Preps Talk

Hawks face a tough test in Smith

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Hawks face a tough test in Smith

GLENDALE, Ariz. Mike Smiths debut for the Phoenix Coyotes was an inauspicious one.

The goaltender struggled, allowing six goals in the first two periods in the season opener against the San Jose Sharks. Goaltending coach Sean Burke said the Coyotes had a decision to make after those 40 minutes.

We talked about it as coaches: Do we want to take him out? Burke recalled. But we said, Its his first game, and we need to show him right now hes going to be our guy, hes going to play. From that point on he took the ball and ran with it.

That guy who gave up six in his first two periods with Phoenix gave up very, very little in his last five regular-season games. And Smiths renaissance season is a big reason why the Coyotes won the Pacific Division title, their first division championship in franchise history.

When the Chicago Blackhawks face the Coyotes tomorrow, theyll be facing arguably the hottest goaltender in the league right now. In his final five regular-season games, Smith stopped 190 of the 192 shots he saw. For a goaltender whose career stalled in Tampa Bay, Smith is now back at the top of his game.

I dont look at it as him getting hot at the end. Hes been good all year long, Burke said. Obviously the key to his season has been his consistency. When we got him we knew what a great athlete he was, (Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett) had him in Dallas, so there was a confidence factor off the bat there. He came in here looking as a new lease on life and he has taken advantage of it.

Smith gave Burke credit for where he is now.

I dont think Im a lot different (from my Dallas days), Smith said. Consistency-wise, Ive been better this year. I worked hard to gain that, and Burkes been a big part of that. Ive approached every game the same way, and I dont plan to change that now.

It has been a fresh start for Smith, who was traded from the Stars to the Tampa Bay Lightning as part of the Brad Richards deal in February of 2008. Smith was on his way up at the time, a strong backup to Marty Turco and someone who was pegged to take the No. 1 job in Tampa. But it didnt work out; Smith played part of last season in the minors and was a free agent last summer.

Then the Coyotes called. And given his relationship with Tippett, it was a natural fit.

I know him and his character, Tippett said. I always thought he was going to be a top goaltender, and for whatever reason in Tampa didnt turn out that way. He was hungry from the opportunity, and I thought the relationship with him and Burke could be good. Hes just continued to work on his game, its matured and hes turned into a very good player.

The Blackhawks respect what Smith has done; they also want to get to him early in Game 1 on Thursday.

Hes on a heck of a run, hes had a good season. Thats not surprising to anybody, Patrick Sharp said. Playing with the lead is big so we want to score that first goal. The start is key, but its a 60-minute game. Sometimes its 80 minutes. You just want to make sure youre ready to go.

So is Smith. This is his first chance to be a No. 1 goaltender for a playoff team, and hes ready for the opportunity.

Im thrilled. This is why we play hockey, why were in this position, Smith said. I know from experience last year (with Tampa) that theres no better feeling than playing in the playoffs. In any playoff series you have to have good goaltending. Im just going to do my thing and hopefully its good enough.

VOTE: Viewers' Choice Game Of The Week

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NBC Sports Chicago

VOTE: Viewers' Choice Game Of The Week

Who wants it more?

We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland's top prep sports show, in the hands of area football fans in our "Viewers' Choice Game of the Week." Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the @NBCSPreps crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights and postgame reaction of that game will appear on that night's "High School Lites" broadcast at 11 p.m. The show also live streams at www.nbcsportschicago.com/watchlive. High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. the following Saturday. 

Week 9 is “Bubble Week” for many teams fighting to stay on the right side of the postseason bubble. Who moves on? Whose bubble will burst? Will Wauconda advance to the playoffs after finishing 2-7 last year? Or will Grant end their season on a winning note? Schaumburg and Fremd both stand at 4-4. The winner goes to the postseason. The winner stays home for November. Zion-Benton hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2003. A win over Libertyville gets them there. But for the Wildcats, this ‘is’ their playoff game. Who wins in the North Suburban conference? We’ll send our cameras to one of the following:

Grant at Wauconda, 7:15 p.m.

Schaumburg at Fremd, 7:30 p.m.

Libertyville at Zion-Benton, 7:30 p.m.

— Follow @NBCSPreps on Twitter.
— Note the "pinned Tweet" atop the @NBCSPreps feed. Vote for the game you want us to cover.
— Spread the word! 

We will make an announcement on @NBCSPreps just after 4 p.m. Thursday with the official results of which game will be covered. And as a reminder, be sure to follow @NBCSPreps for updates on the "Viewers' Choice Game of the week," along with other high school sports news, scores and highlights this season.

White Sox fans dreaming of Patrick Corbin: His free-agent destination might already be booked

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USA TODAY

White Sox fans dreaming of Patrick Corbin: His free-agent destination might already be booked

For the biggest dreamers among the White Sox faithful, here's how this offseason might be playing out.

Rick Hahn said the team will make some additions to the pitching staff. So for those dreamers, it's a rush to the top of the list of free-agent starting pitchers, right? Why not hook one of the biggest fish in the pond?

The top of that list looks like this: Clayton Kershaw (should he choose to opt out of his deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and seek a new, more lucrative one), Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin. Some might even have those last two names flipped, with Corbin, coming off an All-Star season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, second only to one of the best to ever throw a baseball.

The White Sox might not be capable of outbidding baseball's biggest spenders, and that's without even mentioning that they might simply not be looking to ink a hurler to a long-term contract. After all, that's what all those talented prospects are for, right? Assembling the rotation of the future? Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are all already part of the 2019 staff. Michael Kopech, when he's done recovering from Tommy John surgery, will join them in 2020. And Dylan Cease was just named MLB Pipeline's minor league pitcher of the year. With all that in mind, any offseason additions to the rotation for 2019 might simply be one-year fill-ins.

But fans often like to dream big, and a lot of them have Corbin on their wish list.

That's not surprising when you look at his numbers. He threw 200 innings last season and struck out 246 batters while finishing with a 3.15 ERA, those last two numbers the best of his six-year big league career. He's 29 years old and a long-term deal would figure to have him in the starting rotation as the White Sox plan to shift from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

Just one problem: There's plenty of belief out there that Corbin's destination this winter has already been booked.

This has been a talking point for a while now, as the Yankees tried to bring Corbin to the Bronx via trade last offseason. They're expected to try to do so again, this time via free agency, as they've got a ton of money to spend. Corbin was quoted in the Nightengale story from April saying: "It would definitely be great to play there. I grew up a Yankee fan."

Sorry to burst your bubbles, White Sox fans. But don't blame me. Blame the Yankees, which seems to be becoming a frequent refrain. If Didi Gregorius' elbow injury means Manny Machado ends up in the Bronx this winter, too, White Sox fans might drop the Cubs as Public Enemy No. 1.

The White Sox have enough hurdles to clear in any pursuit of one of the game's top free agents: They have to compete with baseball's traditional big spenders, and they have to try and beat win-now pitches with a pitch of planned — though not yet arrived — long-term success. It's not like that hasn't been a winning battle before, though, as the rebuilding Cubs got Jon Lester to believe in their future and brought him in to help make their transition from rebuild to championship contention.

But throw in the hurdle of a history between a player and another team, and it makes it an even harder job.

The White Sox will be making some additions this offseason, though they might not be the ones fans are dreaming about. But not landing the winter's biggest fish doesn't mean the organization's biggest, most important dream of building a perennial contender on the South Side is going anywhere.