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WCHA and Big Ten Explore Alliance

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January 25, 2016

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WCHA and Big Ten leaders are discussing ideas that could result in more men’s hockey games between the two leagues.

WCHA men’s commissioner Bill Robertson told Sports Headliners he had an exploratory meeting recently with Big Ten deputy commissioner Brad Traviolia.  Discussion included some day having a combined tournament with teams from the two leagues, and also a series of regional rivalry games.

Bill Robertson

Bill Robertson

“The next step is we’re going to continue these discussions and bring ideas to each other’s executive committees and coaches to help define how we move forward,” Robertson said.  “At this point it’s all conceptual but certainly there are ideas we will continue to build on.”

The WCHA is a tradition-rich league that still boasts nationally-ranked teams but the conference lost some prestige when historic power programs Minnesota and Wisconsin opted out to help form a Big Ten hockey league.  The WCHA currently has 10 teams including two from the state of Minnesota, Bemidji State and Minnesota State.  The six-team Big Ten began in the fall of 2013, and the league has its critics including in Minneapolis-St. Paul where fans miss old rivalries and feel the Gophers should be in a larger, more hockey oriented conference.

Robertson, who has career marketing experiences in the NHL, is an innovator and he believes both the WCHA and Big Ten could benefit in exposure and revenues with alliances that might include something similar to basketball’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  That annual fall matchup schedules games between teams from the two leagues that have been popular with fans and TV audiences.  A Big Ten/WCHA Challenge could include regional rivalry games like Minnesota-Minnesota State and Michigan-Michigan Tech.

Robertson, whose league offices are in Edina, continues to dialogue with Arizona State about that school’s hockey program joining the WCHA.  He said more will be known in the spring, and that 2017-2018 will be the earliest the Sun Devils would join the league.

An 11-team league isn’t ideal, though, so a 12th member could eventually be added—perhaps UNLV.  Las Vegas is a growing hockey market and a possible location for an NHL expansion franchise.

Worth Noting

Carter Coughlin, the Gophers’ four-star linebacker recruit from Eden Prairie High School, who is expected to sign his National Letter of Intent next month, will have to rest his left shoulder for about 3½ months following surgery last Thursday.  Jennie Coughlin, Carter’s mother, told Sports Headliners the shoulder injury dates back to his junior season, and the expectation is he will be healthy when the Gophers start workouts in June.  She said Carter is already recovered from the concussion he sustained in a high school all-star game earlier this month.

Richard Pitino’s basketball team is 0-8 in Big Ten games and appears headed toward a low final finish in the conference standings, but the coach will be rewarded with $450,000 this spring.  In addition to his normal compensation of more than $1.5 million, Pitino will receive $450,000 on April 30 for a “contract fulfillment incentive.”  If he is still the Gophers coach on April 30, 2019, he receives another $450,000.

Ken Lien

Ken Lien

Ken Lien, the state prep basketball authority who runs the Mr. Basketball program, travels extensively watching high school boys teams.  He shared his state rankings with Sports Headliners:

Class 4A.  1. Hopkins; 2. Apple Valley; 3. Osseo; 4. Maple Grove; 5. Champlin Park; 6. Lakeville North; 7. Shakopee; 8. Wayzata; 9.  Woodbury; 10. Rochester John Marshall.

Class 3A.  1. Red Wing; 2. DeLaSalle; 3. Delano; 4. Waconia; 5. Orono; 6. Benilde-St. Margaret’s; 7. Marshall; 8. Austin; 9. Minneapolis Patrick Henry; 10. Fergus Falls.

Class 2A.  1. Caledonia; 2. St. Croix Lutheran; 3. Braham; 4. Lake City; 5. Melrose; 6. Albany; 7. Minnehaha Academy; 8. Eden Valley-Watkins; 9. Esko; 10. St. Paul Academy.

Class 1A.  1. Minneapolis North; 2. Spring Grove; 3. Rushford-Peterson; 4. Central Minnesota Christian; 5. Murray County Central; 6. Hillcrest Lutheran; 7. Goodhue; 8. Browerville; 9. North Woods; 10. Battle Lake.

The Twins announced today they have given third baseman Trevor Plouffe a one-year contract for $7,250,000 in 2016.  Plouffe, who was originally drafted by the Twins in the first round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, set single season highs last year in hits (140), RBI (86), runs scored (74), games (152), at-bats (573) and triples (4).  Plouffe’s .972 fielding percentage ranked third among major league third basemen last season.

After last weekend’s two-game sweep of the Badgers, coach Don Lucia’s Gophers hockey team is 13-10 overall and 8-2 in Big Ten games.  League-leading Minnesota has won five straight and could boost the spirits of often critical fans next weekend in the North Star College Cup at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Gophers play Bemidji State on Saturday while an earlier game matches Minnesota State and St. Cloud State.  If Minnesota defeats the Beavers, a cup title game on Sunday against the Minnesota State and St. Cloud State winner could be opportune for the Gophers to earn more national respect.  St. Cloud State, ranked No. 3 in the latest USCHO.com national poll, might be the best team in the country.  The Gophers are No. 20 in the poll, while Minnesota State is No. 19.

Gophers booster and St. Paul native T. Denny Sanford celebrated his 80th birthday last month in both Sioux Falls, where Tim McGraw entertained, and also in San Diego at a party with Frankie Valli performing.

John Anderson

John Anderson

The Gophers baseball team will play some of its games starting in 2017 in U.S. Bank Stadium, the new downtown covered facility.  The Gophers will have their own locker room in the multiuse facility that is expected to host over 200 amateur baseball games in its first 12 months of operation.  The longest distance from home plate to the outfield will be 400 feet, while the shortest will be 301 feet.  Coach John Anderson and his players toured the stadium last Friday.  The Gophers will also continue to play games outdoors at Siebert Field.

With Seahawks safety Earl Thomas unable to play because of an injury, Vikings safety Harrison Smith has been selected for his first Pro Bowl.  Since entering the NFL in 2012, Smith is one of two players to have at least 12 interceptions and 5.0 sacks.  Reshad Jones from the Dolphins is the other player.  The Pro Bowl will be played next Sunday in Hawaii.

New Vikings assistant coach Pat Shurmur will coach the tight ends.  The club announced today that former tight ends coach Kevin Stefanski will take over as the running backs coach replacing Kirby Wilson who is joining the Browns.  Shurmur, a former head coach with the Browns, was the Eagles tight end coach from 1999-2001.

Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway turned 33 earlier this month, and his returning for another season with the team seems questionable.  A highlight for him last year was his 22 tackles game against the Raiders, the second best in franchise history.

Greenway was durable during the 2015 season.  Ben Goessling, writing for espn.com last Wednesday, said Greenway maxed out on his per game bonus incentive by being on the 46-man roster for all 16 regular season games.  Greenway, who agreed during the offseason to take less salary in 2015, earned $500,000 in bonus money, according to Goessling.

Las Vegas sports books positioned the Panthers as four point favorites over the Broncos for Super Bowl 50, according to an online story this morning by Matt Youmans for the Las Vegas Journal-Review.

Friends of the late Steve Wilkinson remembered the one-year anniversary of his death last Thursday.  The legendary former Gustavus Adolphus national championship tennis coach touched many lives with the Gusties and his well-known Tennis and Life Camps.

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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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