Blackhawks

Cubs' Top Pick Simpson Has Big Debut; Birmingham Wins Southern League Opener

Cubs' Top Pick Simpson Has Big Debut; Birmingham Wins Southern League Opener

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 10:30 p.m.
CUBSPeoria A
Hayden Simpsons long-awaited professional debut was quite a success Thursday evening even if Mother Nature had the final say in Peorias season-opener against Cedar Rapids. The game was suspended heading into the ninth inning with the score tied 2-2 because of rain. It will be completed prior to Friday evenings game at OBrien Field.

Simpson, the 16th overall pick in last years draft, went 3 23 innings, striking out seven and walking one. He fanned the side in the third inning on 11 pitches with the only blemish on his evening coming in the fourth inning when he surrendered a solo homer to Brandon Decker. The former Division-II star didnt pitch last summer while recovering from mononucleosis.

Greg Rohan had a pair of hits and an RBI while Matt Szczur led off and had a double in four at-bats.

Iowa AAA
The I-Cubs used a healthy approach at the plate Thursday night to offset a shaky effort on the mound, pounding out 15 hits in a wild 12-9 victory over Round Rock in the season opener at The Dell Diamond.

Ty Wright homer, three RBIs, Bobby Scales and Lou Montanez three RBIs each had three hits while Bryan LaHair added a homer and three RBIs. Despite allowing five runs in three innings, Esmailin Caridad earned the victory in relief of Thomas Diamond, who allowed two runs on three hits and three walks in four innings.

Tennessee AA
The Smokies erupted for 17 hits, including a pair of homers, Thursday night to crush host Chattanooga, 12-4, in the season-opener for both teams.

Josh Vitters and Matthew Spencer solo homer each had three hits to lead the assault while Brett Jackson two RBIs, Ryan Flaherty two RBIs, Rebel Ridling homer, two RBIs and Steve Clevenger each added a pair of hits. Vitters missed much of the second half of last season with a broken hand after hitting .223 in 206 at-bats for Tennessee.

Chris Rusin, a fourth-round pick in 2009, earned the win after allowing three runs on four hits in five innings.
Daytona A
Matt Cerdas two-run, seventh-inning double proved to be the difference Thursday night as Daytona edged Brevard County, 3-2, at Space Coast Stadium in the season-opener for both teams.

Efrain Nieves had come on in relief for the Manatees and Cerda greeted him with a line drive to left. It was one of his team-leading three hits. Mike Burgess added a solo homer in the fifth as the Cubs began to claw their way out of a 2-0 hole.

Jeff Lorick earned the win with a pair of scoreless innings after starter Robert Whiteknack allowed two runs in five innings.

WHITE SOXBirmingham AA
The Barons didnt have many reasons to celebrate in 2010 but got some early partying in on Thursday as they squeaked out a 1-0 victory at Montgomery in the season-opener for both teams.

Dylan Axelrod earned the win, allowing two hits over five innings. He fanned eight and walked only one before the bullpen Nate Jones and Greg Infante combined to strike out four over four no-hit innings.

Birmingham only managed three hits but one of them was an Ozzie Lewis RBI single in the second inning. Brandon Short and Seth Loman were hit by pitches ahead of Lewis, who singled to left to bring in the games lone run.

Charlotte AAA
Stefan Gartrells RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted Charlotte to a 4-3 victory over Norfolk Thursday night in the season-opener for both clubs.

Dallas McPherson got the winning rally started with a one-out double before Gartrell stroked a liner to right field to bring in the winning run. Gookie Dawkins solo homer in the bottom of the seventh tied the score at 3-3, setting the stage for Gartrells heroics.

Jhonny Nunez took advantage of the rally to earn the victory after pitching a scoreless eighth while Brian Bruney turned the trick in the ninth, striking out a pair to earn the save. Lucas Harrell had started and allowed two runs on six hits over five innings. He fanned five and left after pitching to one batter in the sixth inning.

Alejandro De Aza, who hit .302 for Charlotte last season, had three hits and an RBI for the Knights.
Kannapolis A
Ryan Buch allowed only one hit in his six innings of work Thursday night but it proved to be just one hit too many. The big right-hander allowed a solo homer to Jim Murphy in the second inning and wound up on the losing end of the decision as a result after Lakewood topped Kannapolis, 2-0, in the season-opener at FirstEnergy Park.

Buch, who played his collegiate ball not far from Lakewood at Monmouth College, struck out four and didnt walk a batter. But the Intimidators managed only five hits, all coming off Lakewood starter Mario Hollands. The lack of offense proved to be too much to overcome as the Claws bullpen tossed four perfect innings.

Trayce Thompson had a double for the Intimidators.

Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at ktczerwinski@gmail.com.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

11-22_nhl-matchup_hawks-at-lightning_blank.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

brianurlacher.png
USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.