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March 22, 2017

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Wally Shaver has been the radio play-by-play voice of Gophers hockey for 16 years. He thinks the Minnesota team that is only two wins away from earning its way into the Frozen Four could win a national title. “I think this team is talented enough to get it done,” he told Sports Headliners Monday.

The Gophers won national championships in 2002 and 2003 under coach Don Lucia. Three years ago Lucia’s team lost in the Frozen Four finals to Union. Shaver believes the 2017 Gophers compare favorably to past Minnesota teams.

Minnesota has seven players with 10 or more goals. No other major college team can match that. “They’re a very balanced team and deep in scoring,” Shaver said.

Justin Kloos

Minnesota, as usual, has exceptional players like sophomore forward Tyler Sheehy, who is the 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award given to college hockey’s best player. Senior Jake Bischoff is the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, while sophomore goalie Eric Schierhorn is the conference’s goalie of the year for a second consecutive season. Joining those three on the All-Big Ten first team is senior forward Justin Kloos. That collective talent is backed up by other productive players and means opponents can’t concentrate much on controlling just one or two players, or lines.

A hot goalie in college hockey’s playoffs always determines much of a team’s fate. Shaver said Schierhorn had his “ups and downs” during the long season but he suggested the Alaska native “hit the reset button” during Christmas time. Schierhorn has a .935 save percentage in his last nine games. “There is no question he is peaking at the right time,” Shaver said.

Last Saturday Schierhorn stopped 59 of 63 shots in a double overtime loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament. “He was the best player on the ice,” Shaver said.

In that game a penalty set up a winning power play goal for PSU. Shaver cautions that if the Gophers are to advance this weekend and beyond, they must keep penalties to a minimum.

Minnesota, the regular season Big Ten champion, will play Notre Dame on Saturday in one of two games in Manchester, New Hampshire as part of the Northeast Region. Cornell plays UMass-Lowell in the other game, with Saturday’s winners meeting on Sunday in Manchester to determine who advances to the April 6 Frozen Four in Chicago against champions from three other regions.

The Gophers, 21-11-3, are the Northeast Region’s No. 1 seed and the favorite to win two games in Manchester, but Notre Dame, 21-11-5, impresses Shaver, too. He said the Fighting Irish has only one senior and if underclassmen don’t leave the program Notre Dame could be the “odds-on” favorite to win the Big Ten Conference title next season.

“It’s a very good regional and a great matchup for us to start with against Notre Dame,” Lucia said. “We know them, and they know us. We’re excited to get back into the tournament and compete for a national championship.”

The Gophers and Irish didn’t play against each other as nonconference opponents this season but have been frequent foes with Minnesota having a 27-15-3 record in the rivalry. Notre Dame plays its first Big Ten season in 2017-2018, increasing league membership to seven teams. The goal is to become an eight-team hockey league but there is no indication the Big Ten is even close to determining another member.

Worth Noting

Ken Lien

Minnesota boys’ high school basketball fan Ken Lien has seen thousands of games over the years, and he was asked by Sports Headliners to name the teams he believes will win state tournament titles this week. His predicted champs are: Class 4A Champlin Park; Class 3A DeLaSalle; Class 2A Minnehaha Academy; and Class 1A Minneapolis North. His runner-ups, starting with Class 4A, are Apple Valley, Marshall, Crosby-Ironton and Goodhue.

A grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration is scheduled today at MSP International Airport to introduce the new Minnesota Twins sports bar and restaurant. Twins Grill is located in Concourse C of Terminal 1, and displays memorabilia and graphics recognizing the franchise’s past and present. The 220-seat restaurant offers traditional ballpark food and local craft beers.

Commissioner Bill Robertson and other leaders of the Edina-based WCHA were elated last Saturday when the league’s championship playoff game between Bowling Green and Michigan Tech drew a capacity crowd of 4,466 in Houghton, Michigan. Tech won the game in an electric atmosphere that represented a stark contrast to past years when the WCHA’s playoff title game was hosted in large venues like the Xcel Energy Center in front of meager crowds.

“I have watched a lot of professional, college and high school games, but that environment was one of the best I have ever seen,” said Robertson, who celebrated his 56th birthday yesterday.

George Stewart, the former Vikings wide receivers coach, now is special teams coordinator and assistant head coach with the Chargers. After about 34 years as an assistant coach in college and the NFL, Stewart still thinks about becoming a head coach. “I have a burning desire to do that at some point,” he told Sports Headliners Monday.

Stewart is 58 and head coaches are usually younger, but he mentioned Mike Zimmer was the same age when the Vikings hired him in 2014 as their football boss. Stewart said he wants an NFL head position, and the only head job in college that interested him was at his alma mater, Arkansas.

Stewart worked 10 seasons for the Vikings before deciding earlier this year to move on. When Stewart was a young coach with the 49ers, the legendary Bill Walsh told him 10 years was often long enough for an assistant to stay with one organization. An assistant coach’s instructions can become stale in talking with players after a long period, Stewart said, while explaining why he left the Vikings.

It doesn’t look like Chad Greenway, the newly retired Viking linebacker, is in any rush to decide what’s next in his life. Another former Vikings linebacker, Scott Studwell, told Sports Headliners he would advise Greenway to take six months to consider his future.

Condolences to Greenway and his family after the death last week of grandfather Michael Schoenfelder from Mount Vernon, South Dakota.

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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.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. avatar
    Jim Brunzell
    March 22, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    Dave- sad news out of White Bear Lake. Phil Bonin. long time WBL resident and youth hockey enthusiast passed away Monday evening from cancer. Phil's the father of Gopher great & Hobey Baker award winner Brian Bonin. He will be missed by many! JJB

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