By Jim Churchill
Tis the season for wishes. Let’s go to the well for some teams near and dear to my heart.
For the Celtics, my wish is not upon a star, but for a star! Danny Ainge has collected assets (players and draft picks) for the last several years. Boston’s President of Basketball Operations needs to find a dance partner to bring another elite player to the Garden. The Celts are a good team. They are generally entertaining but the Celtics as currently constituted however are pretenders when it comes to winning an Eastern Conference title and challenging for an NBA championship. To be a contender for banner number 18, Danny Boy needs to swing a deal for that missing piece (or two)!
For Maine Women’s Basketball, my wish is for three post-season games in the state of Maine. This year the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the America East tournament will be played in Portland at the Cross Insurance Arena. The conference championship game is played at the highest remaining seed. The Black Bears are young and relatively inexperienced, but the America East seems wide open and Maine has held their own through a tough non-conference schedule. Why not a championship game at the Cross Insurance Center?!
For Maine Men’s Basketball, my wish is for a step – any step in the right direction. I know this is not especially inspiring, but after a difficult off-season when some of the Black Bears’ best talent moved on to other programs, coach Bob Walsh and his staff have had to re-group from a personnel standpoint. All the while still trying to install a system and instill a culture into the program. Right now the Bears are short on talent, but showing some fight. Thus far, Maine has managed four wins. My hope, my wish, is for double-digit victories including six America East wins. It won’t come easy because of the lack of frontline talent, but the conference is down and the Black Bears have shown some spunk if not consistency.
For the Red Sox, my wish is for a rejuvenated David Price. I am confident that Chris Sale will adapt well to Boston. Sox fans can’t expect Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello to go 22-4 again, but he should be solid in the #3 spot of the starting rotation. Eduardo Rodriguez needs to turn the corner to consistency and good health. Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright both are worthy number 5’s at least. The bullpen should be better while the offense and defense should both be near the top of the league. All of these factors should make for a very exciting summer in Beantown if you are a fan of the reigning AL East champs. But if 2017 is going to be a championship season for my beloved Sox, David Price needs to upgrade his secondary pitches and earn his $31M annual salary.
For UMaine baseball, I wish for interim head coach Nick Derba and his team a repeat of season #1 for his predecessor, Steve Trimper. Back in 2006, Trimper in his first season at the helm, led the Black Bears to the America East crown and a spot in the Chapel Hill Regional in the NCAA tournament. The ’06 Bears were coming off an appearance in the Oxford, Mississippi Regional under coach Paul Kostacopoulos. The 2016 team did not reach those heights, but Derba is inheriting a talented roster.
For the Bruins, one wish really is not enough. To keep it to one, I wish they had more players as good as their number one goalie. Tuuka Rask is THE reason why the Bruins are respectable. Rask is 17-6-3 and currently has his lowest goals against average since the 2009-2010 season. The B’s are only four games over .500 and there is much work that needs to be done by Cam Neely, Don Sweeney and company.
For UMaine Hockey, I wish for a .500 record in their final 14 games. Seven more victories will get the Black Bears to 14 on the season. That would be a nice “next step” after winning just 8 in the 2015-2016 season. Maine has struggled away from the friendly confines of Alfond Arena though and only six of the final 14 games are in Orono. Here’s hoping (and wishing) for continued development and maturation from the youthful Bears. Maine hockey fans are starving for a winner again. The 2016-17 team needs a strong 2nd half to show the faithful that happy days are almost here again.
And finally, for the Patriots I wish for a 5th Super Bowl trophy landing in Foxboro allowing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to ride off into the sunset as the best quarterback and coach of all time. It is a watered down NFL and New England would have to be the clear favorite with the way they are performing down the stretch this season. No letdown for the Pats this year. With a dominating win over the Jets on Saturday, New England has won six in a row and can finish at 14-2 with a win over the Dolphins in week 17. Home field for the AFC playoffs looks good and New England should be playing in NRG Stadium in Houston on February 5, 2017. The Brady/Belichick “sunset” part of my wish isn’t going to happen, but I, for one, am ready for a new era (after that fifth Super Bowl ring). Wishful thinking I guess…