When I did my things I'm thankful for column last week, I was trying to keep it light-hearted. A list of all the things I'm really thankful for would be quite long and not a particularly good read.
But I came to a realization Saturday morning that I forgot a pretty big one.
When Thanksgiving weekend rolls around, many eyes in Michigan turn to the state football finals (well, at least the ones that get FSN Detroit Plus - shame on whoever made that decision).
But a unique phenomenon takes place when a U.P. team makes it to Detroit, or to any state championship, for that matter. Regardless of location, people's interest seems to get sucked in.
At least three people asked me last weekend how Ishpeming did in the Division 7 state championship game against Hudson.
The Ishpeming game was on the front page of multiple U.P. papers outside of Marquette, including ours, and for good reason. People care about this stuff.
It's a perfect six-pack of WCHA series, which means that it's harder to let anyone slip through the cracks like North Dakota did for me last weekend. It just wasn't a good week for me, and at 5-8-1, my worst of the year thus far. Now that things are a little simpler, let's hope for better results.
Colorado College at Michigan Tech
I called CC the league's question mark team at the beginning of the year. Some of those questions are being answered, and not in the affirmative. CC did beat Denver this year, but has lost twice to Alaska Anchorage (once at home), lost at Minnesota State and got shellacked twice by a very inconsistent Minnesota team. Make no mistake, this is an opportunity for much-needed points for Michigan Tech. If the Huskies sweep and get help elsewhere, they could leap three places in the standings, and create a relatively hopeful position, considering the games in hand Tech has on most of the league. It's going to be close, but if there's going to be a turnaround this season, it starts here.
The Verdict: Tech sweeps 4-3, 2-1.
Denver at Minnesota Duluth
The grand old lady of the WCHA, the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, or the DECC, hosts its last UMD games this weekend. I'm sure George Gwodzecky and the Pioneers will be well-dressed for this grand occasion that features the two longest active winning streaks in the country (DU's six and UMD's five). There's lots to celebrate. UMD hasn't dropped a point at home this year and is No. 1 in the country yet again. Denver's had a good start, too, but when something's got to give, the nod goes to history and emotion prevailing.
The Verdict: UMD sweeps 5-3, 5-4
Nebraska Omaha at Bemidji State
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. UNO is blazing a path through the WCHA and is No. 4 in the nation. BSU is a blazing a path to the bottom of the league and got waxed 4-0 on its own rink by NMU last week before coming back to post a shutout of its own. At 2-5-1 in their sparkling new arena, the magic of the 2009 NCAA Tournament seems pretty far off. After this weekend, BSU is on the road for eight straight and 12 of the next 14, so they'd better get points now.
The Verdict: UNO 6-4 Friday, BSU 3-2 Saturday
Minnesota at Minnesota State
After a ridiculous month-long four-state road trip, the Mavericks are finally home. And after years of struggles against their big brothers from Minneapolis, MSU is actually showing some success, going 3-2-1 in its last six against the Gophers after starting the series 2-26-5. Minnesota's rampant inconsistency continued last weekend with a win over Michigan and a loss to Michigan State (Michigan was the ranked team). Mankato did sweep at UMass-Lowell last weekend, but Minnesota is a bit tougher mark.
The Verdict: UMn sweep 3-2, 5-2
St. Cloud State at North Dakota
There could be some bad blood here, and I'm not talking about ND defenseman Ben Blood. Fighting Sioux defenseman Chay Genoway was lost for the season after taking a head shot from SCSU's Aaron Marvin (now their captain) last year. The February 2010 series between the two in St. Cloud featured an 8-1 North Dakota win in which there were 131 penalty minutes and seven misconduct penalties. Hostilities aside, only one of these teams is playing well right now and that's North Dakota.
The Verdict: ND sweeps 5-3, 5-2
Wisconsin at Alaska Anchorage
I think I may have been a little harsh on Alaska Anchorage in the last few weeks. They're not coming on like gangbusters, but they are 3-4-1 since the end of October. There's a big chance for the Seawolves to prove themselves this weekend at Sullivan Arena against Wisconsin, starting a run of three straight home series. Wisconsin comes in after a win (Michigan St.) and tie (Michigan) in the College Hockey Showcase that ended a four-game losing skid. As much as I want to give them props, a team like UW is another matter entirely for UAA.
The Verdict: UW sweeps, 3-2, 3-1
Last week: 5-8-1
For the season: 42-36-6 (53.6 percent)
I watched the majority of the game partially because I have a vested interest - my Dad works for the Ishpeming school district. Heck, for one very busy day during a college break, I was a teacher's aide's substitute in the district.
But the bigger reason I watched is because it's something of a tradition to have an interest in U.P. teams that make it deep into state tournaments. It's a wonderful thing.
Ishpeming is 85 miles away and the only time the Hematites played a team from the Copper Country this year, it was Calumet at Ishpeming. So, most of you didn't get to see the 'three-headed monster' of Dan Olson, Dylan Jurasin and Gabe Eppert in action.
Though Jurasin missed the title game with an injury, the other two and the rest of the Hematites competed well, if they did ultimately lose by two to Hudson (whose fight song, oddly enough, is identical to that of rival Negaunee).
One thing that makes the U.P. great is that we are something of a sub-state. We have the All-U.P. teams, U.P. football and basketball rankings, and in several sports (Class C and D basketball and volleyball, for example), a regional championship is relatively analogous to a U.P. championship.
Furthermore, it doesn't take much to establish common bonds. For example, I remember with certainty that Ishpeming coach Jeff Olson helped build an addition onto my parents' house in Gwinn many summers ago (before Dad was working in Ishpeming).
Maybe you're a Tech professor who teaches a student who's got a little brother on a state title contender in Iron Mountain. Maybe you do business regularly in Crystal Falls. Perhaps you just watch or read the news. I'm sure I wasn't the only one that got a shiver up my spine when I read about the hostage situation in Marinette on Monday (which, let's be honest, is basically the U.P. without yellow butter).
Everyone, in Gwinn, Sault Ste. Marie, Bessemer, Calumet, Kingsford, etc., knows that the winter weather is normally a pain. It's a long drive to those big tournament games in Traverse City or Petoskey or Gaylord, and gas costs a lot these days, not to mention Mackinac Bridge fare.
When we get to the big game, almost every school in the U.P. has enjoyed being dismissed as a cute novelty on TV or in the big metro newspapers, like the long-lost cousin from the sticks that finally scraped up enough cash to hop in the rusty Chevrolet and come down this year, even though they're four hours from a freeway, as if other roads don't exist. God help them if they try to pronounce Ontonagon or Baraga on live television.
We are truly one big community and I think that's more unique than you might realize, especially if you've been away from it for a while.
I was, for four and a half years. When I was taking journalism classes at Central Michigan University, I was sure that, though the U.P. was a nice place to grow up, but my future was in Wisconsin or below the bridge, that I'd outgrown the U.P.
Then, through a remarkable stroke of luck, I landed a sportswriting job at The Daily Press in Escanaba and got to cover the same Eskymos and Braves and Rockets and Braves that I'd remembered reading about in my youth. That was nice, but I figured that this way just a stopping point on the way south.
And then this job opened up. I'm normally pretty good with directions, so I'm pretty sure I didn't get lost, but that maybe there's a good reason I'm still up north. Because it's still a pretty good place to be. Weekends like last weekend prove it.
So let me add one more entry to my thankful list: 16. U.P. Power.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.