Net Gain

On October 4, when the puck drops on the 2007-08 season at the Xcel Energy Center, Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom will have gone from relative unknown to the team’s No. 1 starter faster than you can say Holy Helsinki. So get ready to move over, Vänskä, there’s a new fave Finn in town.

Signed last year as a backup, the 29-year-old Finn filled in fantastically when starter Manny Fernandez went down with a knee injury, helping the Wild make the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise’s brief history.

Now with the notoriously moody Manny traded to Boston, the team is betting a calm and collected Backstrom can continue to be la fin of opposing offences. “He showed he could handle the bulk of the work [last year], and we’re hoping he can do that again this year,” says Wild goalie coach Bob Mason.

Last season was Backstrom’s first in the league, but he’s no rookie. Before crossing the pond, he dominated for four seasons as a starter in Finland’s elite league, garnering both top goalie and playoff MVP honors while leading his team to back-to-back championships. More remarkable still, Backstrom only needed one good leg to win his first title: He played through the postseason with a torn ACL. With that kind of dedication in a goalie, it’s clear the team is in good, not to mention quick, hands.

—MIKE ENRIGHT


Butt Out

When the statewide smoking ban kicks in October 1, you can kick the habit—or you can pocket your Pall Malls and head to the Disabled Veterans Rest Camp (assuming you’re a vet, and in need of some R&R). Veterans may no longer light up legally at VFW posts, but they can puff away in peace at this campground near Marine on St. Croix, which hosts former soldiers and their families, with priority given to injured vets. It’s one of the few public places exempted from Minnesota’s smoking ban.

Not a camper? Hate the taste of Nicorette? Take your pick from the other legal loopholes: Pretend you’re pretending (actors can still light up in the context of a play), rent a room (some hotel rooms will remain designated for smokers), check yourself in (residents of psychiatric facilities—the locked-down ones, at least—can get a doctor’s waiver), claim it’s all in the name of science (studies on smoking still require smoking), or find religion (Native American rituals are exempt). Or, of course, you could simply hit the slots—Indian reservations, including casinos, remain beyond the ban’s reach.

—TIM GIHRING


Face Off

Oktoberfests

 

Munich

September 22 to October 7
Begun: 1810
Visitors: 6 million a year
Rallying cry: “O’zapft is!” or “The barrel is tapped!”
Pints partaken: 12 million
Best wurst: Schweinshaxe (a.k.a. pork leg)—Bavarian cuisine at its finest
Lederhosen threat level: Cherry red. (Tempted to buy a pair? Just say nein!)
Exotic Essen: Ox loin.
Ever seen an entire ox on a giant spit? Us neither.Suggested souvenir: Miniature glockenspiel

New Ulm

October 5 to 6, 12 to 13
Begun: 1981
Visitors: 6,000 a year
Rallying cry: “Zicke Zacke, Zicke Zacke, Hoi, Hoi, Hoi!”
Pints partaken: 12,000
Best wurst: Landjaeger. Pronounced lond-yager, a sausage made from beef and pork.
Lederhosen threat level: Orange. Those little green hats are much more popular.
Exotic Essen: The Reuben ball. Like the sandwich—minus the bread, rolled up, and deep-fried. Just like Oma made!
Suggested souvenir: Hermann the German bobblehead

THE WINNER

A tough call, but the prize goes to New Ulm. We love the Germans, but the notion of seeing Heidi’s grandfather in leather pants sauers our kraut.

—MIKE ENRIGHT


Going the Distance

Lace up the Asics—it’s marathon month

10,500

Number of runners and wheelers hoping to cover the course in the 2007 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, set for Sunday, October 7. Of those, 30 percent are first-time marathoners.

3,617,696

Number of miles logged over the past 25 years by Twin Cities Marathon participants. That’s the equivalent of one runner hoofing it from Minne­apolis to Athens, Greece—the birthplace of the distance race—657 times.

63

Number of Charter Club members returning for the 2007 competition. This elite group has run in every Twin Cities Marathon since the event was launched in 1982.

$306,800

Total prize purse up for grabs in this year’s race. That includes a $25,000 jackpot for any runner who breaks a course record. Times to beat are 2:10:05 (men) and 2:26:51 (women).

4:29:32

Average finish time in the 2006 marathon.

84

Age of the oldest registered competitor this year. In fact, 10 runners over age 70 have entered the race.

21,000

Gallons of water that will be handed off to athletes along the marathon route, divvied into some 360,000 cups. For those not attempting to break course records, about 250 portable potties will be placed along the way.

—SANDRA HOYT


School Spirits

Why one local college keeps a file on paranormal activity

By Joy Riggs

YEARS AGO, a St. Olaf student with a bloody gash on her forehead rushed into the college’s campus-housing office, accompanied by her roommate.

“We’re here to see the ghost file,” the students demanded of Greg Kneser, then director of residential life at the Northfield school. “We know you have a file. We also know you’re required to deny it even exists.”

Kneser had no such file; it was a campus myth. But he also could see that the roommates were frightened and serious about getting an explanation. So he listened to the tale about their encounter with “The Boy in the Red Cap”—whose sudden appearance had caused the young woman to bang her head on her bunk bed, leaving the wound. He took three pages of notes.

“I thought, ‘Every self-respecting dean’s office ought to have a ghost file,’” he says of the 1991 incident.

Now dean of students, Kneser continues to add to the one-inch thick file. He updates it regularly as he receives e-mails and phone calls from students, faculty, and alumni about their spectral sightings. Notable apparitions include the retired professor seen sorting books in the library; a little girl heard playing a piano in a locked residence hall; and a woman in a white dress who has haunted a stairwell in Agnes Melby Hall for three decades.

Kneser began recounting the tales on campus 12 years ago. He leads an annual walking tour during Homecoming weekend—last year’s drew 300 people—and he entertains smaller student groups throughout October.

He tells his audiences that people fall into one of three categories: those who believe in ghosts, those who are open to the idea, and those who don’t believe. “I started out as a person who absolutely did not believe in this stuff,” Kneser says. “But in the last 15 years, I’ve sort of slid into the middle category, after hearing stories that I absolutely can’t explain from people I trust.”

That includes the multiple sightings of the red-capped boy, who supposedly once lived in the dorm room he haunted. In the end, administrators told the woman with the wound and her roommate to tell the ghost to leave them alone the next time he appeared. A few nights later, when the lights inexplicably began to flicker, they informed the boy that he wasn’t welcome in their room. And they never saw him again.

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