Blackhawks

Proviso West adds eight more teams to holiday tournament

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Proviso West adds eight more teams to holiday tournament

Who's next? Who will be the last eight teams fill out the 32-team field for the 2012 Proviso West Holiday Tournament? Chicago Public League? Chicago Catholic League? Downstate? Out-of-state?

"We added eight suburban teams. Now we can focus on non-suburban schools...city, private, Downstate and out-of-state," said tournament director Joe Spagnolo after announcing eight new schools that marks the first expansion of the state's premier holiday basketball event since it went from eight to 16 teams in 1962, a year after it was founded by then athletic director Walt Sawosko.

"We never have had an out-of-state team, either from Indiana or Missouri or Iowa or Wisconsin. And we wouldn't invite a prep school. We like to have geographic balance. For example, in the Public League, we'd like to have two from the north, two from the south and two from the west. We have three now--Morgan Park, Von Steuben and Brooks. We like the first group of teams we have gotten."

Downers Grove South, Glenbard East, Maine South, Nazareth Academy, Oswego, St. Charles East, Stevenson and Wheaton Academy will participate in next December's inaugural six-day, 32-team event.

They will join this year's 16 teams--Proviso East, Proviso West, Benet, St. Patrick, New Trier, Brooks, Fenwick, Glenbrook North, Hillcrest, Hinsdale Central, Morgan Park, Morton, Homewood-Flossmoor, Rockford Auburn, St. Joseph and Von Steuben.

Downers Grove South and Maine South played at York last month. St. Charles East and Wheaton Academy played at Glenbard West, Oswego and Glenbard East played at Bloomington, Nazareth played at Hinsdale South and Stevenson played at Wheeling.

"We had to wait until other tournaments were over before officially making this announcement," Spagnolo said. "We didn't solicit teams. We talked in the summer that if we expanded and an opening came up, would you be interested? But we didn't want to take too many teams from any one tournament, not more than two."

Spagnolo said he received letters and inquiries from several schools over the summer. He knows some desirable schools are committed. Simeon coach Robert Smith has made it clear that his team will play at Pontiac "for as long as they will have us." De La Salle will play in Florida. And Blue Island Eisenhower is leaving Hinsdale South for Centralia.

He said the response to Proviso West's new 32-team, six-day format has been largely positive. "People like the the atmosphere and the idea of seeing different teams. We ran the idea before our workers because we made the final decision, the ones who have to take the brunt of the expansion, and we got few complaints. They are all basketball fans," Spagnolo said.

But who will he persuade to fill the last eight spots? Possibilities are Farragut, which was a great attraction in the mid-1990s when future NBA star Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields were there, St. Rita, Orr, North Chicago and Crane.

In fact, the addition of the GarnettFields team was a stroke of luck. In 1994, Collins dropped out and Proviso West was looking for a team and ended up getting Farragut at the last minute, before Garnett made his decision to transfer from South Carolina to Farragut for his senior year.

"Sometimes you get a diamond in the rough," Spagnolo said. "You don't want to move too quickly to fill the last few spots because something can open up or kids transfer at the last minute. Summer basketball has turned into free agency. There always are diamonds in the rough that come up in the summer."

He said he plans to announce a few more schools before the state tournament begins, then complete the 32-team field during the summer. He has gotten interest from out-of-state schools in the past so he isn't in a big hurry to fill the last few spots.

Meanwhile, Spagnolo has forged ahead to make preparations for the 2012 tournament. He already has filled all 183 officiating assignments for the six-day, three-officials-per-game, 61-game event.

"Traditionally, we are the first holiday tournament to announce our assignments (on Jan. 1), before anyone else," he said. "It gives other tournaments an opportunity to contract their officials."

And he is in the process of renting two wooden portable floors, portable scoreboards, NBA baskets and seating for 1,000 spectators for the 18 consolation games that will be played in the adjacent fieldhouse. All first-round and championship round games will be played in the main gym.

His biggest fear? Now that the tournament has been expanded from four to six days, there is more chance of being affected by bad weather. The tournament will start on Saturday, Dec. 22 with play continuing on Dec. 26-29 and the championship being conducted on the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 31.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."