Dane Mizutani / St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL — Every so often the thought still pops into Jason Zucker’s head: What if he had chosen a different floor? In those moments, the memories come rushing back for Zucker, who can still recall some of the most specific details from that day. He walked in the entrance of the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital with teammate Jared Spurgeon, turned right in the lobby, and approached the elevator, completely unaware that his life was about to change.
ST. PAUL -- There’s a lot the Minnesota Wild can learn from the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, especially considering the two franchises aren’t much different in the grand scheme of things. While the Wild look like a team that has no business being mentioned as a Stanley Cup contender next season, neither did the Blues this time last year. After six consecutive playoff appearances for St. Louis, a disappointing season then had the Blues watching the NHL playoffs from home last season as the Washington Capitals went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.
EAGAN, Minn. — No matter what Chad Beebe did for the Vikings last season, comparisons to his father, former NFL receiver Don Beebe, followed him every step of the way. And that made sense. It seemed like the only way to rationalize how an undersized 5-foot-10, 180-pound slot receiver out of Northern Illinois could ever succeed at the next level. Essentially, if Don Beebe could play nearly a decade in the NFL despite lack of size, then Chad Beebe at least had a chance, right?
EAGAN, Minn. -- While the Vikings have spent most of the spring adjusting to a new offense, veteran coach Gary Kubiak has been on the sidelines doing some adjusting of his own. After stepping away from the game a few years ago to focus on continuing health issues, Kubiak finally felt ready to get back in the game, and the Vikings provided that platform earlier this year, hiring him to serve as a right-hand man of sorts to head coach Mike Zimmer, as well as an offensive adviser to new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
EAGAN, Minn. -- Stefon Diggs was present for the start of the Vikings’ mandatory minicamp Tuesday, June 11, at TCO Performance Center in Eagan after parachuting in and out of the team facility last month during organized team activities. Although the practices Diggs missed were voluntary by definition, his repeated absences were a little disconcerting, especially considering the Vikings are in the midst of installing a new scheme under offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Lynx wrapped up Monday’s practice at Mayo Clinic Square, rookie Jessica Shepard was in the middle of the team huddle, leaning on a pair of crutches. If that was any indication, Shepard is still very much a part of the team. She’s just going to have to get used to a different role after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in Saturday’s loss to the Los Angeles Sparks at Target Center.
EAGAN, Minn. — Playing football growing up in Hawaii, Hercules Mata’afa had to play every position, just like everybody else. “It’s all backyard football out there,” said Mata’afa, from Lahaina, a smallish town on the island of Maui. “All the boys lived close to each other, so we would get a football and go to the park and play for hours.” Playing every position, Mata’afa learned how to adapt, something that has served him well in the decade-plus since then as he tries to chase down his childhood dream.
OKLAHOMA CITY — No matter what happened over the weekend, win or lose, the Gophers softball team could rest its laurels on the fact that it already made history by reaching the College World Series for the first time. Everything seemingly meaningless milestone — from the first pitch by junior ace Amber Fiser, to the first hit by junior second baseman MaKenna Partain, to the first run by senior outfielder Maddie Houlihan — was actually another step into uncharted territory for a program very much on the rise.
OKLAHOMA CITY — If the opening-round game of the Women’s College World Series was about the Gophers softball team trying to slay the dragon, then Saturday’s elimination game is about defeating its Kryptonite once and for all. With the Gophers in a do-or-die scenario following Thursday’s 7-2 loss to UCLA in their WCWS debut, it’s almost fitting that they now have to beat Washington to keep their dreams alive. After all, this is the team that has eliminated the Gophers from the NCAA tournament twice in the past three years. That fact isn’t lost on anybody heading into the 11 a.m.
OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s fitting that the new kids on the block at this year’s Women’s College World Series had to battle the biggest bully of them all in their debut. And while the Gophers softball team appeared overwhelmed at times during Thursday’s opening-round game against 12-time national champion UCLA, they made a game of it down the stretch before losing 7-2 at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium. “It’s our first time in program history,” coach Jamie Trachsel said before the game. “Why not try to slay the ultimate dragon?”