Blackhawks

Irish have shot at resume-making win in Oklahoma

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Irish have shot at resume-making win in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Ask anybody on Notre Dame, and they'll give you the same line: we're taking it one game at a time, this game is just as big as the rest, etc., etc.

That's the mantra coach Brian Kelly has instilled in the team, keeping any discussions of BCS aspirations as muted as possible. But since Notre Dame won't look at the big picture, here's what it is:

If Notre Dame goes into Norman on Saturday and wins, they'll have a legitimate stake in the national title discussion. Of course, that's much easier said than done.

"It'll just be a great environment, loud crowd, everybody against us," defensive tackle Louis Nix said. "We just gotta prove some people wrong, try to come out with a win."

Notre Dame has only played one true road game this year, a 20-3 win over a Michigan State team that looks much weaker than its No. 10 ranking on Sept. 15. Bob Stoops is 79-4 at Owen Field during his tenure in Norman, a number that sets the odds well against Notre Dame heading into Saturday.

"It's an incredible accomplishment, and obviously, you know, they're a really good football team and they've been a really good football team," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "But we're going to prepare the way we've always been preparing and we're not going to do anything different."

But a recent blueprint does exist for beating Oklahoma in Norman, thanks to No. 3 Kansas State. Collin Klein and K-State beat Oklahoma in Norman 24-19 earlier in the season, partly due to forcing a few Landry Jones mistakes. Irish safety Zeke Motta has seen the film of that game, and noticed something that could work to Notre Dame's advantage.

"Landry Jones has the ability to be a little mobile in the pocket to extend the play if he needs to, he has that athletic ability," Motta prefaced. "But I think looking at the Kansas State game, you see the receivers who are coming off and they're getting jammed up a bit and slowing them down, so taking a little bit of speed off helps."

Taking away those quick passes could allow Notre Dame's pass rush to hit Jones early and knock him out of his comfort zone. Jones has been locked in the last few weeks, largely thanks to only being hit a combined three times in OU's last three games. K-State got to Jones five times, with two sacks and a forced fumble.

"He's gotten into a good rhythm," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "He hasn't been disrupted very much. And I think, like most good quarterbacks, if you can get into a good rhythm and you're not disrupted, you're going to be pretty effective. You can see that's been the case."

If Notre Dame can replicate the pressure K-State put on Jones, they should be able to avoid a shootout. Chances are, if Notre Dame is to win, it's going to be on the backs of their defense.

"You're not going to win those games," Kelly said of high-scoring contests against OU. "So it's going to start on the defensive side of the ball for us and to keep the points down, and then obviously find a way to get some scores. And it's going to be hard on both ends. I think we're going to see two teams that are going to be really pushing hard to get points on the board on both sides."

Keeping Oklahoma's points down has a major advantage for Notre Dame's offense, too. If OU jumps out to a big lead early, Notre Dame may be forced to try to pass their way back into the game -- and that's with a quarterback -- Everett Golson -- who will start just his second career road game.

But if Notre Dame is able to get the ball to Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson on the ground, the Irish could find a way to set the tempo for the game.

A lot needs to go right for Notre Dame to pull off a win on Saturday, but Notre Dame has already done those things in previous games this year. And a win in Norman would be a signature win for Notre Dame's national title hopes, no matter how much the team downplays that notion.

"At this point every game is a signature game," Te'o said. "Every game is important. We approach every game that way, and I think we've come a long way and I think at this point in time in the season every game is a signature game."

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

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USA TODAY

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

It’s official: The Blackhawks are headed back outdoors.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will be held at Notre Dame Stadium, featuring the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1.

"The Blackhawks and Bruins, two of our most historic franchises, will be meeting outdoors for the first time at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Notre Dame Stadium, with its capacity approaching 80,000, will provide an ideal setting for this ground-breaking event and will host the largest live audience ever to witness a game by either of these teams."

"The Chicago Blackhawks are honored to be participating in this marquee event at an iconic venue like Notre Dame Stadium," Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said in a statement. "The University of Notre Dame has strong alumni roots in both Chicago and Boston, and, with an established rivalry between the Blackhawks and Bruins, fans will be treated to an exciting game in a unique atmosphere. We appreciate the invitation to the game and look forward to what will be a great day for both franchises and the National Hockey League."

It's the sixth time the Blackhawks will be playing outdoors, and their league-leading fourth Winter Classic. The Blackhawks are 1-4-0 in outdoor games, and are winless in three Winter Classic games.

Chicago's only outdoor win came against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stadium Series Classic, a 5-1 victory at Soldier Field.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.