Blackhawks

Proviso East stays perfect

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Proviso East stays perfect

By Paul Johnson
YourSeason.com
When Proviso East legend Donnie Boyce took over his alma mater this season, few could have imagined the run his Pirates have put together.That journey has one more trip left in it, to the Class 4A state tournament in Peoria this weekend, after surviving a strong test from West Aurora in Tuesdays Hinsdale Central Class 4A Supersectional, 62-51.The Pirates roll into the state semifinals Friday at 6:30 p.m. against Rockford Auburn with a spotless 31-0 record.I dont think anybody, Year 1, would expect us to be 31-0, guaranteed spot at state, Boyce said. But the job is not done yet. Weve almost achieved the goal that we set at the beginning of the year. Right now, Im just so emotional.A 9-0 run in the first quarter provided the distance that the Pirates needed to keep the game Blackhawks (25-6) at bay. A three-pointer from Paris Burns started the run, followed by a jumper from Sterling Brown and two buckets from senior Keith Carter (game-high 18 points) to open a 12-3 lead.But West Aurora was never fully in the rearview mirror. A three-pointer from Blackhawks senior Juwan Starks at the end of the first quarter, followed by five quick points from Jontrel Walker to start the second, cut the lead to 19-17.We got off to a good start, Boyce said. They made some adjustments. We came out a little flat in the second quarter. I think they thought they won the game in the first quarter. But I thought our guys did a good job of taking their punches and we came back with three or four and we were eventually able to win the game.The Blackhawks were unable to capitalize on Browns foul trouble and the Pirates sluggish play in the second, however, going only 2 of 10 from the field with five turnovers in the quarter, heading into the half down, 29-21.That proved to be enough of a margin for the Pirates to survive. West Aurora never got the lead lower than six points, but Proviso East never led by more than 13 points.They didnt go away, Carter said. We had a good first quarter and they kind of got back in it. Our coach told us not to worry about it, everybody makes runs. We just had to make another run.Paris Lee scored 13 to go with five steals for the Pirates. Brown and Burns each scored nine. Walker scored 12 for West Aurora.Starks went for 17 points and 11 rebounds in the loss for West, becoming the schools all-time leading scorer in the process. His rebound putback with 1:35 left in the second quarter helped him surpass Billy Taylors mark, set from 1987-91. The new record now stands at 1,627 points.We didnt capitalize on their mistakes, Starks said. We were still in the game, but not really. It was real tough. Im real proud of my team.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.