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Monday, July 14, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 2/23/2014

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Olympics bring best out of hockey

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Any disruption of Olympic coverage on local TV was not a factor at our house. When it comes to the Winter Olympics, for the most part, I could not care less.

I used to smoke a pipe, but I could not begin to tell you what the halfpipe is. My guess is it might burn my lips.

I recognize the raw power and speed of the bobsled, the grace of ski jumping, the poetry of ice skating, the demands and danger of the downhill, and the blink-of-an-eye in speed-skating. I just don’t care.

My wife might suggest I have little interest in cleanliness and even less in brooms, so curling is out of the question.

Ah, but hockey is different. It’s one of “our” big four sports, even if it’s not really ours, as Canada again proved at the Sochi Games.

I have an interest in Olympic hockey much as I do in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It is those times that a good game is made great.

I’ll watch just for the enjoyment and drama, not simply because I know most of the words to the U.S. national anthem.

Good thing, too. Francis Scott Key’s little ditty won’t be playing at the Bolshoi Ice Dome.

The American women fell hard, blowing a late 2-0 lead, learning that pipe music is a cruel hoax, and being stunned in overtime by Canada in the gold-medal game.

The U.S. men met a similar fate in the semifinals when they were stoned by Canada’s defense and goalie Carey Price in a 1-0 loss. That was followed by 5-0 setback to Finland.

Big-time games, championship-level games, often ride on hot goalies. For further proof, closer to home, you should have seen St. John’s Jesuit netminder Mike Barrett’s play on a penalty shot late in the Titans’ 2-1 district tournament win over St. Francis.

A good game made great.

■ One of the finest people I’ve known and dealt with professionally in 40 years has announced his retirement at the end of the basketball season. Larry Gipson will call it quits after 17 years as head coach at Northeastern (Okla.) State University, which he led to the 2002-03 Division II NCAA championship.

University of Toledo fans may recall Gipson was head coach of the Rocket men from 1991-96.

His first Toledo team, pretty much bereft of talent, went 7-20, but the program improved annually, going from seven wins to 12, 15, 16, and 18. His last team came as close as any during UT’s nearly 35-year drought of making the NCAA tournament, advancing to the MAC tournament championship game before falling to Eastern Michigan.

Gipson, an Ohioan who is a product of Marion and a graduate of Heidelberg University in Tiffin, enters his final couple games with a 562-358 career record. The Henry Iba disciple and a branch on the Nolan Richardson coaching tree also won a junior college national title early in his coaching career.

From 2012-13, Gipson served as president of the board of directors of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The electors included fellow board members Tom Izzo, Bill Self, Jim Boeheim, Bo Ryan, Mike Brey and Phil Martelli, to name a few.

Fine coach. Better guy.

■ Speaking of former UT men’s coaches; congrats to Stan Joplin and his Springfield High boys for a co-Northern Lakes League championship, no small feat considering talented teams at Perrysburg, Southview and elsewhere.

The Blue Devils and P-burg shared the title with 11-3 league records.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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