Minnesota Score Latest Magazine

Minnesota Score on Facebook Minnesota Score radio on Facebook Minnesota Score on iHigh Minnesota Score Magazines latest headlines on WordPress



View Minnesota Based Sports Camps

Turcotte Stickhandling Hockey School

Country Chev

Nice Rink

Pearle Vision\\

Hurwitz Law Firm

Spring 2003


Using a combination of raw talent and good old-fashioned hockey smarts, rookie Pierre-Marc Bouchard takes the fast track to the NHL.
Wayzata nativePete Knudsen has found success pedaling his bike on Pro Cycling's Bike Racing Tour.
Matt "The Predator" Vanda'a quest for boxing glory.


Standing down on the blue line in total darkness during the National Anthem, Pierre-Marc Bouchard stared at the ice, nervously shifting his feet. His NHL career was just minutes from beginning, and the knot in his stomach was growing. "I really had to battle my nerves," recalls Bouchard. "There was a lot of emotion because it was a dream come true. I worked my whole life for this moment, and it was both very special and a little overwhelming."

Consider the experience the first rookie moment in a season's worth of them for the budding teen star whose rapid ascension has validated the Wild's decision to take him with their top pick in last June's NHL entry draft. "We knew we were getting a very skilled player whose intelligence and passion for the game was impressive," said Wild assistant general manager Tom Thompson.

"What we didn't know was how well he could skate. I equate him to a young Joe Sakic. He's got very good offensive skills and he's not going to do anything to hurt your team on the ice. He's just a very smart hockey player."

Smart enough to pay little attention to the odds of a player making the quantum leap from the junior level straight to the pros. At Chicoutimi, the Sherbrooke, Quebec native put up Gretzky-like numbers leading the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in scoring with 140 points. But the NHL is a whole different world. Bouchard says the biggest adjustment for him has been the speed of the game. "Everything just happens so much faster at this level. Everyone can skate, even the big guys. You don't have a lot of time to make a decision, so when you get the puck, you better know what you're going to do with it."

Bouchard has shown his hockey smarts in another way. From day one, he's actively sought out the counsel of veteran players like Pascal Dupuis. The young center says his fellow Quebec native gets a big assist for teaching him the nuances of the pro game. "Pascal has been the biggest help to me in getting adjusted to the NHL. He's helped me get used to everybody at the rink. He's taught me how to interact with the veterans, and how to act both on the ice and off. Good advice like that."

Dupuis, five years older than Bouchard, but just a year removed from his own rookie season, down plays his mentorship role. "I haven't really done anything special. I just tell him the basics; that we are a team, and you always want to do your best for your team. I tell him that there will be many peaks and valleys, but you need to hang tough and keep on working hard and good things will come."

One of the valleys Bouchard had to deal with early in the season, while trying to gain the trust of head coach Jacques Lemaire and fully grasp his system, was not being in the lineup every night. "Sitting up in the press box was tough," admits Bouchard. "But in retrospect, being able to watch the games from above allowed me to get a feel for how other teams play us, and it ended up helping me a lot."

Instead of moping about his lack of ice time, Bouchard concentrated on working hard in practice and building up his leg strength to get faster so when his number was called, he'd be ready. His preparation paid off. As the season has gone on, Lemaire's confidence in the teenager has grown, so much so, that Bouchard has been a steady contributor during the Wild's surprising push toward their first post season berth.

"There are times I have to remind myself the kid is only 18. He's the type of player that Wild fans are going to enjoy for years to come."

–Wes Walz

Playing on a line that switches between Jason Marshall, Marian Gaborik, Jeremy Stevenson, and Dupuis, Bouchard has tallied 11 points while averaging 13:37 of ice time, among the rookie leaders. More important, his play is garnering him the respect of his teammates. "There are times I have to remind myself the kid is only 18," says Wes Walz, who at age 32, is one of the team's elder statesmen. "He plays beyond his years in that he really understands the game so well. He's the type of player that Wild fans are going to enjoy for years to come."

Bouchard blushes slightly when some of Walz's praise is relayed his way. But it does confirm something the youngster has long felt. "This is a great bunch of guys who take good care of me. I feel like I'm a real part of this team now."

While nothing much has surprised this heady teenager, Bouchard concedes the amazement he first felt at reaching the NHL has not fully abated. "I'll be talking with my friends back home, and they'll ask me 'What's it like to be playing in the NHL?' And I'll think, 'wow, this isn't a dream. I really am here.' It's an incredible feeling."
(back to top)

Wayzata native Pete Knudsen has found success pedaling his bike on Pro Cycling's Bike Racing Tour.

by Bruce Leonard
Spring 2003
Pete Knudsen likes to say he's got the best job in the world. Each morning, like Old Faithful, he rolls out of bed, fuels up with a power breakfast, hops on the seat of his American Bike Lightspeed, and begins another joyous day of life as a pro cyclist. "There's nothing I'd rather do than ride my bike," says Knudsen. "My parents always told me to 'do what you love.' I feel like I'm living my dream every day. How lucky am I?"

That Knudsen would develop such a passion for cycling is an example of life's unpredictability. The Wayzata native grew up on a steady diet of playing the traditional team sports of hockey, soccer, and baseball. True, he did only live a couple of blocks from three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, but former Twin Tom Brunansky also lived in the area and that held far greater appeal. "I was a huge baseball fan," recalls Knudsen. "I thought it was neat that Greg LeMond was so close, but Tom Brunansky? That was like, wow!"

Things changed dramatically in 1992 when at the age of 13 Knudsen attended the Norwest Cup bike race and had his eyes opened to a sport he hardly knew existed. "I remember watching the riders race by. The whole thing, the colors, the speed, the guys seemed superhuman to me, and I came away thinking it was a cool sport."

Knudsen is now one of those "super-humans" he so marveled at as a teenager. After winning the 2001 US Collegiate Ominum Championship while attending the University of California at San Diego, his pedaling prowess has landed him on the pro racing tour where he's in his second season of riding for the Schroeder Iron Team. "Pete is super talented physically," says Schroeder's team leader and coach Jamie Paolinetti. "He has the ability to excel and will only get better with experience."

Heading home: "Sweet Pete" Knudsen (left) will pedal into the Twin Cities to compete in the Nature Valley Grand Prix in June. His physical talent and good nature seem to be the right balance for cycling success.
Dubbed "Sweet Pete" by his teammates for his good-natured attitude, the 23-year-old has already made an impression winning a couple of races. The learning curve, though, in pro cycling, is a steep one. The complexities and strategies that go into winning a team race take time to master. Knudsen says he's constantly learning, but there's much to improve upon, like his lack of speed. By his own admission, he isn't exactly a jackrabbit in need of Kaopectate on wheels. "I've never been able to beat anybody in a sprint," he says with equal amounts of good humor and frustration. "I just don't naturally have the fast twitch muscle."

One of the things he does have is an ardent fan base in the Twin Cities. Knudsen is looking forward to returning to the area when his Schroeder Iron Team competes in the Nature Valley Grand Prix in June. "Family is real important to me, but I don't get much chance to see them with my racing schedule. So I'm really looking forward to spending a week at home, seeing my friends, and hopefully putting on a good show."

As for his future in the sport, Knudsen offers up two versions. His ultimate one goes something like this: He becomes good enough to race in Europe, competes in the Tour de France, and takes home the yellow jersey, just like Lance Armstrong, someone who clearly leaves Knudsen awestruck. "Lance is like the World Series MVP and I'm playing Single "A" ball in Visalia. We're both professionals, but he's just on a whole different scale."

Now for version number two (which Knudsen says is the more realistic one): "I'd love to have a couple of years where I could ride at my absolute best, where I'm going to every race with the ability to win it. Right now, I'm in top-level races, but I'm not a great threat to win any of them. To be able to turn that around would be pretty sweet."

Sweet, as in "Sweet Pete."

(back to top)

East Side Story
Matt "The Predator" Vanda'a quest for boxing glory.

by Doug Frattallone
Spring 2003

"East side!"
"East side!"

These were the dominant chants of a Roy Wilkins Auditorium boxing crowd cheering on their hometown hero, Matt "The Predator" Vanda, a proud product of St. Paul's east side.

The setting is pure Hollywood: A smoke-filled venue, jammed with 4,700 fans cheering on a tattooed titan looking to keep his undefeated streak alive.

Ten rounds later, the 24-year-old Junior Middleweight wins a close decision over Atlanta's Homer Gibbins. While skeptics say Vanda got just a dash of home cookin' with the judges that January night, the winner vows he would've gotten the job done earlier had he not suffered a hand injury in the
second round.

"I guarantee I would have knocked him out before the beginning of the fifth round if I wouldn't have broke my hand," said Vanda, now 27-0, with 18 knockouts.

"Most guys would have quit. I don't know many guys who would go eight rounds with a broken hand and my hand was broke bad. But you know what? I'm a warrior. I made it through the fight. I got the win. You quit the fight [and] you lose over a broken hand."

Besides, Vanda says his trainer Tommy Brunette really didn't give him a choice; "I went back to the corner and I said, 'Tom, I think I broke my hand.' Tom said to me, 'Well, if it's broke it's not gonna get any worse, so you better keep using it.'"

And he did. Gibbins, a former World Boxing Federation (WBF) champ, would become the latest bit of road kill in The Predator's path, in a fight which featured snippets of smack talk, at least one rasslin' takedown and a litter of rabbit punches. "I think he was a dirty fighter," Vanda said of Gibbins. "I didn't like the way he came at me one bit. He was hitting me in the nuts the whole fight. I hit him in the nuts one time on purpose just to say, hey, 'I know where you're coming from so keep it up and you'll be gettin' more.' And then I threw him to the mat in the last round."

And when the 10th was over, Vanda would have his glove raised again. And yes, he's well aware of some critics (from Minneapolis, perhaps?) alleging hometown favoritism, a subject that solicits a hearty laugh when quizzed about it.

"I could care less," Vanda chuckled. "Read the record: 27-0, 18 knockouts. If you can do better, jump in the ring."
Vanda continues to wallop opponents.

In the months ahead, Vanda hopes to jump in the ring and paste the likes of Fernando Vargas and Oscar de la Hoya. They're two men who stand in his way of a title belt in his weight class. Trainer Brunette is confident his kid has the stuff, but is bringing him along slowly and would never put The Predator up against a fighter he didn't think he could beat. "Matt and I have been together since he was 12-years-old," Brunette said. "I'd rather cut off one of my arms than see him hurt."

In other words, Vanda won't be rushing into anything that resembles a quick payday. Brunette says his fighter has already been offered $200,000 to face a ranked contender, but turned it down. He wants to make sure The Predator is completely ready to win a title, which may not be until 2004. While that timetable might not satisfy the TV fight-junkie (or the ratings-hungry networks), both men — plus Tommy's business partner, brother Brian Brunette — say they'll call the shots, not East Coast money. They also want the fight spotlight to shine on St. Paul.

"Our goal is to bring a world championship fight to the Twin Cities," said Brian, "St. Paul, preferably."

Preferably the Xcel Energy Center, but if it's Roy Wilkins, that's okay with Vanda. It's in that intimate auditorium where he feels most at home.

"I like to hear 'east side!'" said the man from White Bear Avenue. "It's everyone from the hood gettin' back together, rockin'. For the most part, it's just like a big party. And on top of it, you get to watch professional boxing."

Ah, the perks of admission; a party and a fight! Not to mention the showmanship of the boxer. He enters the ring to the rumble of live custom hogs (Tommy's idea), Harley's revved up to ear-piercing levels intended to rev up an already loud crowd. The boxer also sports an array of tattoos of which he's quite proud. "The Predator" is scrawled across his back, "Vanda" across his belly, the Notre Dame mascot on his shoulder. The famous leprechaun was his first tattoo, a birthday present from his mom when he turned 15. Over the years, more were added by one of Matt's best buddies, a tattoo artist. After every knockout, his pal offers The Predator free artwork. Call them everlasting symbols of victory.

"It's like a drug. It's kind of addicting, the tattoo's are," Vanda said. "I love 'em." And when he's 44? No tattoo regrets? "I'm gonna be lovin' 'em," he responds. "I'm gonna be riding a Harley, kicking back, having a great time. I don't care what anyone thinks, I think they look good on me. I think for what I do, it brings out [my] character."

Time for Pugilism Honesty 101: a good boxer is one thing, but a good boxer with character and charisma? Those types tend to stand out, and Vanda knows it. "TV would love to see a white champion," he said, "one with charisma like me. People would buy that."

Trainer Brunette says Vanda has had a winning combination of character and charisma since day one, pointing to an incident a few years back in Indianapolis. Vanda was 18, and was hanging out in the hotel lobby after a fight. Brunette says someone pulled him aside and said that Matt had knocked somebody out. With the official ring action long over, Brunette figured his kid might be
in trouble.

Actually, it was the other guy who was hurting. As the story goes, young Matthew saw a gentleman roughing up a lady in the lobby and wouldn't stand for it. As Tommy describes it: "Matt said, 'Hey man, what are you doing?' The guy said, 'None of your business.' Then boom, Matt knocked the guy cold. I mean, he knocked this guy out!"

It turns out the gentleman was allegedly a pimp and the lady was allegedly a hooker, but Vanda claims he never made that connection. He was just trying to do the right thing and protect the damsel in distress.

Indianapolis boxing promoter Fred Berns verifies the story, but wouldn't elaborate when pressed for the details. He just wanted to keep it simple, offering two quotes of note. One for the trainer: "Tommy's a pretty sharp guy." And one for the boxer: "He's a tough kid."

"When he walks into the ring, people know something's going to happen," said promoter Brian Brunette. "Our job is to teach him how to fight."

Which is up to Tommy, who still has the handwraps from Vanda's first fight. The old bandages are stored in a plastic bag, a grimy gift Brunette will give back to his franchise if the kid wins a title. A day they believe is coming soon to an arena near you. Says Tommy: "We have an agenda. We want him to be world champion." Brian can only agree: "He won't be denied."

The boxer, of course, gets the last word, a clear message to those in either the "East side!" or "Vaaan-da" camp: "We're gonna kick some ass together and win the title and bring it back to the east side of St. Paul."

(back to top)