The Week That Was

So how did the Icepocalypse go for you?
Living in a relatively new neighborhood in Northwest Sioux Falls, I had hope I’d be able to avoid losing power, and for the whole first day of the storm, I did. Then Wednesday morning, at about 9:30 I snapped awake thanks to a sudden jolt of quiet, as my ceiling fan and the hand-sized fan that rests next to my face at night both stopped. In the eery quiet I knew the power was lost. I waited a few hours in hopes that it would come back, but it did not.
Power was out at my gym and my office, too, so I did what anyone else would do and went to my favorite watering hole to watch the Twins. Not before I went to Stampede practice to interview Stampede players in the dark — yep, they were without power, too, except for some reserve power that kept the Arena just illuminated enough to get on the ice.
By about 9 p.m. word came that power was back, so I went back home to a warm house. When I woke up again Thursday the exact same thing happened, as I was jolted awake around 9 a.m. when my fans stopped.
This time, though, the Argus had power, so I went and — gasp — actually put in office hours. Power was back by the time I got home.

For the record, I never complained about the power being out, and if it hadn’t come back before bedtime on either Wednesday or Thursday night I still would’ve stayed home. Call it stubborn pride or whatever, but I’d rather sleep in my own, cold bed than look elsewhere, though that might not have been the case after three or four days.
It’s remarkable to me how long some people had to go without power, especially when I realized how much it sucked not having it, even in daylight. I kept going from room to room flipping on switches, digging food out of the freezer only to realize the microwave wouldn’t work without power.
I had enough to keep me busy, but if I hadn’t I’m sure I would’ve gotten tired of reading after awhile.

We’re lucky over here on my end of town. There are no trees. Not a lot of traffic. I only assume we lost electricity because a power line froze and fell.
It wasn’t until Thursday when I drove to the office that I got an actual look at the damage and it was, as you know, amazing. Older neighborhoods that are surrounded by trees looked like they’d been hit by a tornado. Literally.
Houses had trees leaning on them or crashed into the roof, and I wondered how people could sleep knowing other trees were leaning perilously above their heads, ready to fall at any moment.
I’ve really never seen anything like it.
Overall I’d have to say the city did a good job of responding to the damage, though I suspect people who still didn’t have power Saturday or Sunday might say otherwise.
Preposterously, we’re supposed to get hit by more snow this week, and I’m too worn out to complain about it.
I just hope we don’t lose power this time. I’m a pretty big fan of electricity it turns out.

- After a pleasantly surprising 4-2 start, the Twins are 4-7. I don’t want to overreact to their five-game losing streak anymore than the fact that they opened the season by winning two series’ against playoff teams, but there continue to be signs that this could really be a long year.
Sunday’s game got rained out, but before it did, my hope was that the finale of the three-game series against the Mets represented Aaron Hicks’ last chance to avoid a demotion. It’s time for the rookie to get his first taste of Triple-A baseball.

Hicks’ early failures are deflating for a fan-base that had little else to be excited about entering the season, but they’re not terribly surprising, or anything to worry about.

While Hicks is a former No. 1 pick and one of the most gifted all-around athletes in the Twins entire organization, he’s played only one season above A-ball. In 2011, he hit just .242 with five homers at Single-A Fort Myers.
But he bounced back nicely last year, batting .286 with a .384 on-base percentage, 13 homers, 11 triples and 32 steals at Double-A.
That got Hicks back on the prospect map, but he still figured to open the year in Triple-A, while Darin Mastroianni or Joe Benson began the season in Minnesota.
Then Hicks had a big spring, which included a four-hit, three-homer game, and the Twins had little choice but to reward him with a job he had earned.
Then again, there were some whispers that much of the success he had in spring training came against minor-leaguers.

I kinda thought Hicks might get off to a slow start, but .210 is a slow start. Hicks is batting .047 with 20 strikeouts in 43 at-bats and two singles. His defense has been fine, but he’s just overmatched by big-league pitching right now.
Hicks’ best skill as a hitter is and always has been his patience at the plate, but there’s a problem there. Pitchers in the big leagues have no reason to fear Hicks, so they’re going right at him. By trying to use his plate discipline and work counts, Hicks is just getting himself behind in the count 0-1 and 0-2 in nearly every at-bat, and against pitchers with far better finishing moves than what he saw in Double-A, he’s finished once he falls behind.
Hicks needs to prove he can hit, that he can make pitchers pay for throwing the ball over the plate. If and when he does that, then his patience will go back to being a major weapon in his game. But major league pitchers aren’t going to hand out walks to a guy who can’t get a hit.

Hicks needs to go down, and if he spends the whole year at Triple-A that’s not a bad thing, necessarily. Mastroianni is a decent stopgap, and the Twins obviously aren’t going to contend for anything this season.

Plenty of players have had to go through this before, with the Twins and elsewhere. Torii Hunter spent all of 1999 in Minnesota and competed, batting .255 with 9 homers and playing strong defense. It looked like he was in Minnesota to stay. But in 2000, Hunter was batting .207 with no homers in mid-July when the Twins decided he needed to go back to Triple-A. In just 55 games at Salt Lake, Hunter hit .368 with 18 homers, to earn a recall. He hit .332 after the Twins called him back up, then hit .289 with 29 homers and won a Gold Glove the next year. Today, he’s a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.

David Ortiz had a similar story, hitting .277 with 9 homers for the Twins in ‘98, but failing to make the team in ‘99. When they called him up in September, Ortiz went 0-for-20 with 12 strikeouts.
The next year, he hit .282 with 10 homers and never returned to the minors.

In 1997, the Twins made top prospect Todd Walker their starting third baseman out of spring training, but he hit just .237 in 52 games. He was sent back down and spent the rest of the season in Triple-A.
The next year he was the Twins best hitter, batting .316 with a .372 on-base percentage, 12 homers and 62 RBI.

There are plenty of other examples, but you get the idea. While I get that the Twins don’t want to shatter Hicks’ confidence by demoting him, they’re doing far more damage to his confidence and psyche by continuing to pretend that this is just a slump and sending him back out at the top of the order night in and night out when he’s clearly overmatched.

- Eric Hartzell beat my St. Cloud State Huskies in the Frozen Four, but fell to Yale in the national championship game. His consolation prize? A $925K contract offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins. To my knowledge, he’ll be the first USHL alumnus to play goalie in the NHL.
Not bad for a kid who was only a starter because his dad was the coach, right?

- Friday night’s Stampede game featured plenty of late fisticuffs. That was pretty easy to see coming, as Des Moines season was ending and they were getting killed on the road.
At one point there were 15 players in the penalty box — eight for Sioux Falls and seven for Des Moines.



It was starting to get a little out of hand when the Stampede’s Preston Hodge decided to put an end to the extra-curriculars by dropping the gloves with Jack Jenkins of the Bucs. Hodge destroyed Jenkins.
I’m not here to comment on whether fighting should be legal in hockey or the USHL — I’ve literally never, ever played the game and therefore don’t feel it’s my place.
But I will say this: I think the rule the USHL has put in place this year that forces players to leave their helmets on during fights seems to do more harm than good.

The Stampede finished 45-17-2. They set the franchise record for wins and points (92) in a season, and will be the No. 1 seed in the West.
The playoffs begin Tuesday, when the Herd hosts Lincoln in the first game of a best-of-five.
Game 2 will be Wednesday at the Arena. Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) will be in Lincoln. Game 5 would be back in Sioux Falls on Tuesday.
Look for my playoff preview in Tuesday’s editions.