Blackhawks

Fire's Gargan set for bittersweet return to Toronto

740086.png

Fire's Gargan set for bittersweet return to Toronto

Some of the edge was taken off Saturdays Fire road match at FC Toronto when the club announced on Friday that Chris Rolfe wont be playing. The popular striker, who rejoined the Fire this week after spending three seasons playing in Denmark, suffered what the Fire calls a minor ankle injury in training on Thursday.

The Fire (1-0-2) hopes to fatten its record against the only team in Major League Soccer without a standings point. FC Toronto is 0-5-0. Rolfes presence would have bolstered an attack that produced just three goals in the first four MLS games.

While Rolfes participation would have spiced up the Fires latest road trip, it wont detract from the match for right back Dan Gargan. He started 25 times for FC Toronto when the club made its MLS debut in 2010. He was dumped midway through the following season after the club switched coaches from Preki Radosavljevic to Aron Winter, a former Dutch international who had been an assistant coach for that countrys famed Ajax club.

Winters arrival triggered a massive roster revampment, with Gargan just one of those leaving. He was sent to the Fire along with a second-round draft choice for defender Dasan Robinson. Gargan calls his stay in Toronto "a bittersweet memory." This will be his first game back since the trade.

"I love the city," he said. "Toronto has some of the best fans in the league. When Toronto came into the league they set the standard for how good an atmosphere can be. I look back on Toronto and thought I would have been there a lot longer than I ended up being there, just because of the kind of player I am. I bring a lot to a team, and when they brought in new guys they went in a different direction."

Generally, that direction hasnt been the right one as this seasons record suggests. The Gargan trade was one of the new regimes worst moves. In exchange for a proven starter FC Toronto acquired Robinson, who apparently didnt fit in either. Less than two months after joining FC Toronto, Robinson himself was traded to Los Angeles. The Galaxy declined to re-sign him after last season, and Robinson eventually announced his retirement.

Shortly after the Fire acquired him Gargan scored against his former team in a 2-0 win at Toyota Park. He didnt look back fondly on Toronto then.

"The way they handled some things was tough to swallow," he said. "I dont think they gave this league enough respect. Slowly but surely theyre probably understanding that a bit more. At the end of my time there it was tough to be in the lockerroom and deal with the situations that were going on."

Given the winless record, things cant be too happy in the FC Toronto lockerroom these days, either, but Gargan still respects the group that will take the field against the Fire on Saturday.

"Theyve been a bit unlucky," he said. "They had good results in the Champions League and played some good football at times. I watched some of their games. They have some talented players."

He is sure his Fire teammates wont be caught looking past a struggling opponent to the next home match, on April 28 vs. Seattle.

"Toronto may have no points yet, but we cant change how we play," said Gargan. "Its a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand theyre in last in the Eastern Conference, but our guys are smart enough to know that theres parity in this league. I dont know if your record reflects how good of a team you have."

The Fire hasnt exactly torn up the league yet, anyway, and just playing in the charged-up atmosphere in Toronto could make for a difficult match.

"I dont expect that to change just because theyre 0-5," said Gargan. "Itll be a tough match. It usually is going there and, for the most part, Toronto is a great organization."

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Probably not the way the Blackhawks wanted to start their second half of the season.

After a five-day break, the Blackhawks suffered a brutal 7-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night at the United Center. This coming after a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on home ice last Sunday.

"It was a game we had to win," Quenneville said after Saturday's loss. "Disappointing in a lot of ways."

The Blackhawks needed both goaltenders to get through 60 minutes. Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass combined for 39 saves on 46 shots.

On the offensive side of things, Patrick Kane hit a milestone.

The 29-year-old had two goals and an assist and recorded his 800th career point, becoming the fifth player in franchise history to reach 800 points.

The Blackhawks are now 22-18-6 on the season with 50 points and rank last in the Central Division, five points behind the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

The Blackhawks' schedule doesn't get any easier when the Tampa Bay Lightning — the league-leader in points — come to town on Monday.

See what Quenneville and Kane had to say about Saturday's loss in the video above.

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

When the 2017 season ended, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

He was stocky, slower than he wanted to be and he had just finished a very difficult season that saw him spend time back in the minor leagues at Triple-A after he struggled mightily through the first three months of the season.

Schwarber still put up solid power numbers despite his overall struggles. He slammed 30 home runs, putting him among the Top 15 hitters in the National League and among the Top 35 in all of baseball. But, Schwarber was honest with himself. He knew he could achieve so much more if he was in better shape and improved his mobility, his overall approach at the plate and his defense.

Schwarber was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University as a catcher. However, many scouts around baseball had serious doubts about his ability to catch at the big league level. The Cubs were in love with Schwarber the person and Schwarber the overall hitter and felt they would give him a chance to prove he could catch for them. If he couldn't, then they believed he could play left field adequately enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup.

However, a serious knee injury early in the 2016 season knocked Schwarber out of action for six months and his return to the Cubs in time to assist in their World Series run raised expectations for a tremendous 2017 season. In fact, the expectations for Schwarber were wildly unrealistic when the team broke camp last spring. Manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber in the everyday lineup batting leadoff and playing left field.

But Schwarber's offseason after the World Series consisted of more rehab on his still-healing injured left knee. That kept him from working on his outfield play, his approach at the plate and his overall baseball training. 

Add in all of the opportunities and commitments that come with winning a World Series and it doesn't take much detective work to understand why Schwarber struggled so much when the 2017 season began. This offseason, though, has been radically different. A season-ending meeting with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer led to a decision to take weight off of Schwarber's frame. It also included a decision to change his training program so that he improved his quickness, lateral movement and his overall baseball skills.

"I took two weeks off after the season ended and then I went to work," Schwarber said. "We put a plan together to take weight off and to improve my quickness. I have my meals delivered and I feel great. My baseball work combined with a lot of strength and conditioning has me in the best shape that I have ever been in."

Schwarber disagrees with the pundits who felt manager Maddon's decision to put him in the leadoff spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup contributed to his struggles.

"I have no problem hitting wherever Joe wants to put me," Schwarber said. "I didn't feel any more pressure because I was batting leadoff. I just needed to get back to training for a baseball season as opposed to rehabbing from my knee injury. I'm probably 20-25 pounds lighter and I'm ready to get back to Arizona with the boys and to get ready for the season."

Many around the game were shocked when the Cubs drafted Schwarber with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, but a rival executive who was not surprised by the pick believes that Schwarber can indeed return to the form that made him such a feared hitter during his rookie season as well as his excellent postseason resume.

"Everyone who doubted this kid may end up way off on their evaluation because he is a great hitter and now that he is almost two years removed from his knee injury," the executive said. "He knows what playing at the major-league level is all about I expect him to be a real force in the Cubs lineup.

"Theo and Jed do not want to trade this kid and they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. I think he has a chance to be as good a hitter as they have in their order."

Watch the full 1-on-1 interview with Kyle Schwarber Sunday night on NBC Sports Chicago.