MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It was another somewhat crazy and eventful year in Minnesota sports filled with big wins, tough losses, some controversy and fresh faces hitting the scene.
From Ricky Rubio debuting with the Timberwolves to the Vikings reaching a stadium deal and A.J. Barker using social media to quit the Gopher football team, there was never a dull moment in 2012. In more positive Gophers news, the basketball program went to the NIT championship, the hockey team got to the Frozen Four and the football team is headed to its first bowl game since 2009.
The Wild made a splash even though they’re not playing hockey thanks to the NHL lockout, and a local football team played for a national title. It’s all part of this year’s top local sports stories.
Jablonski Injury Changes Hockey Landscape
It technically happened Dec. 30, 2011, but little did we know that it would take one hit to change the entire hockey landscape in Minnesota. Benilde-St. Margaret’s Jack Jablonski was hit from behind in a holiday tournament, went head-first into the boards and suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury. His team went on to win a state championship while he vowed to come back from his injury. There have been bad days and good days, but his overwhelmingly positive outlook after such a devastating injury reminds us that anything can happen if you put your mind to it. Penalties in the game of hockey got much stiffer as a result of Jablonski’s injury.
Ricky Rubio Tears ACL, LCL
It didn’t take long for Minnesota Timberwolves fans to fall in love with Ricky Rubio. The talented point guard instantly made the franchise better with his dazzling passes and leadership. But on March 10, it all changed in a close game with the L.A. Lakers. While guarding Kobe Bryant, Rubio’s knee buckled and he went down in writhing pain. His rookie season was over with a torn ACL and LCL. After a nine-month recovery, he returned to action in December. Whether they’ll be a playoff team this year is yet to be seen.
Gopher Basketball Makes Run To NIT Title Game
After struggling in the Big 10 season, the Gophers men’s basketball team didn’t get into the NCAA Tournament and was relegated to the National Invitation Tournament. Tubby Smith’s team made the most of it with a run to the championship game before losing to Stanford. It earned Smith a contract extension with the program, but he has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in five seasons as coach. The Gophers are currently ranked No. 13 nationally with the 2012-13 Big 10 season on the horizon.
Gopher Hockey Team Reaches Frozen Four
The Gophers men’s hockey team broke a three-year skid of missing the NCAA Tournament back in March, something previously unheard of for the program. Don Lucia’s squad won the regular season WCHA title and the McNaughton Cup for the conference tournament title. The highlight of the season came in beating rival North Dakota 5-2 to win the West Region and advance to the Frozen Four. The Gophers lost in the national semifinals to eventual national champion Boston College.
Gary Tinsley Found Dead
The Minnesota sports world came to a stop on April 6 with a tragedy at the University of Minnesota. Set to get his college degree in less than a month, Gopher football player Gary Tinsley went to bed on April 5, but didn’t wake up the next day. His roommate and teammate, Keanon Cooper, found him on the floor of their dorm unresponsive. He was dead in what was later attributed to an enlarged heart. Tinsley had already finished his playing career with the Gophers, but in his honor, one defensive player wore his No. 51 jersey in every game of the 2012 season. In Jerry Kill’s second full season, the Gophers finished 6-6 and will play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 28 against Texas Tech.
Norwood Teague Named Gophers Athletic Director
A change in philosophy was made official back in April after it was announced University of Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi would be retiring in June. After a national search, the Gophers named Norwood Teague, who had been the AD at Virginia Commonwealth University, to the post. Teague took over in June and had the immediate task of meeting his coaches and student athletes. He immediately also looked over the school’s fundraising for athletics. He’s putting together a master facilities plan, headlined by a basketball practice facility. The ultimate goal: Future consistent excellence for Gophers athletics.
Vikings Take Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith In NFL Draft
The Minnesota Vikings had one of their most productive drafts in recent memory back in June. They took USC offensive lineman Matt Kalil with the No. 3 overall selection. He’s been a starter since Week 1. Other successful draft picks included safety Harrison Smith, who has started all season, and kicker Blair Walsh, who set the Vikings rookie scoring record after kicking five field goals in a win at St. Louis. Cornerback Josh Robinson is also a draft pick who has gotten significant playing time.
Vikings, Lawmakers Reach Stadium Deal
The year in Minnesota sports was highlighted by none other than the Minnesota Vikings, but it wasn’t for anything on the field. Their biggest battle was at the State Capitol rather than the Metrodome. Facing the possibility of leaving the state because of their expiring lease with the Metrodome, the Vikings negotiated with the state legislature to get a brand new stadium valued at more than $950 million that will go on the current Metrodome land. It wasn’t the greatest timing being an election year, but a deal got done on May 10 and the Vikings are staying in Minnesota. The Minneapolis City Council narrowly approved the plan 7-6.
Dark Star Found Dead
Minnesota lost a sports media icon on June 1 when George Chapple, more commonly known as Dark Star, was found dead in his west metro apartment. Star was 66 years old, was a stakeholder at Canterbury Park and was an overnight radio legend with WCCO Radio. His blunt honesty and sense of humor made it hard not to laugh when you were around him. Many of his close friends labeled him a character, but he certainly impacted everyone who go to know him.
Wild Sign Zach Parise, Ryan Suter
One of the most exciting moments in Minnesota sports history took place in St. Paul on the Fourth of July. The Minnesota Wild, after missing the playoffs last season, made themselves an immediate playoff contender with the free agent signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts that would effectively have them with the Wild for the rest of their career. Parise is widely considered one of the top offensive players in the NHL, while Suter is considered one of the top defensemen. The only catch: The NHL lockout has kept any of that from becoming an actual reality. If and when the Wild get back on the ice, it should be an exciting product to watch.
Minnesota Lynx Fail To Repeat As WNBA Champs
The Minnesota Lynx all but breezed through their 2012 regular season schedule. They were expected to repeat as WNBA champions before running into the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Finals. The Fever beat the Lynx in the best-of-five series 3-1 to deny Minnesota its second straight title. After the season, coach Cheryl Reeve signed a contract extension with the team.
A.J. Barker Quits Gophers Football Team
The 2012 Gopher football season had several headlines, but one of the most interesting was the departure of wide receiver A.J. Barker. He led the team in receiving, but decided on Nov. 18 in a very public way to leave the team and transfer. He wrote a 4,000-plus word blog scathing coach Jerry Kill and the program, saying he was unfairly treated. His biggest gripe was entering the season a walk-on and not being granted a scholarship despite being one of the team’s top players. Barker transferred to the University of Houston.
Denard Span, Ben Revere Trades
The Minnesota Twins made two trades during baseball’s winter meetings in November, and one of them was far more surprising than the other. First, the Twins traded center fielder Denard Span to the Washington Nationals for their No. 2 pitching prospect, Alex Meyer. A day later, they traded outfielder Ben Revere to the Philadelphia Phillies for starting pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May. Worley is expected to be in the starting rotation on opening day. The moves were made after the Twins had consecutive seasons of more than 90 losses.
Gagliardi Retires With 489 Wins At St. John’s
John Gagliardi spent 60 years coaching football at St. John’s, a span that included several MIAC titles and four national championships. After the Johnnies went 5-5 this season, Gagliardi announced his retirement in November at the age of 86. St. John’s is down to three finalists to take the football program over, but no shoes will be bigger to fill than Gagliardi’s.
Percy Harvin Placed On Injured Reserve
After being sidelined for more than a month with an ankle injury, the Minnesota Vikings offense took a serious hit on Dec. 6 when the team placed star Percy Harvin on injured reserve. Harvin was one of the team’s top threats at wide receiver and was also a threat to make big plays in the return game. Since his departure, the Vikings’ passing game has looked very ordinary despite an 8-6 record through 14 games that put them in contention for a playoff spot.
St. Thomas Football National Runners-Up
The St. Thomas football team had a memorable 2012 season despite coming up just short of a national title. The Tommies finished the regular season 10-0 for the third straight year, won their third straight MIAC title and got to the NCAA Division III title game before falling 28-10 to Mount Union. St. Thomas beat St. Nobert, Elmhurst, Hobart and UW-Oshkosh to get to the championship game. The Tommies finished 14-1 as Glenn Caruso is now 57-8 in five seasons. St. Thomas finished No. 2 in the final AFCA poll, and Caruso has been nominated a third time for the Liberty Mutual National Coach of the year for Division III, an honor he’s won two years in a row.