Blackhawks

Offseason heating up for Fire as draft's second phase nears

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Offseason heating up for Fire as draft's second phase nears

The Fire was the only club to make a selection in last weeks first stage of Major League Soccers re-entry draft. More of the circuits 19 teams are sure to participate in Fridays second phase.
Maicon Santos, a forward for D.C. United, was picked by the Fire last week. Clubs picking in the first phase must give the selected player a 5 percent pay raise over this current contract. In the second phase clubs and players can negotiate a contract and teams can even draft the players they put on the original list.
That means the Fire could still keep goalkeeper Jay Nolly, midfielder Corben Bone or defender Dan Gargan. They werent claimed in the first stage, Gargan being a last-minute addition to the list of available players announced by the league.
Thirteen of the 52 players on the leagues initial list withdrew from the re-entry process just before the draft began. Some, most notably the Fires Gonzalo Segares, reached a contract agreement with their former team just before the drafting began.
Among the players still on the list for the second phase are Juan Pablo Angel and Danny Califf of Chivas USA, Conor Casey and Tyrone Marshall of Colorado, Julian DeGuzman and Kevin Hartman of FC Dallas, and Ramiro Corrales and Khari Stephenson of San Jose. Former Fire players Chad Barrett (Los Angeles) and John Thorrington (Vancouver) are also available in the draft.
MLS started conducting a re-entry draft in 2010, and the Fire acquired defender Cory Gibbs that time. A starter until knee injury sidelined him last March, Gibbs announced his retirement last month. The Fire has the No. 11 pick in this years second phase of the re-entry draft.
While that draft is in progress the Fire will begin its fifth annual open tryout at the Bridgeview Sports & Soccer Dome. About 150 players will participate on Friday, and the clubs technical staff will invite the most promising ones back for another session on Saturday. After Saturdays selection the staff will name one player to participate in Januarys first phase of preseason training.
Pari Pantazopoulos, winner of the open tryout in 2011, survived three stages of preseason training and spent the full season on the roster. He made his debut with the first team in a U.S. Open Cup match against Rochester and also got playing time in an international friendly against Englands Manchester United. Pantazopoulos, however, didnt make the roster for the 2012 campaign.
Red Stars names coaches
The Chicago Red Stars, preparing for a return to the new, still unnamed womens professional league, will retain Rory Dames as head coach. He joined the Red Stars after their first venture into a womens major league but helped the club to the Womens Professional Soccer League finals in 2011 and the WPSL Elite Finals last season. The Red Stars also won the 2012 U.S. National Cup.
Dames first assistant will be Stephanie Foster, a former Northwestern star who coached her alma maters team from 2006-11. Also on the staff will be second assistant Christian Lavers and goalkeeper coach Trae Manny.
Soul elevates Marojevic
Manny Rojas was replaced as head coach of the Chicago Soul, a new team in the Major Indoor Soccer League, this week after his team got off to a 2-7 start. Novi Marojevic, a mainstay with three Major Indoor Soccer League clubs the Chicago Storm, Rockford Rampage and Chicago Riot has replaced Rojas.
Marojevic will make his head-coaching debut on Friday when the defending MISL champion Milwaukee Wave visits the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. Milwaukees visit will mark only the second home game for the Soul.
MLS names SuperDraft hopefuls
The MLS SuperDraft will be held Jan. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis and the players up for selection there will participate in a combine Jan. 11-15 at Central Broward Regional Park in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., prior to the selection process. The combine is again being held in conjunction with the National Soccer Coaches Association Convention.
MLS announced 54 collegiate players who will participate in the combine. They include goalkeeper Luis Soffner of NCAA champion Indiana and two Notre Dame mainstays midfielder Dillon Powers and forward Ryan Finley.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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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

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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.