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Best Of 2014

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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best Place to Sled

Nothing beats the whoosh of the wind in your hair, crisp air on your face, and watching the hillside quickly recede as you careen down on a sled. Pretty much any native Minnesotan will know the pleasure of scoping out the perfect hill and going sledding as a kid. No matter how cold or snowy each winter gets, there's always a perfect sledding day. Staring Lake Park in Eden Prairie has the perfect sledding hill for little ones and big folks alike — an expansive 700-foot incline lined with trees on either side (but not dangerously close) and a warming house at the top. The trek up the hill can be a workout, especially if you've climbed to the summit multiple times, but the trip down is so worth it. Sometimes you'll find that industrious kids have built moguls or jumps midway down the hill, so sledding there can be a choose-your-own-adventure where you can work on your Olympic-level sled-jumping technique. Sure, Minnesota's got great skiing and snowboarding, but who doesn't love the feeling of just plopping down on a sled and riding that saucer into the yawning white expanse?

14800 Pioneer Trail, Eden Prairie, 55347
MAP
952-949-8442
Best Twins Player

Ever since his monstrous 2009 season was followed by four years of fundamentally sound yet lower-powered hitting, the question has lingered: How would Joe Mauer fare standing at the plate without all the wear and tear from nine innings of squatting behind it? While the productivity the Twins got from him in 2013 was strong — .324/.404/.476, with an OPS that would've ranked third in the AL among first basemen if he spent the majority of his season there — his post-concussion move to first takes away some of that "league's best player at his position" luster. But assuming his concussion symptoms have receded as much as we all hope, it's hard not to think back to that other hitting-scientist franchise player the Twins moved to first from a defensive-minded position where strong hitting was at a higher premium. We all know how Rod Carew's age-31 season turned out — a legendary flirtation with .400, an MVP award, and the clearest case for his Hall of Fame future. At the same age, Joe stands a good shot at making history repeat itself in the best way.

Best Vikings Player

AP's 2013 wasn't on par with his out-of-this-world MVP campaign of a year prior, but he was still easily the best thing the Vikings had going. Purple Jesus ran for over 1,200 yards during an injury-truncated campaign, but the Vikings' fortunes sagged along with their best player's health and performance. AP will still be on the young side of 30 heading into next season, but with more than 2,000 NFL carries, one major knee reconstruction, and a number of other significant injuries already under his belt, it's fair to wonder whether his best days are behind him. Then again, we're talking about a guy who ran for more than 2,000 yards in a season just months removed from the aforementioned knee reconstruction. As always with AP, all bets are off.

Best Wild Player

Hockey is a brutal game. But it also demands grace, and few players have managed to skate this divide as deftly as Matt Cooke. His role as an agitator requires him to psych out the opposing team, meaning his contribution isn't measured solely by the scoreboard. Still, the left-winger ranks near the top of the Wild roster offensively and puts up fewer penalty minutes than his critics expected. Since signing with the Wild in July, Cooke has been dogged by one goon after another. The Ottawa Senators made an unfounded complaint that Cooke intentionally sliced a player's Achilles tendon. Cooke brushes all of that aside as being part of the game. The State of Hockey has provided Cooke with a shot at redemption, and he's definitely making the most of it.

Best Timberwolves Player

The 2013-14 Timberwolves season may have been a disappointment, but Kevin Love's play was anything but. The sixth-year forward (can you believe he's been in the league that long?) continues to get better and better, culminating in his first-ever selection as an All-Star starter. Bottom line: When healthy, he's easily the best player employed at 600 First Avenue since a certain number 21. But T-Wolves fans should enjoy K-Love's unique blend of dead-eye shooting and rebounding while they can, because the Los Angeles native can opt out of his contract and become a free agent after next season, and the front office hasn't done a great job surrounding K-Love with greatness over the years. So if he doesn't sign an extension this offseason, our 2014 "Best Timberwolves Player" may become next year's "Best Trade Piece."

Best Lynx Player

Since her 2010 homecoming to Minnesota, Lindsay Whalen has played the point for three consecutive Lynx teams that made it to the WNBA Finals, including championship teams in 2011 and 2013. During last season, Whalen, at the relatively old age of 31, posted a career high in points per game (14.9). Sure, you could argue that Maya Moore or Seimone Augustus are flashier players, but nobody has the ball in her hands more than Whalen, who has been remarkably durable despite the wear and tear she incurs during her repeated drives to the basket. Entering her 11th season, Whalen shows no sign of slowing down, and neither do the Lynx, who will try to become Minnesota's first back-to-back pro sports champions since the Minneapolis Lakers' three-peat in 1952, '53, and '54.

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Best Place to Sled: Staring Lake

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