LOOKS LIKE we made it to the starting line.
Practices for fall high school sports officially begin Tuesday around the state. The wait will end for thousands of young athletes.
Most communities have chosen to field teams and will have to abide by restrictions to comply with state, NHIAA and community protocols designed to socially distance and stem the spread of COVID-19. Those restrictions will be many and, in some cases, difficult. Wearing face masks? No carpooling? Limiting fans at the games? In some places, following the new rules may spell the difference between a successful season, albeit shorter than usual, and one cut short.
It won’t look like any other season. After all, we’re trying to play games in a pandemic. That’s how much we value sports.
Godspeed to all involved. Players, parents and coaches: You have earned this right.
We’re all rooting for you.
• Some in-house updates: You’ll be happy to know that we’ll keep handing the football to Roger Brown for weekly columns and features and anything else from the local gridirons. Also, Alex Hall, starting this week, will author a regular column covering ... everything else ... in our high school world. Have a story idea? Write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
• Fear not, the Union Leader Power Poll will return for a lucky 13th season. The Division I champ Londonderry Lancers are the defending No. 1. So prepare to disagree with us and squabble among yourselves about who’s ranked where. Then we’d feel some normalcy — and that would be wonderful.
• With open tournaments this fall, high school teams are allowed to schedule games with teams outside their division. Aside from the no-brainer of Hanover vs. Lebanon boys soccer, other non-leaguers we’d like to see include Goffstown’s boys vs. Central and Memorial, Oyster River’s boys vs. the Seacoast Division I schools, and Derryfield School’s field hockey team vs. Central and Memorial.
• The Londonderry Lancer Marching Band sounded great in its first performance last week. “Broadway Mega Hits” is this year’s theme.
• UNH senior safety Evan Horn last week was named to the FCS Preseason All-America Third Team. Was hoping to watch Horn work his magic this fall, of course, but we can hope that a spring season happens. Saturday would have been the Wildcats’ opener (and big money maker) at FBS Kansas.
• Jamie Burke from Manchester Cal Ripken Baseball passed along an interesting item. Not only did the league have a successful season, but apparently the players gained some spectators, from the high-rise apartments next door to the Brian West complex on Tarrytown Road. In a normal year, the league would get a few residents to come over and watch. But this year, in a pandemic, residents in stay-at-home mode could watch from their own backyard, giving the league a much bigger fan base. The players, in turn, showed their appreciation by donating Cal Ripken league swag to the group. Public address announcer/president Bruce Dalpra welcomed the residents every night. “To our bleacher creatures, until 2021” Burke wrote. “We wish you a wonderful fall and winter. We will see you in the spring.”
• We had no sports and now we have NHL playoffs, NBA playoffs, WNBA, MLB, NASCAR, the PGA playoffs, U.S. Open tennis, MLS, college football and high school football. Add the NFL and Premier League soccer next weekend.
• We’ve said this before, but there is nothing in sports better than overtime of an NHL playoff game.
• Question for Bruins fans: Are you OK with Zdeno Chara returning to your team? Big Z is a warrior and has been among the best defensemen of his generation, but he’s not exactly super-mobile anymore, is he?
• Sticking with hockey, college variety: The NCAA says players can compete in outside leagues (juniors) during the fall semester if their colleges aren’t playing in the fall. Also, the transfer announcements are coming fast and furious. Providence College picked up three, including two surnames you may know from their NHL goalie days: Tugnutt (Matt, son of Ron) and Stauber (Jaxson, son of Robb). Matt Tugnutt is a forward; Jaxson Stauber is a goalie, like his dad. Of course, Bruins fans know Ron Tugnutt from his 70-save performance against the B’s in 1991, a game that ended in a 3-3 tie. Robb Stauber starred at the University of Minnesota and played for a bunch of pro teams, but we here in the sports department know him as the answer to a trivia question from one of our favorite movies, “Fargo.” So, we’ll ask, how does Stauber make his appearance in the movie? Without having to act, no less? Answer later in column.
• Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke hit 17 homers in his major-league career and the first one came off the late, great Tom Seaver. As the story goes, the Hall of Fame pitcher signed the ball, “To Ron — Why me? Tom Seaver.” Tom Terrific was a hero of Mike Shalin, our Boston-area columnist. We’re all rooting for “Shales,” who is facing challenges as he continues to recover from brain surgery.
• Looks like the bubble-less MLB might make it, too, at least to the postseason. I would not have bet on that.
• Bedford’s and UNH’s Josh Bauer has played in one game (six minutes) since joining the Birmingham (Ala.) Legion on Aug. 19. The Legion play in the USL Championship league, which is like Triple-A for the MLS.
• Congrats to the champs of the COVID Invitational Little League tournament: Goffstown, for the 8/9/10 division, and the North Manchester/Hooksett teams for both the 9/10/11 and 10/11/12 divisions.
• Trivia answer: Robb Stauber appears in “Fargo,” the 1996 cult favorite, on television, fishing the puck out of the net after allowing a University of Wisconsin goal. It’s footage from an actual game. The crack UL sports research team has concluded the goal scorer was Paul Rainheim and the year was 1986. In the movie, Gophers fan Wade Gustafson is engrossed in the game and shows frustration with the Badgers’ goal.