Blackhawks

Hockey legend fighting battle with dementia

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Hockey legend fighting battle with dementia

From Comcast SportsNet
At 83, Mr. Hockey is still in demand and on the move. Gordie Howe is about to embark on another series of fundraisers to support dementia research. It's a personal cause. The disease killed his wife, Colleen, in 2009 and is beginning to affect him. "He's a little bit worse than last year, but pretty close to about the same," son Marty said. "He just loses a little bit more, grasping for words. "The worst part of this disease is there's nothing you can do about it." While the long-term effects of concussions have been very much in the news lately, the family is hesitant to link the Hall of Famer's condition to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease typically found in autopsies of people who have had multiple head injuries, including more than a dozen former NFL and NHL players. Concussions weren't tracked when Howe played, so it is impossible to know how many he sustained. And he didn't start showing signs of dementia until his late 70s. "I don't think anybody can really answer that question," Marty said of a connection to CTE. "He went for so long without any symptoms whatsoever. You don't have to be an athlete or in contact sports to get dementia." Howe's dementia is currently mild and his family members haven't sought a diagnosis of exactly what kind he has. They did that with Colleen, who died at 76 of Pick's disease. The rare form of dementia is marked by changes in mood, behavior and personality, followed by memory loss similar to that experienced in Alzheimer's. Another son, Murray, a radiologist, says his father's symptoms don't fit either Alzheimer's or Pick's. "He has what we call mild cognitive impairment," Murray said. "His brain power is not what it used to be. In terms of the prognosis and diagnosis, it's still wide open." Howe has short-term memory loss, difficulty speaking and some confusion in the evening when the sun goes down. The latter, called "sundowning," occurs in people with dementia, although the cause is unclear. "He's always worse in the evening," Marty said. "It's like when the sun goes down, something flips the switch." But Howe's personality hasn't changed and he continues to recognize his family and friends. Howe's stamina and power were legendary during his 33 seasons of pro hockey. Physically, he's doing well for a man about to turn 84 in March. His sons say Howe likes to do household chores and go fishing, one of his favorite pastimes. "He's still Mr. Hockey and that's what is so great because he's just such a pleasure to have around," Murray said. "He'll wake up first thing in the morning and there's a bunch of leaves outside and he'll rake for three hours. He's so pleasant and upbeat. "When he first started showing signs of memory loss, we were concerned it was Alzheimer's and it was just going to go downhill." It's possible Howe's dementia is vascular in nature. He suffered from heart disease later in his life and required the implantation of a coronary stent about a decade ago. "He's had a couple episodes of getting faint or passing out around that time," Murray recalled. "It's possible he had a couple of mini-strokes that picked off some of the parts of his brain that you need to be able to retain short-term memory. That's my theory and what his family physician is thinking." Howe had episodes of forgetfulness about six years ago while caring for his wife. The Howe children recognized the signs they'd previously seen in their mother. The hockey great also was tired and not looking after himself, which made his condition worse. A program of regular physical activity has helped him combat his dementia. "He can easily walk four miles on very hilly terrain without a problem," Murray said. "When he first came to us, he couldn't walk 100 yards up a slight incline without having to stop because of chest pains. It was a complete turnaround for him." After Colleen Howe's death, the Howes were approached by the Toronto health organization Baycrest to put Gordie Howe's face on a fundraising campaign for Alzheimer's. Affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest specializes in mental diseases of the elderly. Howe, accompanied by Marty, makes public appearances at an annual series of Scotiabank Pro-Am hockey tournaments across Canada. More than 16 million has been raised by the Gordie and Colleen Howe Fund for Alzheimer's. Howe is scheduled to attend a Canucks game in Vancouver on Thursday night to promote a Scotiabank Pro-Am in that city later this year. Marty says his father plans to help kick off the same tournaments in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto this spring. He also will also attend a news conference Thursday afternoon in advance of a tribute in his honor at Friday's Vancouver Giants game. Howe has his photo taken with fans and signs autographs under Marty's watchful eye at the events. A speech isn't an option anymore. Fatigue tends to exacerbate Howe's condition and Marty doesn't want his father feeling strained. "If you see him now, obviously you can kind of tell he's not firing on all cylinders," Marty says. "Most people see Gordie and they're just happy Gordie is talking to them." Marty was alarmed by a decline in his father's condition before an appearance in Calgary last year, but didn't want his condition made public until the family had a better handle on his condition. "For people who are dealing with this, you have to have a sense of humor," he said. "Nobody wants to see their family members go through this. It gets harder. Towards the end, it's really no quality of life whatsoever. Pretty depressing, but you have to find the humor in some of it. Otherwise, it will kill you, too." Marty and Murray are just grateful the dementia hasn't changed their father's personality or attitude so far. "We're enjoying the times we have now," Marty said.

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 21 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.