Minnesota Sports Centre

Covering news surrounding the NHL, the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Wild, as well as Motocross and Supercross at the professional level

31 Jul

Will Zach Parise Decline In 2014-15?

After spending the first seven years of his career as a New Jersey Devil, Zach Parise decided to return home in the summer of 2012 where he and Ryan Suter signed matching thirteen-year, $98 million dollar deals that brought them to Minnesota. Parise is now entering into his 10th NHL season and his 3rd with the Wild. Having just turned 30 on the 28th of this month, people are now asking the same question most fans ask when a player reaches his thirties: Will he decline? Is he going to slow down? For some players, the dawn of the thirties brings injuries, inconsistent play and a lack of production, others continue to push forward and produce numbers well into there upper thirties and even fourties. Just ask Jarome Iginla and Jaromir Jagr.

So do I think we are going to see a decline in Zach Parise this season? Absolutely not. As Parise showed us this past year, he still has plenty left in the tank. Parise put together another solid year, tying his career high in power play goals with 14, which was also 4th best in the league, scored 29 goals total, 56 points and had a plus- 10 rating. 

Zach Parise is one of the best all around players in the game. His tenacity and aggression on the ice makes him a thorn in opponents' sides. You can almost always find Parise parked in front of the net, or circling around it like a vulture, waiting for a loose puck. 

Zach is one of those guys who just never gives up on the play. If his first shot doesn't go in, you can bet he'll be right there to take another whack at it, which makes him a nightmare for goalies. Parise is also known for being one of the most hard working players in the game both on and off the ice. His work ethic is better than almost any other player in this league and his stats and high praise he receives proves just that.

It helps that Parise has a tremendous supporting cast around him. With guys like Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund feeding him the puck, you can count on Parise reaching the 30 goal mark this up and coming season, and even if he doesn't, you can bet that it wont be for a lack of effort.

31 Jul

Dungey vs. Roczen: Who Will Come Out On Top?

Photo Credit: Ryne Swanburg/Vurbmoto.com

With just three events (six races) remaining, we have closed in on the end of the 2014 Lucas Oil Motocross season and it's safe to say that it has been nothing short of entertaining. We have seen countless battles week in and week out, especially in the 450 class. We have seen a handful of different riders take to the podium such as Ryan Dungey, James Stewart, Ken Roczen, Josh Grant and Eli Tomac. Now that we're down to the final three events, the points race has realistically came down to the two Red Bull KTM teammates in Ryan Dungey and Ken Roczen.

After missing the event in Washougal and failing to reach the podium the week before, James Stewart has fallen back in the points standing and likely will not make a comeback. Trey Canard has battled through this season and has rode exceptionally well, but hasn't been able to get the best of Dungey and Roczen, which has caused him to finish no better than 2nd overall all year. So who is going to come out on top?

20 year old Ken Roczen has been nothing short of sensational this year. He has finished 1st place in 7 of 18 races has has finished on top of the podium 4 times. He has become a replica of James Stewart (minus all the crashes) with his aggressive riding style and has been one of the fastest riders all year long. He always seems to have a smile on his face and a positive outlook on things, even after a bad finish. 

However, Roczen has been struggling as of late. After dominating most of the year and keeping the points lead throughout most of the season, Roczen has finished in 1st just once in his past six races and has taken 3rd overall in the last two events. Since Eli Tomac has returned from injury, he seems to have gotten in the head of the young German rider as Kenny has struggled to maintain a lead and has been a bit more passive than he was earlier this year.

This is why I give a slight advantage to Ryan Dungey to take the Championship. Unlike his young teammate, Dungey, after finishing first in the opening round at Glen Helen, had struggled to maintain a lead in the beginning of the season, being passed fairly easy by the other top riders like Stewart, Roczen and Canard. After finishing 3rd overall at the Red Bud National, Dungey seemed very down and defeated. He seemed to be almost exhausted and it made others wonder whether or not he was going to pull out of his slump. 

Since then, Dungey has taken 1st place in three of his last six races and has won two of the last three events. This has moved Dungey within just 14 points of Roczen. Dungey has been riding more aggressively in the past few weeks and seems to have found his rhythm on the track once again. The odds are looking even brighter for Dungey with events coming up in Unadilla and Utah. Last year, Dungey tooke 3rd overall in Unadilla and 2nd overall in Utah. 

If Kenny wants to take home his first 450 championship, he needs to continue to ride with confidence and find a way to get the better of Eli Tomac, because for whatever reason, when Tomac battles with Roczen, Ken seems to struggle and lose his aggressiveness on the track. Dungey needs to continue to ride the way he has been the past few weeks and keep his confidence level up. If Dungey can continue to get good starts, which has led to his recent success, the veteran may be able to come back and steal this Championship away from his teammate Roczen. 

31 Jul

Dungey vs. Roczen: Who Will Come Out On Top?

31 Jul

Teddy Bridgewater Has A Great Chance Of Starting Week 1

Training camp has officially begun for NFL teams around the league. For teams such as the Vikings, Raiders and Browns, it's a time to find out who their quarterback of the future or the time being will be. The Vikings have one of the more intriguing situations at quarterback. There are three different quarterbacks in Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater competing for the starting job, but we all know that the battle is between Bridgewater and Cassel.

With a week of training camp in the books, we've been able to get a better glimpse of Teddy as the players strapped on the pads, scrimmaged and practiced more game-type situations. After what experts had seen this week, it's very clear that Bridgewater has a real shot at being named the starting quarterback for week 1.

After being bashed for his inaccurate throwing on his pro day, Teddy has shown tremendous accuracy throwing the ball in and out of the pocket and has shown a ton of confidence in his play and the way he talks to the media. 

Coach Mike Zimmer has had nothing but high praise for the rookie quarterback and they continue to be impressed by him every day. Teddy has been a really good get for us," coach Mike Zimmer said. "I do not know when he will start, but I am ecstatic to have him. I love his personality."

According to the coaches, Bridgewater has been more impressive than what they thought he'd be, which goes to show you how confident Bridgewater is feeling right now. 

The Vikings know that Ponder will not be the starter, and we've seen what Matt Cassel can do. Teddy has a lot to prove and so far he's been doing just that. From his play on the field, to his studying of film and the playbook, Teddy has proven that his determination can get him a starter job. Zimmer has been very clear that they aren't going to rush Teddy into the starting job and that they want to develop him and get him in there when he's ready, but after seeing Teddy progress so well, I believe Bridgewater will have a legitimate shot at starting come week 1 this season.

The Vikings first pre season game comes next Friday when they host the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium. You can bet that we will see a good amount of Teddy and will likely see some first team reps as well. If Bridgewater can continue to exceed expectations and can perform well on the field this pre season, we may see him suit up and start September 7th against the St. Louis Rams. 

29 Jul

Wild Agree To Terms With RFA Justin Fontaine

The Wild were able to sign yet another restricted free agent to avoid arbitration. Just moments ago, the Wild inked Justin Fontaine to a two-year deal. According to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, Fontaine is expected to make $1 million per year. Fontaine was considered a rookie this past season and managed to score 13 goals this season and was a plus six. He also scored a hat trick against the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes at the start of the year.

Fontaine has proven to be a reliable third line winger who can create offense with his speed and awareness on the ice. With the addition of Michael Keranen and prospects such as Kurtis Gabriel and Zach Phillips pushing to make the team, Fontaine may have some competition at camp. 

It's going to be a very entertaining training camp this year for the Wild. There are a handful of young players who have high hopes to make the team. Guys like Gabriel, Dumba, Phillips, Oloffson and Keranen all have a shot at making the team this year which is going to create some intense competition between these players. 

Minnesota's training camp begins September 18th and the Wild still have RFA's Nino Niederreiter and goaltender Darcy Kuemper to sign. GM Chuck Fletcher hopes to sign Nino to a deal in the range of two to four years, which leads me to believe that the Wild are confident that he is going to continue to progress and get better. Niederreiter scored 14 goals and 22 assists and was a plus 12 with 44 penalty minutes. He also scored 3 goals and 6 points in 13 playoff games, including the game 7 winner against the Colorado Avalanche.

28 Jul

Is Jerick McKinnon The Vikings Running Back Of The Future?

The Minnesota Vikings took many by surprise when they drafted running back Jerick McKinnon in the 3rd round of this year's draft. McKinnon himself was in a bit of disbelief. The Vikings have a superstar back in Adrian Peterson and reliable backups such as Joe Banyard and Matt Asiata, but General Manager Rick Spielman saw something special in McKinnon and from what we've seen so far, there's a chance we may be looking at the Vikings' running back of the future.

McKinnon isn't the tallest back, standing at just 5' 9", but is a stout 209 pounds and is incredibly fast. He played both running back and quarterback at Georgia Southern, but was most effective as a back. In 2012, McKinnon rushed for 1,817 yards in 14 games, which was third most in its school's history.

During the Vikings mini camp, McKinnon showed tremendous speed and an ability to accelerate quickly threw the holes. He impressed not only the coaching staff, but Adrian Peterson himself. " He's pretty impressive and there's not too many guys who impress me like that, especially rookies coming in."

NFL.com's scouting report on McKinnon was that he was a very strong runner. He runs the ball very efficiently and is a good cut blocker. Adrian Peterson knows how to block in the backfield, but it's safe to say that he is no means the best blocking back in the game. The Vikings would prefer to have a third down back or have a guy who can come in in certain situations and make some key blocks in the backfield. McKinnon can be one of those guys. 

McKinnon is already showing tremendous promise in mini cap and the early stages of training camp. It'll be exciting to see how he performs in the pre-season and if he can do his job well enough to earn that second string role. McKinnon has expressed his excitement to be on this team and to learn from one of the best backs in the game. Learning from AP is going to help him that much more and I believe can be a key part of the Vikings offense this year.

My guess is that they would utilize him on third downs, coming in to block in the backfield as well as catch some passes out of the backfield. I think the Vikings may use him the same way the New Orleans Saints utilized Darren Sproles: runs up the middle and short dump passes out of the backfield. If Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner can utilize McKinnon in a Darren Sproles type fashion, the Vikings are going to have a dual threat in the backfield. 

27 Jul

Ryan Dungey Dominates Washougal National

For most of this season, the Red Bull KTM riders of Ken Roczen and Ryan Dungey have been battling for the points lead and the chance to win the 450 championship. The 20 year old German rider Roczen seemed to have had Dungey figured out after the opening this round this season, finishing ahead of him in nearly every race, being the more aggressive rider, making passes stick and making very few mistakes. Dungey seemed defeated at times but has stuck with it and has now moved in on his teammate for the points lead.

Dungey was able to sweep this weekend at the Washougal National, finishing 1st in both motos and is now just 14 points behind Roczen for the points lead."Today was just about coming in and not worrying about the championship. There's a lot of racing left this season...We just tried to put out our best effort and we did that." Dungey was arguably the fastest rider of the weekend, maintaining a strong lead in both motos. This win marked the 30th win of Dungey's 450 career and his 4th win at Mashougal.

Eli Tomac continues to get better each week as he finished on the podium for the fifth time this year taking 2nd in both motos, moving him up to 9th in the points standings. Tomac has been nothing short of sensational since returning from injury and is making many people wondering where he'd be in the championship standings had he been healthy all year.

The riders have this coming weekend off, giving then a chance to relax a bit, regroup, and rest themselves physically and mentally. Ken Roczen needs to utilize this time and find a way to get back onto the top of the podium. Roczen took 3rd in both motos this weekend, finishing third overall. Ever since Tomac has returned from injury, Roczen seems to lack speed at times and has had difficulty holding off Tomac. With just a 14 point lead in the standings, Roczen has to dig deep and search for that success he had earlier in the season. The biggest thing Kenny needs to do is not get frustrated. He needs to stay positive and confident in himself and not allow guys like Tomac, Dungey and Canard get in his head.

The Unadilla National in New Berlin New York is the next stop for these riders. We are now down to the final three events of the Motocross season and has shaped up to be an exciting finish.

Photo Credit: Ryne Swanburg/Vurbmoto
25 Jul

Could Ryan Villopoto Retire After 2015 Supercross Season?

The sport of Supercross is constantly changing. Every once in a while, a rider emerges through the amateur rankings, into the pros, and leaves a mark on the sport that is never forgotten. Ryan Villopoto has become one of those riders. Villopoto did what most kids who race dirt bikes do. He started at a very young age, watched his dad race, and of course, grew to love the sport himself. 

In 2005, Ryan eventually turned pro, signing a contract with well known Owner Mitch Payton of Factory Kawasaki. After winning three consecutive MX championships, a SX championship, as well as a Motocross of Nations Title, Villopoto made a transition to the 450 class in 2009. He would struggle at first, but once the 2011 SX season began, so also began the era of Ryan Villopoto. 

Ryan, or known as RV2 has won four consecutive SX championships, becoming just the second rider in the history of the sport to ever accomplish such a feat. The other rider was of course none other, than Jeremy McGrath. 

Villopoto is currently sitting out the 2014 Motocross season to rehab from an injury he sustained late in the 2014 SX season but plans to be 100 percent for the start of the SX season and go for a 5 peat, something the Supercross world has never seen. 

Although Villopoto is no jerk by any means, people have noticed in the last couple of seasons a lack of excitement from Villopoto. If you look at his interview following his 2014 SX title, one of the first things Ryan said was that he was happy that the season was finally over. Now granted, we have to remember he was racing with a bum leg, but don't you think he'd be a bit more excited about winning a fourth straight SX title than what he showed?

In documentaries, Ryan has came out and said that he would have no problem walking from the sport today. Things like this make you wonder if RV2 is just starting to grow tired of the SX and MX business. In a recent interview, former champion and all time great Jeremy McGrath was asked about Villopoto and his lack of enthusiasm. " To me, it's sad when you see a guy on the podium and he looks like he's miserable." Ryan countered with the argument that the Supercross business is much different from the "carefree 90's" , the era that McGrath was racing in. 

I don't doubt that Ryan still enjoys riding dirt bikes for a job, but he also knows the business side very well and knows that this sport can be ruthless to a rider. " This sport chews you up and spits you out." said Villopoto. " It's the nature of the sport where if I don't win next weekend, it doesn't really matter what I've done prior to this." 

Ryan Villopoto has become one of the most accomplished, successful and most determined riders this sport has ever seen. Ryan is only 26, but there's a chance we may see him hang up the boots during his prime. His close friend Casey Stoner, a former Moto GP driver retired at the prime age of just 23 for personal reasons such as just wanting to stay healthy and be with his family. Ryan is now married and may be looking to start a family of his own. As much as fans would hate to see him go, I think there is a good chance that the 2015 Supercross season will be the last year we see Ryan Villopoto racing dirt bikes.

25 Jul

John Tavares Will Produce 100 Points This Year For the Islanders

With everything going wrong for the Islanders in the past few years, forward and Captain John Tavares is one of the few things that have gone right for the Islanders. Even when they have been awful, Tavares has always produced and played at the top of his game, night in and night out. With young guys maturing as players and New York making a couple of off-season moves, I believe this is the year we see Tavares score 100 points. 

In his four seasons in the NHL, Tavares has scored a minimal of 24 goals every single season, even in 2012-13, when the season was shrunk down to 48 games due to the lockout. Tavares still managed to score 28 goals and 47 points, averaging just a hair under a point a game. 

The Islanders have been without a reliable goalie for quite some time. They went out this summer and acquired former Capitals and Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak and signed center Mikhail Grabovski to add some solid depth at center. Along with the emergence of young forwards Ryan Stromme and Anders Lee, I believe Tavares will have enough support to put up 100 points. 

He's strong on the powerplay and I think their PP is going to improve with these young talented players as well as the addition of Grabovski. Don't forget about their other goal scorer in Kyle Okposo, who has developed tremendous chemistry with Tavares. Stick Okposo and Lee on a line with Tavares, that line is going to put up big numbers. 

Tavares not only scores goals but is a terrific passer as well, has great vision on the ice and is able to make plays out of nothing. Tavares will need to stay healthy in order to have a shot at a 100 point season. He scored 66 points last year while missing 23 games due to injury. If he can stay healthy and play all 82 games or at least close to that, I think Tavares will put up the best numbers of his career and break the 100 point barrier.

My prediction: 41 goals 63 assists. 

25 Jul

Will Rob Gronkowski Be The Best Fantasy Tight End In 2014-15?

Over the last few years, the tight end position has proved to be a more valuable commodity in years past. With guys like Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, Gronk and Jimmy Graham producing wide receiver type numbers, more people are scrambling to land a top 5 tight end in their fantasy football league. Jimmy Graham is the highest paid, most valuable fantasy tight end to many fantasy football owners and he is expected to have another outstanding year in 2014, but I believe there is someone else who is worthy of being the top tight end and that guy is Rob Gronkowski.

There are people who already view Gronk as a number one tight end and rightfully so. He is a mammoth, standing at 6' 6", is very strong, an good route runner and of course, a lethal weaponin the redzone. 

The biggest problem surrounding Gronk in his four years in the league have been his health. In his past two seasons, Gronkowski has failed to play all 16 games, dealing with lower body injuries, and a broken arm, which eventually got infected, causing him to miss more time. But when he is healthy, Gronk has proven to be a huge asset to the Patriots offense and arguably Tom Brady's favorite target.

After missing over half of the 2013 season, Gronk returned to the field being target 17 times, catching 8 passes for 114 yards. If that doesn't show you how much Brady loves Gronk, I don't know what does. In his 7 games he played in last year, 4 of those games Gronk was targeted at least 10 times. 

The doctors have cleared the two-time Pro Bowler, deeming him fit to practice at training camp. Gronk is finally 100 percent healthy and I truly believe we are going to see the Rob Gronkowski of 2011, the year Gronk broke out onto the scene, catching 90 balls for 1,327 yards and a league leading 17 touchdowns. 

If you look at the numbers since 2011, Gronk has played very well, even when he was struggling with injuries. I know many fantasy owners tend to get a bit nervous drafting someone who hasn't been healthy the last few seasons, but Gronkowski is one of those exceptions you can definitely make. Now that he is healthy and ready to go, look for him to break out once again in 2014. I believe he will be top 3, if not the number 1 tight end this year, exceeding 1,000 receiving yards and 13-18 touchdowns. Graham will have a down year with his new big expensive contract and take a step back in 2014, putting Rob Gronkowski on the top of the tight end list for fantasy football.

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