The Wright Call

By Dave Wright

By just about any standard, the University of Saint Thomas’ first season playing Division I football was a success. The Tommies went 7-3 overall and held their own in the Pioneer League, winning six of eight conference games to finish in third place. As a result, head coach Glenn Caruso has good reason to look ahead to this fall and his second season of D-I ball after Saint Thomas jumped up from D-III.

Because nonconference football schedules are often determined years in advance (the Gophers already have nonconference games booked in 2030), Saint Thomas sometimes had to look far and wide to find nonconference foes as the new kid on the D-I block.  

Caruso has scheduled this fall’s nonconference slate rather…judiciously. The 2022 opener is at Southern Utah, which won only one game last year. The first home game is against Michigan Tech, a team the Tommies beat last year by 12-9. But the Huskies were no slouch. They went 6-4 in their conference in 2021.

Next up is a home game against Lincoln, a school of 573 students located in Oakland, California. The Oaklanders also had their football struggles last fall, winning just one game. They also have geography issues, apparently. Their website lists Saint Thomas as being in Minneapolis. 

With that kind of 2022 season setup, one can surmise that the Tommies should get off to a good start before heading into Pioneer League play.  

However, the start of the 2023 season could be a bit more challenging. After an early home game with Black Hills State (a D-II school located in Spearfish, South Dakota), the Tommies have hooked up with a private college for a road game in 2023. That school is much bigger (8,527 undergrads as of its last reported enrollment) than Lincoln and is much better known.

 

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The school? Harvard University.  

“I’ve known their head coach (Tom Murphy) for a long time,” Caruso said. Indeed, Caruso has New England connections of sorts because his dad attended Boston University. Caruso is also friendly with ex-Viking Matt Birk, who played for the Crimson. “Matt talked to me about doing this,” Caruso said. “He was a big help.”

The Tommies finished spring drills with their annual intrasquad game last Saturday. They have 84 players listed on the roster. There’s always the possibility of more. However, Caruso is cautious about talking to prospects who’ve already played somewhere else.

When Caruso’s daughter, Anna, decided to visit campus to check out Harvard earlier this year, it seemed only natural for her and her mom to stop by and say hello to Murphy. “They talked for a couple of hours about everything but football,” Caruso said. In the end, Anna decided to stay home and will attend UST.  

At any rate, one talk led to another. It turned out that the Crimson had an opening on their 2023 schedule. So the Tommies will head east on September 23 next year to take on a program that has been competing in football since 1873 and whose coach is the winningest gridiron boss in Ivy League history.  

If 2021 is any indication, the Tommies will need to strap it on and come raring to go. The Crimson went 8-2 last season, finishing with a flourish by beating Yale on the road in the final minute of play.  

That’s quite a progression of nonconference away games for UST. Last fall, it was a bus trip to Houghton, Michigan. This year, it’ll be a trek to Cedar City, Utah. Next year, the team is headed to Boston. If people weren’t convinced that the Tommies had hit the big time before, scheduling a game at Harvard should clinch matters. The Crimson will return the favor by visiting Saint Paul in 2029.  

The Tommies finished spring drills with their annual intrasquad game last Saturday. They have 84 players listed on the roster.  

There’s always the possibility of more. However, Caruso is cautious about talking to prospects who’ve already played somewhere else. “We know who we are and what our culture is,” he said. “The common thread for a transfer would be either a local player or somebody we have a past relationship with.” 

Having teams like Harvard on the schedule could be an attractive recruiting plum. 

Au revoir, Guy

There are certain hockey players you simply can’t take your eyes off when they’re on the ice. The Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov is one of them. It’s almost a surprise when he’s not on the scoresheet, as was the case in the Wild’s 4-0 loss to Saint Louis in the opening game of their Stanley Cup series.  

Guy Lafleur, who passed away recently from cancer at age 70, was the Canadiens’ all-time leading scorer. For most of his 15-year career, he was like Kaprizov, a mesmerizing magician on the ice who scared the dickens out of opposing goalies and caused fans in enemy rinks to go “uh-oh” when he was headed toward the goal with the puck. Lafleur’s Montreal teams dominated the NHL in the late ’70s, winning four straight Stanley Cups. The North Stars ended the Canadiens’ run with a seven-game series win in 1980.  

A few years earlier, Minnesota goalie Pete LoPresti delivered one of the most memorable post-game quotes in Met Center history. The date was December 14, 1977. The Canadiens were on their usual roll, having lost just five times in 19 games. The North Stars were at the other end of spectrum with just six wins in 28 games, though Minnesota had won a game in Montreal the month before when LoPresti recorded 33 stops in a 5-3 win. 

On this night, the North Stars had a 3-2 lead late in the game when Lafleur picked off an errant pass and headed toward LoPresti with nary a defender in his way. Lafleur put on all his moves, fired the puck and LoPresti knocked it aside. Some 15,000 Met Center fans exhaled with relief and Minnesota held on for the win.  

After the game, the Minneapolis Star’s Bob Fowler said to LoPresti, “Tell me, young man. What did you think when you saw Guy (bleeping) Lafleur coming at you and there was no one near him?”

Hockey goalies are often the most honest athletes in the world. LoPresti, always an affable sort, looked up and said, “Bob, I thought I was going to crap my pants.”  

Dave Wright can be reached at dwright53@msn.com.

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