Blackhawks

Napleton, St. Rita capture hockey championship over St. Viator

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Napleton, St. Rita capture hockey championship over St. Viator

By Pat Disabato
YourSeason.com

St. Rita goalie Marty Napleton has been marvelous all season a 31-8-2 mark, including 13 shutouts, and 1.45 goals-against average is testament to that.

Napleton, however, saved arguably his finest performance of the campaign for Friday night.

The junior netminder turned aside 28 shots, many in spectacular fashion, to carry St. Rita to a dominant 5-0 victory over St. Viator in the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois state championship at the United Center. Napleton earned Most Valuable Player honors for his performance.

Stan Sojka (assist) and Ricky Faron paced the offense, scoring two goals each. Jack Warren added a solo tally for the Mustangs.

Marty has been unbelievable all year, Faron said. He stood on his head tonight.

The state title was St. Ritas second in three seasons and the third overall for the storied program. The Mustangs (40-13-4), who won their fifth straight Kennedy Cup championship earlier this season, knocked off defending champion New Trier, the No. 1 seed, Saturday in the semifinals and then No. 2 St. Viator (50-17-5) in a matter of six days.

All the kids played well, said St. Rita coach Craig Ferguson, who just completed his eighth season. We outplayed them. We were the better team tonight.

Trailing 2-0 entering the third period, St. Viator had a chance to mount a comeback with a power play just 47 seconds in. The Lions had two wonderful chances to dent the net, but Napleton denied Jackson Owens on a breakaway and Michael Decker, after being stopped on his first attempt, fired wide on a rebound chance.

The failure to convert appeared to sap life from St. Viator.

That was big to kill that penalty, Faron said. It took away all their momentum.

The Mustangs then put the game away. Warren hammered home a one-timer off a pretty pass from Sojka at 13:33 to make it 3-0. It was Warrens 23rd goal of the season. Just 1:22 later, Sojka went to his backhand to beat goalie Robert Schmidt for a 4-0 advantage. It was the St. Rita captains second goal of the game and 10th of the season.

Then Faron, camped out just right of the crease, made it 5-0 at 9:46. It was Farons second goal of the game and 63rd of the season. Chris Foley and Luke Botica picked up assists.

I think it was our composure, said Foley, who was injured most of the season and was limited to 29 games. Weve played in enough big games where we werent really nervous. Its a bigger stage, but just another game.

It was non-stop action for the first seven minutes of the opening period, void of a single whistle that would have caused play to halt.

Play was finally stopped at 10:07 and would be halted again just four seconds later, when Sojka batted home his own rebound at 10:03 for a 1-0 lead.

The early deficit seemed to wake-up St. Viator, which picked up the pace considerably the rest of the period. The Lions were awarded two power plays one at 9:35 and another at 3:38, but failed to capitalize. A lack of effort wasnt the problem; The Lions had scoring chances, but Napleton was a brick wall.

The junior absolutely stoned St. Viators David Kellner, whose rebound from just outside the crease was miraculously stopped by a sprawling Napleton. Moments later, Owens one-timer from the slot was kicked aside by Napleton.

Just 22 seconds after the Lions second power play elapsed and with 1:16 remaining in the opening period, Faron scored to extend the lead to 2-0. Faron made a nifty move around the Lions Ryan Santorsola just inside the blue line, before completing a give-and-go with Foley.

The score may as well been 10-0 with the way Napleton was playing. Slap shots, snap shots, wrist shots, breakaways, rebounds, you name it, St. Viator tried it. Nothing, however, could make its way past Napleton. The Lions Sean Thornton will have nightmares thinking about Napletons sliding blocker save that preserved the shutout late in the third.

After the New Trier game, I had a lot of confidence, Napleton said. It carried over to this game. I was just seeing the puck well. This is an unbelievable feeling. To win the Kennedy Cup and state, fortunately we had the guys and coaches to do it.

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.