Monday, Jan. 27, 2020




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Don’t Expect Vikings to Change ID


A Thursday notes column, focusing on the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Wild:

The 2-2 Vikings produced just 40 rushing yards last Sunday in their 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears. But it will be a surprise if Minnesota doesn’t emphasize running the football against the 2-2 New York Giants this coming Sunday at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wants a physical, rushing offense and that was his message long before the season started. While the offensive line and quarterback Kirk Cousins have been inconsistent, no one doubts the skills of running back Dalvin Cook who ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards at 410.

“I think the way Dalvin is running the ball, I think it’s just kind of building things off of that…and just finding different ways to get people involved,” backup quarterback Sean Mannion told Sports Headliners when talking about what’s next for the offense.

Even when the offense is slowed like it was against the Bears (perhaps the NFL’s best defense) the Vikings are advised to still focus on their playmakers starting with Cook who makes both short and long gains with only minimal running space available. Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs can also make the proverbial “something out of nothing” plays.

Looking toward next Sunday and beyond, Cook said “it’s important to get the running game going early” to open passing routes so wide receivers can make plays. He also expressed confidence in Cousins who has struggled in both of the team‘s losses, games that came against NFC North Division rivals the Bears and Packers—the two best teams Minnesota has played so far.

The Giants will offer a mediocre defense to test the Vikings playmakers. The unit ranks No. 25 in the 32-team NFL, giving up 389.2 yards per game. Former Viking Matt Birk predicted on KFAN Radio yesterday his old team will win by more than three touchdowns.

The Vikings’ defense has impressed after four games. Minnesota has allowed only one rushing touchdown and has made 24 tackles for loss (tied with Carolina and Pittsburgh for most in the league). The Vikings are giving up 321.8 yards per game, sixth best in the league.

The Giants have names familiar to Minnesota sports fans on the coaching staff. Head coach Pat Shurmur, now in his second season with the Giants, was the Viking offensive coordinator in 2017 when he was named NFL Assistant Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association.

Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula was head coach at Alabama when the Golden Gophers defeated the Crimson Tide in the 2004 Music City Bowl.

John Gilbert, among the preeminent hockey writers in the country, is upbeat about the Wild’s likelihood of returning to the playoffs. “I think they got a great chance to really have a good season,” he told Sports Headliners.

For 30 years Gilbert covered pro and college hockey for Minneapolis daily newspapers, and he now lives in Duluth working as a freelance writer. He believes it’s no mystery why the Wild, who open the regular season tonight in Nashville against the Predators, didn’t make the playoffs last spring. He said injuries causing the absences of defenseman Matt Dumba and center Mikko Koivu put an end to six consecutive playoff runs by the Wild.

Gilbert regards Dumba as perhaps the top defenseman in the NHL. He considers Koivu to be among the league’s best centers when judged by all around play including coverage of the other team’s leading defenseman. “And he is a great leader,” Gilbert added.

Gilbert is confident that with Dumba and Koivu, Minnesota would have been in the 2019 postseason. “They (the Wild) lose those two guys, and they barely miss the playoffs,” he said.

Two key players can make that much difference, according to Gilbert. “So you look at every team that made the Stanley Cup playoffs last year, and you take away their best two-way centerman and you take away their best offensive defenseman, they don’t make it.”

The Wild didn’t do much to change the roster in the offseason but the club did sign free agent wing Mats Zuccarello who had 40 points playing for Dallas and the New York Rangers last season. Gilbert likes Zuccarello’s skills, believes goalie Devan Dubnyk “can stop anybody, at any time,” and refers to Bruce Boudreau as a “great coach.” With Boudreau’s coaching and a roster that includes the return of Dumba and Koivu, Gilbert has this forecast: “They’re going to be really strong this season.”

Of course, the prediction comes without a guarantee. “No league has the parity that the NHL has,” Gilbert said. “You can finish 16th, and scratch your way in, and win the Stanley Cup if your goalie gets hot and your guys are playing well.”

Gilbert just finished authoring a book, Miracle in Lake Placid, that celebrates the 40th anniversary next year of the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s stunning march to the Gold Medal in 1980. Gilbert covered the team back then and had access to players and coach Herb Brooks that others didn’t.

Gilbert saved his notes from covering the American team almost 40 years ago. “I could recreate the West Germany game (for example) like it happened this afternoon,” he said.

Quoting new Wild general manager Bill Guerin’s message to the team: “I am not here to win friends. I am here to win games.”

Anthony LaPanta, the TV play-by-play voice of the Wild, is also an assistant football coach for the 4-1 Totino-Grace football team.

Gophers coach Richard Pitino, with seven new players, acknowledged he probably would have a different team if Amir Coffey hadn’t passed up his senior season of eligibility to turn pro. “But you can’t hold these guys back from doing what’s great for them and what they have dreamed of their whole lives,” he said at Big Ten Media Day yesterday in Rosemont, Illinois where expectations were high for teams like Michigan State and Ohio State, but low for Minnesota and Nebraska where Fred Hoiberg will coach his first Cornhuskers team.

Hoiberg, the former Minnesota Timberwolves player and front office executive, won’t lack for fan support in Lincoln. Despite minimal success predicted for his first team, all home games are sold out.

Union Hill champs

Forty years ago Mike Prochaska, Joe Hoffman, Kevin Keohen, and Dale Lapic were members of the Montgomery, Minnesota team that won the 1979 Babe Ruth state championship. The four are now part of the Union Hill Greyhounds team that last weekend won the amateur baseball Class 6A state championship for players over 50 years old with an 11-10 win over the Alexandria Redbirds. Hoffman scored the winning run for his team whose roster includes Dave “Greek” Wagner, a member of the Minnesota State Amateur Men’s Baseball Hall of Fame.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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