Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Michigan Amateur Sports Shorts

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When I wrote a story on the Michigan Football Coaching Search a few months ago, I really never thought the Wolverines would be able to land Jim Harbaugh.

But I give Athletic Director Jim Hackett a lot of credit. Please spare me if they needed a search firm to find the right candidate. I'm not buying this nonsense! This was a smokescreen.

I really thought Harbaugh was going to take another NFL Job. The money is more than what he would have earned in college.

However, I admire the persistence of Hackett. He flew to Northern California and waited for the San Francisco 49'ers season to end and made a huge push. Hackett and Company were resilient and landed their big fish.

Who knows what record the Wolverines will have in 2015?

What my gut feeling tells me is this team will be well coached, plays hard and be very competitive.

What I do know is Harbaugh has been recruiting a lot of quarterbacks. Name me a youngster with NFL aspirations that wouldn't want to be mentored by a former NFL QB.

All Harbaugh has to do is walk into a recruit's home and show the youngster and his parents a photo of Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl QB Andrew Luck. Enough said!

You can't close a deal better than that!

Once upon a time, Michigan used to produce QB's and one has four Super Bowl Titles? Have you ever heard of Tom Brady?

If you add Harbaugh, Drew Henson and many others, U-M can reclaim itself as Quarterback U.

Name me a kid that wouldn't want to play in front of 100,000 plus at the All-Time Winningest Program in Division 1 Football. If the student is convinced he can be developed, then landing the prospect will be much easier.

I expect future U-M recruiting classes to be better as Harbaugh approaches his second year.

Once Harbaugh compiles a winning season or two into his rebuilding plan then everybody will see what we're accustomed to seeing and that's the program returning as a national power.

Once Michigan notches victories over its biggest rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, then amasses enough wins to earn a Big Ten Title, we'll see if they're in the National Championship hunt in a few years.

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Speaking of the Michigan State Spartans, I was impressed that they are the first school in NCAA History to win four-consecutive bowl games and reach the Sweet 16 in basketball four straight years. This team faces Duke in the Final Four Saturday Night.

Last year, I picked the Spartans to reach the Final Four and they failed to do so. This year, I had them in the Elite Eight and they made it to the Final Four.

What impresses me about the Spartans is throughout the years, the basketball program led by Magic Johnson, and Greg Kelser put MSU on the Map winning the 1979 National Title under Coach Jud Heathcote against Larry Bird's Indiana State squad.

Tom Izzo has done a masterful job keeping MSU at Elite Status. He's led the Spartans to Seven Final Fours, 13 Sweet 16's and 18 NCAA Tournament Bids to go along with his One National Title in 2000.

This season, Izzo took a 23-11 regular season squad which was under-seeded at No.7 and managed to get it to play excellent basketball in March. Izzo is earning the nickname Mr. March.

He continues to do an excellent job having the Spartans alumni connecting with his players through the years. Magic Johnson doesn't seem to miss any tournament games.

In the past, George Perles and Nick Saban did a decent job with the Football Program, but Mark Dantonio has elevated it to Elite Status.

The support between Izzo and Dantonio should be a good example to other major universities that they can feed off each other.

There is nothing better than to see both high profile sports not only great Inside The Lines, but Extremely Profitable. Plus the exposure is priceless and enrollment figures to rise.

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The most interesting hire this year comes from the Central Michigan University Chippewas Football Program.

CMU hired Detroit Lions (2013-2014) Special Teams Coordinator John Bonamego as the 28th football head coach in the school's history.

He is the first alum to serve as Central Michigan's head coach since Bill Kelly from 1951-1966. This is Bonamego's first head coaching position. It's his first college coaching position since he served as an assistant for Army from 1993-1998.

Bonamego signed a five-year contract worth $350,000 annually with an additional $125,000 for Radio and Television Appearances.

Bonamego has been an assistant coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins as well as the Lions.

The 51-year old inherits a program that has an All-Time Record of 590-388-37 (.600). CMU's post-season bowl record is 3-4 (.429).

He replaced Dan Enos who bolted Mt. Pleasant to take the Offensive Coordinator position at Arkansas.

In five years at CMU, Enos was 26-36, reaching bowl games in two of the past three seasons.

Enos replaced Jim Chaney, who left Arkansas to become the Offensive Coordinator for former MSU Coach Pat Narduzzi now the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

It's amazing how all these coaching moves come full circle as a Domino Effect.

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Finally, My late Grandmother Sophie Morganroth always taught me that there is a time and a place to do things.

She would be proud in Heaven that her youngest Great Grandson Brock Morganroth, 15, is having some success in amateur hockey. He currently competes for Compuware Bantam Major AAA and is regarded as a strong prospect according to the website "Elite Hockey Prospects."

Brock recently won a Bronze Medal at the USA, AAA Nationals. This is a tournament which took place in Amherst, NY., from March 26-30, Tier I-14,16,18 & Under.

Meanwhile, Grandma Sophie would be ecstatic that her youngest Great Grand Daughter Bria Morganroth, 13, is having success in gymnastics.

Bria currently competes at the Hartland Gymnastics Academy. She's been competing at the academy since 12-11-2009 with her first event being the Michigan Academy Christmas Classic.

Her latest event was the 2015 Michigan Level 7-10 Girls State Meet on March 27th.

She currently competes at Level 8 in the Vault, Bars, Beam, Floor and AA (All-Around) Events.

What Bria is doing in gymnastics at a young age brings back incredible memories of a young legend at the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles named Mary Lou Retton, who won five medals. I attended these Olympics but couldn't get into the sold out gymnastics competition. But it was a blast watching them at local bars in the LA Suburb of Westwood, CA near the UCLA Campus.

Retton won a Gold, Two Silver and Two Bronze Medals.

Is Bria Olympic Bound? That's way too early to tell, but she's definitely on the right track.

Meanwhile, My oldest Nephew Branden Morganroth, 24, played hockey for many years but recently changed career paths to get into Restaurant Ownership.

The biggest thing these youngsters have going for them is that their parents provided the financial resources which allowed them to have the best coaching that enabled them to travel to play at the highest levels of competition.

I rarely have the opportunity to write about the accomplishments of immediate family members. But the most recent accomplishments of Brock and Bria certainly deserve the publicity. Branden was a good role model for Brock.

Whether Brock plays professionally remains to be seen. There could be a scholarship waiting down the road and he could play NCAA Hockey.

It would be unbelievable if Bria ever made it to the Olympics.

But with the hard work these two are putting in, they have a punchers chance to take it to higher levels.

There have never been any professional athletes in our family, but there is always a first. Time will tell whether any of this comes to fruition, but I'll be monitoring this situation very closely!

The last time I wrote about an amateur athlete under 18 was when I was a Sports Writer for the Tampa Tribune from 1984-1986. This is when I was covering High School Sports.

I used to write features stories on Roller Skaters and Gymnasts.

When I monitored the Roller Skaters and Gymnasts progress, I found many of them got big egos after we publicized them, thus I haven't done this in 30-years.

This situation is My exception to the rule because I have a feeling there are more chapters to be written about Brock and Bria.

Stay tuned.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com.

Talking Tigers With Jim Leyland


BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING
LAKELAND, FL

While I enjoy going to different Spring Training Stadiums around Florida, it's always neat returning to Lakeland. The best part about seeing other stadiums is having the ability to interact with other National Media Members and talking with Tigers' transplants.

But it's unlikely you'll see Al Kaline (Mr. Tiger) travel to places like Lake Buena Vista (Atlanta Braves), Jupiter (Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals) or Port St. Lucie (New York Mets).

One guy that does travel from time to time is former Tigers Manager Jim Leyland.

When we went up to see the Tigers host the Houston Astros on Sunday March 8th at Joker Marchant Stadium, Kaline and Leyland (in the photo) were at the batting cage talking. It's great to see these two baseball minds in your organization exchanging ideas.

Kaline is A Special Assistant To The President, while Leyland is Special Assistant To The General Manager. Leyland is in his second year in that role. For Leyland, he can be relaxed since he's not going to be second guessed on a daily basis.

But on this beautiful sunny day in Central Florida, they both looked great and seemed very relaxed.

The Tigers have experienced their fair amount of changes. They've entered this spring with lingering questions on their bullpen which has cost them dearly the past two post-seasons. It remains to be seen if this is their major weakness in 2015.

I have a feeling they'll score a lot of runs and steal a lot of bases. But will a lot of runs be enough in the late innings? The Tigers will be anything but dull. Detroit will go as far as the bullpen will take them.

Before the Tigers 14-9 loss to the Split Squad Houston Astros, I had the opportunity to catch-up with the former skipper in our Yearly Conversation.

We focused on different topics pertaining to baseball as well as with the Tigers in this Q&A Interview.

Q: Commissioner Rob Manfred has decided to implement some Pace Of The Game changes. Do you like what he's doing?

A: I think it's something they're going to experiment a little bit. I think they want to keep the game going. I don't think it's going to be anything drastic. I think the commissioner is doing a good job. He's going to look and see if he can improve on anything in the game, and that may be one of the ways we can do it.

Q: As far as the pitchers are concerned, do you foresee the possibility of a Pitch Clock?

A: Anytime you have change people wonder a little bit. Actually, the rule has been in the book for a long time. So the commissioner is just trying to be more aware of the rule.

Q: The Tigers have added an influx of speed to their lineup both defensively as well as offensively which could add more double and triples at spacious Comerica Park. The additions of Yoenis Cespedes  and Anthony Gose are the players that could make an impact. What can these guys bring to the team?

A: We like both of them. We think we're more athletic. Gose can get the ball in center field and Cespedes is a power hitter that has a great arm. We like what we've done.

Q: You had first hand knowledge of Cespedes since the Tigers had to face him in the playoffs when he was with the Oakland A's, thus you're know stranger to him. Would you say that he gave you a few fits?

A: That's right. That's right. He's a very good player and a very productive player.

Q: One thing I notice about Cespedes is he reminds me of a talented Cuban player who played for the Detroit Tigers during their World Championship team in 1984 named Barbaro Garbey. What do you think of these ballplayers from Cuba?

A: They're good, they're good. There is a lot of Cuban players signing now and Cespedes is one of the better ones. We're fortunate we have him.

Q: Jim, let's talk addition by subtraction. Last year at this time, the Tigers didn't have Alfredo Simon, David Price and Shane Greene. Gone are Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. Can you explain what we'll see from these newcomers?

A: We're looking forward to it. As people know you just can't have everybody because with a huge salary, you have to cut back somewhere. You don't have an open checkbook. Mr. Illitch has been fantastic, but you can't have a totally open checkbook.

Q: The American League Central Division seems to be getting better. Do you think the rest of the division is catching up with the Tigers?

A: I think the division has been good for a while. Cleveland was in the playoffs a couple years ago. We were, then Kansas City and us last year. I don't think the Central ever gets the credit it deserves.

Q: Brad Ausmus is in his second year. What do you see in him as a manager?

A: I think he's going to be a terrific manager. I think he did a very, very good job last year. I think the guy is going to be a terrific manager. He has a good feel for people, he has a good feel for the game and 18 years as a catcher, he knows what's going on. I think he has a chance to be a tremendous manager.

Q: Finally, lets talk about the dynamics of the 2015 Tigers. What should the Tigers fans look for? Will the be an exciting club to watch?

A: I don't think there is any question they'll be a great team to watch. I think we're really good. We're flying under the radar a little bit which is not normal because we've been picked a lot. I agree with Ian Kinsler if they want to fly us under the radar, that's fine. I think this will be an outstanding team.

Like everybody else, you're at the mercy of some injuries and you hope you can keep your team injury free. If we're injury free, we're really good. These guys are good players. We have a solid team. We expect good things. You have to have a little luck, stay healthy and things have to fall in place. But we're good.

As I looked at the Tigers Roster, I was amazed at how many of the players make their homes in the Sunshine State of Florida. We're looking at 10.

Shane Greene lives in Clermont, Justin Verlander resides in Lakeland and Victor Martinez is in Orlando.

Seven players live in South Florida which is in My Neck Of The Woods. Mainly Dade and Broward Counties.

Anibal Sanchez lives in Coral Gables (Dade), Jose Iglesias in Miami (Dade).

The Broward County residents include: Alex Avila (Davie), Miguel Cabrera (Hollywood), Nick Castellanos (Davie), Yoenis Cespedes (Pompano Beach) and J.D. Martinez, who is photographed in Fort Lauderdale.
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As of this post, the Tigers are 10-18 including today's loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-3 at Marchant Stadium.

Injuries have limited the playing time of Victor Martinez, Verlander, Iglesias and Cabrera. We'll see if these players can get healthy enough in time for Opening Day on Monday April 6th at 1:08 PM.

The Tigers host the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park with Price getting the start facing Phil Hughes.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Interview With NHL Legend Denis Potvin


BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

If I had to come up with a Mt. Rushmore of NHL Defenseman, My list would include Bobby Orr (Boston Bruins), Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings), Ray Bourque (Boston and Colorado Avalanche) and Denis Potvin of the New York Islanders.

I would welcome any feedback off of this list.

All of these players have won multiple James Norris Trophies, and played on Stanley Cup Championship Winning Teams.

When the Detroit Red Wings faced the Florida Panthers on March 19, 2015 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL., I had a chance to speak with Potvin before the game.

When I told Potvin that he was on My Mt. Rushmore List, he was humbled, his face lit up and his voice perked up as well. While he may have been surprised by this, any person that has followed hockey for decades would see justification in adding him.

Indeed, he deserves to be on it.

Potvin was the Islanders first overall selection in the 1973 NHL Draft. He played his entire career on Long Island from 1973-1988.

He's a four-time Stanley Cup Winner of the early 1980's Islanders' Dynasty. He also won the Norris Trophy three times.

In 1991, Potvin reached immortality by being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

He was the captain for the Islanders when they won four consecutive championships, in addition to making five straight Stanley Cup Finals Appearances.

During his eight years as Islanders Captain, New York never failed to reach to reach the playoffs.

When Potvin retired, his career numbers were as follows: 310 goals, 742 assists for 1,052 points in 1,060 games, along with 1,356 penalty minutes.

He was the first defenseman to reach 1,000 career points.

On February 1, 1992, Potvin's No.5 Jersey was retired by the Islanders, the first such honor bestowed by the franchise.

After his playing days, Potvin was a color commentator for the Florida Panthers television broadcasts on FS Florida from the team's inception in 1993 to the 2008-09 season.

On May 6, 2009, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that the Panthers would not renew his contract in order to save money. He was replaced by former Panthers player Bill Lindsay.

In September 2010, Potvin was hired by the Ottawa Senators to be their colour analyst on Rogers Sportsnet.

But on August of 2014, he was rehired by the Panthers new owners working with Steve Goldstein on Fox Sports Florida.

Before the Red Wings 3-1 loss to the Panthers, I had the Good Fortune of speaking with Potvin in a Q&A Interview.

Q: Are you happy to see the New York Islanders (44-26-5) winning again?

A: Sure I am. It's been a long, long time. I speak for all of the alumni. We've been waiting for this to happen. It's almost shameful what's happened since over the years where they're not very good, not able to get a lot of support in the county, and now they're finally leaving. It's kind of sad.

Q: What are your thoughts about the Islanders move to Brooklyn, NY? It never dawned on me that this would happen although I'm very aware of the issues they've had with the aging and outdated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

A: The arena in Brooklyn is supposed to be a basketball arena and it doesn't have the attendance the NHL normally requires (15,795). So I think it's a work in progress. I was told by Garth Snow the General Manager that they are signing a long term lease in Brooklyn. But we'll wait and see what happens. They did say to the alumni that they would preserve the jerseys, the Stanley Cups and everything else. So they want to keep the history of the Islanders alive.

Q: Do you see some positives coming from this move into The Big Apple?

A: On the other hand, I know the New York area very well. You're just a stones throw away from Madison Square Garden, and it could become another intense rivalry like we had. The City of Brooklyn has a lot of people and they can be very intense about their teams. That's the way it's going to go.

Q: How impressed are you that the Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs 23-Consecutive Years?

A: Like everybody else, it's unbelievable. I don't know how they do it especially in the Salary Cap Era. But on the other hand, my quick answer is they have a formula that works.

Mike Babcock is a terrific coach, but he doesn't see a rookie until he's 23-years old. That's where you get the consistency. They don't bring players up that can make a lot of mistakes. They bring players up that are seasoned and that have had their chance to make their early mistakes at 19 and 20 years old. That's why you can see the consistency.

Q: What do you think of Red Wings GM Ken Holland?

A: Ken Holland is so well respected. When this 3-3 Overtime comes alive, you'll have a picture of Kenny on the side boards. Whenever a guy of this stature makes a recommendation, people listen to him. This is a game of wins and losses. That's the bottom line. If Ken Holland was in an organization which hadn't made the playoffs in five years, it doesn't quite work. This is all about wins and losses. And Holland has directed that very well for his franchise.

Q: What are your thoughts of the Red Wings switch to the Eastern Conference last season?

A: I like it. It's fine. I'm very happy for the realignment.

It's tough on the Florida Panthers to have to go to Ottawa in the Eastern Conference. I was hoping that there would be realignment that would allow Florida to be in the same area as Raleigh, NC (Carolina Hurricanes), Nashville, TN, Tampa Bay and Washington. For Florida teams, people don't understand the amount of travel involved.

Detroit more than anyone is going to benefit because of the amount of travel in the past playing in the Western Conference. They'll see how much easier it is in the Eastern Conference. It was brutal for them for a long time.

Q: Former Red Wings player Gerard Gallant seems to have done a nice job as Panthers coach. Is that why they're in playoff contention with a 34-26-14 mark?

A: Yes! We all like Gerard Gallant. When the players tell me that they look forward to coming to the rink everyday, you know you've reached them as a coaching staff. Gallant has done a nice job.

He has good assistants working with him in John Madden, Mark Morris, and Rob Tallas, who are doing a great job developing the young players. Dale Tallon (Executive VP & GM) has done a good job in bringing in the veterans.

Much like the Detroit organization, once the core of young players here settles in, you'll be able to take time and develop your younger players like Detroit does, and NOT have the 18 and 19 come up too early.

Q: Denis, I know you had excellent goaltenders in New York speaking of Glenn "Chico" Resch, and Billy Smith. What are your thoughts of Panthers standout net minder Roberto Luongo?

A: When Roberto Luongo left here (following the 2005-06 season), I will say he was looking to play in the playoffs. You can't blame the guy. In this day, when free agents are there, you can pretty much determine where you want to go. He went to Vancouver and he got a real taste of not only what it was like to be in the playoffs, but to compete in the Stanley Cup Finals as he did. He was on a team that twice went for the President's Trophy in the NHL (Best Record In The Regular Season).

So coming back was important that we all know what he had in mind. He made it very clear. He said I'm coming back here to Florida to help this team make the playoffs, and win a Stanley Cup someday. But at age 35 (turning 36 on April 4), he's still a young man in the game. Roberto Luongo right now has a .921 save percentage is holding up his side. He's a .919 save percentage career wise and he's been better that that all-season long. As Coach Gerard Gallant said, ' He's our MVP.'

Q: Finally, I'm from an Original Six City Detroit, how much of an appreciation do you have for the charter franchises?

A: Are you kidding (smiling), I really do! I've been a big fan all my life. I must say, I grew up a French Canadian so the Montreal Canadiens were probably My favorite team.

The Red Wings in my time were not a very solid organization so it's commendable to see what Mr. Mike Illitch and the ownership has done.

This is about to happen here with new ownership. they're really committed and if we can get close to making the playoffs, and to mirror what the Red Wings have done, South Florida is going to make a big name of themselves in the NHL.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com.

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