Blackhawks

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."

Six thoughts on Blackhawks-Penguins trade involving Olli Maatta and what's next

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USA TODAY

Six thoughts on Blackhawks-Penguins trade involving Olli Maatta and what's next

Here are six thoughts on Saturday's trade that centered around the Blackhawks acquiring defenseman Olli Maatta from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round pick:

1. What Maatta brings to the table

It's no secret that the Blackhawks' biggest weakness in 2018-19 was the defensive inefficiencies. They allowed the second-most goals per game (3.55) and and most high-danger chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (13.7), and the blue line group was a big reason for that.

So Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman tried getting out in front of the trade market by acquiring Maatta, who's a defensive-minded defenseman and logged more than 120 minutes on the penalty kill last season, which would've ranked third among Blackhawks defensemen. And he played in only 60 games. Expect Maatta to play a large role in that department for the Blackhawks, who finished tied for the worst penalty kill percentage in 30 years.

Maatta doesn't provide much on offense and skating is considered to be a real concern, but his defensive metrics are strong. According to The Point, Maatta ranked ninth among NHL defensemen in blocked shots per game (2.05), 26th in defensive zone puck battles won (2.45), 40th in blocked defense zone passes (3.77) and 47th in outlet passes (8.95). 

"There's a lot of things to like about Olli Maatta," Bowman said on a Sunday morning conference call. "Certainly his strength in the last few seasons has been his ability to be a good, reliable defender. He's got good size, he's not necessarily a bruising defenseman, but I like the fact he's got an active stick. He's good at using his body to shield the front of the net. And I think he's shown the ability to be used in several different situations over the past few years for Pittsburgh. They have some high-end offensive players there, so he didn't really get the power-play minutes. He was probably more used as a penalty killer and that's something that we certainly want to improve next year.

"There's a variety of ways to go about that, and certainly bringing in some players that have shown the ability to do that is one way to accomplish our goal. I just like his all-round game. Good instincts with the puck. He finds the open man. Can move it quick, move it up to the forwards. The biggest thing is just his ability to play a sound, defensive game and I think that's important. That's one aspect that we weren't strong in last year and I think he's going to give us that ability to match up against players. With his pedigree — he's a young guy, but to have already played over 300 games and almost 70 playoff games and a couple Stanley Cups — there's an experience level that he has at a young age and I think he's going to fit in real nicely with our group."

2. Injury history

The one other area of concern on Maatta is his inability to stay healthy. He just finished his sixth season in the NHL, but he's played a full 82 games in only one of them. His injury history includes concussion, hand, hip and most recently shoulder. He also had a health scare in 2014 when he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his thyroid.

Whether or not the accumulation of those injuries has played a role in his overall progression is unclear, but the Blackhawks aren't worried about it. 

"I would say that’s part of being a hockey player, is it’s not that uncommon for guys to get hurt," Bowman said. "It’s a contact sport. And he’s missed some time, but I don’t think he’s had an unusual number of injuries. Pittsburgh was very forthright in everything, we certainly were able to check out all those things. There’s no long-term implications of the injuries. They healed up, he’s fine. From that perspective, it wasn’t a big issue. If it was the same injury year after year, I guess you might have a concern. But it wasn’t necessarily the case. As a result, that wasn’t a big stumbling block in the trade."

3. What went wrong last season?

One year after tying a career-high with 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 82 games, Maatta had a difficult time matching that production this past season. He scored only one goal and had 13 assists in 60 games. Obviously, a shoulder injury sidelined him for six weeks in February and March, but he struggled to find his groove upon returning.

Maatta played in Game 1 of the first round against the New York Islanders, but admitted he "had a bad Game 1" after having a minus-2 rating and found himself watching from the press box in the final three games as the Penguins were swept. Maatta took ownership of his play and hopes a fresh start in Chicago will benefit him.

"Obviously I wasn't happy," Maatta said. "I'm not going to say it was a terrible season, but I knew I can be way better than I played last season. I don't think I was able to do defensively as much as I wanted this year. I don't think it was a terrible season defensively or anything like that, but I expect way more from myself offensively than I had last season.

"I think [Chicago is] a new opportunity, that's how you have to look at it, and I'm just trying to better myself through that way."

4. Trading from a position of strength

Every team looking for a top-four defenseman has to explore the trade market to acquire one because there just aren't many available via free agency. And the ones that are unrestricted on July 1 will cost a lot, both in term and dollar value, which is fine, but there's no guarantee because bidding wars ensue on the open market and it's all about the players' preference.

With Dominik Kubalik and Swedish forward Anton Wedin signing entry-level contracts and expected to battle for an Opening Day roster spot, the Blackhawks knew they had a surplus of secondary forwards and used Dominik Kahun to fill a need elsewhere. And it was important for the Blackhawks not to subtract too much from the current roster or pipeline to do it.

"The strength of our team now is we got a lot of depth on the wing," Bowman said. "Looking at some of our young players that are getting ready to take on a bigger role, you can look at guys like Dylan Sikura. He didn't have the offensive success at the NHL level but I liked the way he played when he was with us last year in Chicago. It felt like his game was real effective other than the production part. Then when he was in Rockford I really liked the way he was able to score down there. So I think he's not far from being a guy and he's got sort of a similar skill set that Dominik (Kahun) has.

"We have a couple new players coming in from Europe in Anton Wedin and Dominik Kubalik. There's three young players that didn't play on our team last year very much and I think they're all ready to take a spot. So I feel like we had the ability to make a move there without damaging our team. ... We were sort of dealing from a position of strength which made it a very comfortable deal from our perspective. It's hard to acquire young defensemen. You look around the league and there's not a lot of them available and then when they are you usually got to pay a premium for somebody who's under contract or there's a manageable number. We like the way this played out for us."

5. Contract situation

Maatta agreed to a six-year, $24.5 million extension with the Penguins in 2016. He has three years left on that contract, which carries a $4.083 million cap hit. He's now the third-highest paid defenseman on the Blackhawks, surpassing Connor Murphy ($3.85 million cap hit) but staying under Duncan Keith ($5.538 million) and Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million).

When Maatta signed his contract, it included a modified no-trade clause in the final two years, according to Cap Friendly. Because he was traded prior to the NTC taking effect, the Blackhawks will have the option to either honor that clause or nullify it.

We saw a similiar situation play out when P.K. Subban was traded from Montreal to Nashville in 2016. Subban's eight-year deal with the Canadiens began during the 2014-15 season. He had a no-movement clause that was supposed to kick in on July 1 ahead of the 2016-17 season, but the Canadiens traded Subban on June 29 — two days before the start of the new calendar year. The Predators did not honor his NMC, respectfully.

6. What's next?

Before making the trade on Saturday, it was reported that the Blackhawks were interested in landing a top-four defenseman. Maatta has played top-four minutes in the past and did so, most notably, during the Penguins' back-to-back Stanley Cup runs in 2016 and 2017, but he's probably better suited as the No. 4 or in a third-pairing role.

The question for the Blackhawks now is whether the Maatta acquisition is just the beginning of more moves to come or whether they're satisified that they've filled their big need on the back end. Bowman has been widely known to be a GM that constantly works the phones, so he certainly isn't done looking.

"We're going to keep looking for ways to improve our team, not just the defense but I'm not setting that aside either," Bowman said. "Right now we're focused more on the trade market just because the free-agent market doesn't open up for another week until you can start talking to agents. But I think we want to find some new players for our team — whether that's through trades or free agency, it doesn't matter too much. It's really important to look at both. But right now the trade chatter has been pretty active throughout the league.

"I've had a number of conversations and I expect that to continue over the next week. This is the time of year where there's a lot of player movement with the draft and July 1st on the horizon. We're going to continue to look into other ways to improve our team through trades, and if none of that comes to be, then we'll look at the free-agent market. We expect to be active. That's our job. My job is to make a lot of calls and find out what options we have to bring in some new players. So this is a great start. We're a week out from the draft here and we've already improved our defense in a big way. We're going to keep looking at other ways to improve our defense and the rest of our team. So from that perspective, I expect it to be active over the next couple weeks."

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75 Days to Kickoff: St. Ignatius

75 Days to Kickoff: St. Ignatius

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: St. Ignatius College Prep

Head coach: Matt Miller

Assistant coaches: Charlie Dowdl, Alex Carric, Dan Bunne, Mike Mille, David Hidalg, Michael Whela, Doug Bartlet, Bill Stritzel and Ben Wade

How they fared in 2018: 6-5 (3-1 CCL Red Conference). St. Ignatius made the Class 6A state playoff field and lost to Notre Dame in opening round action.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 vs Lindblom
Sept. 6 @ Ridgewood
Sept. 13 @ Benet Academy
Sept. 20 @ Marmion Academy
Sept. 27 vs Loyola
Oct. 4 vs Joliet Catholic
Oct. 11 vs Marian Central Catholic
Oct. 18 @ Marian Catholic
Oct. 25 vs Fenwick

[MORE: 84 Days to Kickoff - Marmion Academy]

Biggest storyline: The schedule. Can the Wolfpack get back to the state playoffs? The upgraded/combined ESCC-CCL regular season schedule should be intriguing.

Names to watch this season: LB Declan Callahan (Sr.), OL/DL Mofolarin Walter-Johnson (Sr.), LB/DE Elijah Williams (Sr.)  

Biggest holes to fill: The Wolfpack graduated nine starters this past spring on the offensive side of the football. 

EDGY's Early Take: St. Ignatius has had a strong run of late, having made the IHSA state playoffs in the past four seasons. They won seven games in 2018, five via the shutout and they gave Loyola all they could handle. But the combination of the ESCC/CCL conferences has undoubtedly ramped up the Wolfpacks' schedule this fall. It features games with the likes of Benet, JCA, Loyola and Marian Central Catholic. If St. Ignatius can reload a bit (on offense in particular), they will have a good chance to compete for a fifth straight IHSA state playoff appearance.