USWNT's Tobin Heath: 'I feel a great freedom out on the pitch'


USWNT's Tobin Heath: 'I feel a great freedom out on the pitch'

As the U.S. women's national team inches closer toward this summer's World Cup in Canada, Jill Ellis' side is reeling from Sunday's penultimate send-off match, an impressive performance that generated a decisive 5-1 victory over Mexico.

With the result already placed beyond doubt, midfielder Tobin Heath's nifty footwork to fool El Tri defender Kenti Robles before assisting on Abby Wambach's second goal and the U.S.' fifth put the cherry on top of the cake.

On Monday, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and former North Carolina Tar Heel spoke with CSN about it, her partnership with Glukos and more.   

Q: More countries seem to be gaining ground and figuring out how to compete with the top nations. How much more of a challenge is it now for the USWNT to match that in the women's game?

A: It's great for the women's game right now. The evolution is crazy nowadays. There's so many countries that can compete; there's not just those top three. That's what's really exciting about this World Cup. The competitiveness is enormous. For us as a national team, we've had to continue to evolve as well to be able to stay at the top. That goes into our preparation and everything else that we're doing. Fortunately for us, we've got a great squad. We've got an awesome game plan, we have a tactical awareness; we know what we're supposed to be doing and how we're supposed to be playing, and we have extreme depth in talent to be able to execute what we're supposed to.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your Fire gear]

Q: Head coach Jill Ellis has been in and around the national team fold for a while. How would you describe your/the team's relationship with her and how much does that familiarity factor in to possibly helping guide this team to a third World Cup title?

A: Jill is our leader and we're all very comfortable with her. She has a clear game plan, and she does a great job in allowing us to be ourselves on the pitch and vocalizing the things that she wants in the way that she wants us to be playing. In that way, everybody has a good relationship with her and she knows us very well because she's been around the team for a while. Now she's able to implement the way that she sees us being successful.

Q: You pulled off the elástico, more commonly known as the flip-flap move in English, to set up Abby Wambach for the fifth goal in Sunday's 5-1 win over Mexico. Does that epitomize your playing style and that creativity you try to implement on the field?

A: I feel a great freedom out on the pitch. I like playing a certain style and a certain way, and you want it to be effective as well. That move was great last night because we got a goal out of it, which is the most important part - to contribute to the team's success. I love being out on the field; I love playing for this team. It's a joy and it's also fun because we're good and we want to win, so that always makes playing a lot more fun.

Q: Can you describe the new partnership you have with Glukos and how it tailors to you as a professional athlete?

A: Nowadays, there's such a fine line in performance for professional athletes, and we're always trying to get one or two percent better in everything that we do. I'm excited about GLUKOS because it's a product that allows me to do that as a professional athlete. It has no additives, it's all-natural, it's based on glucose - which is the good sugar - which is fantastic. It's a product that, as an athlete, you want to put into your body. We're always very conscious about what we're putting into our bodies, and, for me, this is one that I feel great about and makes me feel great.

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

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


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."