derek Plante officially returns to his alma mater today as a Minnesota Duluth assistant men’s hockey coach. His hiring was announced Wednesday in replacing Steve Rohlik, now an associate head coach at Ohio State after 10 years with the Bulldogs.

Plante, 39, a Cloquet native who lives in Hermantown, joins former Bulldog Brett Larson on coach Scott Sandelin’s staff. Plante is UMD’s second all-time scorer with 96 goals and 123 assists for 219 points in 138 games as a center from 1989-93. He was named to the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009, the same year he completed an undergraduate degree in community health and health education at UMD. The former UMD captain and center was chosen UMD’s Outstanding Senior Male Athlete for 1992-93.

“This is an extremely exciting opportunity for a number of reasons – I grew up in this community and have been a Bulldog fan all of my life, I played here and now I’m joining a pretty good program,” Plante said Wednesday. “There will be a learning curve to go through as I learn the recruiting side of coaching, but I’m looking forward to being out and meeting people and building a network. Coaching is something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Plante was among three finalists chosen from a group of 27 applicants. He was interviewed Monday along with former UMD defenseman Dale Jago, 42, a native of Reston, Manitoba, who lives in Duluth; and former Michigan Tech goalie Cam Ellsworth, 29, an assistant coach with Sioux City (Iowa) in the U.S. Hockey League.

Plante signed a one-year contract Wednesday and will be paid approximately $63,000. In 2009-10, Rohlik earned $70,000 and Larson $62,500. Larson, starting his third season as an assistant, moves into Rohlik’s role as recruiting coordinator after sharing recruiting duties with Rohlik on a 50-50 basis.

Plante played 14 professional seasons, including seven in the NHL with Buffalo, Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia, and was a member of the 1999 Dallas team that won the Stanley Cup. He finished with 96 goals and 248 assists for 248 points in 450 NHL games. He played most recently with Langenthal in Switzerland in 2007-08. He’s the son of Bruce Plante, 61, who has coached on the youth and high school level the past 36 years, and has 360 wins at Hermantown High School the last 21 years.

“Derek’s experience and success as a player at the highest levels of the game made him an attractive candidate, and we knew he was very interested in being involved in our program,” said Sandelin, who starts his 11th season in 2010-11.

Plante was a star at Cloquet High School from 1986-89 and, as a UMD senior, was the 1993 Western Collegiate Hockey Association player of the year, an All-American and a Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist, while leading Division I scorers with 92 points. He played on the U.S. Junior team in 1991 and for the U.S. in the 1992 World Championships. He and wife, Kristi (Duncan) Plante, a former UMD star softball player, have three sons, Zam, 5, Max, 4, and Victor, 2.

“Derek can step in right away and help our forwards,” said Larson. “He was a playmaker, a scorer, a shifty, skilled player. That’s the type of player we have and he can help them develop.”

Plante said his recruiting travels start Sunday and will include the USA Hockey Select 16 camp June 24-30 in Rochester, N.Y.

Recently, former UMD All-American defenseman Tom Kurvers, assistant general manager for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, said: “Derek would be an excellent assistant coach choice. He has experienced hockey at all levels and most importantly the NHL experience can help the program recruit the high-end players who are needed to win.”