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Andy Kirkaldy: Taking stock between trips to the woodpile

To borrow a template from a beer commercial, I don’t always spend the weekend on the couch watching and/or reading about sports. But when I do it’s 5 degrees outside.
OK, to be fair I did leave the couch to watch Panther women’s hockey and Otter Valley-Mount Abe boys’ hoop, and to make a bunch of trips to the woodpile.
Still, there were lots of big people on the TV running into each other, anguished Eagle-fan friends on Facebook, a where-did-that-come-from effort by the Patriots, a truly miserable Celtics game counterpointed with a good Bruins’ win, and lots of Sox-fan angst online about the team’s 2019 bullpen.
A few thoughts on those subjects:
•  The Panther women remain a good watch, lots of hustle and grit. If they unlock what appears to be real offensive potential maybe they can skate to that NCAA Division III title that has eluded the program since the Panthers defeated host Plattsburgh in the 2006 final, 3-1.
That game remains one of the best I have ever covered. One senior playing with a torn ACL, Emily Quizon, scored a key goal, and another, goalie Kate Kogut, made possibly the best save I’ve ever seen, flashing a leg upward to kick away a shot while lying on her back.
But I digress. The Panthers should win the NESCAC regular season, host and win the playoffs, and earn another NCAA title shot.
•  On boys’ hoop, keep an eye not necessarily on the Otters and Eagles, although each should do OK, but on Middlebury. The Tigers probably aren’t a realistic threat in D-I, but their win at Fair Haven last week shows they are legit, certainly good enough to make a run at the Lake Division title.
And next year the Middlebury hoop teams will finally be allowed to compete in D-II. Several basketball coaches finally convinced the Vermont Principals’ Association that it was futile to force the smaller D-I schools to compete with Burlington, the other large D-I schools in Chittenden County and elsewhere, and private-school recruiting machines Rice and St. Johnsbury.
So teams like MUHS and Missisquoi starting in 2019-2020 will be allowed at least on a trial basis to compete in an expanded D-II, as I have lobbied for in this space for years — VPA officials eye me warily when they see me coming, wondering if I am going to harangue them again.
But I won’t let them off the hook yet. Now, about soccer, guys…
And in girls’ hoop, don’t look now but the defending D-II champion Eagle girls have won five straight and are 7-2.
•  Watching the Celtics lose back-to-back games to inferior teams like Miami and Orlando was little short of infuriating. And if the minor shoving incident between two players (Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris when Morris took offense to Brown’s failure to hustle back on defense) is any indication, the Celtics are beginning to feel the heat, too.
They aren’t living up to expectations, and at times there appear to be too many competing agendas — impending free agencies and individual playing time and stats vs. what’s best for the group. The solution is simple: If everybody plays hard and shares the ball while they’re on the floor, all will be well, the team will win, points and stats will flow, and all will get what they want.
It’s up to coach Stevens to press that point — and start sitting players who don’t buy in if that’s what it takes.
•  As for the Bruins, they continue to be a likeable, hard-working, lunch-pail crew that will win more games than they lose. But unless a few of their younger players turn into consistent scoring threats the Bruins will remain just that.
•  Reading both professional and fan stuff about the Sox bullpen one would think they have as much chance as the 1964 Mets of winning a World Series unless they sign a Proven Closer to protect late leads.
Well, I might feel different come June when Matt Barnes walks the first two batters in the top of the ninth with the Sox winning by two runs. But the Sox seem to have enough adequate-to-good relief pitchers to cob a bullpen together, and probably can still sign the last decent reliever standing when the offseason game of musical chairs ends, or make a midseason trade if necessary. They have a heck of a team and manager. They’ll be OK.
Everybody breathe. They’re the best team of the new millennium.
•  Finally, what to make of the Patriots? Are they the team that pushed the Chargers all over the field and scored on five of six first-half red-zone possessions on Sunday? Or the group that lost in horrific fashion this season to Miami and Detroit?
The truth lies somewhere in between. They had a perfect matchup vs. the Chargers, a team that can’t cover running backs or play man-to-man defense on receivers, thus playing into the Patriots’ strengths. And the Patriots had two weeks to prepare and were playing at home.
This coming Sunday the Patriots will be on the road, where they are 3-5 this season. And the Chiefs, their foes, will have the extra day to rest and prepare. And although KC Coach Andy Reid is only 2-6 against Coach Bill Belichick, his offenses have three times racked up more than 40 points against the Patriots, and only once with probable NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. And the Chiefs crushed the Colts on Saturday to end their 25-year home playoff losing streak.
But the Patriots defeated the Chiefs this season, 43-40. And six of the eight times in the postseason during the Brady-Belichick era the Patriots have faced a team they defeated in the regular season, they did so again. And the Patriot defense has suddenly improved. In the three Patriot games before Sunday they allowed a total of 32 points, and in Sunday’s first half they surrendered just seven. And that guy Brady is still the New England QB.
I would describe the AFC championship game as a toss-up. And the winner will watch Drew Brees and the Saints hoist the trophy after the Super Bowl.

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