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17-year-old Franklin grabs gold in first event

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17-year-old Franklin grabs gold in first event

From Comcast SportsNet

LONDON (AP) -- Missy Franklin stared out on the horde of reporters, suddenly sounding very much like a high school senior-to-be. "I don't like being up here alone," she said nervously.

Then, just like that, she turned on a big smile and worked the room like a pro.

Thanks to this Colorado teenager, America's swim hopes are back on track at the Olympics.

Michael Phelps has yet to win a gold medal, and Ryan Lochte's star has dimmed just a bit. So it was Franklin providing a much-needed boost to swimming's powerhouse nation, coming back less than 14 minutes after swimming a semifinal heat to win the first gold medal of what figures to be a dazzling career.

"Indescribable," the 17-year-old Franklin said after rallying to win the 100-meter backstroke Monday. "I still can't believe that happened. I don't even know what to think. I saw my parents' reaction on the screen and I just started bawling. I can't even think right now."

After finishing up the semis of the 200 freestyle, she hopped out of the pool and headed to the diving well for a quick warmdown. She didn't even have time to make it to the practice pool, not when her bigger event was coming right up.

Even Phelps was amazed at Franklin's stamina, saying he had never done back-to-back races that close together at such a major meet. His quickest turnaround was about a half-hour.

"She's a racer and she knows what to do," Phelps said.

Matt Grevers kept the gold medals coming for the U.S. in rat-a-tat fashion, following up Franklin's win with one of his own in the men's 100 back. For good measure, Nick Thoman made it a 1-2 finish for the red, white and blue.

Rebecca Soni nearly pulled out a third U.S. gold, rallying furiously on the return leg of the 100 breaststroke. But she couldn't quite catch blazing Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte, a gold medalist at the tender age of 15.

Good thing for the U.S. that Franklin and the other Americans are coming through.

Phelps missed the podium in his 2012 Olympic debut, and Lochte has turned in two straight disappointing performances after opening the games with a dominant win in the 400 individual medley. He finished fourth and off the podium Monday night in the 200 freestyle, which France's Yannick Agnel won by a full body length against a field with gold medalists galore.

On Sunday, Lochte anchored the U.S. in the 4x100 free relay, taking over with a seemingly comfortable lead. But Agnel chased him down on the final leg, giving France the gold.

Now, another defeat.

"I did my best," Lochte said. "I guess sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I gave it 110 percent. There's probably some things I messed up on, but you live and learn. (Agnel is) a great racer. There's no doubt about it. He's quick and he showed it last night and tonight. I'm happy for him. He did good."

Franklin, who was rattled less than two weeks before the Olympics by the Aurora theater shooting not far from her home, barely advanced from the 200 free semis. She qualified for Tuesday night's final with the eighth-fastest time, but clearly she was saving something for the race that really mattered.

She's still got five more events to go, having started her Olympics with a relay bronze and leaving plenty of time to come away from these games as America's big star in the post-Phelps era.

The winningest Olympian ever plans to retire after these games.

Australia's Emily Seebohm, the top qualifier, led at the turn and was under world-record pace, but Franklin showed a remarkable finishing kick. With her arms whirling and size-13 feet pounding the water, the 6-foot-1 swimmer passed the Aussie in the final 25 meters and lunged toward the wall for a winning time of 58.33 seconds.

She broke into a big smile but was clearly exhausted, her head dropping back against the wall. Seebohm settled for silver in 58.68 and Japan's Aya Terakawa took bronze in 58.83.

"You never know until you see that scoreboard, so I was just going as fast as I could until I got my hand on the wall," Franklin said. "It was 110 percent effort, and all the work paid off."

The 6-foot-8 Grevers pulled off a similar rally on his return lap, winning the 100 back in an Olympic-record 52.16 -- the fifth straight games, dating to Atlanta in 1996, that the U.S. men have won the backstroke. Thoman joined his teammate on the medal podium at 52.97, a gold-silver finish they were thinking about all along and reiterated just before the final.

David Marsh, Thoman's coach, brought it up right moments before they went out to the pool, saying "1-2."

Grevers said he and Thoman knew they "weren't jinxing anything," and they were right, though Grevers didn't notice right away that Americans took the top two spots.

"I must be selfish because it took me a good 10 seconds to realize he got second," he quipped. "That's something I should do right away. But when I noticed, that moment became much more special. To know that we can go 1-2 in that event, again really shows the USA's dominance in backstroke right now when we're able to step up."

Japan's Ryosuke Irie was third in 52.97.

"I've been watching the Olympics for as long as I can remember," Thoman said. "The first one I really remember is the '92 Barcelona Games and just watching guys back then. Seeing Lenny Krayzelburg, my idol, and then Aaron Piersol, again my idol, who I got to train with for a little while. Just being able to carry on that tradition, it's a great thing."

Agnel showed that his brilliant swim on the Olympic relay was no fluke. The baby-faced, 6-foot-6 Frenchman did it again in the 200 free, leading from start to finish in perhaps the most star-studded race of these games -- even without Phelps, who passed up a chance to defend his Olympic title.

That might have been a good move by Phelps. It was hard to see anyone beating Agnel on this night, as he pulled away to win by a full body length in 1 minute, 43.14 seconds. No one came close to challenging him, and he looked just as strong at the end as he did at the beginning.

"I really didn't expect that time," Agnel said. "I had a race plan in my head, but this is above my expectations and hopes. I'm delighted. It's a childhood dream come true. I had to start quickly over the first 100 meters. I did that. Then I worked on keeping my speed and putting all my guts into the last 50. I don't know what to say. It worked."

French President Francois Hollande came to the mixed zone to congratulate Agnel, shaking his hand warmly in the chaos of reporters and cameras. He was dwarfed by the swimmer, who gave the country its third swimming gold of the games -- its most ever.

And there's still five nights to go at the pool.

"Remarkable, two gold medals two nights in a row," Hollande said. "It's a big reward for French swimming, a proud moment for him and encouraging for the whole Olympic team."

South Korea's Park Tae-hwan and China's Sun Yang tied for the silver in 1:44.93. But Lochte, the reigning world champion who seemed poised to have a huge Olympics just 48 hours earlier, faded out of the medals. So did world-record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany.

Soni tried to make it three in a row, but Meilutyte dashed those hopes. Competing for the first time on a major international stage, the 15-year-old showed her strong performances in the prelims and semis were no fluke.

She built a big lead on the outward lap, then held off the 2008 Olympic silver medalist on the return. Meilutyte touched in 1:05.47, while Soni's rally came up eight-hundredths of the second short. Japan took yet another bronze with Satomi Suzuki in 1:06.46.

Meilutyte broke into tears on the medal stand, the enormity of her accomplishment at such a young age finally sinking in. She became the first Lithuanian to win a swimming medal, and took her country's first gold in any sport since a shooting gold in 2004.

"I can't believe it," she said. "It's too much for me. I can't really say anything. It was hard and difficult."

Soni swept the 100 and 200 breaststrokes at last year's world championships, and was hoping to do the same in London. Now, she'll look to defend her title in the 200 breast.

"I'm a little disappointed," she said. "I knew it was going to come down to the last five meters and I wish I had five more meters to get to that finish. It was a great race overall."

Lochte is looking more and more like a swimmer who took on too much of a workload. He's already raced six times in three events covering a total of 1,500 meters over the first three days in London. He has three more events to turn things around, but definitely has the look of a tired swimmer.

If nothing else, it shows just how unbelievable Phelps was when he won a record eight gold medals in 2008.

"To win six of them is a really hard thing to accomplish," Grevers said. "Your body's going to get tired. It's not just a physical strain, it's an emotional strain to try to get up and compete every time."

Phelps didn't have any medal races on this night, but he did advance comfortably through the prelims and semis of the 200 butterfly, going into Tuesday's final with the fourth-best time.

This will be his second attempt at becoming the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three straight Olympics. He failed in the 400 medley, and Japan's Kosuke Kitajima came up short of the same feat in the 100 breaststroke.

As for Franklin, someone noticed afterward that she wasn't wearing her medal.

She pulled it out of her pocket and marveled, "Isn't it pretty."

Then, she showed her age again. There's still one more year to go at Regis Jesuit High.

"My junior year was awesome," Franklin said. "I can't wait to go back to Regis!"

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”