Blackhawks

Bowling Green gets a steal in McAuliffe

911311.png

Bowling Green gets a steal in McAuliffe

Lemont's Ethan Pocic and Tim McAuliffe are, in the evaluation of recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, "the two best linemen on any one team in Illinois this year."

Pocic is committed to LSU, McAuliffe to Bowling Green. In football terms, that's like comparing Waikiki to Oak Street beach.

It doesn't bother McAuliffe at all. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound guard chose Bowling Green over Toledo, Western Michigan, Western Kentucky and Ball State and didn't blink.

"Bowling Green got a steal," Lemming said. "He can play center or guard. He is very athletic, strong, active and technically sound."

McAuliffe looks forward to showing a lot of major Division I recruiters that they made a mistake when evaluating him. "You get skipped over in life and you have to make the best with the hand you are dealt," he said philosophically.

"I talked to a couple of Big Ten coaches but they didn't show too much interest. They didn't like my size. It's no big deal. I wish I had a few inches more but I'm fine with what I've got."

According to Lemont coach Eric Michaelsen, that's plenty. "He is one of the toughest kids we have ever had. Division I coaches look at people's size and make projections. In my opinion, they made a mistake. He will have a great career at Bowling Green," he said.

Michaelsen said McAuliffe reminds him of former Lemont star David Molk, who was a Remington Award winner as an All-America center at Michigan. "He plays to the whistle. He is physical. He doesn't back down from any challenge," the coach said.

"I tried to sell the big schools that he is no smaller than Molk was. He could play at a higher level. He has the edge that Molk had, a mean streak."

McAuliffe and his once-beaten teammates will face their biggest challenge of the season when they host unbeaten and offense-minded Crete-Monee (12-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday in a Class 6A semifinal in Lemont.

"We're happy to be here," Michaelsen said. "I still think we can play better. We have played some good games but we haven't played our best game yet. There still are times where we bog down offensively and times where we make mistakes on defense and special teams."

Michaelsen said his senior laden team has bounced back from its lone setback, a 21-20 overtime decision to Thornton Fractional South in Week 6.

In their last six games, the Indians have outscored their opponents by a margin of 220-40. The offense is averaging 35 points per game while the defense has allowed only 99 points.

"The kids have come together as a team," Michaelsen said. "There is more closeness, more working together, more improving. We have good senior leaders and football is real important to them. They are willing to put in the work. They want to win a state title."

The senior leaders are Pocic, McAuliffe, linebacker Connor O'Brien, defensive back Jake Lemming, running back Chris Giatras and quarterback Zack Brosseau.

They remember how it felt to lose to Peoria Richwoods in double overtime in the state semifinals last year, to see their 12-game winning streak snapped. "It was devastating. We should have won. We let them off the hook.
We had many chances to win but we didn't capitalize on them," McAuliffe said.

Losing isn't something that McAuliffe and his teammates are familiar with. Lemont has lost only one game in each of the last three years while winning 34. In the last six years, the Indians are 68-9 with second-place finishes in the state playoff in 2007 and 2008.

"We definitely can win the state title this year. We have come a long way since the season began, since we began lifting weights. We had to work hard and get faster and refuse to lose. We dont want to fall short again."

McAuliffe said the loss to T.F. South was a reality check, the first regular-season loss the seniors had experienced in their varsity careers.

"It hit me hard," McAuliffe said. "So the coaches made some changes. We went to a hurry-up offense that gave us a new pace to the game. And the defense matured a lot after the loss. Our mentality now is that we are more ready to play.

"A big part of our success over the years has been to score on the first drive. We haven't done it much this year. Now we are clicking because we are ready to play. We're playing with a chip on our shoulder. We're taking practice more seriously. We want a state title more than anything. We fell short last year. We are determined not to let it happen again."

Unlike many offensive linemen, McAuliffe doesn't count pancake blocks. To him, that isn't a true measure of his skill level.

"Our goal is to keep our offense on the field and keep the opponent's offense off the field, to run the clock down, to put long drives together," he said. "The most fun I have is to pull around and block and put someone down and have the running back run behind me. I enjoy blocking, putting people on the ground and punishing them."

That is all part of his mean streak. "Mean streak means playing to the whistle, never giving up on a play, hitting people hard on every play, not backing down from anyone, taking on any challenge and not taking any crap from anyone," he said.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks blank Blues to end losing skid, give Jeremy Colliton first win

seabrook_ap.jpg
AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks blank Blues to end losing skid, give Jeremy Colliton first win

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 1-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Jeremy Colliton's first NHL win

For the first time since Oct. 25, the Blackhawks are back in the win column. A weight has been lifted off their shoulders after going winless in their previous eight games (0-6-2).

But it was an extra special night for the Blackhawks, who helped Colliton earn his first victory as an NHL head coach and celebrated by giving him the game puck.

"I’m just here to help them," Colliton said. "So it's kind of awkward, actually. But I do appreciate the gesture and for me, it’s just, hopefully we can get some momentum going and build on it."

2. Corey Crawford puts up a goose egg

Going into the game, Crawford had a 3.07 goals against average and .901 save percentage, which are below average numbers. But he certainly hasn't played that way. He was often the Blackhawks' best player during their losing streak and has deserved better fate than he's gotten.

By stopping all 28 shots he faced, Crawford earned his first shutout since Nov. 4, 2017 when he made 24 saves in a 2-0 win over the Minnesota Wild.

"It's nice," Crawford said. "That's the goal, not let any in. But I thought everyone contributed to that. ... We've been waiting a while, kind of forgot what it was like to win there for a bit."

3. Power play breaks through

Finally. After an 0-for-10 drought, the Blackhawks scored a power play goal on their first try of the night and didn't need much time to do it.

Just 35 seconds into a Vladimir Tarasenko hooking penalty, Brent Seabrook cashed in after his shot trickled past Jake Allen and went in off a Blues defenseman's skate to make it 1-0 at 4:05 of the second period. It was the only goal of the game, proving to be the game-winner. 

The Blackhawks finished 1-for-2 in that department against a Blues team that came into the game with a 27.6 percent success rate, which ranked fifth in the NHL.

"It's a good feeling," Seabrook said. "It was nice to hear some music when they came in here after the game tonight. The boys are all fired up. The way we played going into the second period, being able to score a goal, hold onto the lead I think the way everybody played. Everybody stuck with it. Everybody stuck with the game plan. Everybody worked hard. It was a real team effort. ... It took all 20 guys out there tonight to get the job done."

4. Playing the right way leads to results

For six periods in a row, the Blackhawks have been either the better team or it was evenly matched. Giving up two power-play goals in 66 seconds to the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday was basically the difference in that game and special teams played a major role in this one as well. 

Colliton felt like the Blackhawks were, overall, trending in the right direction despite not getting the end results over the previous three games. He got both against the Blues, which was fitting considering the losing streak started vs. St. Louis.

"That was the part of the package that was missing," Colliton said. "Happy for the guys to get rewarded. It’s not a lot of fun to see the results add up. Very happy for the group, they battled really hard, especially in the third when the game was on the line. We found a way to get some pucks out and win some 50-50s and got a couple saves and hopefully that relieves a little bit of the tension in the team and they can play a little more free. Because we’ve been talking about it, but it’s easier said than done."

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

trubisky-1114.jpg
USA TODAY

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

Probably bad luck to mention this:

Mitchell Trubisky’s start last Sunday against the Detroit Lions was his 21st in a row, passing Jay Cutler (20) on the list of most consecutive starts by a Bears quarterback in the past 40 years. Among quarterbacks since George Halas retired, Trubisky can pass Vince Evans’ 26 (1980-81) and match Jim Harbaugh’s 28 (1991-92) if he starts the remaining 2018 games, but will need next season to catch Bob Avellini’s 42 (1975-78).

*                          *                          *

If there was an underlying frustration in the wake of John Fox being ousted as Bears coach, it might best be described as a shadow of disappointment at what might have been. Or should have been.

“This may sound weird,” said left tackle Charles Leno, “but with the guys we had last year, moving on to this year, you knew the culture was changing. We just had to click. We have got a great group of guys in here, I'm talking all across the defense, all across the special teams. Great group of guys. We just needed an extra push.

“Matt [Nagy] brought this.”

Leno is qualified to render an opinion. He has been through three head coaches in five NFL seasons, drafted under Marc Trestman, becoming a starter under Fox, and then came this year under Matt Nagy. Meaning: Leno was inside Halas Hall when the organizational culture plummeted under an offensive coach, started to improve under a defensive coach, then stalled and now has undergone a culture re-launch.

Whether the culture has changed with winning, or the winning is a reflection of the change in culture is largely academic to a team that is 6-3 after a second three-game win streak in its season. But the winning has produced – and resulted from – a buy-in that was absent on the offense under Dowell Loggains the past two seasons.

“We got the right head guy in here,” Trubisky said. “Coach Nagy is definitely leading the charge and we just have the right guys in our locker room to change the culture around.

“Just the belief and the trust in each other and coming to work every day, putting the work in and then just going and executing it on Sunday to be able to produce wins. It's a great vibe around the building now. The culture has definitely changed and there's a better vibe around the city in how people view the Bears and how they see us.

*                          *                          *

So-what award?

How much Trubisky knows about Georgetown coaching legend John Thompson, or the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, is difficult to pick up in a press conference. But the young quarterback subscribes to some of their thinking.

Thompson placed zero stock in awards that were voted on, vs. something that was won. Kipling’s poem “If” offered a guide to some level-headed thinking, famously noting that:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
         Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
         But make allowance for their doubting too… .

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
         And treat those two impostors just the same…

…you’ll be a Man (or NFL quarterback), my son.”

Trubisky on Wednesday was awarded the honor of NFC offensive player of the week, the week after he was roundly ripped by certain national NFL writers. He wasn’t particularly phased by the negative and he wasn’t especially interested in the positive, either.

“I don’t know, really,” Trubisky said. “You get recognized, it’s cool, but people talked so bad about me last week, so why should this week be any different?

“So I got recognized for playing well."