Cubs

Boehm is big man at New Trier

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Boehm is big man at New Trier

Connor Boehm, the 6-foot-7, 235-pound mover and shaker on New Trier's basketball team, played baseball until his freshman year. Then he realized that he had fun on a basketball court, that basketball was his future, that he wanted to mix basketball and academics in college.

"I didn't like baseball," Boehm said. "If you strike out, you don't get another at-bat for two or three innings. In basketball, if you miss a shot, you might get another one the next time down the floor. It was frustrating in baseball. Two strikeouts and your day is done. In basketball, there are a lot of other things you can do to redeem yourself."

New Trier coach Scott Fricke has the same philosophy as he prepares his team for the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. The Trevians are 10-1 after beating Fenwick 62-57 on Tuesday in the opening round. Boehm scored 17 points while point guard David Bragiel had 18 and Steven Cook 15.

"We take the Proviso West tournament as an early state tournament," Fricke said. "It is unforgiving. You make or miss one shot and it is the difference between winning one game or three games. You play a good team in every game. It is time to gauge ourselves at this point.

"Where are we at? Where do we need to get to in order to play well in the real state tournament? Proviso West is a state tournament in December. But if you lose, the season isn't over. Now you play against great players and great size. Can we match up to a great team?"

Boehm is looking to answer those questions, too. His role has changed every year at New Trier. As a sophomore on a 22-4 team, he was a grinder who scrapped for offensive rebounds and dived for loose balls on the floor. Last year, on a 15-11 team, he was asked to score a lot and averaged 20 points per game. This year? Whether he likes it or not, this is his team.

"He is banging down low and we also want him to get assists, to kick the ball back to the guards," Fricke said. "It doesn't bother him that his scoring average has dipped a bit (17 ppg). All he cares about is winning. He also has developed his perimeter game. He averages one three-pointer a game. We have plays for him to shoot from the outside."

Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye like what they see in Boehm and the New Trier team.

"Connor Boehm personifies the blue-collar type of player who brings his lunch bucket to work every day and simply does his job," Harv Schmidt said. "He has a strong frame and good hands, both of which he utilizes well around the basket. As a result, he is a consistent scorer with his back to the basket and is strong on the glass.

"New Trier is yet another team that knows how to utilize its strengths and exploit its opponent's weaknesses. They have a little bit of everything -- strong post play with Connor Boehm, an athletic open-court player in Austin Angel and others who are good shooters from the perimeter and play hard-nosed defense. New Trier is right there with Warren as the premier team in Chicago's north suburbs."

The Trevians' only loss was to Warren 64-46 on Dec. 3. "Warren's size was too much for us. They killed us on the boards," Fricke said. Boehm was limited to 10 points and five rebounds. But, as is the case with the Proviso West tournament, one loss in December isn't a season-ender. "But it means there are things we can improve on," Boehm said.

"We can really be dangerous," Boehm said. "We have a combination of good guards and good shooters and I have to do what I need to do down low. We aren't the biggest team but I'm the biggest player on the team so the responsibility falls to me to do the dirty work, to hit the offensive boards and get defensive rebounds."

Coming off last season, he knew he had to put on weight and get a lot stronger if he was going to dominate under the boards or hold his own against more athletic opponents. It is his senior year and he desperately wants to win the sectional championship, New Trier's first since 2005.

Boehm is surrounded by 6-foot-4 senior Austin Angel (14 ppg), 5-foot-10 senior point guard David Bragiel (five points per game, four assists), 6-foot-4 junior Steven Cook (10
points per game) and 5-foot-10 junior Reid Berman (six points per game). The bench is headed by 5-foot-10 sophomore Jordan Thomas and 6-foot-8 junior Aaron Angel, Austin's brother.

Austin Angel missed most of last season after undergoing emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix after the third game. He came back for the state tournament but never got into playing shape. Now he is back and healthy. He scored 24 points against Niles West.

Bragiel has good bloodlines. His grandfather, Jim Bragiel, played at Morton and Northwestern. "He doesn't get mentioned very much. But he has the heart of a champion. We aren't the same team when he isn't on the floor. He holds our team together. We can't play without him," Fricke said.

Fricke, a 1989 graduate of Riverside-Brookfield, is in his fourth year as head coach at New Trier. He coached at Sycamore and Fenwick before landing at the Winnetka school, becoming Mel Sheets' freshman coach in 1995. It was Sheets' last year and Fricke joined new coach Rick Malnati's staff. When Malnati left, he was selected over a field that included some high-profile state championship coaches.

"I knew the New Trier system. I learned from Sheets and Malnati," he said. "It was a smooth transition. When Rick left, the program was in good shape. I'm continuing to do a lot of the same things. But you can't run the same system year after year."

Fricke changed the offense, preferring a Princeton-style approach to make better use of his players' talent. "We will run the system that gives our kids the best chance to succeed. This year, we have a lot of good guards so I changed the offense to four outside and one inside," he said.

He believes his current squad compares favorably to Malnati's 25-8 team that finished fourth in the 2002 state tournament and the 22-4 team of two years ago that featured Alex Rossi and Fred Helbring.

"We have a lot of poise. Nothing rattles them," Fricke said. "We have enough firepower to play different styles, fast-paced or slow down. We can execute in half-court or take advantage of Boehm's size and our outside shooting. We are well-rounded an versatile."

To prepare for this season, Boehm went into the weight room and added 20 pounds of muscle. He knew he couldn't be the fastest or most agile player on the floor but he could be the strongest. "There were times last year where an extra push would have been helpful," he said.

At the same time, he put his academic portfolio in order. Education is very important to him. One brother is at Bucknell, another at Harvard. He chose Dartmouth over Cal-Poly, Holy Cross and Lafayette.

"Dartmouth is the right fit for me. It has good academics and I will have a chance to get playing time as a freshman." Boehm said. "If I was 6-10 and could jump out of the gym, the NBA would be my ultimate goal. But I'm 6-foot-7 and can't jump out of the gym. Getting a good education is important to me."

So is closing his high school career on a high note, preferably a trip to Peoria in March with his teammates. To play, not to watch.

"The program has been successful in the past few years but we didn't go far in the playoff," Boehm said. "It is important to bring the team Downstate and farther. We have a lot of guards who can play and you need good guard play in the state tournament. They ignite everything. With good guard play comes good post play.

"I've been with these guys for two or three years. We carpool together. We have team dinners together. We all get along. I've heard the coach say: 'This is the hardest working team I've ever been around.' We have lots of guys who stay after practice to shoot. They care about the team."

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks on wrong side of history 

Earlier this year the Blackhawks made history by appearing in five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB history has ever done.

But Sunday they found themselves on the wrong side of it after allowing 33 shots on goal in the second period alone. It tied a franchise high for most given up in a single period — March 4, 1941 vs. Boston — and is the most an NHL team has allowed since 1997-98 when shots by period became an official stat.

"It's pretty rare to be seeing that much work in a period," said Cam Ward, who had a season-high 49 saves. "But oh man, I don't even know what to say to be honest. It's tough. We know that we need to be better especially in our home building, too. And play with some pride and passion. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was lacking at times tonight. The old cliche you lose as a team and overall as a team we weren't good enough tonight."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was a tough, tough period in all aspects. I don’t think we touched the puck at all and that was the part that was disturbing, against a good hockey team."

2. Alexandre Fortin is on the board

After thinking he scored his first career NHL goal in Columbus only to realize his shot went off Marcus Kruger's shin-pad, Fortin made up for it one night later and knows there wasn't any question about this one.

The 21-year-old undrafted forward, playing in his his fifth career game, sprung loose for a breakaway early in the first period and received a terrific stretch pass by Jan Rutta from his own goal line to Fortin, who slid it underneath Louis Domingue for his first in the big leagues. It's his second straight game appearing on the scoresheet after recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"It's fun," Fortin said. "I think it would be a little bit more fun to get your first goal [while getting] two points for your team, but I think we ... just have to [turn the page to the] next chapter and just play and be ready for next game."

3. Brandon Saad's most noticeable game?

There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Saad was certainly one of them. He had arguably his best game of the season, recording seven shot attempts (three on goal) with two of them hitting the post (one while the Blackhawks were shorthanded).

He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and five against at 5-on-5, which was by far the best on his team.

"He started OK and got way better," Quenneville said of Saad. "Had the puck way more, took it to the net a couple of times, shorthanded."

4. Special teams still a work in progress

The Blackhawks entered Sunday with the 29th-ranked power play and 25th-ranked penalty kill, and are still working to get out from the bottom of the league in both departments. In an effort to change up their fortunes with the man advantage, the Blackhawks split up their two units for more balance.

They had four power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and cashed in on one of them, but it didn't matter as it was too little, too late in the third period — although they did become the first team to score a power-play goal against the Lightning this season (29 chances).

"Whether we're looking for balance or we're just looking for one to get hot, I think our power play has been ordinary so far," Quenneville said before the game. "We need it to be more of a threat."

Four more minor penalties were committed by the Blackhawks, giving them eight in the past two games. That's one way they can shore up the penalty kill, by cutting back on taking them.