Thursday, August 23, 2012

As one chapter ends, another begins

Early this morning I reluctantly resigned my position as WCHA co-columnist for U.S. College Hockey Online. It was a decision I had struggled with mightily for several weeks due to the tremendous opportunity Executive Editor, Todd Milewski, and site “CEO”, Tim Brule, gave me 11 months ago to write for such a broad and passionate fan base.

No conference generates more traffic on USCHO than the WCHA so I am grateful for the chance Todd took in trusting a middle-aged writer possessing, let’s face it, a limited background with such an important beat. It was a responsibility I took extremely seriously for which I devoted many hours of hard work at the expense of my family which, nevertheless, was very supportive of my desire to do nothing short of my best.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with everyone I met at USCHO, particularly my co-columnist and now friend, Tyler Buckentine, who was a pleasure to collaborate with on a weekly basis. I learned a lot from Todd, Tyler, and the rest of the conference columnists with whom I dealt from time to time.

The positive feedback I received throughout the season from fellow writers was much appreciated, especially when things got stressful. Even the feedback, primarily negative, from the readers in the form of their comments had its merits and pushed me to try even harder.

I’m not getting out of the writing game, or even college hockey for that matter. I have accepted a position with a new site set to launch in October which covers the game at all levels with mine, of course, being the college side. Much more information on the new venture is set to come out in the next couple of weeks so look for that.

As much as I would have liked to, I reached the unfortunate conclusion that I would not have the time to write for both sites simultaneously with a 50 hour/week “real job”, a wife and a pair of hockey playing sons. In fact, my oldest son is a high school senior and I decided wasn’t willing to miss as many games in his final season as I did last year.

Anyway, it was a fun ride at USCHO covering a great conference season, a Final Five, and an NCAA Regional for college hockey’s most comprehensive website. But I’m really excited to help get this new site off the ground and can’t wait to start spreading the word.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Five Years Later, I-35W Bridge Collapse Remains Haunting

I’m a Minnesotan and I’m not ashamed to admit it except, of course, when we manage to elect wrestlers, comedians, and other wackos to high-ranking public office. A typical Minnesotan will spend a great deal of time agonizing over the extremes in weather we choose to endure, refer to carbonated beverages as pop rather than soda, and measure distance in terms of hours rather than miles.

Minnesotans are also an exceedingly provincial lot. The surgical precision with which the Twin Cities media will dig to unearth the tiniest detail linking a national story to a local angle is nothing short of remarkable. Furthermore, no state’s residents love to hear their homeland mentioned by the national media more than Minnesota’s.

But even the state’s most ardent “homers” would prefer that one of Minnesota’s most internationally recognized events in its history had never required any airtime on CNN or the like.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Interstate 35W Bridge collapse into the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis which killed 13 and injured 145 unsuspecting drivers, passengers, and construction workers in the waning moments of the evening rush hour. Minnesota was on the map in the days and weeks ahead, but for all the wrong reasons.

Since I’m already a local, that angle is already well established. However, I do have a personal angle to offer; one that puts me and my family near the scene. Close enough, in fact, that in the years since the collapse I've often wondered what might have been if not for fate’s curious and auspicious intercession.

The afternoon of August 1, 2007, was a day much like today in that it was a sunny Wednesday with high temperatures hovering around 90 degrees. My wife’s brother, a long-time Minnesota Twins season-ticket holder, had graciously offered my family his four tickets to that night’s game at the Metrodome where the Twins were set to host the Kansas City Royals.

My routine for outings like this with my family generally involves arriving downtown roughly an hour ahead of game time to get parked, get in the building, load up on food, and settle into our seats. Game time was 7:10 pm. The bridge fell at 6:05 pm.

Issues at work late that afternoon left me a few minutes behind my schedule and a tad frustrated that my routine might be affected. It’s not a trait I’m proud of, but I do allow things like that to affect me more than I should. Being that as it may, I of course wanted nothing more to get back and remain on schedule.

A good friend of mine is the Concession Department Manager for Centerplate, the company which operates the Metrodome’s concession stands, and, as it happens, I had spoken with her earlier that day. In our conversation she had mentioned that I might want to be wary of the construction occurring on the bridge and the traffic backups, in addition to normal game traffic, we may encounter as my route to downtown Minneapolis from the northeast suburbs of the Twin Cites takes me over the I-35W Bridge.

With that in mind, and already overly concerned with maintaining my rigid itinerary, I spent the entire drive considering my alternative options. Having done well to get back on track I determined I wasn't willing to risk it and made the last-second decision to exit I-35W for Highway 280 to connect with I-94 to take us downtown.

Highway 280 ultimately became the primary detour route until bridge reconstruction was completed on September 18, 2008.

We arrived at our customary parking lot at approximately 6:10 pm and exited our minivan—yes, I said minivan … shut up—to the wailing chorus of sirens. But considering our proximity to the Hennepin County Medical Center, we didn't really give them a second thought.

It wasn't until we were inside the Metrodome and we ran into my friend Pat in the concourse that we were informed of the horror playing out a mere mile away. Even then we couldn't fully grasp the enormous scope of the disaster. Our archaic cell phones at the time were incapable of allowing us to access images of the bridge while the photos we viewed on the phones of those around us were too small to paint an accurate picture of what was going on.

It was amazing we were able to see what we did, considering the near blackout conditions in cell phone coverage in the area due to the massive amount of calls overloading the towers. Family members, including my brother-in-law, with knowledge of our plans that evening, and thinking the worst, frantically tried to reach us without success and causing them great strain. We, of course, could not reach them either until much later.

The game itself began with a moment of silence for the victims and was played before a largely subdued audience which struggled to celebrate the successes witnessed in a game which lost its significance well before it began. I can still recall the morbid atmosphere in the building aided to some degree by the suspension of all in-game promotions creating an awkward silence between innings.

Twins officials could have postponed the game but it was determined, and rightfully so, that sending 25,000 people immediately back out onto the streets of Minneapolis would be counterproductive to the efforts of rescue workers. As it was, the following day’s afternoon game against the Royals was rescheduled for August 31 as were the Target Field groundbreaking ceremonies to August 30.

We stayed until the end of the game—as we always do—and meandered our way home via a series of alternate routes, still unable to wrap our heads around what had happened earlier that evening so close to where we had been. Once we were finally home after 11 p.m. we were astonished by what we saw when the television was turned on. It was beyond what our imagination had been capable of producing in our minds throughout the night.

Since it reopened, I have yet to cross that bridge without considering the devastating impact the collapse had on the victims and their loved ones. I also never fail to wonder what if. What if even a slight alteration to our sequence of events had occurred?

You just never know … 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Modano, Fans Need To Let It Go

After a more than 11 month hiatus, I've determined it high time to make my triumphant return to the world of recreational blogging.  OK, so there hasn't exactly been a a clamoring for a new Frozen Ponderings post and I've never been what you would consider a regular on the blogging circuit. But after urging a friend to launch a blog I figured I'd give it another go and see what happens.

It helps when a subject comes about that fires you up to a degree and this, of course, is no exception. Spurred by the euphoria of the free-agent signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter by the Minnesota Wild, nostalgic fans State of Hockey fans have since been pining for the Wild to ink another high-profile player to a contract: former Minnesota North Star, Mike Modano.
Time to say goodbye for good, Mike.
To be fair, Modano is responsible for instigating this lunacy with his July 4 tweet shortly after news broke about the Parise/Suter signings indicating what I interpreted to be facetious interest in returning to Minnesota to play for the Wild. Unfortunately, legions of fans took him seriously and Modano himself has only added fuel to the fire with additional comments in the media expressing interest in suiting up for Minnesota.

Despite repeated reports from the StarTribune's Michael Russo, arguably the NHL's most plugged in beat writer, stating the team has no plans whatsoever to add the newly-named U.S. Hockey Hall-of-Famer, Wild fans continue to inundate Twitter and Wild-related blog comments with their insane quest to re-live their past. Modano is not, and should not, be in a Minnesota Wild uniform when the inevitable NHL lockout eventually comes to a merciful end.

Modano's selection by Lou Nanne in the first-round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft over Trevor Linden made "Sweet Lou from the Soo" two-for-three in making No. 1 overall picks (Bobby Smith 1978, Brian Lawton 1983) in his tenure as GM of the North Stars. Minnesota earned that pick with a 19-48-13 season in 1987-88 but, three seasons later, Modano helped lead the North Stars within two wins of a Stanley Cup before falling to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I was a young North Stars fan at the time so I fully understand the impact Modano made in the green and gold before the team was 
hijacked by Satan's step-child, Norm Green, and relocated to Dallas in 1993. But although both Modano and I are 19 years older, apparently only one of us knows that it's too late to go back. 

Modano averaged .955 points per game in 1238 games over his first 17 seasons but his production slipped significantly (.731 ppg) in his last four seasons and 261 games. This includes .375 per game--15 points in 40 games--in Modano's final season with the Detroit Red Wings in 2010-11. Tack on an entire season sitting out and what does anyone seriously expect to get out of a 42 year-old Mike Modano?

Even if he were slightly more productive, the Wild, as currently constructed, simply do not have room for him from either a roster or a payroll standpoint. In addition to Parise and Suter, the Wild also added Torrey Mitchell and center Zenon Konopka in free agency. Factoring in Minnesota's desire to have Mikael Granlund make the team as a center, Konopka's addition, along with Mikko Koivu and Kyle Brodziak, gives them six centers if you include Matt Cullen and Darrell Powe who will each have to play wing this season if they're on the roster.

In my estimation this leaves Modano as, at best, the seventh option at center barring any sort of trade. However, I doubt any potential deals will have any effect on the center position and there are too many young prospects vying for spots to consider Modano for anywhere else.

Considering the Wild already have 12 forwards signed to one-way deals and Granlund on his entry-level contract, Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher will have some decisions to make regardless so Modano is far from Fletcher's radar. There's also the matter of less than $800,000 in cap space which is over $200,000 less than Modano made in his lone season in Detroit.

Is Mike Modano the Wild's best option for a fourth-line wing? Uhhh ... yeah ... I don't think so either. Quite honestly, I would find it pretty damn sad. Modano needs to do everyone a favor and put an end to this nonsense once and for all. In the meantime, the delusional among the Wild's fan base must seek to get a firm grasp on reality and focus their attention on what appears to be a brighter future for their favorite hockey club.