Blackhawks

Can Grayslake Central beat North Chicago jinx?

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Can Grayslake Central beat North Chicago jinx?

Can "Casey and the Midgets" snap the North Chicago jinx and win a sectional championship for the first time in school history?

That's the question that Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe is asking as he prepares his 20-8 team for Friday night's Class 3A regional championship game against Grayslake North. If the Rams win, they'll likely meet old nemesis North Chicago in a sectional semifinal next Tuesday.

"How do we get by North Chicago? Can we ever beat them?" Moe said. "That's been our trend--to lose to North Chicago in the sectional. They are a big challenge for us. They've been there. They've won a sectional. They have a great coach in Gerald Coleman and a great player in Aaron Simpson. They put up a lot of points. We have to try to figure out a way to slow them down."

Grayslake Central's history against North Chicago is full of woulda, shoulda, coulda, close but no cigar. Last year, the Rams lost to North Chicago by four. Three years ago, they were tied with three minutes to play. In the State Farm Classic in Bloomington last December, they led by five at halftime. It all adds up to a lot of frustration.

"We have to make them work for baskets and be patient on offense," Moe said. "They do a great job of making you take shots that you aren't used to taking."

Moe, a 1989 graduate of Glenbrook South, is in his fourth year at Grayslake Central. He played basketball at Augustana on a team that reached the Final Four in Division III. After teaching and coaching at Glenbrook North, Mundelein and Wauconda, he was hired at Grayslake Central.

He has won 20 or more games in three of his four years. He lost to North Chicago in the sectional final in 2008. His 21-10 team lost to Vernon Hills at the buzzer in the sectional. He was 21-7 in 2010. Last year's 17-13 squad lost to North Chicago in the sectional semifinal.

But this year's 20-8 squad might be different. The Rams beat highly rated Huntley in the Fox Valley Conference cross-over game last Friday, sending a message to future opponents--and maybe North Chicago--that they have to be taken for real.

"Potentially, this is the best team I have had," Moe said. "We have a 6-foot-9 center, a shooter, a scorer and we play good team defense. We play man-to-man full-court and pressure the ball. We share the ball and play together. We play six seniors and a junior. We have a lot of experience."

Grayslake Central is led by 5-foot-7 senior guard Jordan Taylor (19 ppg), a three-year starter who is the team leader and has scored more than 1,000 points in his career. But Taylor is closer to 5-foot-5 than 5-foot-7.

Other starters are 6-foot-9 senior Casey Boyle (13.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg), who has some Division II offers, 6-foot senior point guard Sayvonte McWilliams (7.6 ppg, 3 assists, 4 rpg), 5-foot-10 junior Danny Reed (7.5 ppg, 3 rpg), and 6-foot-2 senior Tyler Smith (6.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg).

"Smith is our wild card," Moe said. "When he plays well, we look good. He is athletic and long and attacks the basket. But when he struggles, we struggle, too.

"The big thing we have to do is rebound. We are 'Casey and the Midgets.'Rebounding has been an issue for us. When Casey was out for four games with an ankle sprain in the last few weeks, we went 1-3. Now he's back and we hope he gives us an edge."

The four-class system may have a lot of critics but Moe isn't one of them. He has won the conference or regional in each of his four years and hopes to sweep both of them--and the sectional--for the first time this season.

"We have benefited from the four-class system," he said. "We are able to dodge Warren, Mundelein, Libertyville and Zion-Benton in the regional, the big Class 4A schools. Playing in Class 3A has been helpful to us. That's where we belong, With an enrollment of 1,300, it is perfect for us. We can't compete against schools with enrollments of 4,000 on a consistent basis."

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

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USA Today

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Effort has not been a major concern for the Blackhawks this season. For the most part it's been there, and you could see it over the last two months when they started to string together a run.

But Wednesday, it was.

The Blackhawks didn't have a great first period. They had a decent second. Things went off the rails in the third. 

The Blackhawks lost focus, and the compete level wasn't nearly where it needed to be in their first home game in exactly two weeks after giving up five third-period goals, four of which came in a span of 7:08.

"Makes you angry," head coach Jeremy Colliton said following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers. "Because it's a game that you're looking for like, we needed this game. We didn't do the things right from the start to put ourselves in the best position to win. We just didn't have enough guys ready to play."

The Blackhawks picked up two out of a possible 10 points on their five-game road trip in Western Canada, but that wasn't necessarily indicative of how they played. All five games were there for the taking but they squandered opportunities to do so. A power-play goal here or there could've been the difference, but instead their drought is now up to 0-for-17 in their past six games.

It was a tough road trip for the Blackhawks, not just because they didn't get the desired results, but because it was a demanding travel schedule that started and ended in Winnipeg. But they wouldn't use that as an excuse even though it's a valid one at this time of year.

"To me, the story of the game tonight is, you're going to have games throughout the year where you don't have energy, where it's hard to find," Jonathan Toews said. "You've got to find the motivation to go out there and play your best game. It's just a mental thing that you have to do and that's just the name of the game, playing NHL hockey. That's one of the challenging things that if you want to make the playoffs and you want to be a winning team you're not going to feel at your best every night.

"There's going to be tough travel, tough schedule, a lot of adversity, things that pile up in your way and you've got to find a way to overcome it. So we didn't do that tonight." 

With Wednesday's loss, the Blackhawks fell to 1-5-2 in their past eight games after going 12-5-0 in their previous 17. They remain eight points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference but have four teams to jump, two of which have a game in hand.

Playoffs seem like a pipedream at this point, and you have to wonder how this latest spiral could impact the Blackhawks' plans ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline. It's always a challenging time of year for players, especially on teams on the outside looking in, but that doesn't mean it's time to wave the white flag.

"We have to think really short-term," Colliton said. "And that's tomorrow, how are we going to prepare? Because we didn't prepare well enough. The coaches have to do a better job of preparing the team, the team needs to do a better job of preparing each other, and individually they've got to do a better job of preparing themselves to play."

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Are the Blackhawks buyers or sellers?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Are the Blackhawks buyers or sellers?

Charlie Roumeliotis, Scott King, and Ben Pope join Leila on the panel.

0:00- The Blackhawks return home after two weeks on the road. Did they return to Chicago as trade deadline sellers? And what are the chances both goalies could be dealt by Monday?

12:00- Pat Boyle joins the panel. He gives his thoughts on the Blackhawks trade deadline plans.

14:30- David Ross says the Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo could hit 1-2 in the Cubs lineup in 2020. Will that solve their leadoff woes?

19:00- The Astros controversy just won't go away. The panel discusses.

21:00- The NFL reportedly wants to expand the playoffs to 14 teams and go to a 17 game regular season. Is this a good idea?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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