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MINNESOTA SPORTS ROUND-UP: Gopher grids take on Syracuse in Texas Bowl tonight

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HOUSTON - The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team will embark on their final game of the 2013 season tonight when they face the Syracuse Orange in the Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston. 

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The team has been in Houston preparing for the final showdown for the better part of a week as they try for their ninth win of the season.  This season the Gophers have already won four straight Big 10 games, something it hadn't done since 1973, have already won eight games for the first time since 2003 and have a chance to finish with nine wins for only the second time in 108 years.  Kick off is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.

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The Minnesota Timberwolves were back on the court today following a brief holiday break.  Yesterday they practiced at Target Center as they prepare for Washington tonight at Target Center.  The Wolves went into the break with a pair of losses in Los Angeles to the Lakers and Clippers.  Starting tonight though, the T-Wolves will enjoy a little bit of a break in the schedule as four of the next five and eight of the next 13 will be on their home court.  The Timberwolves have won two straight at home yet currently sit 10th in the Western Conference.  Tonight's match up will tip off at 7 p.m.

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The NBA announced Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love is fourth among the Western Conference frontcourt with 377,941 votes received, while guard Ricky Rubio is ninth among Western Conference backcourt leaders with 81,829 votes after the second returns in the 2014 NBA All-Star Balloting program.  Love is averaging 25.9 points (3rd in NBA) and a league-high 13.9 rebounds per game this season. He tallied season highs in both points (45 on 15-for-23 shooting) and rebounds (19) while dishing out six assists against the Clippers on Sunday to become the fourth player since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976 to record 45+ points. 15+ rebounds and 5+ assists on 65%+ shooting in a game (Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Alvan Adams). He’s recorded a league-high 25 double-doubles this season, including posting seven of the NBA’s nine total games with 25+ points, 15+ rebounds and 5+ assists (DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard).  Rubio is averaging 9.0 points, 8.0 assists (6th in NBA) and 2.7 steals (2nd) per game this season. Rubio has handed out double-digit assist totals in nine games this season, including dishing out a career-high 16 against Cleveland on Nov. 13. He has recorded five double-doubles this year, as well as posting his second career triple-double on Nov. 10 at Los Angeles. After setting the franchise record with 2.4 spg in 2012-13, this season Rubio is attempting to become the first player in franchise history to average 2.5+ steals per game. 

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The Minnesota Wild resume play tonight as they finish a giant stretch of games on the road.  The Wild went into the break losing three in a row including a 4-1 loss on Monday night in Philadelphia.  Minnesota tonight will wrap up a stretch that saw them play seven of eight away from St. Paul and never has a team been so anxious to get back in front of their home fans.  Not only have the Wild lost three in a row but they've gone 1-7-1 in their last nine on the road scoring just nine goals.  The Wild and Jets, who share space in the newly formed Central Division, have already played three times this season with Minnesota taking each of the first three contests.  Puck drops tonight at 7 from Winnipeg.

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All eyes will be on the pregame warm ups tonight in Winnipeg wondering who will be available for the Wild when they return from the holiday break.  Since the Wild played on Monday night in Philadelphia, due to the NHL's agreement with the players association teams can't play, practice or even travel on December 24-26th.  So that means no status update on Wild forward Zach Parise, who missed Monday's game with a lower body injury or goaltender Josh Harding, who has been expected to rejoin the team tonight in some capacity.  Defenseman Clayton Stoner also missed Monday's game with a lower body injury.

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Sunday could be the end of the line in a number of ways for the Minnesota Vikings.  First, we know the 2013 season will draw to a close when they host the Detroit Lions.  But it will also mean the end of the Metrodome as the Vikings move to TCF Stadium starting next season as their new home is constructed on top of where the Metrodome currently stands.  It could also mean the end of the line for both Jared Allen and Kevin Williams who both are unrestricted free agents following Sunday's game against the Lions.  Both teams have already been eliminated from postseason competition.  Kick off is at noon from Minneapolis.

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 The Minnesota Vikings will honor Matt Birk’s career prior to kickoff of the final game at Mall of America Field on December 29, 2013. Birk will serve as an honorary captain for the Vikings game against the Detroit Lions. Birk was originally drafted by the Vikings in the 6th round (#173 overall) of the 1998 NFL Draft and spent 11 seasons with the Vikings (1998-2008) and 4 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens (2009-12). He earned Pro Bowl honors six times during his career (2000, ’01, ’03, ’04, ’06, ‘07). Birk has been named to the All-Mall of America Field Team, the 50 Greatest Vikings, was the 2011 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year and capped his NFL career as a member of the Super Bowl XLVII Champion Baltimore Ravens. He was also named the USA Today Sports Weekly’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s. Birk retired from the NFL following the 2012 season.

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Festivities for the Minnesota Vikings final weekend at Mall of America Field will begin this Saturday, December 28, with an exclusive “Last Season, Last Call” Season Ticket Owner event. Held at Mall of America Field from 4:00-7:00 pm., the event will give nearly 7,000 fans one final chance to take commemorative photos on the field and near the Vikings ship, tour the team’s locker room, hear stories from Vikings greats and watch highlights from some of the most memorable games played inside the stadium.  More information is available at www.vikings.com.

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Five different players scored and goaltender Jon Gillies (Providence College) turned away 23 shots to help the U.S. National Junior Team defeat the Czech Republic, 5-1, in the opening game of the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship here today.  University of Minnesota forward Hudson Fasching scored in the second period for the Americans.  The U.S. next faces Slovakia tomorrow morning at 6:30 a.m. CT.

World Juniors Schedule

Here's the United State's tournament schedule for the World Juniors Tournament which begins this morning in Malmo, Sweden:

Thursday, Dec 26    Team USA 5, Czech Republic 1 Saturday, Dec 28    vs Slovakia, 6:30 a.m. CT Sunday, Dec 29        vs Germany, 8:00 a.m. CT Tuesday, Dec 31    vs Canada, 10:30 a.m. CT Thursday, Jan 2    Quarterfinals Saturday, Jan 4    Semifinals Sunday, Jan 5        Medal Games

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Sean Scallon
Sean Scallon has been a reporter and Sports Editor at the Pierce County Herald newspaper in Ellsworth since 1998. He holds a bachelors degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's also worked at newspapers in Glenwood City, Wisconsin; Marion, Illinois and Shawano, Wisconsin. Sean also works as a sports reporter for other newspapers and websites in RiverTown Multimedia from River Falls to Hudson to New Richmond and Red Wing.
(715) 273-4334
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