For his work in redefining Minnesota United’s identity into a defensive-centric team, Loons center back Ike Opara was named MLS defender of the year, the league announced Thursday.

He burst onto the Minnesota Gophers hockey scene last season, then cooled off considerably. As a sophomore, Finnish forward Sampo Ranta is off to another promising start after a good summer, and is looking for the spark he admits he needs to lift his game to the next level.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said an effort to get Stafford out of the pocket, or to move it, is the “biggest factor” in the Lions’ improvement but noted that Stafford has been good in sets with less than maximum protection.

Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said everything that needed to be said when he told reporters there “wasn’t much debate” about which goaltender would be between the pipes for Thursday’s game against the Canadiens.

Others receiving Diamond Awards include Nick Anderson, of Crosby, Minn., who was named the Upper Midwest Player of the Year.

As it sits, it’s possible 80% of the starting rotation is gone, but the Twins have many avenues to look down — free agency, the trade market and internal options — to fill the rotation.

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