The storylines that defined the 2023 MNUFC season

Minnesota United’s 2023 season is over; I covered Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City for the Pioneer Press, so please read that instant reaction as well.

As it happened, I covered the final five games of the season for either the Pioneer Press or the Star Tribune, so while I’m always pretty plugged in to what’s happening with the Loons, this is probably the most in the weeds I’ll get. So, while the season is still warm, here’s my quick recap of the storylines I’ll remember about this year:

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Minnesota Update: Le fils préféré

It’s only game 3 of the Minnesota Wild season, but the Wild were already making the key stop for the year on the Marc-André Fleury Probable Retirement Tour, with a visit to Montréal. Fleury grew up in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, which is not exactly next door to Montréal in the same way that, for example, Cannon Falls is not exactly next door to St. Paul - it might not be a suburb, but it’s close enough, for the purposes of a game like this.

So Fleury got his first start of the year, in front of 90 family and friends, and - delightfully - got to play the hits. He won 5-2, stopping 27 shots - including 13 in the third period. He also got to make one save with an athletic toe-poke at the post, and another by stacking the pads and windmilling somebody who was alone in the slot. Fleury was named the game’s first star for his troubles, mostly so that the crowd at the Bell Center Centre could give him a nice ovation after the final horn siren.

The Canadiens are supposed to be absolutely hopeless this season, which naturally - this being the NHL - meant that they started the year with a win and an overtime loss. In this one, though, they were pretty bad; Minnesota opened the scoring by getting two shorthanded goals on the same power play, which should happen pretty much never. Brandon Duhaime and Connor Dewar, also known as Dewy 1 and Dewy 2, got the goals; the Wild ended up pouring it on with three power-play goals, two by Joel Erikkson Ek and one - finally - from Kirill Kaprizov.

At one point in the second period, the shots were 23-5 Minnesota, which tells you about how this game went. This is probably not where Montréal coach Martin St. Louis wants me to note that the Wild were also playing with just 11 forwards; an injury to Alex Goligoski and a total lack of salary-cap room meant the Wild had to not only play Dakota Mermis on defense, but play with one forward missing. They made up for this by playing Kaprizov for 22 minutes and Mats Zuccarello for 19, which I guess is not a bad replacement strategy.

Having now played a man short, the Wild get to call up a player (that’s making less than $875,000) and not have him count against their cap, so presumably we’ll see Sammy Walker or Adam Beckman tomorrow against Los Angeles.

Tuesday Night College Hockey

The Gopher women’s hockey team beat St. Cloud State 2-1 on Tuesday night, which seems a little strange, given that college hockey outside of the Northeast is pretty much strictly a weekend event. That said, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s not exactly the worst thing in the world; the game was on the Big Ten Network, which doesn’t have much to show on weeknights at this time of year, and it’s not like SCSU had to make a long trip home after the game.

Ava Lindsay got the most important goal for the Gophers, who led 1-0 for most of the second and third periods; Taylor Stewart got an empty-netter to mostly seal the game, though SCSU scored with five seconds left to make it 2-1.

Amazingly, goaltender Skyler Vetter very nearly put the puck in her own net off the ensuing faceoff - the puck went straight to her from center ice, she stopped it with her back to the cage and just stood there, giving a flying Huskies forward a chance to whack the puck off the side of the net before time expired. Disaster avoided, just barely, and the Gophers managed to hang on for the win.

Timberwolves Reserves 138, Maccabi Ra’anana 111

In a preseason game that might as well have been a Summer League game, the Wolves’ practice squad defeated an Israeli second-division team. Luka Garza had 30 points, and the Wolves played nine guys, exactly four of which I had heard of before tonight. Draftee Leonard Miller had 22 points and 15 rebounds, too.

ON DECK

Thursday

WILD vs. Los Angeles, 7pm, BSN

WOLVES at Chicago, preseason, 7pm, BSN

Friday

GOPHERS VOLLEYBALL vs Rutgers, 7pm

Friday-Saturday

GOPHERS MEN’S HOCKEY at North Dakota, 7pm/6pm, FOX 9 / FOX 9+

Saturday

GOPHERS FOOTBALL at Iowa, 2:30pm, NBC
WILD at Columbus, 7pm, BSN
LOONS at Sporting KC, 8pm, Apple TV

Sunday

GOPHERS VOLLEYBALL vs Michigan State, 2pm

Monday

VIKINGS vs San Francisco, 7:15pm, ABC and ESPN

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Minnesota Update: Just this side of catastrophic

The Vikings’ 19-13 win over Chicago on Sunday was dreadful, yes, but it was also dread-filled. As the Minnesota offense sputtered and coughed, without Justin Jefferson. As the Vikings defense got turnovers, but couldn’t get off the field on third down. As walking typographical error Tyson Bagent - whose last game was a 19-for-34, no-touchdown, two-interception performance against the Colorado School of Mines - drove down the field in the fourth quarter, my soul was filled with absolute dread.

The Vikings won, and the dread for Sunday’s game lifted, but the rest of the season - and especially the next few weeks - should bring it back.

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Minnesota Update: Another in a long line

Something like 1 in 8 NHL games ends in a shutout, I gather, which would make the average for any specific team about 1 in 16. The Wild, usually known as one of the more defensive teams in hockey, had four last season and three the season before that, which is more like 1 in 23.

This being the Wild’s 23rd season opener, you’d think that Filip Gustavsson’s 41-save shutout would therefore have a decent chance at being Minnesota’s first shutout in a Game 1. Instead, this being the home of defensive hockey, it was the fourth, after Dwayne Roloson, Niklas Backstrom, and Darcy Kuemper.

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Minnesota Update: Gophers volleyball avoids catastrophe

Before I write about Gophers volleyball beating Michigan on Wednesday night, please go read Jeff Day’s column/analysis of the current state of the program, for the Star Tribune. I don’t know of any journalist who covers the Gophers as well as Day, and he sums it up very well, I think.

That was written before the Gophers took on Michigan on Wednesday. I think, for the most part, Big Ten fans assume that Michigan is going to be good at everything, but that doesn’t currently extend to volleyball; the Wolverines are 1-6 in the conference, their only victory a home win against Northwestern, and 3-13 overall.

The quirks of the schedule meant that this was the second time in 13 days that the Gophers took on Michigan, and just like the first time around, Minnesota absolutely hammered the Wolverines. The first time, the sets were 25-9, 25-17, and 25-18; this time, it was 26-24, 25-11, and 25-16. So I guess Michigan improved by seven points, this time around.

Mckenna Wucherer led the Gophers by hitting .500 for the match, with 10 kills, and she threw in a couple of blocks as well for good measure.

Minnesota plays Northwestern at home on Sunday, in another can’t-afford-to-lose match. The Gophers’ next three matches are all at home, all against unranked opponents, before they have to travel to Purdue and Wisconsin. I’d say they need to tune up to be ready for that road trip, but the way this season is going, the first thing they need to do is not lose.

A brief Wild season preview

The Wild open their season tonight, conveniently the night after the Twins were eliminated from the playoffs. There are season previews available everywhere, but it’s basically the same team as 2022-23, minus Matt Dumba on the blue line; Bill Guerin is making a strong bet that the team he has is the team he wants, and that injuries down the stretch were what prevented his team from making a run last season, and not the general talent level.

The headline is the total lack of defenseman for Minnesota, which is missing Jared Spurgeon indefinitely after the team captain was injured in the preseason. The defensive lineup for opening night has a real third-pairing kind of feel to it; Jonas Brodin and Brock Faber are a pretty good duo, though the latter is a rookie, but I think most people would have trouble picking out which of Jake Middleton / Alex Goligoski and Calen Addison/Jon Merrill is the second pairing, and which is the third.

Up front, as ever, the Wild will be defined by whether anyone besides Kirill Kaprizov can score goals. Matt Boldy has to prove that his final few weeks of last season weren’t a fluke, especially after he went missing against Dallas in the playoffs. Marco Rossi is getting another chance to stick, though he’s between Marcus Foligno and Freddy Gaudreau, who both have their own things to prove (Foligno, that last season was a fluke, and not the previous two; Gaudreau, that anyone except Dean Evason believes that he belongs in the top nine.)

In goal, Filip Gustavsson had an out-of-nowhere great season in goal, and got a contract as a result. And of course, there are no examples of streaky play from an NHL goaltender, so I’m sure everything will be fine there. Especially since his backup is Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s a future Hall of Famer, and also 62 years old, and the only player left in the NHL who was once teammates with Gump Worsley.

TODAY’S SLATE

WILD vs Florida, season opener, 7pm, BSN

ON DECK

Friday-Saturday

GOPHERS MEN’S HOCKEY vs. St. Thomas, 7:30pm/6pm, both games on FOX9+
GOPHERS WOMEN’S HOCKEY at St. Thomas, 4pm/4pm, Friday on FOX9+
(note: Friday doubleheader at Xcel Energy Center)

Saturday

WILD at Toronto, 6pm Saturday, BSN (and on Hockey Night in Canada)
TIMBERWOLVES at New York, preseason, 6:30 Saturday, NBATV

Sunday

VIKINGS at Chicago, noon Sunday, FOX
GOPHERS VOLLEYBALL vs Northwestern, 12:30pm

The Future

GOPHERS FOOTBALL at Iowa, October 21
LOONS at Sporting KC, October 21
TIMBERWOLVES at Toronto, season opener, October 25

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Twins Game 4 recap: It had to end this way

It couldn’t have ended any other way. Of course it ended with a Twin striking out. Of course it ended with three Twins striking out. Of course it ended with Max Kepler resting the bat on his shoulder, watching a strike sail by.

After coming back to Minneapolis with all the momentum after their Game 2 victory, the Twins offense - so frustrating for most of the year - went back into the same routine that frustrated fans for most of the year. They struck out 14 times in Game 3, and 14 more in Game 4, and that includes seven - SEVEN! - of the final nine outs.

Edouard Julien’s one-out solo home run in the sixth inning made it 3-2. The Twins failed to get a single hit the rest of the way; only three of the final 12 batters even managed to hit the ball in fair territory. Kepler managed to strike out looking twice along the way.

Julien had two hits and a walk, Royce Lewis walked and hit a solo home run of his own, and the rest of the Twins lineup had 23 plate appearances and went 0-for-23.

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Twins recap: Unhappy days are here again

Well, that was… familiar. And a total vibe-killer.

The Twins lost 9-1 to Houston on Tuesday, in Game 3 of their playoff series, and all you can say is that it took about eight minutes for Minnesota to completely ruin all of the good vibes from Sunday’s win in Game 2.

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Monday in Minnesota: Who had the worst weekend?

It’s Monday in Minnesota, and it was another whirlwind weekend in Minnesota sports - certainly a weekend full of emotional roller coasters, for sports fans in the upper Midwest.

With this in mind, let’s rank who had the worst weekend in Minnesota sports, from “no this was actually a really good weekend” to “total garbage, let’s never speak of this again.”

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Minnesota Update: Heath Out

MNUFC manager Adrian Heath at a press conference
Image credit: Daniel Mick

I recognize that what I’m about to write is about the most clichéd Jon Marthaler thing that I could possibly write about Minnesota United’s decision to fire Adrian Heath on Friday morning, but here goes anyway.

This reminds me a lot of when the Gophers fired Glen Mason.

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Minnesota Update: Winning in the playoffs is easy

I don’t know what the big deal was; winning playoff baseball games is simple.

The Twins clinched a spot in the American League Divisional Series on Wednesday, beating the Blue Jays 2-0. It was, as many have pointed out, the first time since 1991 the Twins have won a playoff series at home, and just the second time since then that they’ve won a playoff series of any kind.

Sonny Gray threw five scoreless innings, and somehow the Twins bullpen shut down Toronto for another day, but Carlos Correa was at the center of everything again for Minnesota. He drove in the winning run with a bases-loaded single, and he was right there for the two biggest defensive plays of the day.

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