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U Looks for Top Opponent at Dome

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April 19, 2017

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Notes on the Gophers, Twins, Vikings and Wild:

John Cunningham, the athletic department administrator who oversees University of Minnesota basketball, said the Gophers don’t know the opponent they will be able to schedule for their December of 2018 game at U.S. Bank Stadium, but he is aiming high. “We’re going to get the best opponent that we can get,” he told Sports Headliners.

Coach Richard Pitino’s team is participating in the trial run game for the April 2019 Final Four scheduled for the new stadium. Minnesota is the host school for the 2019 Final Four and in December of next year they will play the first college game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Local and out of town NCAA representatives will observe and critique the setup for the U.S. Bank Stadium game that will preview by only a few months the 2019 Final Four to determine the men’s national champion.

For  awhile the plan was to stage the Gophers game in December of 2017 but Cunningham said it became apparent the timeline for scheduling was too tight. “We felt like we could get a better opponent by moving it back one year,” he said.

U.S. Bank Stadium will also be the site of the 2020 NCAA wrestling championship, the first time the event has ever been staged at a non-arena venue.

Cunningham reported via email today the Gophers have sold over 400 new season tickets for men’s basketball. “Well above where we were last year at this time,” he wrote.

There are various basketball top 25 rankings for next season and they are paying attention to the Gophers. Athlonsports.com put out a top 25 and among Big Ten schools, only Michigan State at No. 13 was ahead of No. 17 Minnesota in the website’s rankings last Wednesday.

Lou Nanne endorses the evaluations of other authorities regarding former Eden Prairie star Casey Mittelstadt who is the state’s 2017 Mr. Hockey and will play for the Gophers next season. Nanne believes the talented forward will be selected among the first 22 players in the June NHL Draft, perhaps going in the top 15. He projects Mittelstadt as some day being an “excellent pro” but sees him maturing in college for a couple of seasons.

Dick Jonckowski

Dick Jonckowski, who finished his 31st and final season last month as Gopher basketball public address announcer, will be roasted by the Minnesota Minute Men starting at noon Friday, May 5 at Jax Café. Scheduled roasters include Vikings executive Lester Bagley, former Gophers football star Jim Carter and WCHA men’s commissioner Bill Robertson. More information is available by calling Terry Sullivan, 952-451-2104, or at Minnesotaminutemen.com.

Gene Taylor’s name was mentioned over a year ago as a possible candidate for the Gophers athletic director vacancy. Taylor, the former North Dakota State AD who was deputy athletics director at Iowa, has been hired to run Kansas State’s athletic department at a starting salary of $450,000 per year, according to an online story Monday by the Topeka Capital-Journal. That’s $400,000 less than Gophers AD Mark Coyle earns.

Word is fundraising for the Gophers Athletes Village now under construction is over $100 million. The projected cost is $166 million.

Don’t bet the title to your lake home but it’s difficult to believe the Wild won’t win tonight’s Game 4 against the Blues in St. Louis. Coach Bruce Boudreau’s Minnesota team trails 0-3 in the best of seven series but could have won any of  three close games. Odds now seem to favor the Wild.

Home ice is no guarantee of victory in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Wild is 0-2 at home in the Blues series and last season lost two of three games at Xcel Energy Center in a playoff series the Stars won 4-2.

Three of the 20 highest paid NHL players are in the Wild-Blues series, according to Spotrac.com. Ryan Suter and Zach Parise from the Wild each earn $7,538,642 and are tied for the 17th highest salaries this season. Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues, who earns $7,500,000, is tied for 19th with two other players.

Vikings defensive end Brian Robison, who turns 34 on April 27 and is saying he may retire after the 2018 season, is married to Jayme Miller, an accomplished rodeo barrel racer. She attended college on a rodeo scholarship.

J.D. Spielman, son of Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, caught a touchdown pass in the Nebraska spring game last weekend and could be an impact player as a receiver for the Cornhuskers next fall after redshirting as a freshman in 2016.

The Vikings Miller Lite DraftFest will be at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday, April 29. The tailgate-themed event is from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will provide fans the opportunity to meet Vikings players and alumni, while watching rounds four through six of the NFL Draft.

Vikings scheduled to appear throughout the day are linebacker Kentrell Brothers, wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Isaac Fruechte, defensive end Everson Griffen and tight end David Morgan. Ex-Vikings running back Chuck Foreman and safety Paul Krause also plan to attend. A complete schedule of player appearances can be found at Vikings.com closer to the event, which requires paid admissions for adults and teens.

After last night’s win by the Indians over the Twins, Minnesota has now lost three consecutive games for the first time this season. The Twins, 7-7, have lost six of their last eight and are mostly drawing crowds of under 20,000 at Target Field.

Twins third baseman Miguel Sano hit his fourth home run of the season last night. He hasn’t gone more than four games this year without homering.

Malagacy, whose sister Classy Shackles is a Minnesota bred racehorse, has qualified for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby May 7. Advance wagering on the Derby at Canterbury Park starts May 4.

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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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