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August 16, 2014

Hockey: Former Bruin Sanford commits to Michigan State

Posted by: Feldman

The impressive list of former Austin Bruins players moving on to play college hockey continues to grow. Former Bs forward Brennan Sanford announced Friday that he has committed to play for Michigan State University, in the Big Ten Conference.

Sanford has one year of junior hockey eligibility remaining, and he'll likely spend the 2014-15 season playing for the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders of the USHL. Sanford finished last season in Cedar Rapids, where he compiled 3 goals and 4 assists in 33 games. He started the season with the Austin Bruins of the NAHL, where he had 10 goals and 8 assists in 29 games. The trade that sent Sanford to Cedar Rapids brought forward Casey Jerry to the Bruins, last December.

The 6-foot-1, 181-pound Sanford is a native of Holt, Mich., a 12-mile drive from East Lansing, the home of Michigan State.

Here is an up-to-date list of Bruins who have or are playing college hockey. The Bs have sent 21 players to D-I schools in just four seasons.

As you'll see noted in the list below, former Bruins forward Brandon Wahlin has transferred from UMass to Lake Superior State, in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Wahlin will now be a teammate of former Rochester Lourdes defenseman Pete Spratte.

BRUINS IN COLLEGE HOCKEY

DIVISION I
F Charlie Adams, Nebraska-Omaha (NCHC)
G Keegan Asumundson, Canisius (Atlantic Hockey)
F Jay Dickman, Bemidji State (WCHA)
D Christian Folin, UMass-Lowell (Hockey East)
D Jon Gehrt, Army (Atlantic Hockey)
F Matt Hansen, Colorado College (NCHC)
F Sam Kauppila, St. Lawrence (ECAC)
F Lucas Kohls, UMass-Lowell (Hockey East)
F Guillaume Leclerc, UMass-Lowell (Hockey East)
G Nick Lehr, Minnesota (Big Ten)
D Charlie Manley, RPI (ECAC)
G Eamon McAdam, Penn State (Big Ten)
G Jason Pawloski, MSU Mankato (WCHA)
F AJ Reid, Air Force (Atlantic Hockey)
F Brennan Sanford, Michigan State (Big Ten)
F Joe Schuldt, Michigan Tech (WCHA)
F Johnny Simonson, North Dakota (NCHC)
F C.J. Smith, UMass-Lowell (Hockey East)
F Easton Viitala, Northern Michigan (WCHA)
F Brandon Wahlin, UMass (H.E.) / Lake Superior St. (WCHA)
D Trevor Waldoch, Air Force (Atlantic Hockey)

DIVISION III
F Drew Anderson, Augsburg (MIAC)
G Tyler Bruggeman, St. Scholastica (NCHA)
D Mike Bond, Bethel (MIAC)
F Riley Colvard, UW-Stout (NCHA)
D Cody Dixon, UMass-Boston (ECAC-East)
F Cory Ellis, Gustavus (MIAC)
F Jeremy Finger, UMass-Boston (ECAC-East)
F Chris Fischer, UW-Eau Claire (NCHA)
F Cody Hotchkin, UW-Superior (NCHA)
F Nolan Kirley, UW-Stout (NCHA)
D/F Eli May, Augsburg (MIAC)
F Nate Mondry, St. John's (MIAC)
F Austin Nelson, UW-Stout (NCHA)
F Sam Olson, St. Thomas (MIAC)
D Connor Quinn, St. Olaf (MIAC)
D Jack Walsh, Gustavus (MIAC)

August 04, 2014

Points on the Purple Daily: Aug. 4 (will another safety please step up)

Posted by: Feldman

Each week during the Vikings season, me and fellow P-B sports writer Guy N. Limbeck write "Points on the Purple," a back-and-forth column about the Vikings' topics of the day. We'll make this Faceoff Blog version of POTP as close to a daily feature as possible throughout training camp and the 2014 season.

If we've learned anything about new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer through a week-and-a-half of training camp, it's that he still keeps an eagle eye on defensive backs. Zimmer is a d-backs coach by nature and by trade, and watching him in several camp practices, you can tell he notices the tiniest miscue by his corners and safeties.

For example, during a walk-through a week ago, rookie Antone Exum was lining up at safety in a goal-line drill. Exum was only about 3-4 yards off the line of scrimmage and Zimmer stood directly behind him as the offense lined up. Just as the ball was about to be snapped, Zimmer stopped the play. He moved Exum over about 2 steps to his right and a step or two closer to the line. When the ball was snapped, Exum was in position to cut off the tight end's route to the goalpost. Following the play, Zimmer walked over to Exum and was clearly telling him what would have happened if he had stay lined up in his original position. Zimmer's arms were going in every possible direction and he never stopped talking, never stopped coaching.

Now, that's one play in a walk-through on Day 4 of training camp, when guys were only wearing jerseys and shorts.

But the point is, Zimmer is not going to settle for any defensive backs who aren't performing up to his standards for them. That's evident in the safety merry-go-round that we've seen in Mankato. Robert Blanton, Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond have all been talked about as the starter at the safety position next to Harrison Smith.

Blanton and Sanford have both battled injuries or are battling injuries at various times already in camp. Andrew Sendejo, who played 10 games last year when Smith was injured, is just now beginning to practice after missing the first week of camp with a back injury. Veteran Kurt Coleman has also seen time with the first team in camp, but hasn't done enough to earn more trust from Zimmer and his staff.

Zimmer's patience with the revolving door at safety clearly grew thin over the weekend. Sunday he communicated with Chris Crocker, who has played for Zimmer for seven of the past eight seasons (one year in Atlanta, six in Cincinnati). Monday, Crocker showed up in Mankato and was signed, instantly becoming the team's oldest player, at 34 years old. Should he make the team, he'll be in his 12th NFL season. He has 15 career interceptions and 60 passes defended.

Crocker has played both safety and nickel corner in his career.

Zimmer said Monday he wasn't sure if Crocker will play in Friday's preseason opener against Oakland at TCF Bank Stadium. I'd be stunned if we don't see Crocker early in the game, possibly even starting with Smith. Zimmer is obviously fed up with the lack of consistency from the other guys battling for that spot, so why not give Crocker a good look?

Then again, Zimmer pretty much knows exactly what Crocker will give him. And that's why Zim made the call.

Who knows? If Blanton and Sendejo suddenly get healthy, or if Sanford or Raymond or Coleman, or even Exum, step up and play like a starter, maybe Crocker won't make the opening day roster. Maybe signing Crocker is Zimmer's way of sending a message to not only the safeties, but the everyone else on the 90-man: If you're not meeting expectations, you can and will be replaced.

Or, maybe Crocker is Zimmer's security blanket at a position that is most important to him. The Vikings' pass defense was atrocious last season, and the personnel going into this season is mostly the same, so Crocker really couldn't be worse. Could he?

You don't play 11 years in the NFL without being pretty good at your job, so don't be surprised if Crocker is lining up next to Smith on Sept. 7 in St. Louis.

“I think I’ve been accountable, that’s the biggest thing,” Crocker told reporters on Monday. “And (Zimmer) is just so honest. You really appreciate a guy who is going to tell you whether you’re good or whether you’re bad. At the end of the day, you know where you stand. I’ve always played at the highest level playing for a guy like that.”

August 03, 2014

Points on the Purple Daily: Aug. 3 (Looking at a decade of drafts)

Posted by: Feldman

Each week during the Vikings season, me and fellow P-B sports writer Guy N. Limbeck write "Points on the Purple," a back-and-forth column about the Vikings' topics of the day. We'll make this Faceoff Blog version of POTP as close to a daily feature as possible throughout training camp and the 2014 season.

The buzz in Mankato over the past week — just as it is every year — has been about the new guys in purple, and the new guys with whistles. Last year it was the arrival of three first-round draft picks, Cordarrelle Patterson, Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd.

This year it's first-rounders Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater, as well as an almost entirely new coaching staff. There has already been much speculation about Barr and Bridgewater, where their careers in purple will go and how big of an impact they'll have on this organization (at least four Super Bowls, give or take a couple).

That got me thinking back to 2011, when Christian Ponder was the guy who everyone expected to turn the franchise around. And to 2008, when safety Tyrell Johnson was supposed to end the Vikings' merry-go-round at the position for the next 8-10 years.

So I decided to rank the past 10 Vikings drafts (2005-2014), in order of best to worst (mostly worst … I kid … kind of). I actually only ranked eight of the past 10 drafts because the 2013 and 2014 draftees are still too fresh to criticize or praise. Feel free to let me know if I'm wrong...

2007
The picks (8): RB Adrian Peterson (Round 1, No. 7 overall); WR Sidney Rice (2, 44); CB Marcus McCauley (3, 72); DE Brian Robison (4, 102); WR Aundrae Allison (5, 136); LB Rufus Alexander (6, 176); QB Tyler Thigpen (7, 217); WR Chandler Williams (7, 233).
Analysis: Does it really matter what happened after No. 7 overall this year? No. That the Vikings found a long-term DE in Round 4 is just a nice bonus. Rice had the one big year of his career when the Vikings needed it -- Brett Favre made him into a stud in 2009. Getting the best RB in team history -- when someone in the media (possibly me, I won't confirm or deny) wanted them to draft Brady Quinn -- is enough to make this one of the best drafts of the past 10 years.

2012
The picks (10)
: T Matt Kalil (Round 1, No. 4 overall); S Harrison Smith (1, 29); CB Josh Robinson (3, 66); WR Jarius Wright (4, 118); TE Rhett Ellison (4, 128); WR Greg Childs (4, 134); DB Robert Blanton (5, 139); K Blair Walsh (6, 175); LB Audie Cole (7, 210); DL Trevor Guyton (7, 219).
Analysis: Aside from the players drafted, I chuckled when reminded the team's first sixth-round pick was shipped to Washington for a QB. Donovan McNabb. He threw just two more TDs for the Vikings than Kelly Holcomb. Heh-heh. … Rick Spielman made his two first-round draft picks count, filling holes at two key spots for years to come. Wright has provided a lot of speed at the receiver spot, Blanton was in the mix for a starting safety spot before being injured in camp this year, and Blair Walsh has made the Vikings look smart for using a draft pick on a kicker.

2009
The picks (5): WR Percy Harvin (Round 1, No. 22 overall); T Phil Loadholt (2, 54); CB Asher Allen (3, 86); LB Jasper Brinkley (4, 150); S Jamarca Sanford (7, 231).
Analysis: If Harvin had remained a Viking, this draft might be ranked higher, though, the Vikings turned out OK after trading him, essentially getting CB Xavier Rhodes in return. Say this about Harvin: He may have been a headache (no pun intended) for coaches and teammates at times, but you knew you'd get everything he had when he stepped on the field. Loadholt has turned into a solid NFL tackle, a guy you know you don't have to worry about faltering on the right side. Brinkley could be in his second stint as a starter for the Vikes this year and Sanford has started 44 games, though he may not make the roster this year.

2008
The picks: S Tyrell Johnson (Round 2, No. 43 overall); QB John David Booty (5, 137); DT Letroy Guion (5,152); C John Sullivan (6, 187); WR Jaymar Johnson (6, 193).
Analysis: This draft, based solely on the players the Vikings selected, is about as bad as it gets, with the obvious exception of Sullivan. But, the Vikings' use of their first-round pick and two third-round picks this year has to be taken into consideration. They dealt those to Kansas City for DE Jared Allen. When you consider Allen as the team's first-round pick, plus getting a possible Vikings lifer -- Sullivan -- in the sixth round, this draft isn't as terrible as it seems.

2011
The picks (9): QB Christian Ponder (Round 1, No. 12 overall); TE Kyle Rudolph (2, 43); DL Christian Ballard (4, 106); CB Brandon Burton (5, 139); T DeMarcus Love (6, 168); S Mistral Raymond (6, 170); G Brandon Fusco (6, 172); LB Ross Homan (6, 200); DE D'Aundre Reed (7, 215); WR Stephen Burton (7, 236).
Analysis: The Ponder selection seemed like a reach at the time, and it proved to be exactly that. Raymond has started 10 games, but hasn't been consistent enough to lock down a starting job. Ballard was a bust; he decided he just didn't like football. Rudolph and Fusco saved this draft. Rudolph was just signed to a $7M-plus per-year extension and Fusco could be next in line for a nice extension, if he continues his ascension. Burton's moment of fame came in a loss at Indy, when he caught a twice-tipped pass in the end zone late in the fourth quarter for a TD. At least he did that. … As a side note, the Vikings didn't have a third-rounder. It was traded to New England for Randy Moss. *sigh*

2010
The picks (8): CB Chris Cook (Round 2, No. 34 overall); RB Toby Gerhart (2, 51); DE Everson Griffen (4, 100); T Chris DeGeare (5, 161); LB Nate Triplett (5, 167); QB Joe Webb (6, 199); TE Mickey Shuler (7, 214); LB Ryan D'Imperio (7, 237).
Analysis: Looking at this list makes me want to throw a temper tantrum like my 2-year-old. Cook and Gerhart are two of the most frustrating picks in the past 10 years. Cook never lived up to the potential he'd show in training camp. Gerhart was a beast running between the tackles, but the Vikings left a lot of tread on his tires and weren't smart enough to trade him — for something, ANYTHING! — last year. They traded up for him in this draft and ended up with pretty much nothing to show for it. The coaches could never figure out how to use a guy with Webb's athletic ability and he's backing up Cam Newton now. Griffen is the only saving grace of this draft, and now he has to prove that he's worth $42.5M over five years.

2006
The picks (6): LB Chad Greenway (Round 1, No. 17 overall); CB Cedric Griffen (2, 48); C Ryan Cook (2, 51); QB Tarvaris Jackson (2, 64); DE Ray Edwards (4, 127); S Greg Blue (5, 149).
Analysis: As much criticism as Greenway has received over the past year or so, he is a two-time Pro Bowler and was a 2nd Team All-Pro in 2012. His teammates voted him the defensive MVP last season (which, I guess, isn't saying much, considering how awful that 'D' was). Griffen was OK at corner, but Cook and T-Jack never lived up to their second-round draft status. Edwards was a decent DE, but it's fair for fans to have expected more from him, playing opposite Jared Allen.

2005
The picks (7): WR Troy Williamson (Round 1, No. 7 overall); DE Erasmus James (1, 18); G Marcus Johnson (2, 49); S Dustin Fox (3, 80); RB Ciatrick Fason (4, 112); DT C.J. Mosley (6, 191); CB Adrian Ward (7, 219).
Analysis: I'm not sure whether to scream or laugh when looking at this list. I've chosen to laugh, because I otherwise might cry. This isn't nice, but here are a few players the Vikings could have taken in the first round: DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, Thomas Davis, Roddy White and some QB named Aaron Rodgers (I can give them a pass here, though; Daunte Culpepper was coming off a 39-TD, near-MVP season in '04). Still, this draft is beyond cringe-worthy. Aside from the two first-round disasters, their second-round pick, Johnson, was no better. He's best remembered for being pulled off the field in the middle of a drive at the Metrodome because he false-started multiple times. I don't know if Fox ever played a game, I didn't have the stomach to look it up.

• • • • •

2013
The picks (9): DT Sharrif Floyd (Round 1, No. 23 overall); CB Xavier Rhodes (1, 25); WR Cordarrelle Patterson (1, 29); LB Gerald Hodges (4, 120); P Jeff Locke (5, 155); G Jeff Baca (6, 196); LB Mike Mauti (7, 213); G Travis Bond (7, 214); DT Everett Dawkins (7, 229).
Analysis: Two of the nine aren't with the team (Bond, Dawkins), but the other seven already have made significant contributions or are competing for more playing time. Mauti and Hodges are in the mix of six linebackers who are competing for time. Baca should be, at worst, a key backup at multiple spots on the line. The three first-rounders are expected to take big steps forward this season as second-year guys.

2014
The picks (10): LB Anthony Barr (Round 1, No. 9 overall); QB Teddy Bridgewater (1, 32); DE Scott Crichton (3, 72); RB Jerick McKinnon (3, 96); OL David Yankey (5, 145); DB Antone Exum (6, 182); CB Kendall James (6, 184); DT Shamar Stephen (7, 220); LB Brandon Watts (7, 223); CB Jabari Price (7, 225).
Analysis: Best draft class EVER! … OK, obviously way too soon to tell, but depending on how a couple of camp battles go, we could see three starters in this group (Barr, Bridgewater, Yankey) and maybe seven of these guys make the opening day 53-man roster. Those two first-round picks could make this a boom-or-bust draft.

August 01, 2014

Points on the Purple Daily: July 31

Posted by: Feldman

Each week during the Vikings season, me and my fellow P-B sports scribe Guy N. Limbeck write "Points on the Purple" for our Vikings Playbook page in the Weekend print edition. We'll make this as close to a daily feature as possible here at the blog, with a smaller dose of POTP.

The Vikings took a day off early in training camp, so I decided to take two, as well. I'm old. My body needs time to recover.

Limbeck was over in Mankato today and wrote about some of the injuries (and recoveries) the team has dealt with in the first week of camp. Read that story here.

Today's POTP topic: The offensive line is the biggest strength of the offense.

That's a lot to say, considering No. 28 is in the backfield. But, then again, he goes nowhere without a hole being opened for him. ... Well, that's not entirely true, because we've seen A.P. make his own running room. You get my point, though: We're so excited about Teddy, Cordarrelle, A.P. and Jerick that we forget about the big ugly guys up front who do the heavy lifting.

It would seem the only spot up for grabs on the line is left guard, where incumbent Charlie Johnson could be cut or benched and a majority of Vikings fans wouldn't notice or care. Some would even applaud. Don't rule out the possibility of Johnson not only losing his starting job, but losing his spot on the 53-man roster entirely.

The Vikings drafted Jeff Baca in the sixth round last year and, while he was inactive for 12 games, he played in the final three. Baca (6-3, 302) could battle for the starting job at left guard, but he seems more like one of those guys who is a capable backup at any position along the line. That would leave this year's fifth-round pick out of Stanford, two-time All-American David Yankey. The 6-6, 315-pounder was All-America at left tackle in 2012 before moving to guard and earning All-America honors again last season. He even occasionally lined up at tight end.

Even with the uncertainty about the starter at left guard, the line is still the strongest part of the Vikings' offense.

Left tackle Matt Kalil is expected to bounce back after a subpar sophomore season last year. John Sullivan has developed into one of the most reliable and accountable centers in the league. Brandon Fusco at right guard is one of those guys you'd have expected to see in the era when Mike Tice was coaching the O-line. He was a sixth-round draft pick out of D-2 Slippery Rock in 2011 — the Vikings third pick of that round, by the way — who has blossomed into a solid, if not outstanding pro. Pro Football Focus called Fusco "a legitimate All-Pro candidate." That's lofty praise for such a young guy, and a lot of that is probably playing next to the dependable right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Fusco is a free agent after this season, but don't expect him to hit the market. Vikings' GM Rick Spielman has shown he's willing and ready to lock up the young up-and-comers before other teams can court them. Loadholt was given a new deal before last season. He's a no-nonsense guy who just wants to do his job and win football games; he's the anchor of the Vikings' line and he graded out as the No. 98 player in the NFL last year by PFF.

The Vikings also have some depth along the line this year, with two of Baca/Johnson/Yankey backing up the interior spots, as well as veteran Vlad Ducasse, and guys like Mike Remmers and Kevin Murphy at tackle.

As good as the line has been over the past two seasons, it should be even better this season, not having to protect Christian Ponder for half the season.

July 28, 2014

Points on the Purple Daily: July 28

Posted by: Feldman

Each week during the Vikings season, me and my fellow P-B sports scribe Guy N. Limbeck write "Points on the Purple" for our Vikings Playbook page in the Weekend print edition. We'll make this as close to a daily feature as possible here at the blog, with a smaller dose of POTP.

1. Yo, Adrian! Adrian Peterson talked to the media after this morning's walkthrough at Blakeslee Stadium. The MVP addressed a lot of topics, perhaps the most noteworthy is his love for the scheme that new O.C. Norv Turner has put in place. And in doing so, A.P. finally said what we all said for the previous three years: Bill Musgrave's system stunk. A.P. was a little nicer, terming it "predictable." You can read more of what A.P. had to say today in this story.

2. Flip-flopping on Teddy. It was just two days ago that I called the Vikings' starting QB job Matt Cassel's, unless rookie Teddy Bridgewater has a Russell Wilson-like preseason. Do I have to start walking toward the Team Teddy Bandwagon? I'll wait to sprint for my spot until we see a couple of preseason games, but Bridgewater was sharp tonight, leading the second team offense in a practice under the lights at Blakeslee Stadium. He went 12-for-13 passing, the only miss being a whiff by rookie tight end AC Leonard. Bridgewater obviously hasn't won the job yet, but he hasn't hurt himself. Cassel is at least hearing Bridgewater's footsteps behind him now.

3. Considering where a lot of sixth-round draft picks end up (not on NFL rosters), Blair Walsh could probably be considered a steal. Sure, he's a kicker, but he's a darn good one. His rookie season was outstanding (35-for-38 on field goals, 10-for-10 from 50-plus yards). He regressed a bit as a sophomore, with a 26-for-30 season (2-for-5 from 50-plus), but sounds very confident heading into his third year. He made 6 of 7 field goals Monday night, including both of his attempts from 50-plus (50, 52). His lone miss was wide right from 44 yards. Vikes head coach Mike Zimmer has talked all offseason about creating competition at every position, but Walsh can relax and just kick in camp this year; he is at one of very few positions where there is no competition. There are just one kicker and one punter (Jeff Locke) on the 90-man roster.

July 27, 2014

Points On The Purple Daily, July 27: Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

Posted by: Feldman

The biggest news through the first three days of Minnesota Vikings training camp broke late tonight: Kyle Rudolph has been elevated to the top tier of NFL tight ends.

Rudolph, the Vikings' 2nd-round draft pick in 2011 (the year they drafted Christian Ponder in Round 1), signed a five-year, $36.5 million extension on Sunday, with $19.5 million guaranteed.

Tight ends don't get that kind of money for being good blockers in the running game. This big-money deal for Rudy says more about where the Vikings' new coaching staff expects him to go under Norv Turner's offense than what he's done in his first three seasons in the NFL.

This is a great deal for both sides. At 6-feet-6, 259 pounds, not only does Rudolph give QBs Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater a big target, he's also fast and agile for his size. The obvious comparison here is what the New Orleans Saints have done with Jimmy Graham. Of course, it's  not fair to expect Rudolph to catch 85 balls for 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, BUT at $7.3 million per year, it's clear that Turner and head coach Mike Zimmer expect Rudolph to be a huge part of the passing game.

And that's exciting for Vikings fans, to add Rudolph's pass-catching skills on top of receivers Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright. 

There are some injury concerns with Rudolph, dating back to his time at Notre Dame. Rudolph only played in eight games last season because of a foot injury, but to be fair, Rudolph played in 31 of 32 games during his first two seasons, and he caught nine TD passes in 2012.

With Rudolph's combination of size, strength and agility, Turner has to be salivating about using him in red zone situations, especially when the Vikings have the ball near the goal line. 

According to OverTheCap.com, Rudolph's deal makes him the fifth-highest paid tight end in the NFL, in terms of average annual value of his contract behind Graham ($10.0 M/year); New England's Rob Gronkowksi ($9.0 M/year); Dallas' Jason Witten ($7.4 M/year) and San Francisco's Vernon Davis ($7.35 M/year).

"I'm extremely excited to get this extension completed and continue my career with the Minnesota Vikings," Rudolph said in a press release. "I've said all along I wanted to stay in Minnesota. I love the fans, the community and most importantly, I'm excited about where this team is going."

Rudolph has 109 catches for 1,055 yards and 15 TDs in 39 career games (32 starts).

July 26, 2014

Points On The Purple Daily, July 26

Posted by: Feldman 

A new head coach. (Possibly) a new starting quarterback. A new (temporary) home stadium. An old punter stirring the pot.

We're only two days into Minnesota Vikings training camp and there is already so much to talk about. Why not do some of that on this blog?
 
In every Weekend Post-Bulletin during the Vikings season, me and the P-B's version of Sid Hartman, sports writer Guy N. Limbeck, do a column called "Points on the Purple." It's a back-and-forth, give-and-take (usually me giving Limbeck the business for his homerish opinions) about the state of the Vikings.
 
We'll try to bring some of that to the Faceoff blog during training camp, the preseason and regular season. And by "we" I mean "me." I don't think Limbeck knows what a blog is, much less how to log in and write in this space. 
 
Enough about us, though, football season is here, so let's talk some Vikings!
 
Each day, I'll do my best to come up with four "Points" about the Purple. Some days I'll add an Extra Point, just because I feel like babbling on, and the Interwebs offer limitless space.
 
Here are today's Points On The Purple:
 
1. The QB Battle. I'm definitely in the minority with this opinion, at least if I use Twitter as a judge (and we all know, if you read something on Twitter, it has to be true. Right?), but to me, there's no battle for the starting QB job. At least right now. It's Matt Cassel's job. Could Teddy Bridgewater play his way into that spot, or at least make it a battle? Absolutely. But he hasn't yet. He hasn't had enough of a chance. Unless Bridgewater has a Russel Wilson-like presason, he'll be a backup when the Vikings open the regular season on Sept. 7 at St. Louis. This doesn't mean Cassel will still be the starter in Week 17, when Chicago comes to TCF Bank Stadium. It just means there's nothing wrong with letting Bridgewater be an attentive student for most, if not all, of the season.
 
2. Keep calm about Cordarrelle. Vikings coaches and fans -- and many people around the NFL, for that matter -- are expecting big things from second-year WR Cordarrellle Patterson this season. So a few eyebrows were raised, as were some blood pressure rates, when fans found out Patterson didn't practice on the first two days of camp due to a foot injury. It's OK to take a deep breath and relax about this one. While the Vikings were practicing Saturday afternoon, Patterson was working with a trainer on one of the practice fields. Head coach Mike Zimmer said Patterson and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring) are close to returning.
 
3. Blanton and the safety battle. One of the position battles in the spotlight in Mankato is the competition for the starting job opposite Harrison Smith at safety. Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond are the names most often mentioned as the top candidates to win that job, as well as veteran free-agent acquisition Kurt Coleman. Andrew Sendejo had been considered a front runner, too, but he has started training camp on the PUP list and his return does not sound imminent. With players putting pads on for practice, beginning Sunday, every practice, every rep Sendejo misses is costly. Don't count out 2012 fifth-round draft pick Robert Blanton, though. Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards gave Blanton, who was teammates with Smith in college at Notre Dame, reps with the first team during mini-camp practices this summer. Blanton dressed for all 16 games last season, starting three in December. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder led the Vikings with 19 special teams tackles last season. In the season finale against Detroit, he started and recorded 14 tackles, the second-most in a game by a Viking last season (Sendejo had 17 vs. Washington). He was also credited with six pass breakups and two tackles for loss last year. 
 
4. Will the defensive ends hold up? The Vikings gave defense end Everson Griffen a five-year, $42.5 million contract in the offseason. They locked up DE Brian Robison a year earlier with a four-year, $28 million deal. That's a lot of money for guys who have never had a 10-sack season. Robison has been solid, recording 25.5 sacks over the past three years. Griffen has 17.5 in his four-year career. Last year, Robison appeared to shed his reputation of wearing down in the second half of seasons. He had eight of his nine sacks in the final nine games. The big question that will loom this season, though, is: Can they keep that up without Jared Allen's presence in the lineup? Perhaps Zimmer's scheme -- with pressure possibly coming from any direction on any given snap -- will help offset the loss of Allen. Griffen is saying all the right things, particularly that he thrives on and lives for the pressure he'll face this season. He'll be better against the run than Allen was, but, fairly or not, he'll likely be judged by the number of sacks he produces.
 
Extra Points: I made my first trip of this training camp to Mankato today and was reminded of a copule guys that you can count on seeing every year that make me chuckle or cringe, or both. These are guys to watch out for, and possibly mock, if you choose.
 
The first is Intense Fan. We've all seen this guy in the bleachers at MSU Mankato. He's the one who is so focused on a Day 2 training camp walkthru -- which, by the way, is nothing more than football players in jerseys and shorts, literally walking around and simulating game play -- that he can't be bothered by anyone or anything around him. "Honey, you have to keep the kids quiet! I'm trying to hear what's going on out there!" Intense Fan believes Jerick McKinnon will be a Pro Bowler because he witnessed first-hand McKinnon (wearing jerseys and shorts) catch a pass and run untouched to the end zone, while the defensive players (wearing jerseys and shorts) didn't even bother to pursue him. 
 
The second guy you'll see is Serious Security Guy. He's the guy who stands in the median on Stadium Road, halting traffic when a Vikings player or coach needs to cross the road from Myers Field House to the practice fields. Serious Security Guy will quickly and emphatically hold his arm straight out, with his palm facing you, making sure you know you need to stop your vehicle while a person is walking across the road, in a crosswalk. Once said person has safely crossed the road, SSG will start waving his arm toward you like he's telling you to hurry up and round third base because the throw is already at the cutoff man. I learned today that Serious Security Guy does not like it when you chuckle at him as you drive past while he's urging you toward home plate. 
 
Oh, there's also Sunburned Journalist Guy. He usually gets mocked by Intense Fan and Serious Security Guy. Feel free to join in. He can take it.

July 25, 2014

High School Hockey | 3 from Rochester make Elite League

Posted by: Feldman

Thinking back to late February and the high school hockey playoffs, about the time I was putting together the All-Area Boys Hockey Team for last season, I kept thinking about what it would be like to see Riese Zmolek of Rochester Century and Griff Slightam of Rochester Lourdes on the ice together as a defensive pairing.

Slightam missed the entire hockey season last year with an injury, but as soon as he started his recovery, he had his eyes set to this winter, to November and the start of his senior season.

Still, what a pairing that would be. Zmolek can do just about anything the Panthers need him to do -- rush the puck up the ice, skate through traffic to create a shot or space for a teammate, handle the puck, run point on the power play or play down low. Slightam is a guy who can play a physical game and provide offensive punch at the same time. Seeing those two together would make any coach pretty happy.

We just might get to see that combo this fall, as Slightam, Zmolek and Lourdes goalie Jack Burkel have all been named to Team Northeast for the Upper Midwest High School Elite League.

Rochester Mayo's Logan Haskins and Dodge County's Tanner Dufault both made a tryout roster, but did not advance.

Here are all the rosters for the Elite League; these were released a week ago today.

Zmolek, Burkel and Slightam are all very worthy of their selections.

Zmolek had 38 points (12-26--38) in 26 games last season for Century, which finished 12-13-1. He was among the Panthers' go-to players, putting up at least one point in 21 of his 26 games.

Burkel went 7-15-1 on a 7-19-1 Lourdes team that was hit hard by injuries and lost in the Section 1A semifinals. He had a 3.53 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage, facing an average of 31.26 shots per game.

Slightam missed all of his junior season, after putting up 22 points in 30 games as a sophomore. He had a tremendous postseason run that year, collecting five points, including three goals, in six postseason games.

All three will be seniors this season.

A somewhat interesting side note, the other goalie on Team Northeast is Eagan's Andrew Lindgren. He's the younger brother of St. Cloud State goalie Charlie Lindgren, who starred in high school at Lakeville North and was a thorn in the side of Rochester's public school teams during the Section 1AA playoffs for four years.

Training camp for the Elite League begins in just more than a month, Aug. 29-30, in Blaine.

June 05, 2014

Junior Hockey | Breaking down the Austin Bruins draft

Posted by: Feldman

If there is a job in which people put more miles on their vehicle than that of a hockey scout, I'm not sure what it would be.

But, that's how championship teams are built. The Austin Bruins' scouts (and coaches, who also scout, of course) are earning their dollars this offseason. 

The Bruins went into Tuesday's North American Hockey League Draft with their sights set on drafting a goalie with a high pick. They were hoping to use their first-round pick, 20th overall, to help fill the void left by the departure of three-year Bruin Nick Lehr, a U of Minnesota commit.

That's where the scouting comes in. Bs assistant coach Jamie Huffman watched Eastview High School standout and Minnesota First Team All-State goalie Zach Driscoll at an Omaha Lancers (USHL) camp last weekend. Huffman came away convinced that Driscoll needed to be at the top of the list of the 4-5 goalies the Bruins had their eyes on.

And so there was no hesitation when Driscoll was still available at No. 20. The Bruins made Driscoll their first pick, after talking to him, to the Lancers and to St. Cloud State, where the 17-year-old has committed to play his college hockey. Driscoll still has a year of high school remaining, but he told the Bruins coaches he's ready to come to Austin this fall. The Lancers and SCSU have also expressed their pleasure with Driscoll possibly spending at least one season in black and yellow.

Here's the story I wrote for Wednesday's Post-Bulletin, which has more statistical data on Driscoll. 

Like I wrote in that story, if Driscoll comes to Austin and stays here for a full season (assuming the Lancers don't need to call him up at any point), it looks like the Bruins connected on a home run with their first pick.

The Bruins made 11 other picks in addition to Driscoll, using those on two defensemen and nine forwards. NAHL teams keep a 30-player protected list; the Bruins have 13 veterans (players eligible to return from last season's Robertson Cup runner-up team) and five tendered players (near as I can tell, those five are forwards Jacob Drinkard from Flint of the NA3HL, Evan Somoza of the California Titans 16U team and Luke Forfar from Chicago Mission U18; and defensemen Austin Wilk of the California Titans 18U team, and Ian Scheid of Blaine High School). That left 12 spots to fill in the draft.

They went with Driscoll first. Here's a look at the other 11, in the order they were drafted:

ROUND 2 (No. 44 overall): Max Gottlieb, D, Bonnyville (Alberta Jr. Hockey League)

Gottlieb is a 5-foot-10, 183-pound left-handed shot. He had 4-21--25 for Bonnyville this past season. The 19-year-old is a native of Old Bridge, N.J., who previously played in the New Jersey Rockets' junior program.

ROUND 4 (No. 92 overall): Patrick Geary, F, Lloydminster (Alberta Jr. Hockey League)

The Libertyville, Ill., native put up 12-13--25 for Lloydminster last season. He's a 5-11, 185-pound '95-born forward, who played for the Chicago Young Americans U18 team in 2012-13, after playing for Team Illinois U16 the previous season.

ROUND 5 (No. 114 overall): Michael Davies, D, St. Louis U18AAA

The '97-born St. Louis native is committed to Ohio State for 2015-16. He played in two games for Dubuque of the USHL last season, while putting up 20 points in 33 games for the St. Louis AAA U18 team. He also played in four games for the Team USA U17 team.

ROUND 6 (No. 134 overall): Patrick Polino, F, Green Bay (USHL)

The Buffalo native is a 5-9, 160-pound center who has spent the past two seasons in the USHL. He played 60 games for the Chicago Steel in 2012-13, then split time between Chicago and Green Bay last season. He had 13 points in 46 total games in 2013-14. Polino is a '95-born player.

ROUND 7 (No. 151 overall): Alex Jasiek, F, St. Louis U18 AAA

The Bruins took another St. Louis native (maybe they like how well St. Louis kid Trey Dodd played this past season?) in Jasiek, a '96-born forward who has already committed to Dartmouth. He's listed at 5-9, 157 and is a scorer. Jasiek had 21-34-55 in 35 games for St. Louis this season. He also appeared in two USHL games for Des Moines.

ROUND 8 (No. 164 overall): Adam Durkee, F, Fort McMurray (Alberta Jr. Hockey League)

The Bruins went back to Canada one more time to find a 5-11, 188-pound, 20-year-old center. The Lafayette, Colo., native has one year of junior eligibility remaining. He played the past two seasons for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, where he put up 35-36--71 in 116 games. 

ROUND 9 (No. 176 overall): Kyle Eastman, F, Tri-City (USHL)

Eastman is the second of two players picked by the Bruins whose most recent team was in the USHL. Eastman had 22 points and 105 penalty minutes in 101 games for Tri-City over the past two seasons. The 6-1, 201-pounder is from Angola, N.Y.

ROUND 10 (No. 188 overall): Evan Weinger, F, L.A. Jr. Kings U18

Weinger is an L.A. native, with a big frame for a 17-year-old (he's listed at 6-0, 187). He had 12-14--26 in 35 games with the Jr. Kings this season. 

ROUND 11 (No. 199 overall) Zach Kennedy, F, Northland Pines (Wisconsin H.S.)

Kennedy was an honorable mention all-state player for Northland Pines, putting up 29-16--45 in 24 games as a senior. Local fans may remember watching him play in the Kiwanis Festival at Graham Arena in Rochester right after Christmas. He led his team to the championship game, recording six points in the tournament. He had a hat trick against Rochester John Marshall in the opening round.

ROUND 12 (No. 207 overall) J.C. Maclean, F, New Jersey Rockets

John Carter Maclean is another young, big body. The 17-year-old center is listed at 6-2, 201. He had 10-15--25 in 26 games at Delbarton Prep in N.J. in 2012-13 before moving on to the N.J. Rockets this past season.

ROUND 13 (No. 212 overall): Blake Christensen, F, Lincoln Stars (USHL)

The 5-10, 154-pound, '95-born forward is a native of Rochester Hills, Mich. He played with three different USHL teams last season, putting up 11 points over the final 23 games for Lincoln. In 2012-13, he played in 29 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program; 27 games with the U17 team and two games with the U18 team.

Notes...

* When I talked to Bs head coach Chris Tok after Tuesday's draft, he noted that the team has been able to branch out the past two years, in terms of which leagues it looks at to pick players from. They took three players from Canadian leagues in this draft, as well as a New Jersey Rockets player. Tok said in his first couple of years in Austin, players from other leagues were hesitant to leave their league to come and play in Austin for a relatively new team. But with the success the Bs have had the past two seasons -- two regular season division titles, one postseason division title and a trip to the Robertson Cup Finals -- players are changing their tunes. Now, guys who play in Canada, or out east, or who are borderline USHL players are more willing to come to Austin, because they see that with hard work and buying into what the coaches say, they'll have a good shot to win and move on to play college hockey.

* Tok said wanted a goalie and at least one defenseman early. Their plan played out, as they got Driscoll in the first round, and defensemen in the second and fifth rounds. They then went heavy on forwards to fill some needs.

* The next step toward the Bruins locking in their roster for the 2014-15 season are a pair of tryout camps -- one on June 19, the other in mid-July.

If you haven't seen it yet, the Bruins' 2014-15 schedule is out. I'll look at that more in-depth sometime in the coming weeks, after the high school sports season has wrapped up.

June 03, 2014

Junior Hockey | Bruins looking for 'everything' in today's NAHL Draft

Posted by: Feldman

The North American Hockey League season has only been over for about three weeks, but the calendar has flipped to the 2014-15 season for coaches and players.

That includes the Austin Bruins, who aren't far removed from the best season in the team's brief four-year history. Austin made an entertaining and, at times, dramatic run through the postseason before running into the best team in the NAHL in the Robertson Cup Finals. The Bs were swept in Fairbanks, Alaska, 2-0 in the best-of-3 Finals. But the playoff run was a memorable way for some talented players to end memorable careers in black and yellow. 

Eleven players from that team were born in 1993, meaning they've used up their junior hockey eligibility. We know a number of them have already secured places to play this fall -- Joe Schuldt (Michigan Tech), Lucas Kohls (UMass-Lowell), Eli May (MSU Mankato), Jay Dickman (Bemidji State), and Nick Lehr (Minnesota). I'm sure the other '93s -- Josh Bretner, Drew Anderson, Austin Nelson, Kody Reuter, Scotty Nelson and Easton Viitala -- could find a place to continue their careers if they chose to. The reason the Bs went so far is because all of these guys were willing to play a specific role that was asked of them, and they did it well. 

But the Bs have to turn the page and figure out how to replace not only those 11 '93s, but possibly six other guys from this year's team who won't be back in the fall. We know Niko Hildenbrand and Trey Dodd were drafted by USHL teams. Guillaume Leclerc (a UMass-Lowell commit) signed a tender with the new Madison, Wis., franchise in the USHL. Sam Kauppila was previously drafted by a USHL team and I'd have to believe guys like Luke Dietsch, Casey Jerry (a MSU Mankato commit) and Charlie Manley (an RPI commit) will get some looks by higher-level teams, too.

So that leaves the Bs locker room at Riverside Arena kind of bare. For now.

The Bruins held their first offseason tryout camp in Milwaukee the weekend after the season ended. They'll have another evaluation camp later this month, followed by one final tryout camp in mid-July. Those next two camps will be the ones to watch, as the Bs coaches will really start to hone in on the guys they want to be on the team come September -- yes, that's right, Bruins fans, these deep postseason runs make for short offseasons. The Bruins will open fall camp in approximately three months.

Before those tryout camps, though, the Bruins will go through the NAHL Draft, which begins at 1 p.m. today.

You can follow the draft at NAHL.com, on Twitter at @NAHLHockey, or a live audio broadcast is available at FastHockey.com.

The Bruins will pick 20th in each round of the 24-team draft. 

In the past, the Bruins have been able to gamble with some of their picks on higher-end players, guys who have a good shot at making a USHL team, but who offer a lot of upside if they don't make a USHL roster. Austin will still do some of that this season, but they'll have to keep a close eye out for guys who they think can come in and make an impact right away.

"We have to bring in guys who will make a difference," Bruins coach Chris Tok said. "We'll probably go 50/50 on drafting (high-end guys who may make it in the USHL) and guys who will come here right away."

In addition to the draft, the Bruins will fill their roster with players they've already tendered and guys they discover in upcoming tryout camps. We know a few of the Bruins tenders so far, though I haven't tracked down all of them. I know D Austin Wilk and F Evan Somoza from the California Titans program have tendered, as has F Jacob Drinkard, who played for the Flint (Mich.) Jr. Generals of the NA3HL last season. Two other tenders, Luke Forfar and Ian Scheid, were selected in the USHL Draft.

So, if I had to guess where the Bruins will go in the first few rounds of the draft, I'd guess they'll target a goalie (I know they have one tendered, but I believe he was also picked in the USHL Draft), then some speed up front and a puck-moving defenseman along the lines of Cody Dixon and Josh Bretner.

That said, I wouldn't be shocked if they spend their first three picks on forwards. There are so many roster spots wide open right now that the Bs really just need to stockpile good players.

"Anybody who comes in has to contribute," Tok said. "We won't draft a guy just to have a body here."

I'll also do my best to Tweet all of the Bruins picks (find me @PBFeldy), and I'll have a wrap-up of the Draft here tonight, as well as in the P-B print edition on Wednesday.