It’s a special week in the State of Hockey with the boys’ state tournament starting Wednesday and the Golden Gophers playing Saturday night in what could be a playoff run to the national championship.
Hockey icon Lou Nanne, 81, talked to Sports Headliners about the preps and Gophers on Monday. He began doing TV color commentary in the state tourney 59 years ago and will be behind a microphone for both Class AA semifinal games Friday and the championship game Saturday.
“I think Warroad could be the best team in the state,” Nanne said. “I think they should win single A and Minnetonka is the favorite in double A. But it’s going to be close. There’s a lot of good teams.”
Warroad’s opening game is Wednesday night against St. Cloud Cathedral, a team the Warriors beat 4-0 last fall. Warroad also owns wins over Class A state tourney rivals Mahtomedi and Orono. The Warriors defeated Wayzata, 3-2, a Class AA team that almost made the state tournament.
“…Everybody tells me they’ve got a phenomenal team,” Nanne said. “You look at their schedule. They beat double A teams as easily as they beat (other) teams.”
Nanne, who spends part of his winters in Florida, was captain of the 1962-1963 Gophers and his heart is in Dinkytown. The No. 1 nationally ranked Gophers, 25-8-1 overall and 19-4-1 in Big Ten games, play Michigan State, 18-17-2 and 10-12-2, at 8 p.m. Saturday night in 3M Arena at Mariucci.
The Gophers are the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State is No. 5. Minnesota is a favorite not only to win the conference tourney but to go all the way to Tampa and come home with the national championship in the Frozen Four April 6 and 8.
To say Nanne is excited about the Gophers might be understating things. “Yes, I am very hopeful they not only make the Final Four but win it. It’s in Tampa, which I love, so I can just drive over to it. It’s a fabulous team. That first line is the best line…I’ve ever seen…at the U.”
Minnesota has a line for the ages in freshmen Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud, and sophomore Matthew Knies. Enjoy their playmaking while you can because all three could be gone to the pros next season.
The Gophers won the regular season conference championship for the sixth time in 10 years. In the standings they totaled 19 points better than second place Michigan.
Minnesota’s last national title was in 2002. Is this the best Gopher team since then? “Yeah, I think it is,” Nanne said. “This is a terrific team.”
No team wins championships, including a postseason run of success, without outstanding goal keeping. Senior Justen Close, who came to the Gophers from the Canadian Juniors, is one of the best goalies in the country.
“He’s been a great addition to the team,” Nanne said. “He might be even somewhat of a surprise. I don’t know if they knew he was going to play that well.”
Coach Bob Motzko, who took over the program for the 2019-2020 season, was an assistant on Minnesota’s national championship teams in 2002 and 2001. He’s worked hard to build a special team and had to do it in the midst of losing his son Mack in a car accident in 2021.
“Well, he’s done a marvelous job from the first day he’s gone in there, and that’s why I am really hopeful he gets rewarded with an NCAA championship this year,” Nanne said.
Part of the Motzko years have included playing before large numbers of empty seats at home games. But no more as the Gophers have been wildly cheered on by sellout crowds.
“Oh, that’s the best,” Nanne said. “I am just so happy to see that. I am glad the people are realizing what a great product they have over there. It’s just tremendous to see the support, and the student section, the excitement they generate in that building, I think it’s fantastic.”
There are, of course, no guarantees the fans go home happy Saturday night. Minnesota had a bye last weekend and hasn’t played since a week ago last Saturday.
“The biggest problem I worry about is whenever you have a bye, you’re not as sharp coming out of the bye,” Nanne said. “You’re sitting out for a couple weeks and so that’s the thing that concerns me.”
Nanne was an All-American for the Gophers, an Olympian, and player and executive for the NHL North Stars. He is a member of more than a half dozen halls of fame including induction last week into the Star Tribune Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame.
The St. Thomas basketball team is more than impressive for a program in only its second season of Division I competition. The Tommies advanced to the Summit League tournament title game where they lost last night 70-65 to Oral Roberts in Sioux Falls. The Tommies were 19-14 overall, 9-9 in conference games. Their season is over because the NCAA is making them wait three more years to be eligible for postseason play as part of the agreement the school made to jump from Division III to I.
Minnesota plays a Nebraska team Wednesday night in the Big Ten Tournament that includes Keisei Tominaga, referred to as the “Japanese Steph Curry.” Tominaga wears No. 30 like Curry and is an electric shooter like his hero. The Huskers’ second leading scorer at 12.5 points per game, the 6-foot-2 Tominaga has remaining college eligibility for next season but could play professionally in his native Japan.
The Gophers are heavy with front court returnees and it wouldn’t be surprising if 7-foot Minnesota native Treyton Thompson enters the transfer portal. He averages 11 minutes per game and some games doesn’t play at all.
Best guess is Sonny Gray, 8-5 with a 3.08 ERA a year ago, will be the Twins’ opening day pitcher against the Royals in Kansas City March 30.
Pablo Lopez, who the Twins acquired in the offseason from the Marlins, could be a solid bet, too. His ability to throw strikes is impressive. The son of two doctors, Lopez will pitch for his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic that starts tomorrow.
MLB.com singled out Twins shortstop Brooks Lee yesterday as one of 30 prospects among major league teams “who have turned heads this spring.” Less than a year ago he was playing for Cal Poly but he has made an impressive transition to pro baseball after the Twins chose him No. 8 overall in the 2022 amateur draft.
The Athletic’s NBA power rankings out yesterday have the Timberwolves at No. 13 after previously being No. 17. Ex-Wolves coach and deal maker Tom Thibodeau has the Knicks at No. 6 in the ranking of the league’s 30 teams.
Happy birthday to Minnetonka girls’ basketball coach Brian Cosgriff.Comments Welcome