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This is not a Packers column/The Red Line

January 19, 2012
By Brandon Veale - DMG Sports Editor ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

After the events of Sunday, I suppose it's time to move on to a subject other than NFL football.

I don't want to talk about it, you don't want to read about it, there's lots more else to talk about. So, here we go.

It's hard to believe, but we are basically halfway through the winter sports regular season and tournament play is just six weeks away. Get your calendars out, because the draws are in and the pairings set.

The regional hockey tournament returns to MacInnes Student Ice Arena beginning Feb. 27, on which evening Hancock and Jeffers will meet in a first-round contest. The Bulldogs and Jets have yet to meet this season, but given the Jets' solid first half of the season and the Bulldogs' ability to steal any game, the tournament will be off to an exciting start. Looking for a preview? Hancock and Jeffers play Feb. 4 in Houghton in a regular-season meeting rescheduled from Dec. 22.

The winner of that game will play Houghton in the first of two semifinals on the evening of Thursday, March 1 (remember, 2012 is a leap year). Calumet and L'Anse will play in the second semifinal and the winners will meet for the regional championship Saturday, March 3.

The girls' basketball tournament starts on Feb. 27 as well. This year's Class C district is a non-traditional draw hosted by Ironwood, while Class D districts involving local teams will take place in Lake Linden and Bessemer.

Fact Box

Northern Michigan at Michigan Tech

Just one game for the Huskies this weekend and it won't get them any vital Western Collegiate Hockey Association points, but a win over the Wildcats would give Michigan Tech a winning record, even the season series and go a long way for its confidence down the stretch. Tech has had recent success against NMU in Houghton, going 2-0-2 over the last four meetings.

The Wildcats would be an NCAA Tournament team if the season ended today, but are off to a middling start to the new year, having dropped a point to start 2012 at CCHA backmarker Alaska and gained just one of four from a series at Michigan State last weekend.

Could go either way, but NMU just doesn't tend to play as well up here.

The Verdict: Tech 4-3

Nebraska-Omaha at Minnesota State

The good news for Minnesota State? Last Saturday's shutout of Wisconsin was its first blanking in WCHA play since shutting out Minnesota in Game 1 of the 2008 WCHA playoffs. The bad news? The Mavericks are still tied for last in the WCHA with Alaska-Anchorage.

UNO also had a silver lining, grabbing a 3-1 home win over Minnesota-Duluth Saturday and ending the Bulldogs' 17-game unbeaten streak. It's only a split, but it's two points that put UNO a spot above Michigan Tech in a tie for fourth in the WCHA standings.

The Mavs will be without freshman forward Dominic Zombo, suspended a game for kneeing last weekend, but they won't need him.

The Verdict: UNO sweeps 6-3, 5-2

North Dakota at St. Cloud State

This new era for North Dakota didn't exactly get off to a nice start last weekend as the ______'s Ben Blood decided to start a fight in the handshake line against Minnesota. This weekend, the ______ have another interesting trip, as St. Cloud State, which has been as hostile and abusive over North Dakota being hostile and abusive as anyone in the WCHA.

The Other Huskies are coming off a solid split at Colorado College earned on Jordy Christian's overtime game-winner Saturday. They're two big points for SCSU, which is just two points behind Tech in the race for home ice. North Dakota's just one point ahead of St. Cloud, which makes this even bigger for both sides. And when all is said and done, the winner is Tech.

The Verdict: UND 4-3 Friday, SCSU 3-2 Saturday

Colorado College at Minnesota

If the Tigers want to take the MacNaughton Cup, they're going to have to get something out of this weekend in the Twin Cities. CC is now four points adrift of Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth at the top and still has to visit Duluth in late February. The Gophers lost 2-1 Friday night at North Dakota on Brock Nelson's game-winning goal with 3:35 to play.

Both sides salvaged a split last weekend, but after this week's Minnesota sweep, the WCHA title race is down to two horses.

The Verdict: UMn sweeps 3-1, 3-2

Alaska Anchorage at Wisconsin

It's out of the frying pan, into the fire for the Seawolves, who got swept last weekend in Houghton and head to Madison, where the Badgers still aren't exactly a juggernaut (they split at Minnesota State last weekend), but the Kohl Center remains a tough place to play.

The Badgers are five points behind Tech for the last home-ice slot and tied for 10th in the standings. They're not completely out of it, but with trips to North Dakota and Minnesota coming up, they're close. This weekend will bring four points but probably also a false dawn.

The Verdict: UW sweeps 4-2, 7-5

Alabama-Huntsville at

Minnesota Duluth

One's the defending national champion. The other is struggling to survive. They don't come much easier than this one.

The Verdict: UMD sweeps 6-1, 6-0

Last week: 9-3

For the season: 81-52-14 (59.9 percent)

You may remember that Ironwood had hosting duties of last year's Class C boys' districts and won the whole darned thing, but the odds of that are much lower this year, both because Houghton has the longest active district championship streak in the state and because Ironwood, which has not traditionally fared well in the postseason, is matched up against a strong L'Anse team in a first-round game to be played on Feb. 27 in Ironwood.

If L'Anse takes out the Red Devils, it will host Hancock in a semifinal to take place on Feb. 29. The other semifinal, Calumet vs. Houghton, will take place on the same evening at HHS, with the winner of the L'Anse/Hancock semi expected to host a district final March 2.

If the customary rotation of regional pairings is followed, the local district winner would face a team from Marquette County in the district semifinals at Marquette Senior High School March 6.

The Lakes grabbed a win over rival Dollar Bay in Dollar Bay Tuesday. They'll meet again Feb. 16 in Lake Linden and there'll be a third game in the first round of the Class D districts at LL-HHS Feb. 27 with the winner to face Baraga two nights later.

The other half of the five-team bracket also had a dress rehearsal Tuesday: Chassell and Jeffers will play for a berth in the district final in the second semifinal on the 29th.

Out on the Gogebic Range, Ontonagon has a bye into the semifinals Feb. 29, but it has a tough draw: it will face the winner of a first-round game between two of the U.P.'s top five Class D teams, Watersmeet and Forest Park.

Ewen-Trout Creek also has a bye and will face the winner of Bessemer and Wakefield-Marenisco in the other semifinal Feb. 29.

The Class D regionals are in Kingsford March 6-8.

The boys' basketball tournament begins March 5 with Class C play in Hancock. The D districts involving local teams include Ontonagon and Ewen-Trout Creek traveling to Crystal Falls, while the tourney involving Houghton and Baraga County teams is a non-traditional draw hosted by Republic-Michigamme.

First, at Hancock: Ironwood and L'Anse meet in the first round March 5, just like girls' basketball, only the game's in Hancock. The winner meets the hosts two nights later, with Houghton and Calumet meeting in the other semifinal.

Ewen-Trout Creek plays Wakefield-Marinesco in a first-round game at Forest Park High School, with the winner to play the Trojans. Ontonagon has a first round bye and will meet the winner of Bessemer and Watersmeet.

Republic-Michigamme hosts the other district, but only one game is guaranteed to be in Republic, as the Hawks host Jeffers in the first round March 5. Whoever wins hosts Baraga two nights later. The other first-round game is Dollar Bay at Chassell, with the winner playing Lake Linden-Hubbell.

All boys' basketball district title games are March 9. The Class C regionals are in Escanaba this year with the D regionals taking place in Negaunee.

The postseason is a Super time. The dedication and commitment of these players just Bowls me over.

Even the greenest teams won't pack it in come tournament time.

Aw, shucks.

I promised this wouldn't be a Packers column, but I give up. That was just all-around awful, wasn't it? It was like going to a fancy restaurant with four forks on each place setting where the service was bad and the steak still frozen in the middle. It's not like you couldn't see it coming - the defense, as Bart Scott might put it, can't stop a nosebleed. Yet, given the Packers won it all just last year, it's hard to complain too loud.

Going 15-1 in the regular season and 0-1 in the playoffs leaves a remarkably empty feeling. Even the commercials aren't going to be funny on Super Bowl Sunday this year (unless they re-air the Aaron Rodgers-B.J. Raji "Discount Double-Check" spot - that one's funny).

Even worse, I have a cold that set in while I was watching the game on my birthday. Like the Packers, I need a postseason do-over. They'll have to wait 12 months. I get six weeks.

Brandon Veale can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @redveale.



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