I wasn’t a Red Wing fan growing up. I began as a Philadelphia Flyer fan and later moved on to follow the New York Islanders after moving to Long Island. I knew of Gordie Howe. Mr Hockey. A tough guy who could score with the best of them. Known for the Gordie Howe hat trick – a goal, an assist, and a fight. As everybody knows by now, he played into his 50’s.
I never played hockey. My son decided he wanted to play hockey when he watched an Islander-Capital playoff game that went four OT’s before Pat LaFontaine scored the winning goal for the Isles. I drove him to practice, I helped tie his skates. And then I volunteered to help on the Board of Directors of the local youth hockey association (Northern Colorado Youth Hockey.
That board was filled with some pretty amazing parents whose love for hockey helped the association through a start-up phase. Well known names in Northen Colorado like the Visockys. And a couple of parents named Jim and Connie Dye. Jim and Connie had it in their minds to invite Gordie Howe to Fort Collins to be the name and face of a local youth hockey tournament. It would cost a pretty healthy sum of money at the time but Jim and Connie believed it would be worth it.
And so sometime around 1990 Gordie Howe and his lovely bride Colleen came to Fort Collins. Part of the deal was a dinner for members of the NCYH Board of Directors with the Howe’s. And so I go to spend an evening in the company of the greatest hockey player (sorry Wayne) who ever laced up a pair of skates.
It was a most incredible evening listening to Gordie tell his stories. He was engaging, passionate, and happy to talk about all things hockey. An evening I will always cherish.
The next day he did an on ice clinic with some of the young kids of which my son was one. My kid got to skate with Gordie Howe. Pass the puck with him. And when he tried to go around Gordie, out came the blade of the stick to trip him to the ice. A classic play that had us all laughing.
Gordie Howe was a great player. But his passion for the game, his tireless energy visiting towns like Fort Collins to promote the game, and his genuine love for all people made him larger than life.
They just don’t make them like that anymore.
Finally returning from LA.
I’ve always been one to plan for success so I had every intent of watching the CSU Women win their first round game against South Florida on Saturday and then again vs. UCLA on Monday night. I booked hotels and flights accordingly.
You know what they say about the best laid plans…
SO I got to spend some extra time in Los Angeles and then head up the road to Las Vegas for an early AM flight.
I have to admit I was a little bummed after the loss on Saturday night to USF. Certainly not as bummed as the players and coaches who had their magical season come to an end.
For the team its on to off-season workouts.
For me it’s time to turn the attention to the golf course.
Basketball has once again done its job of getting me through the Winter with some wonderful memories. In the last 6 seasons, I’ve had two men’s NIT teams, 2 NCAA Teams, 2 WNIT teams, and now an NCAA Women’s Team. That would be 7 total in 6 years. Pretty solid post-season appearances at CSU.
The NCAA Tourney has taken me to the Yum Center in Louisville in 2013, Rupp Arena in Lexington in 2013, and Pauley Pavilion in Westwood in 2016. All fantastic venues.
I thought I’d share some pictures and video of the sights and sounds from last Saturday.
A near dream start (10-1) wasn’t enough as the Rams’ magical season came to an end at the hands of a future WNBA’er and a well-coached collection of players from South Florida.
USF’s Courtney Williams was the story of the game as she shot and shot and shot (29 times) and seemingly made and made and made (12 of them) from mostly the 15-20′ range. She went on to score 31 of the Bulls’ 48 points, a remarkable 65% of her teams total. How outrageous was tht? When Wilt scored 100 in the NBA,even he didn’t account for 65% of his team’s points.
The Rams certainly compounded the issue by missing tons of point blank looks throughout the game. Jamie Patrick had her usual shooting stroke from the perimeter on her way to 17 points and Ell3n Nystrom had her usual rounded game with 12, 8, and 7.
But while they came up short, nothing can top the furious finish here Rams produced that nearly brought them back from a 12-point deficit with just over 6 minutes to go. It may have fallen short on the scoreboard but it displayed the essence of this particular team.
The essence of a team that came into the game at 31-1 and riding a 28-game winning streak. That didn’t happen by accident and the Rams were playing like they were convinced they were about to overcome a 46-34 deficit on this evening.
Hannah Tvdry took over the defensive assignment on Williams and held her to one FG, the Bulls’ only points in the final 6+ minutes. Ellen Nystrom scored a few pull-ups, Patrick nailed a 3-ball, and when Tvrdy did the same the Rams had gotten the deficit down to 3. Another stop, and a chance to tie.
The first good look fell to Elie Gustavsson on the perimeter. The same Elie Gustavsson who was making nearly everything a week prior in the MWC Tourney on her way to tourney MVP Honors. She missed.
A miss on the other end but an offensive rebound gave USF along possession in the final minute. With their season on the line, the Rams defended vigorously for nearly a minute and were rewarded with the ball with plenty of time to tie the game.
The crowd rose as one as the Rams created an open look for Patrick,the top perimeter shooter in the MWC. Her shot was true to the line but short and glanced off the rim (after the game, she told me she might have hurried it a little). USF grabbed the board and CSU fouled. USF inbounded the ball and CSU fouled. And then CSU fouled again.
The clock read 2.0 seconds and for most observers the belief was that CSU was dead in the water. Bu not this observer and certainly not this team. This team possessed an incredible amount of poise and belief throughout the season and they still believed.
USF called their final timeout to set up an inbounds play from their own baseline. It appeared the Rams only hope was to force a 5-second violation and that’s how they defended. They denied Williams and everyone else and the ball was thrown in bounds to no one. Hannah Tvrdy grabbed the ball and signaled for a TO. The buzzer went off as the clock has been errantly started.
An officials review put 1.6 seconds on the clock and the Rams had heir 3rd opportunity to tie the game and force OT.
Ryun Williams called a timeout and designed a play that required all 3-point shooters on the floor. Emile Hesseldal was the one inbounding the ball. At the top of the key, Ellen Nystrom would set a pick for Patrick and on the near wing, Tvrdy would set a pick for Sofie Tryggedsson.
Sofie T is a talented freshman who was really starting to gain traction when she turned an ankle mid MWC season. She missed several weeks of games but worked her way back. She is the definition of a sniper.
Hesseldal was handed the ball. And then Sofie T broke clean on the near wing. She caught, she loaded, she fired. Mid-flight the ball looked like it had a chance but it rattled around the rim and fell harmlessly away as the buzzer sounded.
The Rams had fallen short but in the most remarkable way.
Because Sofie T had not played at all in this game prior to the final 1.6 seconds. And yet the staff knew she gave them a great option and designed a play that would use her. And then Emile Hesseldal read the play correctly and rather than forcing the ball to Patrick, she trusted the little used but highly talented Sofie T. A senior trusting a freshman who rarely plays. The ultimate display of trust, love and respect. And while Sofie T missed, she had the courage to be out there to take and make what would be the biggest shot of the season for the Rams.
Sometimes people only see the makes and the final score. This incredible season will be remembered for the final 5 seconds when a team seemingly dead in the water, showed their class, their respect, and their love for each other. An NCAA Tourney game on the line and they never forgot who they were.
A great team.
After the game I wanted to make sure I touched bases with both players and staff. To the person, everyone thanked me for making the trip out to see them and support them. Polite, humble, grateful are words that describe this group of women. But it was me doing the thanking. For a great and most memorable season. For being good enough to be in the NCAA which offered an opportunity for me to see them play at Pauley Pavilion, one of the most historic venues in college basketball. That in of itself was a huge thrill for me.
I was standing with CSU fans, family, and media and looked to my left. Ellen Nystrom had finished her media responsibilities and wandered to midcourt to catch up with a couple of UCLA women from Sweden. (And there was a male there that sure looked like Wyoming’s Alex Aka Gorski, another Swede). Elie Gustavsson joined them and here they were, a collection of Swedes catching up with each other.
And then I glanced across the court and there was Sofie T sitting and talking with a close friend from South Florida who just happens to be from her hometown in Denmark.
Basketball had brought these girls to the United States. Their skill got them all into the NCAA Tourney and had afforded the opportunity to see each other and spend time with each other. We are so fortunate at CSU to have such a wonderful group of international players.
I walked over to Sofie and told her how proud I was of her that she had the courage to take the final shot after sitting for nearly 2 hours. She was disappointed in herself because she had missed. But she also told me that she’ll spend much of the off-season working on her corner 3’s and she won’t miss the next time.
Ryun Williams had walked me over to Sofie. That’s what it took for me to actually walk on the Pauley floor. The very floor of Hazzard, Alcindor, Walton, Meyers, Curry… And Wooden. Trust me when I say this. The security people are instructed not to let regular people (and riff raff like me) on that hallowed floor.
You are now officially on my shit list.
A couple of days ago I tweeted you to see if there were any reception events for CSU fans traveling to Los Angeles to see the women play in the NCAA Tournament.
When the CSU Men played in Louisville in 2012 and Lexington in 2013,CSU hosted some fantastic events. They rented the upstairs of a restaurant in Louisville right across the street from the Yum! Center. Appetizers, band, players, cheerleaders, fans, parents were all there and a good time was had by all.
In Lexington, CSU rented out a large building (a refurbed warehouse) and had band, cheerleaders, parents, fans present. My wife and I arrived at the same time as then AD Jack Graham and his wife Ginger and we entered together. Again fun times.
Both events were set up by AD employee Deidre Church, a human Dynamo while passion for what she did spilled over enough that Jim McElwain took her to Florida with him.
Yesterday I sent an e-mail asking the same question.
I awakened this morning in my hotel in Westwood after a long day of travel and immediately checked my e-mail.
No response at all.
I realize I’m not a high roller in the world of AD donors. I am a season ticket holder in both men’s and women’s basketball and donate a youth football season ticket. I’m at the Executive Level of the Ram Club. My support comes through things like this blog.
But you have let me down on this one.
Fans who travel to see their team deserve a little more than a simple “Here’s how you purchase a ticket to see the women in LA”.
And these women deserve more of an effort from you and your athletic department.
Title IX may be about scholarship money but there’s a whole lot more to it than that. he women have put CSU on the national stage in the post-season. They are what Tony Frank would describe as Front Porch.
I know plenty of people that think the world of you Joe.
You could have at least responded even if nothing was planned for today. That’s what a customer-focused organization would do.
In academic terms, you got an F.
Well I made it!
It wasn’t an easy trip to say the least.
It started with waking up to 4″ of overnight snow in Fort Collins. Not an unmanageable amount but enough to make travel to Denver down the Roller Derby track known as I25 a bit of a challenge. Prior to heading to DIA I had to stop in Aurora. A 75 minute trip normally. 150 minutes yesterday. I arrived at the event when lunch was served. I ate, grabbed my free Schlager, and it was off to DIA.
other than issues with the March Madness app (I missed the Michigan State-MTSU game), things went smoothly and the flight to Vegas was a good one. On the ground at 4:45PM. visions of arriving in LA by 9:30.
How wrong I was.
Because the McCarron Airport that I remember from all of the business travel is not the same. And the city and the surrounding area is a Hell hole.
My baggage claim area was different than the normal one. It required a shuttle for which I waited about20 minutes. The bag arrived after another wait. Then another shuttle to get a rental car which had another 20 minute wait. Then another long wait in line to pick up my car. Upon leaving the airport, I stopped at a convenience store to pick up some lemonade and use the rest room. It was one where I had to get a key from the clerk at the register. I headed to the rest room and some clown decided he wanted to beat me to the rest room and ran in front of me. I showed him the key. He backed off. I left the rest room and he tried to grab the key from me. I informed him it was my responsibility to return the key to the clerk and he could get it there.
I got in my car and headed toward the freeway. I looked at the time and it was 7:15. It had taken. 2.5 hours to pickup a bag, pick up a rental car, and take a leak. My ETA was now about 11:15pm.
Somewhere between Barstow and Victorville, I started to feel the effect of a long day. My eyes started to close so I pulled off the road to rest for a few minutes and decided to back off the 75mph speed I was driving. ETA became 11:30pm.
And the. It happened.
I zinged when I should have zagged in the maze of freeways on the outskirts of the city. I decided to make lemonade out of it. Rather than backtracking, I keep going until I got to a Santa Monica Blvd exit. The street that my hotel is on. I got to drive though the hopping club scene in West LA and the edge of Beverly Hills.
Which was special in and of itself because it bought me back nearly 49 years.
Most of you know that I grew up on the East Coast. But in the late summer of 1967, our family hopped on a TWA flight to Los Angeles to vacation. It was a magical trip for me. My first flight ever. Headphones playing Scott McKenzie’s “If You’re going to San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear Some Floweres in Your Hair”.
We didn’t stay in a hotel that week. My grandmother was a live-in for a rich old widow in Beverly Hills. The rich lady was out of town so we stayed at her place on Alta Drive just off Santa Monica Blvd.
And suddenly there was Alta drive on my right and the house I has occupied on that magical trip way back when.A visit to Disneyland,an LA-SF NFL exhibition game at The Coliseum. It brought back memories of my grandmother, the kindest and most special woman that I have ever known. (Don’t tell my mom that. She’d be hurt)
And suddenly there was my hotel on the edge of Westwood.I checked in.
And immediately went to bed.
I’m about 1.5 miles from Pauley Pavilion.
As I posted in an earlier blog, flights to Los Angeles were cost prohibitive when I tried to book on Monday for Thursday or Friday travel.
The only thing I found that fit my travel budget (+/- $1200) was a Frontier flight to Las Vegas followed by a 4-hour car ride to Westwood.
I actually considered spending the first night in Vegas and then driving on Saturday to LA. Of course my biggest concern was getting stuck on the black jack table and then sticking around to bet the Round of 32 games. Which probably would have threatened my arrival by the start of the CSU-USF game in Pauley.
Speaking of Pauley, I have never been there. And while I had wished that CSU got placed in Tempe, I’ll get to see the building where John Wooden did all of his magic. I saw my first game in The Palestra. I’ve seen games in Madison Suare Garden. I attended Duke when the basketball arena was simply called Indoor Stdium as opposed to Cameron Indoor. I had a trip to Baton Rouge once and stopped at the Maravich Assembly Center at LSU. Maravich was my hero and I had to see his building (I’ve also seen a movie in the theater where Pistol Pete used to dribble a ball while watching when he was in the 4th grade).
I’ll be able to close my eyes and see Wooden’s national championship teams. The 1964 team with a guard from Philly named Walt Hazzard. The 65 team with Gail Goodrich. The Lew Alcindor teams from 67-69. The 70 and 71 teams with guys like Steve Patterson, Curtis Rowe, and Sidney Wicks. The Bill Walton & Keith Wilkes teams that won in 72.and 73 and lost in the 4 semi to NC State.
All of them were fantastic teams that executed on both ends of the floor better than anyone in the history of the game.
I’m a lucky man. I get to watch a great team on Saturday on the biggest stage in one of the all-time great venues.
Flash back to last year at this time.
The CSU Women had lost to San Jose State in the. MWC Tourney quarterfinal and we’re headed to the WNIT where they were bumped out in the first round by Northern Colorado.
The Men had lost in the MWC Tourney semi to San Diego State but were seemingly safe to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournment.
Selection Sunday rolled around and there was no bid for the Rams. Instead a 1-seed in the NIT. At the time it was painful for both players, coaches, and fans. Anger with a sense of helplessness as well when the Rams weren’t dancing.
I blogged about making lemonade out of lemons. That the NIT offered an unbelievably rich history and had a trip to play any one of the Meccas of all of college basketball, Madison Square Garden. For whatever reason, the team wasn’t up to it and lost in the first round to a game and motivated South Dakota State squad.
Fast forward to this season. Hope always springs eternal and both men’s and women’s teams looked like there was some potential to be dancing.
After a 5-0 start, the men never figured out a way to fix their defensive issues and it was obvious that their only hope to advance to the NCAA’s was to win the MWC Tourney. And that was a crazy long shot in and of itself. As much as I wanted to believe, I couldn’t bring myself to making plans revolving around them making the NCAA’s.
On the other hand, the Women had an early road loss to Penn after a nice home win over BYU. Both tourney level teams at the time (and would be proven true when both won their leagues). And then they started winning. And winning. And winning.
So I decided to go all in on the women.
Instead of the MWC Tourney, I decided it was the NCAA or bust.
I had a pair of tickets to the first two rounds of the Men’s Tournament in Denver. I paid $540 for them with something like $30 in handling. A total of $570. Nice seats in the lower level corner 15 rows up. Very sellable.
Two weeks before we knew that the CSU Womenwere headed to the Dance, I listed them on Craigslist for $1200. WIthin 3 hours, I had a person contact me who wanted them. We met the next day in Firestone and he handed me 12 crisp Benjamin’s.
And then like I had hoped, the CSU Women scored a marvelous comeback in the MWC CHampionship over Fresno State to earn their bid to the NCAA’s.
The Selection Show was not nervy with the MWC auto-bid in hand but it was more about who and where. We were hoping Tempe but instead got LA site and South Florida in the first round. Sett8ing up travel was brutal but somehow I could a flight to Vegas to be followed by a car ride to Westwood.
Editorial: The NCAA Basketball Tournament for both men and women has lost their way when it comes to being fan friendly for those that want to attend. Last minute flights and hotels are expensive. For the men it’s about the TV $’s. For the women, who knows?
All the arrangements were made and all that was left was to head to the airport.
Not so fast.
On Wednesday, I came down with some kind of illness. Flu-like, achy pain. COngestion. Fever. Not good. In fact, there was no chance I would be able to travel if it had stayed that way.
I spent all day on Thursday wrapped in blankets, eating chicken noodle soup, drinking tea with honey and lemon, eating bread. Lots of water and Vitamin C. Lots of Raspberry Lemonade.
The fever finally broke for ther first time around 6:00PM. I went to bed early and was certainly not 100%. I started feeling crummy again but awoke at 2:00AM and started downing Vitamin C and big glasses of raspberry lemonade.
I fell back to sleep and awoke at 4:00AM absolutely drenched in sweat. The fever had really broken this time.
Of course there’s snow to make the departure a little problematic. I’m not worried about that. In 2003, we somehow made it out of Fort Collins to see CSU play Duke in Salt Lake CIty. That storm produced 39″ of snow. SO this morning when I awakened to 4″ and crummy roads I wasn’t too concerned.
It’s all about the lemonade!