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October 12th, 2018

Red Wings to retire another number,

though it may not be what you think

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

So Chris Ilitch made a surprise appearance before the Red Wings-Toronto game Thursday night, announcing – finally – that the franchise would hang another retired number from the rafters at Little Caesars Arena.

 

The surprise, perhaps, was that it wasn’t Henrik Zetterberg’s No. 40 or Sergei Fedorov’s No. 91. It was Rick Zombo’s No. 4 – made famous a generation before Zombo wore it in the 1980s by Red Kelly, the Hall of Fame defenseman who assisted on so many of those goals in the glory days of the 1950s and 60s by guys like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel.

 

Kelly’s number will join Howe’s No. 9, Lindsay’s No. 7 and Abel’s No. 12, along with Terry Sauchuk’s No. 1, Steve Yzerman’s No. 19 and Nick Lidstrom’s No. 5.

 

The first great puck-rushing defenseman in the NHL – on his shoulders stands Bobby Orr – Kelly helped the Wings win four Stanley Cup titles before he was traded to Toronto, where he won four more Cup rings – playing center. That kind of talent has rarely been seen in nearly a century of NHL hockey, though we got a glimpse of it with Fedorov in the 199os, when coach Scotty Bowman put his MVP center on the blue line for a six-week stretch.

 

And speaking of Fedorov, it didn’t take long for his name to surface when Ilitch invited questions after his announcement at Kelly. Along with Zetterberg’s.

 

“Yeah, 40 and 91 are good numbers,” Ilitch conceded. “That’s for sure.”

Next question?

Which numbers a franchise retires is the province of ownership – one of the perks of investing hundreds of millions of dollars into a team. In other words, it’s the Ilitch family that makes these decisions – not executives like GM Ken Holland, or senior VP Jim Devellano, not the media, and certainly not the fans. If that were the case, the Wings would be like the New York Yankees, who are just about out of numbers.

“The subject of number retirement, it’s an important subject. It deserves a lot of conversation and a lot of thought,” Ilitch said. “We are continuously evaluating that within our organization. Let’s see what the future holds.”

The future, somewhere out there, is the best shot for Fedorov and his legion of fans who want to see 91 in the rafters. Because it ain’t happening so long as Marian Ilitch, the matriarch of the ownership family, is drawing a breath.

I can just hear that conversation.

Chris Ilitch: “So, Mom, there’s a lot of support among our fans out there to retire Sergei’s number. What do you think?

Marian: “Over my dead body.”

Actually, it’s probably something closer to: “Are you (expletive) kidding me? That will never (expletive) happen as long as I (expletive) live and (expletive) breath, so help me (expletive) God.”

And she isn’t kidding.

Here’s why: Marian Ilitch and her late husband, Mike, valued loyalty above all things regarding their players and employees. Not once, but twice, Sergei Fedorov betrayed them. First in 1998, after the Olympics in Nagano, Japan, holding out and ultimately signing a $38 million, heavily front-loaded deal with Carolina that forced the Ilitches to scramble with their bankers in order to match it. They weren’t happy, but they scraped up $28 million that Fedorov collected within about a six-month span after he signed a five-year deal with Detroit.

When that expired, of course, Fedorov walked away from a five-year, $50 million offer from Ilitch. He ultimately signed with Anaheim, four years for $40 million. He left $10 million on the table to leave Detroit.

Which is why, after Kelly’s number is retired before another Maple Leafs visit in early February, the next number you’ll see retired is Zetterberg’s No. 40. Fedorov will have to wait.

A post-script regarding retired numbers: Some diehard fans, my former colleague at the Detroit Free Press Bernie Czarnecki among then, still want to see Larry Aurie’s No. 6. Raised. Aurie was the first big star of the Red Wings dating back to the earliest days of the franchise in the late 1920s. In 1939, the Norris family ownership declared the number retired, but never held a formal ceremony to raise it. It remains out of service.

So long as we’re going back nearly 100 years, why not Ebenezer “Ebbie” Goodfellow – who starred for the Wings in the 1920s and 30s? Unlike Aurie, Goodfellow was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He wore No. 5, which hangs in the rafters with Lidstom’s name on it.

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Nothing like a victory heading into a bye week. And a victory over division archrival and nemesis Green Bay – the third straight in that series for the Detroit Lions – is even sweeter. Rest up, heal up, enjoy the break and come back ready for compete for a playoff berth. Sound’s rather optimistic after the way the Lions opened up the season with two losses. But with wins in two of their next three games against HOF quarterbacks with New England and the Packers, maybe it’s not so far-fetched?

The envelope, please:

Matchup: Michigan State (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at No. 8 Penn State (4-1, 1-1).

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.

TV/radio: Big Ten Network

Line: Penn State by 13½.

Prediction: Unless the Spartans show up with that trademark chip on their shoulders that makes them so effective under coach Mark Dantonio, this game could get ugly in a hurry. Absolutely nothing about Michigan State’s performances this season suggests this game will be anything by a blowout. Penn State 41, Michigan State 17.

Matchup: No. 13 Michigan (5-1, 3-0) vs. No. 10 Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor.

TV/radio: ABC; WQON (100.3-FM)

Line: Wolverines by 8 1/2

Prediction: Just what the Wolverines need on their schedule at the moment: a highly ranked opponent on their own field they should beat, and handily. If Michigan’s defense is as good as advertised – and we’ll know Saturday by how they do against the Badgers’ running attack – this game shouldn’t be close. Wisconsin’s defense is banged up at the wrong time against a Michigan offense that has found its comfort level and may be ready to open things up even more. Michigan 31, Wisconsin 16.

Keith Gave’s new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” is available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

 

-30-

 

October 10th, 2018

Play of young Wings suggests

rebuild is on the right course

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

The more things change for the Detroit Red Wings, the more they stay the same. But at least now they’re a whole lot more interesting and fun to watch.

 

That much is apparent, despite an admittedly small sample size. After three games without a victory – with two overtime losses to earn two points – we can some early favorable conclusions about these Wings.

 

They’re younger, with the addition of four rookie defensemen and forward Mike Rasmussen. But they remain one of the oldest teams in the NHL, just not the oldest, like they were last season.

 

They’re faster. Maybe much faster, with speed from the back end with the kids playing in place of injured veterans, to a forward group that allows them to pressure the puck all over the ice.

 

Their special teams look much improved. Again, it’s early, but new assistant Dan Bylsma (the guy with a Stanley Cup ring as coach of the 2009 Pittsburgh team that beat Detroit) seems to be making a difference. That may be in large part because the Wings now have two guys – sophomore winger Tyler Bertuzzi and the 6-foot-6 Rasmussen – providing a net-front presence that Wings haven’t had since Tomas Holmstrom retired.

 

And their compete level is off the charts. The Wings have faced three teams that qualified for the playoffs last spring and played them all to a virtual draw. Clearly the youngsters who have much to prove if they want to stay have energized the roster. Can they sustain it? Therein lies the challenge.

 

On the flip side, there are obvious concerns – issues that have plagued this club for too long now.

 

They can’t score. Six goals in three games isn’t going to cut it. Last season, Detroit led the NHL in one-goal losses with 27. This year so far? Two of their three losses, both in OT, went 3-2. In the other game, only a late empty-net goal prevented a loss by that score again.

 

Anthony Mantha is the closest the Wings have to a pure goal-scorer, and he led the team last year with a paltry 24. The Wings really need him to get to 30 or better. They also need Dylan Larkin to produce like a No. 1 center, something approaching 20 goals and 60 points.

 

They need secondary scoring wherever they can get it, preferably from guys like underproducing Gus Nyquist and Tomas Vanek, wingers Detroit would like to trade at the deadline for younger assets and draft picks to supercharge the rebuilding process.

 

And of course, they need great goaltending like Jimmy Howard has provided in the two overtime games, and performances better that backup Jonathan Bernier provided in the loss at Los Angeles on Sunday night. If Bernier provides some stability in goal, that makes Howard, who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, a potentially huge bargaining chip at the deadline.

 

Perhaps we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, but that’s the tendency when a team is so all about the future that its present can be rather painstaking.

 

Huge questions loom in the immediate future when veteran defenseman Nik Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Green and Trevor Daley return to the lineup. Who goes among those youngsters on the blue line and who stays?

 

Right now, the smart money is on Dennis Cholowski, a kid who’s making the jump from junior hockey to the NHL look like no big deal, when it is – especially for a defenseman – and Filip Hronek, who struggled during training camp but looks like he found his legs in these first three games.

 

Joe Hicketts and Libor Sulak, the surprise in camp along with defensive specialist Christopher Ehn at center, give the Wings some surprising depth at the blue line. What appeared to be their greatest liability at the start of the season has suddenly become, if not a strength, then certainly less of a concern.

 

We’ll know a lot more about these Wings after Thursday night’s game, when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Little Caesars Arena. The high-scoring Leafs, with as talented a group of forwards as there is in the NHL, will test Detroit’s young defensemen. At the same time, Toronto’s defense is suspect enough to suggest that the Red Wings should certainly score more than a couple of goals.

 

This could be a wide-open, higher-scoring game than we’ve seen to date from the Wings.

 

And fun to watch. What more can we ask of this team right now?

 

 

 

Keith Gave’s new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” is available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

 

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October 6th, 2018

U-M, MSU face tough challenges;

Can Lions beat nemesis Mr. Rodgers?

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

The stakes get higher, and the opposition doesn’t get any easier for Michigan and Michigan State, while the Lions can climb back into the Central Division race with a win over archrival Green Bay. Compelling theater in Ann Arbor, East Lansing and downtown Detroit this weekend.

 

The envelope, please.

 

Matchup: No. 19 Michigan State (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (1-3, 1-1).

Kickoff: Noon, Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing.

TV/radio: Fox Sports 1.

Line: Spartans by 10 1/2.

 

Overview: The Oddsmakers are right. This game shouldn’t be close. But it will be. Northwestern can’t run the ball, and it won’t be able to against the best run defense in the country. But the Wildcats always seem to find a way. Michigan State led 14-0 in East Lansing two year ago, and 10-0 last year in Evanston – and lost both games when Michigan State gave up a combined 93 points. Northwestern has won three of the past four meetings. Only Urban Meyer, Kirk Ferentz and Brian Kelly have beaten Dantonio’s MSU four times. Can Pat Fitzgerald join that little club? Not this year.

 

Prediction: Michigan State 21, Northwestern 17.

 

Spartans have given up just five TD passes this year, two of them last week against CMU, one of the mon a trick play.

 

--

 

Matchup: No. 16 Michigan (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) vs. Maryland (3-1, 1-0).

Kickoff: Noon, Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor.

TV/radio: ABC; WQON-FM (100.3)

Line: Wolverines by 17 1/2

Overview: Maryland can be sneaky good. The Terps are 3-1 despite going through a brutal offseason, in which offensive lineman Jordan McNair died after a workout and head coach D.J. Durkin was subsequently placed on administrative leave over allegations of a toxic culture within the program. The Terrapins compete; there's little doubt about that. They had the Big Ten's fourth-best recruiting class in 2017 and fifth-best in 2018. There's talent in this program and it's willing to battle through adversity.

Expect a lot of laundry littering the field with the two most penalized teams in the Big Ten squaring off. Michigan has the better talent to overcome its (and referees’) mistakes, but it won’t be easy against a much-improved Maryland defense. The Terps lead the Big Ten in third-down efficiency at 29 percent. Michigan remains susceptible in that situation, and Maryland has a knack for gashing big plays. Michigan has to contain the run game featuring speedy backs Ty Johnson and Anthony McFarland. If they don’t, it’ll be a lot closer game than it should be.

Prediction: Michigan 33, Maryland 20

--

Matchup: Green Bay (2-1-1) at Detroit (1-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m., Sunday, at Ford Field

TV/radio: FOX, WQON-FM (100.3)

Line: Green Bay minus-1 or Pk

 

Overview: Can the Lions make it three-straight over their divisional nemesis? Last year they swept the Packers, but that fact gets a huge asterisk: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed both games with a shoulder injury. He’s 13-3 in his career against Detroit. The season before, four touchdowns in each of two victories – without an interception. He’s been playing on a sore knee suffered in the season opener against the Bears, but he looked awfully good in a shutout of Buffalo last week. Matthew Stafford rises to the occasion, too. He has thrown for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns in each of the past four meetings against Green Bay. Both teams are having issues running the ball. Gren Bay ranks 19th in the NFL in rushing. Detroit ranks 20th. Whichever team can run the ball most effectively will win this game.

Prediction: Detroit 23, Green Bay 21.

 

-30-

 

October 4th, 2018

Younger, faster, grittier Wings drop puck

on new season, but will they be better?

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Danny DeKeyser began training for the new hockey season back in mid-June – about the time some bearded Russian Cossack was seen skating off with the Stanley Cup on a month-long binge that made a lot of us tipsy just watching his escapades on YouTube.

 

By then, of course, DeKeyser and his Red Wings teammates had been off the job for nearly two months.

 

It’s a long – LONG – summer for teams that fail to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament as the Wings and their long-spoiled fans have discovered these past two years.

 

Tonight, they begin their quest to end that streak. And as unlikely as that seems, the players are serious. Despite the loss to the medical retirement of their heart-and-soul captain, Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings seem rejuvenated by an influx of young talent. New faces like 6-foot-6 power forward Mike Rasmussen and defensemen Dennis Cholowski, Libor Sulak, Joe Hicketts and Filip Hronek could all see plenty of action early in the season as Detroit starts with several of its veteran defensemen questionable with a variety of ailments.

 

With a nucleus of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi, and so many youngsters following quickly, the rebuild is in full swing. When Zetterberg drops the ceremonial first puck before tonight’s game with Columbus, the Wings could have 11 players under the age of 25, including six rookies, in their lineup.

 

That will make things at least interesting for Wings fans hoping for a quick 180-turn toward playoff relevancy once again. Especially after a 7-1 preseason. It’s hard not to get caught up in all the optimism.

 

But this is where we need a heavy dose of perspective and reality. Young teams don’t win Stanley Cups. Young teams that rely on rookie defensemen rarely even make the playoffs.

 

Young players have a hard enough time just finding their place, a comfort level, in the best hockey league in the world – a man’s league. They need to convince themselves they belong. Then they need to convince their coaches. And then they need to win the confidence of their teammates.

 

With rare exception, it doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, the last time it happened in Detroit was 1983, when Steve Yzerman had barely started to shave. But he was the best player on the Red Wings’ beleaguered training camp roster that fall.

 

Some overoptimistic fans were hoping history might repeat itself this year after Filip Zadina fell into the Wings’ lap with the 6th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft in June. A prolific scorer with no shortage of confidence, Zadina was given every opportunity to show that he belonged on the NHL roster to start the season.

 

He isn’t. Starting him in Grand Rapids with the Griffins was a wise move by General Manager Ken Holland. If Zadina is going to be in Detroit, he has to play among the top six forwards. To succeed, he needs the ice time and the opportunity to work with the top playmakers at center. Anything less, he’s better off playing on a top line in Grand Rapids, working on his game, adjusting to the speed of the professional game, and learning some defensive structure.

 

If he develops as everyone expects, we should see him in Detroit around the holidays for a cup of coffee, at least.

 

Another smart move, this one by coach Jeff Blashill, is elevating Dylan Larkin and Frans Nielsen to alternate captains. If you’re keeping score at home, that makes four. Niklas Kronwall and Justin Abdelkader each have worn an “A” for years.

 

The Wings have had just three captains in the past 32 years – Yzerman, for 20 years starting in 1986, followed by Nicklas Lidstrom and Zetterberg. This year, the honor of leading the team will be shared by four men. Larkin will wear an “A” at home. Nielsen will wear it on the road.

 

Unquestionably, Larkin will be the next guy to wear the “C” – but pinning it on him now would be doing him a great disservice. After signing a big contract, and with Zetterberg’s surprise medical retirement, Larkin will have enough pressure on him just trying to anchor the top line. Wearing the “C” comes with a lot of responsibilities he doesn’t need just now.

 

So here we go, with a younger, faster and perhaps even more aggressive Red Wings team – one that promises opponents “60 minutes of hell” every night. And if they can do that even every other night – the 41 home games – it’ll be a profound improvement over last season, when the Wings were simply too gracious to visitors.

 

This should be a fun team to watch, and as with all young teams we should experience some wild fluctuations, some serious highs and lows. Buckle up and enjoy the ride, but temper expectations. This team finished 26th overall last season, and almost universally it’s expected to finish among the bottom five again.

 

That’s not the worst thing in the world for a rebuilding team. There are some awfully good players among the first 3-4 in the draft next June, and the Wings need to continue stockpiling young talent.

 

They’ll get there. Just be patient. Meantime, find other ways to enjoy those early off-season months.

 

Keith Gave’s new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” is available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

 

October 2nd, 2018:

Lamenting the Tigers, Lions and

more; Rantings of an angry old man

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

For someone who’s tried so hard to be optimistic about these young Detroit Tigers – always seeing the glass half full, and sometimes overflowing – the way they finished the season has me feeling like the old guy in the movie, Gran Torino.

 

“Get off my damn lawn!”

 

Three wins in the last 13 games. Losing each game of the final series to Milwaukee when a victory would have prevented Monday’s Game 163 of the season between the Brewers and the Cubs. The Tigers could have played spoiler. But no, they rolled over, ending it all with a fitting 11-0 defeat – the 18th time they’ve been shut out this season.

 

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said before the Brewers series he looked forward to how his young players would react in what he knew would be a raucous environment. What he learned about his team couldn’t have made him very happy. What transpired was shameful. Pathetic.

 

So many of those guys are playing for their major-league lives, and most of them showed they don’t belong. Which makes it difficult to find a drop of water in the damned glass moving forward.

 

Except for Daniel Norris, who had another good five-inning performance over the final weekend before the bullpen caved in on him, again, pitching down the stretch was atrocious. Matt Boyd, who looked to be among the most consistently strong arms among the starters, was brutal in his final three starts. Closer Shane Greene looked like the second coming of Todd Jones, turning every ninth-inning opportunity into a nauseous thrill ride.

 

But the Tigers hitting, all season long, was worse. Atrocious.

 

Jeimer Candalerio had some good moments. Niko Goodrum looks like a decent switch-hitting utilityman. Christian Stewart looked OK in his major-league debut, but he wasn’t around long enough for advance scouting to find holes in his swing. The jury remains out on him.

 

The only guy on this team who brought it every day was Nick Castellanos, who had one of seven meager hits Sunday’s finale. He overcame a horrible mid-season slump to finish with a .298 average, 185 hits, 23 home runs, 46 doubles, five triples and 89 RBI.

 

And all fans want to do is rip the former third-baseman for not being a Gold Glove right-fielder – while management entertains offers to trade him.

 

Sorry, but it’s just really difficult right now to have an ounce of optimism about this team. We’ll have to try to enjoy what looks like a thrilling post-season without the Tigers again. Likely for many, many years ahead.

 

“Turn that music down!”

 

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what Dallas was planning to do against the Lions on Sunday. We all knew that the best chance the Cowboys had to win against what looked like an improving Detroit team rested on the shoulders of running back Ezekiel Elliott.

 

This was the perfect moment for Lions rookie coach Matt Patricia, who actually majored in rocket science, to showcase his genius for defensive strategy. But he and his team failed miserably.

 

The only thing more dangerous than handing the ball off the Elliott is passing him the ball. The Cowboys did both, at will, and the Lions were helpless – hapless – to try and stop him. He ran for 152 yards and caught passes for 88 more – including a 38-yard touchdown on a screen (of course) for a second-quarter touchdown.

 

Somehow, absolutely inexplicably. Elliott found himself in single coverage with Detroit’s leading tackler, linebacker Jarrad Davis, with the Cowboy’s driving, behind by a point, in the final two minutes of the game. Elliott’s eyes lit up before the snap. So did quarterback Dak Prescott’s.

 

The two connected on a 34-yard deep toss that set up Brett Maher’s 38-yard field goal as time expired – giving Dallas a 26-24 win.

 

The Lions did almost everything they needed to do to win a crucial road game. This one is on Patricia and his porous defense.

 

“And get a damn haircut!”

 

Time for even the most delusional diehards to fess up. Both Michigan and Michigan State are preposterously over-rated teams this fall.

 

Somehow, Michigan (4-1) stands at No. 15 in The Associated Press poll despite squeaking out a come-from-way-behind 20-17 win at Northwestern. The Wolverines trailed at the outset, 17-0. But their defense finally showed up in the second half, and quarterback Shea Patterson overcame some serious inconsistencies in his game to secure the win over the Wildcats (1-3). The way Michigan is playing it’ll be luck to wind up for a bid to the Outback Bowl when the dust settles.

 

Remarkably, Michigan State (3-1) moved up a notch to No. 20 after turning what looked to be a rout into a competitive finish in a 31-20 win over visiting Central Michigan (1-4). The Spartans needed what should have been little more than a controlled scrimmage to fix a lot of problems in their game on both sides of the ball. They fixed nothing. In fact, more problems were exposed. MSU doesn’t belong in the Top 25, and it says here they won’t be at season’s end.

Keith Gave’s new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery andcourage,” is available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

 

September 28th, 2018: 

Can U-M, Spartans and Lions keep

momentum? The envelope please

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Let’s be realistic: As impressive as the results were last weekend with Michigan, Michigan State and that improbable victory by the Lions over New England, it’s yesterday’s news, eh?

Big-time college football and the NFL are what-have-you-done-for-me-lately ventures. The way Michigan manhandled visiting Nebraska, with Michigan State answering a lot of questions with a solid win at previously unbeaten Indiana left a lot of fans in our region feeling pretty good about their favorite Big Ten team. And what the Lions did for an encore a day later left most of us speechless, shaking our heads and wondering where that team has been for the last half-century or so.

But none of that means squat if they don’t follow those victories with more of the same this weekend. Why the hell not? We’re tempted to ask. But that’s why they play the games. Let’s have a look:

 

Matchup: No. 18 Michigan State (2-1) vs. Central Michigan (1-3).

When: Noon, Saturday.

Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing.

TV/radio: Fox Sports 1

Line: MSU by 28½.

Outlook: Against a team with a horrible defense playing quarterback roulette four games into the season, this should be an easy assignment for the Spartans, as the line indicates. Nothing has come easy for them yet. While the defense remains their calling card, the offense has been a bit of a mess with an offensive line unable to open holes for a running game, or adequately protect quarterback Brian Lewerke, who shoulders more than his share of his team’s fortunes. The Chippewas provide the perfect foil for the Spartans to work on fixing a lot of problems before the weekly grind of the Big Ten season.

Prediction: Michigan State 41, Central Michigan 9

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No. 15 Michigan (3-1, 1-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-2, 1-0)

When: 4:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Ryan Field; Evanston, Ill.

TV/radio: Fox; WQON-FM (100.3)

Line: Wolverines by 14

Outlook: The Wildcats tend to wreak havoc on favored teams visiting that little bandbox in Evanston – even with average teams. And this was supposed to be a good one, a team that would

have at least a say in the Big Ten’s powder-puff West Division. But with running back Jeremy Larkin forced into medical retirement with a neck injury, the Northwestern offense has a snowball’s chance against this Michigan defense. Meantime, the Wolverines offense that ran roughshod over Nebraska last week will do the same, and early in the third quarter once again, quarterback Shea Patterson will trade his helmet for headsets and watch Dylan McCaffery mop up.

 

Prediction: Michigan 33, Northwestern 7

 

 

--

 

 

Detroit (1-2) at Dallas (1-2)

When: 1 p.m., Sunday.

Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

TV/radio: Fox, WQON-FM (100.3)

Line: Cowboys by 3.

Outlook: The Lions invade “Jerry World” boasting the best past defense in the NFL after three games. But that will mean very little if Dak Prescott just take a step or two back from under center and hand the ball of to Ezekiel Elliott, which he is expected to do. And who can blame the Dallas to do anything different after watching two far-less-dangerous backs torch the Lions defense in the first two weeks of the season? The Lions improved mightily against New England last week, but still are allowing an average of nearly 150 yards per game. Contain Elliott – and it says here they will, and the Lions will win and soon be the new darlings of the NFL.

Prediction: Detroit 20, Dallas 17

 

Keith Gave’s new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” is available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

September 26th, 2018:

For one sweet September weekend,

it could get no better for sports fans

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Simple question: If Saturday felt something like a hitting for the cycle for local sports fans (Tigers sendoff V-Mart into retirement with a nice win; Red Wings win to stay undefeated; and both Michigan and Michigan win impressively to take the express elevator up the national polls), then what did Sunday night feel like after the Lions bitch-slapped the reigning Super Bowl champs for one of the most improbable Detroit football wins in, oh, decades?

 

Asking for a friend. Because to be quite honest, I really don’t have a frame of reference for a single day of success for our teams – especially the way the Lions capped it off against the Pats.

 

Granted, it would be easy to dismiss Detroit’s upset of New England as just another in a series of inexplicable outcomes on a quirky NFL Sunday. Bottom-feeding Buffalo manhandled Minnesota. Green Bay fell on the road to Washington. Of course, the Week 3 action began with Cleveland’s 21-17 victory over the New York Jets – the Browns’ first victory in 635 days.

 

But to suggest the Lions victory Sunday was some kind of fluke in a series of several others is to do them a colossal disservice. If it’s OK to eviscerate them after their embarrassing 48-17 season-opening loss to the Jets at Ford Field and criticize them for committing several stupid mistakes that turned a victory into a loss in Game 2 at San Francisco, then they deserve our praise and respect for one of their best all-around performances in years – especially considering the opponent.

 

And it’s not just that they won a game against one of the traditionally elite teams in the NFL, the defending champions, it’s how they did it. The Detroit Lions, known universally for their ineptitude over the last, oh, 60 years or so, dominated the New England Patriots on both sides of the ball from the opening kick-off to the final gun.

 

They did it behind a much-maligned offensive line that played its best game in years, with a long-dormant running attack that produced its first 100-yard rusher in five years. In other words, the game’s outcome wasn’t determined, as it has been too often over the last decade, on Matthew Stafford’s formidable right arm.

 

Among all the impressive stats in this game – 101 yards on 16 carries by Lions rookie running back Kerryon Johnson; the 209 total yards allowed by Detroit’s defense, the 2-9, third-down efficiency of an offense led by GOAT quarterback Tom Brady – one stands out: Time of possession. The Patriots controlled the ball for just 20:45 of the game; the Lions had it for 39:15.

 

That’s how it’s done by the best teams in the NFL. That’s how you win.

 

Maybe there’s hope for this team after all. We’ll know more when they head to Dallas on Sunday.

 

Meantime, how about those other teams we live and die with in this state?

 

 

* Michigan: OK, so those Cornhuskers of Nebraska just might be as bad as advertised in their loss at home the week before to Troy. Troy? But the Wolverines did everything you’d expect of a superior team. They led this game 39-0 at half time and continued to build their lead with bench players the rest of the way, winning 56-10. Like the Lions, all facets of Michigan’s game excelled – including and especially its much-maligned offensive line. In impressive effort in every way.

 

* Michigan State: The Spartans apparently found that chip on their shoulders during the week off, after losing at Arizona State in Week Two. This wasn’t supposed to be your father’s Indiana team. The Hoosiers used their high-octane offense led by fab freshman Stevie Scott to vault to a 3-0 start. And they managed just 29 yards rushing; that vaunted Michigan State defense showed up, big-time. A bit worrisome: The Spartans were just 2-13 in third-down efficiency. Not good enough.

 

* The Tigers: OK, they’re playing out the string in a woeful season that marked the beginning of a ground-up rebuilding program. But with one of their iconic veterans playing the last game of an impressive 15-year-MLB career, they found a way to win a game. And how cool was it that in his final at-bat, Victor Martinez – one of the slowest runners in baseball – legged out an infield hit – the 2,153rd of his career? He was replaced by a pinch-runner, took a gracious bow, and ducked into the dugout to a standing ovation by the Comerica Park crowd. Cool indeed.

 

* The Red Wings: Not get carried away, since this is only the preseason, but Detroit won its third game in three outings with a 4-3 overtime winner on the strength of Evgeny Svechnikov’s goal, assisted by Luke Glendenning. The Wings won their next two games as well, to push their exhibition record to 5-0 – the best among the NHL’s 31 teams. And they’re doing it with significant contributions from so many of the youngsters that have gotten fans so interested in this team again. Yes, it’ll be different, to be sure, when teams start battling for two points when the season starts early next months. But what the heck, let’s get a little carried away anyway.

 

Whatever is going it, it appears to be contagious. Quick, let’s get the Pistons up and running on their new season!

 

 

Keith Gave’s new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” is available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

September 21st, 2018:

Lions need a miracle vs. Patriots;

U-M, MSU up to big challenges?

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

After a brutal 0-2 start, and the defending Super Bowl champions coming to Detroit to embarrass the Lions before another national audience, perhaps we should temper our expectations.

 

Maybe we could consider it a success if the Lions just got through Sunday night’s game without any of their players retiring at halftime. That seems to be the new standard of disillusionment in the NFL – a guy peeling off his jersey and announcing his retirement at halftime, like Buffalo’s Vontae Davis did last week.

 

Then again, if quarterback Matt Stafford continues to perform like he has through the first two weeks, maybe that would be the best we could hope for.

 

Granted, a victory Sunday, miraculous as it sounds even for a team considered by the betting gods to be just a 6.5-point underdog, would change everything.

 

Don’t bet on it. Matt Patricia, the new head guy on the Lions’ sideline with the pencil tucked behind his ear and a beard that he trims with a weed-whacker, is the former defensive coordinator of the Patriots looking for his first win in Detroit against his old boss, five-time Super Bowl champion Bill Bellichick.

 

Of Bellichick’s eight former assistants who have earned head coaching gigs in the NFL, only one has a winning record. Combined, they are 9-14 against him.

 

Of greater concern is the man most responsible for separating the Pats from the rest of the pack: Tom Brady, the former Michigan quarterback who also have five Super Bowl rings, is 45-10 in games following a New England loss.

 

This is going to be a very motivated Patriots team rolling in to Ford Field on Sunday. It just feels so improbable that the Lions can stay within a couple of touchdowns of New England.

 

Prediction: New England 30, Detroit 13

 

--

 

Nebraska (0-2) at No. 21 Michigan (2-1, minus 17)

 

The Cornhuskers are coming to the Big House with an unseemly 0-2 record under new head coach Scott Frost, but this line feels out of whack.

 

They’re not as bad as it looks, especially with dynamic freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez expected to play after missing the stunning loss to Troy. Frost deploys the kind of spread offense that gives even the best defenses – like Michigan’s – fits.

And Nebraska has a formidable rush defense. If Karan Higdon and Co. can’t move it on the ground, the Wolverines’ fortunes rest with Shea Patterson’s arm behind an offensive line that is still searching for consistency.

 

Prediction: Michigan 31, Nebraska 20

 

--

 

No. 23 Michigan State 1-1, minus-5) at Indiana (3-0)

 

This game as the same feel to it as the one a couple of weeks ago, when the favored Spartans went out west to Arizona State and suffered a mistake-prone loss. They’ve had a week off to lick their wounds, heal and dial up a better effort.

 

But they have major issues on the offensive line, protecting quarterback Brian Lewerke and opening holes for what has so far been a surprisingly meager run game. With LJ Scott, that was supposed to be a strength. Scott is questionable for this game with a leg injury.

 

Still, the best chance Michigan State has is to control the clock with a deliberate run game and keep the ball out of the hands of Hoosier’s running back Stevie Scott, the 6-foot-2, 236-pound back who has posted consecutive 100-yard games to earn back-to-back Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.

 

Prediction: Indiana 23, Michigan State 20

 

 

Keith Gave’s new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” is available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

September 15th, 2018:

Zetterberg’s retirement may be

mixed blessing for Red Wings

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

TRAVERSE CITY – If you were surprised by the headline out of the Red Wings first day of training camp here Friday, that captain Henrik Zetterberg made it official by announcing his retirement because of chronic back pain, then you had to be living under a rock for the past several months.

 

This has been expected since a month or so after the season, when news broke that the same back issues that have plagued Zetterberg for the final third of his 15-year NHL career in Detroit were preventing him from training. Since then, the story has moved along slowly, but deliberately, almost as if it were crafted by a slick PR machine. And maybe it was.

 

They let us down easy, Zetterberg and his team. So by the time it was finally announced it felt like something we were expecting.

 

Truth be told, the Wings knew this months ago, probably even during the latter half of last season, when their captain was able to gut it through the final 40 or so games only if he stayed off the ice on practice days.

 

A sad and premature ending to a Hall of Fame career.

 

And also not exactly the worst thing that could happen for these Red Wings.

 

I happened to mention that to a club executive earlier this week during the annual Prospects Tournament, where the young Wings lost to Columbus in the championship game.

 

Choosing my words very carefully, I said, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but in some ways it feels like your team caught a break with Henrik Zetterberg retiring.”

 

The guy looked me in the eyes, paused and whispered, “You know, I do too.”

 

How do you figure that? Losing your captain and arguably your most important player? The only guy on the roster remotely close to a transformational star?

 

Yep. A break.

 

And if you quit screaming at your computer screen for a moment, I’ll be happy to explain.

 

First, even if he were 100 percent healthy, the Wings weren’t getting anything near the production of the guy who 10 years ago was the playoff MVP for a Stanley Cup championship

team. Even with a healthy Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit felt destined for a bottom-three finish among the NHL’s 31 teams.

 

Not it seems all but certain.

 

The loss of their captain makes such a finish that much more reasonable, therefor more palatable, to a rather spoiled and finicky fan base that already is tired of a rebuilding process that will take several more years.

 

A top-three draft pick might hasten the rebuild. It certainly would give the Wings a shot at a transformational player they so desperately need. With Zetterberg’s retirement, they have none. And you don’t win Stanley Cups without those kinds of players.

 

How bad is it? A recent ranking of the top 100 NHL players by a respected sports website recently didn’t include a single Red Wings player.

 

That’s not to say there is no reason for optimism. There is plenty, with young, developing players like Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and, Andrea Athanasiou – if he manages to locate his team’s defensive zone without a compass.

 

And there are more coming. The Wings arguably have the best crop of prospects in the NHL thanks to recent drafts – especially this year’s, which produced four legit high-end prospects among the first 36 players selected in June.

 

After more than a decade of abject failure in entry draft, Detroit’s scouting staff has rebounded nicely in recent years. General Manager Ken Holland is thrilled with the youngsters who should be taking a regular shift in Detroit in the next year or two. They include 6-foot-6 center Mike Rasmussen, defensemen Filip Hronek (second round, 53rd overall in 2016) and Dennis Cholowski (first round, 20th overall) in 2016, and the first two picks this year, winger Filip Zadina (sixth overall) and center Joe Veleno (30th overall), who led the young Wings in scoring in the Prospects Tournament.

 

Of those, Hronek pretty much has the big roster made unless he falters in training camp. Rasmussen, the big body Detroit so desperately needs in front of the net on the power play, will get a long, close look in camp. Cholowski, who led all Wings defensemen in scoring in the recent Prospects Tournament that concluded here this week, will to.

 

Zadina, a pure goal-scorer, was expected to get serious consideration for the Detroit roster, too. But let’s be a bit more cautious about hanging his number in the rafters just yet. He struggled mightily in the Prospects Tournament, looking a long, long way from being prepared for a regular shift in the NHL.

 

Unless he turns things around quickly, expect him to spend most of the season with Grand Rapids.

 

That’s how it seems to be with youngsters drafted out of the wide-open Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where defensive hockey is barely a rumor. Like Zadina, Mantha scored at will in “The Q,” but he labored in the American Hockey League, where he spent two seasons before he got a sniff in the NHL.

 

Zadina has much to learn, and it might be wise right now to temper the great expectations.

 

So it begins, this 2018-19 NHL season in Detroit. Without their captain, with little hope of competing for the playoffs, without any expectations other than seeing young talent developing for a better future – after Steve Yzerman returns as GM to rescue the franchise like he did as a player 3 ½ decades ago.

 

--

 

The envelope please:

 

Lions (0-1) at 49ers (0-1, minus-6): Prevailing wisdom is that there’s no way Detroit is as bad as it looked in front of a national audience Monday night, the way the Lions lost at home to an underdog New York Jets team with a rookie quarterback. But they are. No run defense, no pass rush, no ground game behind an awful offensive line. No hope. Pick: 49ers 66, Detroit 3.

 

SMU (0-2) at No. 22 Michigan (1-1, minus-35 ½): The Mustangs, rebuilding since the death penalty decimated their play-for-pay program 31 years ago, may not be as good as the weak Western Michigan team the Wolverines throttled last week. It’s hard to gauge any part of Michigan’s game against such weak competition, but the reps are good for an offensive line that should be feeling better about itself, and for Shea Peterson, who has looked every bit as advertised in his first two games in Ann Arbor. Pick: Wolverines 49, SMU 9.

 

Keith Gave will be signing copies of his best-selling book, The Russian Five, at the annual training camp Alumni and Celebrity Game on Saturday, Sept. 15, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City.

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30

 

September 12th, 2018 

Print the bumper stickers: 19 in ’19; Campaign

under way to bring Yzerman home to Detroit

 

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

TRAVERSE CITY – On June 9, 2014, I ran into Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland in the bowels of Joe Louis Arena as he was leaving a major news conference.

 

“Congratulations,” I said, shaking his hand.

 

Holland looked perplexed. “What for?” he asked.

 

“Because you just hired your last coach.”

 

“Hope you’re right,” he said with a laugh.

 

Then I told him I wasn’t joking, explaining it this way.

 

“Look, Kenny. You just gave Jeff Blashill a four-year contract. You’re pushing 60. At some point, you’re going to get tired of this gig and want to move up and out of the way not unlike Jim Devellano did for you in 1997.

 

“And there’s this guy down in Tampa Bay who seems to have figure out this general manager stuff. He’s building one of the best teams in the league. But his family is still here in Detroit. It’s just a matter of time that he comes home. Steve Yzerman will hire the next coach of this club – whenever that might be.”

 

Holland put both his hands on my left arm, looked me in the eye and said, “Keith, I hope you’re right.”

 

Well, after Tuesday’s headline out Tampa, where Yzerman shocked the hockey world and stepped aside as general manager after eight years. He’s turning the job over to his able assistant GM, Julien Brisebrois, hoping to spend more time with his wife and three daughters, two of whom are off to college.

 

So, how am I doing so far, eh?

 

No before we get too far ahead of ourselves, here, let me emphasize the need for some caution, some patience and some reality here.

 

This is hardly a done deal. Yzerman’s announcement that he was stepping side took everyone by surprise, including the Red Wings contingent gathered here this week for the annual Prospects Tournament. Devellano, the club’s senior vice president who mentored Holland (who mentored

Yzerman for four years in the Detroit front office before he left to run the Lightning) said neither he nor anyone in the Wings’ front office had any prior knowledge of Yzerman’s move.

 

Simply stated, just because Yzerman relinquished his GM duties to remain as an adviser to Brisbois until his contract expires next year doesn’t mean he’s coming to Detroit.

But it doesn’t mean he’s NOT coming, either.

 

In fact, connecting the dots seems almost too easy.

 

Yzerman’s contract expires in 2019. He’s 53. Holland just signed a two-year contract, acknowledging at the time it likely would be his final deal as GM of the club. He’ll be 65 when it expires.

 

The Wings will say nothing about this publicly or privately. That would be tampering. Yzerman is still employed by another club, though the Wings could ask permission of the Lightning to at least explore mutual interests. Don’t expect that to happen, either. Yzerman doesn’t operate that way. He will fulfill the terms of his contract with Tampa, mentoring the new GM Brisbois, who was beginning to draw interest from other clubs.

 

As a French-Canadian hockey executive, he has frequently been linked to Montreal, should the Canadiens.

 

Turning the job over to Brisebois was the respectable thing to do by one of the most honorable men I’ve ever met. By doing show, it insured that owner Jeff Vinik, whom Yzerman adores every bit as much as he did Mike Ilitch, won’t lose both guys. After setting the table nicely for his successor, Yzerman did all he could to assure Vinik and Bolts fans that the club is in good hands for years to come.

 

As for the Red Wings, well, we can only surmise that when The Captain left in 2010 after 22 years on the ice and four more in the front office that Mike and Marian wished him well when he went to Tampa and said something like: “When you’re ready to return home, we’ll be glad to have you back.”

 

Sure feels like he might be ready.

 

Widely recognized as the best general manager in the NHL today, Yzerman will have his work cut out for him. This Red Wings club is not unlike the one he joined when the Wings selected him in with their first pick (fourth overall) in the 1983 entry draft.

 

The team isn’t very good, but it has some good young players coming. And with a handful of noteworthy prospects from recent drafts, the cupboard isn’t exactly bare.

 

In other words, there’s good reason for hope regarding the franchise these days. With Yzerman suddenly on the market, optimism around Hockeytown is off the charts. Could The Captain return and lead the franchise to Stanley Cup glory like he did as a player a generation ago?

 

Stay tuned. The Red Wings just got real interesting again.

 

Keith Gave will be signing copies of his best-selling book, The Russian Five, at the annual Celebrity/Alumni game at training camp, on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 6:30 p.m., at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City.

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

 

September 7th, 2018:

A wild week in sports will

continue through Monday

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

So now we know, in no uncertain terms, why the Detroit Tigers have been playing musical chairs in the broadcast booth the past several seasons.

 

Turns out, the A Team on its Fox Sports Detroit telecasts wasn’t much of a team at all. Apparently, play-by-play man Mario Impemba and analyst Rod Allen can’t stand to be in the same small broadcast booth together.

 

And their acrimony boiled over in the moments following Tuesday night’s 8-3 in inChicago, when things got physical between the two, and a third party stepped in to separate them. The next day, the two were recalled to Detroit, where arrived on separate flights. In their stead, Matt Sheppard and Kirk Gibson were quickly dispatched – on the same flight – to call Wednesday night’s finale, a 10-2 Detroit win.

 

On Thursday, the media militia was scrambling for details, which were few because no one was saying anything. Not the Tigers or executives from the regional Fox affiliate. Certainly not Allen or Impemba, who have endured their tenuous partnership since 2003, or their representatives.

 

It’s all rather embarrassing, especially coming on the heels of a pretty good stretch of baseball, when the toothless Tigers have restored some roar in their bats, stirring a little excitement ahead of one of the most anticipated series of the season. The National League’s St. Louis Cardinals, the team Detroit beat 50 years ago to win the World Series, visit Comerica Park. About 15 players from that 1968 team will be on hand to help celebrate one of the most glorious moments in Detroit sports history.

 

Which makes this headline-stealing tussle between team broadcasters that much more nonsensical. Detroit Tigers fans have enjoyed some tremendous talent in the broadcast booth over the years, including the team of Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane in that ’68 season.

 

Harwell and George Kell, with their sultry Southern voices, formed great team for a few years. Harwell and Paul (The voice of God) Carey, entertained generations of Tigers fans from their radio booth. Kell and Al Kaline each batted over .400 from the press box in their years covering games on TV.

 

As a broadcast team, Impemba and Allen are pedestrian, at best. That explains perhaps why, which is perhaps why Gibson has been doing so many more games lately. And if it weren’t for

his health issues, he’d probably be Impemba’s full-time partner (if he wasn’t managing the team).

 

With any luck, we’ve seen the last of those two guys, working together at least. We can only hope the organizations – the Tigers and their affiliate – make a clean break and bring in fresh talent who can call a game without coming to blows.

 

This total team rebuild Tigers fans are enduring should extend all the way to the TV broadcast booth.

 

Seriously? Lions cut Zettel?

 

If sports were politics – and I’ll be the first to admit that the lines between them are growing increasingly blurry – then the Detroit Lions just lost a lot of support in Northern Michigan.

 

Inexplicably, the Lions cut West Branch native Anthony Zettel, one of their best defenders from last season. The former star at Ogemaw Heights High School and Penn State University was a full-time starter at defensive end last season, amassing 6.5 sacks, the second-most among Detroit’s defenders, and another 43 combined tackles.

 

Zettel, 26, was a sixth-round pick of the Lions in 2016. He has played in 29 career games, with 16 starts.

 

Although the move is difficult to comprehend, it isn’t so shocking. The writing was on the wall when Zettel was still taking reps deep into the third quarter of the fourth preseason game – meaningless downs being played by a bunch of guys who would be cut within a few days.

 

Zettel hung on a bit longer, making the original 53-man roster on Saturday. But the Lions let him go on Wednesday when they claimed Romeo Okwara off waivers from the New York Giants. With that move, the Lions had parted ways with 14 of the 16 defensive linemen who played a snap for them last year. They include Haloti Ngata, Akeem Spence, Cornelius Washington, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow, all once considered important pieces up front.

 

Lions first-year coach Matt Patricia, who made his reputation as defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, has quickly and dramatically put his fingerprints on this defense. While it remains a work in progress as he tries to build a strong pass rush, we’ll get a glimpse of whatever progress – or lack thereof – the franchise has made in improving on last season’s mediocre defense.

 

A lifeline to Harbaugh

 

Speaking of pedestrian and mediocre, University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is being roasted so badly in social media after his team’s 24-17 loss at Notre Dame last week that university President Mark Schlissel came to his rescue with vote of confidence.

 

A tepid vote of confidence, actually.

 

"He is not on the hot seat," Schlissel said, according to the Detroit News. "He is under contract for four more years."

 

Actually, he laughed off the suggestion that Harbaugh is in trouble during a Detroit Economic Club forum at the Westin Book Cadillac on Wednesday.

 

But Wolverines fans are not laughing. With that loss in South Bend., Indiana, Michigan has been beaten in 17 straight games against ranked opponents away from the Big House.

 

Harbaugh, 54, is 28-12 overall after starting 0-1 in his fourth season. He is paid an annual salary of $7 million. And, as Schlissel noted, Harbaugh’s contract runs through December 2021.

 

Yikes, eh?

A favorite son’s homecoming

Downtown Detroit will be the center o

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