La Velle E. Neal III's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.
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Moments before the 1988 NHL draft, North Stars general manager Lou Nanne looked around the room at the Montreal Forum and spotted two of his closest friends in the game, the Esposito brothers.
"The '88 draft was my last year as GM," Nanne said. "I had already announced I'm quitting right after the draft. The draft is five minutes away and I look to my left and here is Phil Esposito and he's GM of the Rangers and the next table down it's Tony and he's GM of Pittsburgh.
"So I say,'Get over here.'So the three of us stand up in front of the stage. I go, 'Three guys from The Soo. Can you imagine this?"
Nanne grew up on the west end of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, just a couple of blocks from the Espositos. They ended up being lifelong friends and partners in hockey. Both Espositos eventually were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, with Phil being honored in 1984 and Tony four years later.
Nanne last week spun a few stories about Tony Esposito, who died Tuesday after battling pancreatic cancer. The story about the NHL draft included Nanne attempting to swing a trade with the Espositos as a sort of going away gift to himself.
"Tony goes, 'You're up to something.' I said, 'No, I'm not.' Phil said, 'What do you need?' I needed a defenseman," Nanne remembered.
Right there, Nanne agreed to send a third-round pick in 1989 to the Rangers for defenseman Mark Hardy.
"And Tony sat out," Nanne said, "because he thought we were trying to screw him over."
Tony Esposito was a dominant force between the pipes during his 15-year career, most with Chicago. His 423 wins are still the 10th most in league history.In his first full season in 1969, he set an NHL record with 15 shutouts. He perfected the butterfly style of goaltending, one that Patrick Roy and others later adopted, and rode it to the Calder Trophy in 1970 for rookie of the year and three Vezina trophies for goaltending excellence.
His last Vezina came in 1974 in a tie with Philadelphia's Bernie Parent. Nanne believes he had a hand in that one, thanks to a late-season meeting with the Flyers.
"I saw that Tony had let in one more goal than Bernie Parent, and it was the last game," said Nanne, who was in his seventh season with the North Stars at the time."In the third period, I made a rush and I scored on Parent. That tied them for the Vezina. After the game, I called Tony and told him, 'You owe me a case of beer.'"
Nanne laughed and added, "A fantastic hockey player. And great competitor."
Vikings camp notes
Observations after watching a Vikings practice:
Rashod Hill is a capable swing tackle, but the best development for the Vikings is that Cristian Darrisaw's recent groin injury is successful and the first-round pick is ready to play Week 1.
Too bad for wide receiver Blake Proehl, who suffered a season-ending right knee injury during drills on Tuesday. His knee buckled during a drill and trainers immediately rushed to his aid.
Defensive end Danielle Hunter looks ready to have a monster season. It will be fun to watch an unrestricted (his word) Hunter.
Don't sleep on tight end Tyler Conklin, who is No. 2 to Irv Smith Jr. but has good hands and should improve on his 19 receptions from last season.
Former Vikings QB Terry Bridgewater, now with Denver, seemed to enjoy catching up with old teammates and getting some cheers from fans.
Lynx on the rise
The WNBA season was paused after July 11 as many players participated in the Tokyo Olympics. The break came with the Lynx the hottest team in the league. Once 0-4, then 5-7, the Lynx won their final seven games before the Olympics came.
Napheesa Collier leads them in scoring, Sylvia Fowles continues to be a force in the middle and newcomer Kayla McBride is shooting 38.7% from the three-point line and has missed just two free throws all season. The Lynx resume play Sunday looking to add on to the improvements they made after the poor start.
"The season continues," assistant coachRebekkah Brunson said, "and we have to continue to grow and figure out what we didn't do necessarily (well) in the first half of the season, those first couple of games, and just get better."
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AND TWO PREDICTIONS ...
Chill on Kirill, he's staying
Look for Kirill Kaprizov to sign a multiyear contract with the Wild in the coming days. The guess here is that it will be a four-year deal. It will be one less headache for Wild GM Bill Guerin as he works through his offseason to-do list.
See ya Week 1, JJ
Don't expect Justin Jefferson to play a single snap during the preseason as the Vikings make sure the second-year receiver's left shoulder is 100% after spraining the AC joint early in camp. He was phenomenal last season without a normal preseason. Unleash him in Week 1.