Let me warn you right now: this could become a recurring topic.
As the clock struck midnight on Saturday night and we transitioned into the new year, 2012, one of the first things that came to mind was not ancient Mayan predictions of the end of the world, nor the folly of using an arbitrary start/finish line in the earth's NASCAR-like laps around the sun.
It was two words: Olympic year.
Yes, the Games of the XXXth Olympiad begin July 27 in London (yes, I already have the date memorized). Start boning up on the rules of team handball now.
One of my utmost career goals is to be on the scene at an Olympic Games. I am still mad that Chicago failed miserably in its bid for 2016, if for no other reason than the idea of an Olympics within driving distance made that goal seem a little more touchable.
Don't worry: I'm not going to jolly old England this summer - just Toivola. I'm told the food's better in Toivola, anyway.
Cornell at Colorado College
Colorado College begins a very difficult second half of the season with a pair of home games against Eastern powerhouse Cornet, which at 8-4-1 overall, currently leads the ECAC Hockey league.
The Big Red haven't won consecutive games since late November, however, including a 5-2 loss to Hockey East backmarker UMass at the recent Florida College Classic.
CC is in third in WCHA at the turn and comes into this series after a home loss to crosstown Air Force last Friday and a home win over Union. CC also swept RPI earlier in the season, so I'll bet on fourth and fifth wins over the ECAC this season for the Tigers.
The Verdict: CC sweeps 3-1, 4-3
Alabama-Huntsville at Denver
The Pioneers had a much easier time with the above-mentioned pair, beating Air Force 7-1 at the Academy last weekend and topping Union 3-1 in Denver.
Minnesota State at St. Lawrence. Though the Pioneers tenuous league position (6-5-3, fifth place) is cause for concern, Denver can relax a bit against a UAH team that has already played its last home game of the season against Division I opposition and is just fighting to survive.
The Verdict: DU sweeps 6-2, 6-1
RIT at Wisconsin
It can't go much worse in the second half for Wisconsin, which sits in 10th in the WCHA at the halfway point. The Badgers can't improve on that this weekend at home against Rochester Institute of Technology in a rematch of a 2010 Frozen Four semifinal (which Wisconsin won 8-1), but won't fall any further behind either (no league games this weekend).
Wisconsin could use a little momentum, and with this series and games against Minnesota State and Alaska Anchorage coming up, this could be the beginning of something better for the Badgers.
The Verdict: UW sweeps 5-4, 3-1
Minnesota State at St. Lawrence
Another team trying to circle the wagons in one last attempt to get its act together is Minnesota State. The Mavericks haven't won a league game since Nov. 11 and enter the new year in last in the league standings. This weekend, it's a long trip to Canton, N.Y. as St. Lawrence welcomes its second WCHA team this season.
The Saints have been struggling in the middle of a messy mid-pack inside the ECAC.
I see both teams taking a bit of the opportunity this weekend, though neither's win will benefit the bigger issue.
The Verdict: MSU 2-1 Friday, St. Lawrence 3-1 Saturday
Minnesota Duluth at Western Michigan
UMD enters 2011 in second place in the WCHA standings, but No. 1 in the country according to USCHO.com. The Bulldogs are on a stretch of eight consecutive road games, which is a good thing, since they haven't lost on the road yet this season.
This weekend brings a surprisingly tough assignment, as Western Michigan stands third in the CCHA (albeit with three extra points from the dreaded shootout), but the Bulldogs are equal to the task. Plus, I can't miss an opportunity to pick against the Broncos.
The Verdict: UMD sweeps 4-3, 3-1
Clarkson vs. North Dakota
After Saturday's 7-3 win over Harvard, North Dakota officially 'retired' its nickname and shall heretofore be referred to as the North Dakota ______. In their first game as the ______, North Dakota heads to Winnipeg for a special non-conference contest with Clarkson. The Golden Knights have lost three in a row and are a rather mediocre 9-9-4 thus far. The travel from upstate New York and the ______'s quality make this one an easy pick.
The Verdict: UND 6-3
Notre Dame at Minnesota
Minnesota certainly isn't lacking for competition these days. Just a week after a home loss to a Northeastern team unbeaten in its last eight games, the Golden Gophers face the Golden Domers.
Though this series is at Mariucci Arena and not the palatial new Notre Dame arena, it still ought to be worth watching, as Notre Dame is No. 2 in the CCHA and ranked No. 5 in the nation (to Minnesota's No. 3).
Tough call, but I'll go with the home team.
The Verdict: Minnesota 4-2
Last time out: 6-1
For the season: 64-46-13 (55.5 percent)
Maybe when Rio rolls around in a few years, I'll be on the beach at Ipanema, but for now, it's NBC and me. It's been a while since I've heard the 20-minute feature on the Angolan judoka with three arms who was raised by wolves.
The problem with televising any event as massive as an Olympics is that one must aim for the least common denominator. Sports fans are going to watch anyway, and in this day and age, they'll jump to the boxing or the basketball or the water polo on their terms. In prime time, it's all about serving up the most palatable dish, no matter how bland. Other than the Kentucky Derby, the Olympics is the only sporting event that draws more female viewers than male, and that's because of people like Nastia Liukin, not the semifinals of the men's field hockey tournament.
Given that London is becoming the first world city to host the Olympics three times, expect a lot of really grainy footage.
The first London Games were in 1908, just 12 years after the beginning of the modern Olympic movement and might have been the first ones that actually looked like the Olympics we know today.
The most famous moment of those games came in the marathon when Johnny Hayes, an American, was declared the winner after Italian Dorando Pietri was disqualified for passing out repeatedly on the last lap and receiving assistance from officials, lest he keel over for good right there in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen.
I tell you this because I guarantee Dorando's going to get his moment in the NBC sun, probably even better than he did at the time. All he got back then was a silver cup as a consolation prize and a slightly racist song about him written by Irving Berlin, who was still nearly 30 years away from writing "God Bless America," and it showed.
London, Part Deux, came in 1948, just a few years after the end of World War II. Great Britain was still under post-war rationing and still rather bleak, but since the last two had been called on account of bombs, and the one before that (in 1936)
was run by Hitler and Co., it appears everyone was just happy to give it a go. The BBC paid 1,000 pounds for the television rights, that is, less than one might pay for a used car today.
My, how things have changed.
Consider yourself reminded. You've got six months to prepare and all sorts of distractions between then and now, the Packers and/or Lions in the NFL playoffs, hockey, etc., but July 27 is coming.
I promise to keep the pre-Olympic columns to minimum ... well, at least until May.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @redveale. For this week's WCHA picks, read The Red Line on mininggazette.com.