Blackhawks

Mayes is Aurora Christian's all-around star

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Mayes is Aurora Christian's all-around star

A reporter interrupted Brandon Mayes after a recent practice session. Aurora Christian's 5-foot-11, 182-pound senior tailbackwideoutfree safety was taking an ice bath...15 to 20 minutes, three gallons of ice, 40 degrees, cool.

"I play both ways and take a lot of beating," Mayes said. "So I take an ice bath after every practice and after every game, either at home in a whirlpool or at school in garbage cans. I do it to stay fresh and on top of my game."

It is hard to top Mayes' game. Coach Don Beebe said he is "arguably the best football player I have coached when you take everything into consideration...leadership, skill, off-season work ethic, two-way player, leading tackler, one of our top guys on offense."

Mayes is one of the leaders on a team that Beebe calls "the best team we have had, talent-wise," better than last year's 13-1 Class 3A champion.

"We've never had this many Division I players, three who are committed and two others who will be. We've never had that before. For a small school, that's a great feat."

Mayes, who is committed to Northern Illinois as a cornerback, has rushed for 760 yards and six touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 452 yards and four touchdowns. On defense, he has made 102 tackles, including 45 solo, 15 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions. "He plays like a linebacker," Beebe said.

The other Division I recruits are wide receiver Chad Beebe, the coach's son, and tailback Joel Bouganon, who also are committed to Northern Illinois. Almost certain to sign Division I scholarships are 6-foot-4, 260-pound tackleend Josh Kok, who was selected as the Suburban Christian Blue's Lineman of the Year over Michigan-bound Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, and 6-foot-3, 193-pound wide receiver Cory Windle.

They and their teammates will face a tough test at 2 p.m. Saturday when Aurora Christian (11-1) plays at Sterling Newman (12-0) in a Class 3A semifinal. Sterling Newman is a perennial small-school power. Coach Mike Papoccia, in his 33rd year, won state titles in 1990, 1994, 2004 and 2010 and finished second in 1993 and 1998,

"We play tough competition (Montini, Immaculate Conception, St. Francis, Marmion) so that isn't a factor. But they have as good a defense as we will face," Beebe said. "We have to get their offense off the field. They pound the ball down your throat. We can't turn the ball over. We must start fast and play smart football early and get on a roll."

One statistic concerns Beebe. Last week, in a 49-14 victory over Winnebago, his defense allowed 24 first downs and 320 yards rushing. In the last two games, the defense (which starts six juniors and one sophomore) has given up 600 yards. "And this is the best defense we have had," he said.

"But this team has moxie. They expect to win. That is a big key, a mindset. You have to stay hungry and humble and not get complacent. Everybody talks us up like we're really good but you have to remember that you are never as good as people say you are or as bad as they say you are."

Beebe can say only good things about Mayes. "He is the consummate leader. He is the one kid every coach wishes he had who has a warrior mentality. He hates to lose and loves to compete. He will lead his team to the last down. When he was a freshman, we knew he would be special," the coach said.

Mayes started playing football in the Aurora Superstars' midget division when he was 8 years old. He also participated in basketball, baseball and track. One by one, however, he dropped the other sports to concentrate on football.

"I didn't feel as much passion in the other sports as I felt in football," he said. "I'm one of those guys who likes to compete all the time. I just love the atmosphere of football, the Friday night lights. Homecoming is awesome. You don't find that in any other sport.

"It is a big stress relief for me when I'm playing football. I'm in my own little zone. I love playing both ways. I love to be on the field. Ilove playing defense. God has given me this platform to play football and I want to use it to honor Him."

When Richard McNutt was recruiting Mayes as a cornerback for Northern Illinois, he didn't have to be reminded that cornerback is one of the toughest positions (the others are quarterback and left offensive tackle) for college and NFL coaches to fill.

"I like covering bigger guys," Mayes said. "Sometimes you find yourself out there all alone. It's your own piece of real estate, a big challenge. If it was my choice, I'd play cornerback."

Aurora Christian's 2012 team has been on a mission since last November. On the Monday after winning the state title, Mayes and other underclassmen reported to the weight room ready to lift.

"It was a testament to how hard we work together," Mayes said. "We never think about losing. We believe firmly in our team. We know Sterling Newman is a great team but we never go into a game thinking we will lose.

"It would be devastating to lose. When you work hard for something and it doesn't pan out, it is devastating. This team has two common goals that our other teams have had--to honor God and have a winning attitude.

"We don't measure ourselves on defense on how many points we give up but if everyone did their job and played to their full potential. Last year's seniors instilled a good work ethic in us. It goes from the sophomores to the juniors to the seniors. It keeps the program going. That's what great programs do."

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.