MINNESOTA SPORTS ROUNDUP: Wild host Lightning tonight
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Wild begin a brief two-game homestand tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota will then host Nashville on Thursday in its final game before the Olympic break. The Wild have lost two in-a-row and four-of-six overall following Saturday's 4-3 overtime setback in Calgary. They are now 29-21-and-7 on the year. The Bolts are 32-18-and-5. Tonight's game starts at 7 p.m. in St. Paul.
Wild forward Zach Parise was named the NHL's First Star of the Week for games played through Sunday. Parise recorded five assists and a league-best eight points for the week as the Wild went 1-1-and-1. The 29-year-old has 18 goals and 17 helpers in 42 games overall this year. Former Golden Gopher star Phil Kessel is this week's NHL Second Star of the Week. The Toronto Maple Leafs winger is also the NHL Second Star for the month of January.
The U.S. is expected to again duke it out with Canada for gold in both the men's and women's Olympic ice hockey tournaments. Canada defeated the U.S. in both the men's and women's gold medal match four years ago in Vancouver. Those tournaments were staged on NHL-sized rinks, but this year's tournament returns to the wider international surface. Twelve countries will compete in the men's tournament, while eight nations take part in the women's tournament. Led by captain Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild, the American men are vying for just their third gold medal in Olympic history and first-ever on non-U.S. soil. The American men haven't won gold in ice hockey since the famous "Miracle On Ice" team at Lake Placid in 1980. On the women's side, Team USA is led by Amanda Kessel, the younger sister of men's team member Phil Kessel. Amanda Kessel is a standout player for the Golden Gophers, although she is taking this season off from college hockey to concentrate on the Olympics. This is her first Olympics, but Kessel was part of the U.S. squad that won gold at the 2013 World Championships in Ottawa.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are back home to take on the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at the Target Center Minnesota will then head back out on the road to Oklahoma City on Wednesday and New Orleans on Friday. The T'wolves are 23-and-24 on the season following Saturday's setback in Atlanta. The Lakers have lost six straight to dip to 16-and-31. Tipoff tonight is set for 7 p.m. in Minneapolis.
The Los Angeles Lakers will still be without Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, but reinforcements are on the way. In somewhat surprising news - Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar are all expected to be available for tonight's game against the Timberwolves. They practiced yesterday and unless someone suffers a setback, all should be in uniform this evening in the Twin Cities.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are headed to Indiana for a Big Ten showdown with the Purdue Boilermakers tomorrow night. The Gophers have lost two in-a-row following Saturday's 55-54 home setback to Northwestern. Minnesota sits at 15-and-7 on the year and 4-and-5 in conference play. Purdue has lost four in-a-row to dip to 13-and-9 and 3-and-6. Tomorrow's game tips off at 7:30 p.m. The Gophers return home to host Indiana on Saturday night.
Super Bowl 48 is barely in the books, but gamblers are already looking ahead to next year's game. One on-line betting service has listed the Minnesota Vikings at 75-to-1 odds to win Super Bowl 49 in Arizona. Only two other teams have worse odds with Oakland and Jacksonville being listed as longer shots. The reigning Seahawks are the early favorites to repeat, listed by Bovada at 9-to-2, with the 49ers next at 15-to-2.
With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, many fans are looking towards spring training. Twins pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers on February 16th with a first official workout set for the following day. Twins position players are mandated to report by February 21st with their first workout set for February 22nd.