During my college days at Central Michigan University, one of my favorite tricks to impress people was shocking them with real facts about the U.P.
Many of them, born and raised in the Detroit suburbs or the more civilized portions of West Michigan, were genuinely surprised that I grew up a half-hour drive from the nearest McDonalds, that Gwinn was three hours from the nearest freeway (and 5 1/2 from CMU) or that Tigers games in Minneapolis were closer than Tigers games in Detroit.
Sometimes I'd mix fake stuff in there for fun - why yes, our mail is delivered by dogsled - but in a state where "Northern Michigan's News Leader" is located in Cadillac, it's easy to feel marginalized.
The U.P.'s a great place to live, but things can be far away. At no point is this more apparent than tournament time, those stretches of November and March where our area athletes and coaches turn sleeping on the bus into an art form.
I'm not asking that next year's state football finals be played at Sherman Field (but wouldn't that be a hoot?), but I have some questions.
First, why did Charlevoix get to play a state Class C volleyball quarterfinal in its home gym?
Michigan Tech at
The good news? Husky hockey's back! The bad news? Better get a nap in beforehand, as the Huskies are headed north to Alaska to play a Seawolves team that has scored 1-1-0-1-0-1 goals in the last three weekends. In some more-binary corners of Tech, this would be 53 goals in six games. Unfortunately for UAA, it's four goals in six games. Picking a road sweep this far away is risky, but this Seawolf team just isn't playing very good hockey right now.
The Verdict: Tech sweeps 3-1, 4-2
Minnesota State at
Maybe that game at MacInnes Student Ice Arena wasn't so much of an accident after all. MSU took another two points off St. Cloud State last weekend, winning 4-2 Friday before losing 3-2 for the split. However, beating the defending champs (who swept UAA last weekend in Duluth by a combined 8-1) might be too tough a task for even this resurgent bunch of Mavericks.
The Verdict: UMD sweeps 6-2, 4-1
Minnesota vs. St. Cloud State
Just when everyone starts jumping on the Gopher bandwagon, it starts leaking oil again. Wisconsin split the rivalry series at the Kohl Center, winning 3-1 Friday and handing Minnesota its first and only league loss in eight tries this year. This is a home-and-home (Friday in St. Cloud, Saturday in Minneapolis), and I'll stay on the wagon in hopes that Kent Patterson can lead UM(n) to victory at the National Hockey Center and St. Cloud's poor road form (2-5-0) catches up to it Saturday.
The Verdict: UMn sweeps 4-3, 3-0
Wisconsin at Colorado College
Wisconsin's still in the top half of the WCHA standings, but at 4-5-1, the entire field has games in hand on the Badgers, so coming up empty-handed this weeked in the Springs could be especially hurtful as the idle weekends arrive in the second half. CC knows about idle weekends, as at 5-2-0 overall, the Tigers have played at least two fewer games than every other WCHA team and only two at home. Last week was a setback, a 5-4 road loss to Denver, but the Tigers will impress the home crowd this weekend against a Wisconsin team without a WCHA road win this season.
The Verdict: CC sweeps 5-3, 4-1
Nebraska-Omaha at Denver
Congrats to UNO for finally solving its Bemidji problems and beating the Beavers 5-1 Saturday night. Their road trip continues to Denver, where the Pioneers hope Saturday's win over a highly-touted CC team bodes well after a stormy two-week, two-point stretch. Since I did pick the Pioneers to win the league, I figure this is the weekend they start acting like it.
The Verdict: DU sweeps 5-4, 4-2
North Dakota at Bemidji State
If the season ended today, North Dakota would be in 11th place, the next-to-last seed in the WCHA Tournament. The Fighting Sioux were idle last weekend and likely trying to reboot after a ghastly month in which they've taken just three points since Oct. 15. Bemidji got a solitary point against UNO last weekend and is currently 9th in the standings. Something's got to give, that is, unless they split.
The Verdict: BSU 3-2 Friday, ND 4-2 Saturday
Last week: 5-5-1
For the season: 32-27-7 (53.8 percent)
Of course, given that the Rayders defeated Houghton 3-1 Tuesday to move on to the semifinals, it sounds like sour grapes. I get that. However, the outcome doesn't cause the situation to make sense.
Sites for late-season MHSAA tournament games like quarterfinals are determined months in advance. I get that, too. That hypothesis would have made a lot more sense if a Class D quarterfinal involving Pellston hadn't been moved out of Pellston last year (the Hornets did just fine in Manistique in that match, though Forest Park won a re-match in the Emerald city on Tuesday night).
I doubt there's some sort of anti-U.P. volleyball conspiracy, if for no other reason than an anti-U.P. conspiracy might be the silliest conspiracy in the history of conspiracies. I just hope the parents who got to fill up twice just to see their daughters play on Tuesday night got a gas card on their way out of the gym as a parting gift.
While I'm on the subject of things that grind my gears, let's shift to the Superior Dome, where semifinal Saturday used to be a U.P. occasion on par with the old regional tournaments at Hedgecock Fieldhouse. Sometimes as many as three U.P. teams would be defending the realm in the Dome on the same day for a trip to the Silverdome. It is a great day for football fans, no matter where they hail from.
This year: just one, Iron Mountain, against Ithaca in Division 6, and it's the only 11-man playoff game that will take place in the Dome this season. Much of that is a function of the fact that many of the usual suspects, like Menominee and Forest Park, lost in the last round, and some of the others, Kingsford and Negaunee, for example, didn't make the tournament.
I've repeatedly said that the MHSAA Tournament is the worst way to decide a champion if not for all of the other ways, which don't work.
But I miss the big Dome days brought on by the 'geography rule.'
Abolished about five years ago, the 'geography rule' dictated that all playoff games between teams a certain distance apart had to be at an agreed-upon neutral site. It was scrapped primarily because it was deemed unfair to high seeds on both sides of the Mackinac Bridge who had lost home games they'd rightfully earned simply because they drew an opponent too far away.
There's some logic to this, and there's no doubt it's helped some folks (Escanaba, for example, found it essentially geographically impossible to play a playoff game in Escanaba under the old system). It doesn't mean I like it. Especially in a geographically-based district where your bottom seed may be as good as a 1 or 2 somewhere else in the state, I'd argue that it's a bigger advantage as a 1 seed from below the bridge in a district, to play a 3 seed from the U.P. than a 4 seed that had a shorter bus ride.
Before we all start bringing torches and pitchforks to Lansing, let's remember that the MHSAA does a better job than most administrating the state's high school athletic systems. I've read my share of horror stories from worse interscholastic administrative associations.
Just the complainings of a cranky buckless Yooper, I suppose. Good news, though! I hear they're installing an indoor plumbing system in town next week!
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.