Bulls

Napleton, St. Rita capture hockey championship over St. Viator

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Napleton, St. Rita capture hockey championship over St. Viator

By Pat Disabato
YourSeason.com

St. Rita goalie Marty Napleton has been marvelous all season a 31-8-2 mark, including 13 shutouts, and 1.45 goals-against average is testament to that.

Napleton, however, saved arguably his finest performance of the campaign for Friday night.

The junior netminder turned aside 28 shots, many in spectacular fashion, to carry St. Rita to a dominant 5-0 victory over St. Viator in the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois state championship at the United Center. Napleton earned Most Valuable Player honors for his performance.

Stan Sojka (assist) and Ricky Faron paced the offense, scoring two goals each. Jack Warren added a solo tally for the Mustangs.

Marty has been unbelievable all year, Faron said. He stood on his head tonight.

The state title was St. Ritas second in three seasons and the third overall for the storied program. The Mustangs (40-13-4), who won their fifth straight Kennedy Cup championship earlier this season, knocked off defending champion New Trier, the No. 1 seed, Saturday in the semifinals and then No. 2 St. Viator (50-17-5) in a matter of six days.

All the kids played well, said St. Rita coach Craig Ferguson, who just completed his eighth season. We outplayed them. We were the better team tonight.

Trailing 2-0 entering the third period, St. Viator had a chance to mount a comeback with a power play just 47 seconds in. The Lions had two wonderful chances to dent the net, but Napleton denied Jackson Owens on a breakaway and Michael Decker, after being stopped on his first attempt, fired wide on a rebound chance.

The failure to convert appeared to sap life from St. Viator.

That was big to kill that penalty, Faron said. It took away all their momentum.

The Mustangs then put the game away. Warren hammered home a one-timer off a pretty pass from Sojka at 13:33 to make it 3-0. It was Warrens 23rd goal of the season. Just 1:22 later, Sojka went to his backhand to beat goalie Robert Schmidt for a 4-0 advantage. It was the St. Rita captains second goal of the game and 10th of the season.

Then Faron, camped out just right of the crease, made it 5-0 at 9:46. It was Farons second goal of the game and 63rd of the season. Chris Foley and Luke Botica picked up assists.

I think it was our composure, said Foley, who was injured most of the season and was limited to 29 games. Weve played in enough big games where we werent really nervous. Its a bigger stage, but just another game.

It was non-stop action for the first seven minutes of the opening period, void of a single whistle that would have caused play to halt.

Play was finally stopped at 10:07 and would be halted again just four seconds later, when Sojka batted home his own rebound at 10:03 for a 1-0 lead.

The early deficit seemed to wake-up St. Viator, which picked up the pace considerably the rest of the period. The Lions were awarded two power plays one at 9:35 and another at 3:38, but failed to capitalize. A lack of effort wasnt the problem; The Lions had scoring chances, but Napleton was a brick wall.

The junior absolutely stoned St. Viators David Kellner, whose rebound from just outside the crease was miraculously stopped by a sprawling Napleton. Moments later, Owens one-timer from the slot was kicked aside by Napleton.

Just 22 seconds after the Lions second power play elapsed and with 1:16 remaining in the opening period, Faron scored to extend the lead to 2-0. Faron made a nifty move around the Lions Ryan Santorsola just inside the blue line, before completing a give-and-go with Foley.

The score may as well been 10-0 with the way Napleton was playing. Slap shots, snap shots, wrist shots, breakaways, rebounds, you name it, St. Viator tried it. Nothing, however, could make its way past Napleton. The Lions Sean Thornton will have nightmares thinking about Napletons sliding blocker save that preserved the shutout late in the third.

After the New Trier game, I had a lot of confidence, Napleton said. It carried over to this game. I was just seeing the puck well. This is an unbelievable feeling. To win the Kennedy Cup and state, fortunately we had the guys and coaches to do it.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

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AP

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."