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Sunday, December 3

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Cubs in Five

Comcast sucks. Back Next Week.
by Jeff Webber

Sox in Five

Looking for Clues
by Steve Gozdecki

Ever found yourself playing random imaginary games of Clue with other folk? You know, where you try to one-up one another with funny permutations of "Person X with Weapon Y in Room Z"? You haven't? Then perhaps my life is just a little sadder than yours.

But this week, sadness is the lot of we White Sox faithful, who find ourselves looking for clues as to what the heck happened to our World Series Champions. But it's not just us fans that are stuck mouths agape wondering what happened — in this edition of Sox in Five, we look at Clue-style accusations from all over Sox-land.

One: Ozzie says, "Brian Anderson in the batter's box with his weak bat in the all-important nine hole."
If Ozzie spent a quarter of the time dwelling on the things that Brian Anderson does right in the field that he spent lamenting his center fielder's inability to be, I dunno, Grady Sizemore or Joe DiMaggio, a good half-dozen games might've turned out differently as the balls that flew over or dropped in front of Rob Mackowiak became outs instead of doubles and triples and rally extenders. Oh, but we all remember those big big hits Robby Mac got to win all those games, don't we? Sadly, no.

Two: Kenny Williams says, "Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez with their contempt for decency and ability to kill the ball off of us at home and on the road."
Sure, the rational mind knows that Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye are better players at this stage of their careers and better fits with this team than the guys they replaced, but it still really freakin' hurt to watch the Big Hurt and Maggs pile it on a badly faltering Sox squad over the past few weeks.

Three: The starting pitchers say, "The relievers with kerosene whenever the plate was on fire."
Yeah, that bullpen sucked, especially the middle relief. As bad as the starters sometimes (oftentimes?) looked, the Sox relievers saw their collective ERA rise more from last season to this one.

Four: Scott Podsednik says, "Me with my bat, glove and legs all over the field."
Said Pods last week, "There has been no consistency to my game whatsoever, for whatever reasons, and I have my own ideas. I'm not making excuses. It boils down to simply I haven't gone out and done the job." Sox Nation agrees that he hasn't done the job, and eagerly awaits the competition next spring to see who the team's new left fielder will be.

Five: Vinny Vegas says, "The Sox with a troubling decline in performance in one-run games."
The 2005 White Sox had a 35-19 record in one-run games, while this year's team has barely played break-even in the close ones, going 22-21 through last night's action. While no one single fact, figure, series, team or player can truly be said to have done the 2006 White Sox in, just think how differently we'd all feel if this team had won, say, five or six more of the close ones this year. Why, it's almost like it would've given this final week of the season playoff ramifications...

Fire in Five

US Open Cup Preview
by Steve Gillies

One: Hey, We Made the Playoffs (Shrug)
By beating the LA Galaxy Saturday night, the Chicago Fire guaranteed themselves a place in the post-season. With eight out of 12 teams making the playoffs, that isn't as big a deal as it sounds. Even with a chance to clinch the playoffs at stake (and really, if we hadn't this week we had five more chances at it), I couldn't look at this game as anything more than a preview of a much more important game between LA and Chicago this week: Wednesday's US Open Cup Final.

Two: How Important is the US Open Cup?
Well, the Cup pre-dates MLS by 82 years. It's one of only two chances for an MLS team to win silverware during the regular season. Actually, with LA's playoff hopes slipping away, it might be their only chance. Also, the Cup comes with a cash prize and the winner qualifies to take on the champions of other leagues in the region. Unfortunately, MLS never quite goes whole-hog marketing the tournament, possibly fearing that people will get confused with its presence alongside the MLS Cup (although really, it's the MLS Cup that's the confusing part of the equation). The Open Cup games this year have drawn around 5,000, but the stadium seems just as loud as it does during regular league games that draw 10,000 to 15,000. I think this is because without a lot of promotion, only the hardcore Fire fans turn up and they tend to be the ones that make most of the noise anyway. In some ways, without the presence of millions of youth soccer teams and their parents, the crowd gets a lot less inhibited. Hopefully, now that they've made the final, the Fire can draw a bigger crowd, but keep the same aficionado-friendly atmosphere they've had for the Cup games.

Three: Who Gets to Play in the Final?
Dave Sarachan has used a slightly different group of players throughout the US Open Cup than he does in the league. You could be tempted to say he's been putting out a "B-Squad," but it's hard to say that with the depth this year's Fire has. There is a question, though, as to whether Sarachan will stick with the guys that got the team to the final or try to start what he feels are his best 11 players (whoever that might be). Does Calen Carr, who scored two goals in the semifinal, get rewarded with the start, or does he sit the bench behind regulars Chris Rolfe and Andy Herron? Will Jim Curtin, who has marshaled the defense through the Cup run, lose his spot to Tony Sanneh, who has been a revelation at sweeper throughout the league games? Also, will Logan... Pause have enough match fitness to take suspended captain Chris Armas' spot in the midfield? If not, who will?

Four: How Do We Stop Donovan?
Sure, I give him a hard time in this column, but the fact is that Landon Donovan will be a real threat to the Fire defense on Wednesday night. In addition to being super-quick, good at getting himself open and a very cool finisher, Donovan has also gained a reputation as a "big-game player" — as long as those games aren't in the World Cup. Many Fire fans are still smarting from the beating he gave us in the MLS Cup Final in 2003. If the Fire are going to win the Open Cup, they're going to have to come up with a way of stopping him. My suggestion is that Tony Sanneh, someone who actually had a successful career playing in Germany, teaches the Fire defenders a few German phrases to shout at Landon to trick him into thinking he's back in Germany. If all goes well he'll get homesick, ask to be subbed out at halftime so he can fly on a private jet back to his beach house and actress/model girlfriend.

Five: Depressing Mainstream Coverage This Week
The Chicago Sun-Times reported of an investigation into the City of Bridgeview's "coercive" and "mob-style" tactics against the owner of the World Golf Dome in their quest to lure the Fire to Bridgeview. I'm not too upset about that. It doesn't sound like the Fire had much to do with it, and I doubt there's a stadium in Chicago that wasn't built with a few coercive and mob-style tactics. What depresses me is that in The Chicago Reader's Chicago 101 issue where they list all the sports you can watch in Chicago, the Fire ranks below the WNBA's Chicago Sky (I had no idea we had a WNBA team) and just above roller derby (which I really have to check out this season). I'm not really taking issue with the Reader for listing baseball, basketball, football, hockey and college sports above the Fire. I just find it a sober reminder of how our league's version of the world's number one sport ranks in the country's number one sports town.

Pucks in Five

It's NHL '93 on Genesis All Over Again: The Hawks are Unbeatable
by Jeremy Piniak

As much as the recent nip in the weather was a harbinger of doom for the three Sox games I went to last week, it also provided the realization that winter and the start of hockey season is peeking around the corner. Though I'm weary of the winter cold as soon as I realize no matter how high I turn up the heat my bedroom stays just a shade above freezing, I also relish the chance to head to the United Center to see the Blackhawks in action. I got my first opportunity on Thursday, watching the preseason game against the Florida Panthers. Granted, it was a somewhat meaningless exhibition, but what I witnessed was even more sad than usual. An announced crowd of 7700 supposedly took in the game, but I would be hard-pressed to guess that more than 2000 of them actually showed up. The numbers for the weekend battles have seemed to improve slightly, but the trend is still disturbing for a team that last year averaged a little over 13,000 fans a game, filling the United Center to only 65 percent of capacity. For an Original Six team in one of the largest markets, the numbers are downright pitiful.

On the bright side, unless you're the Cubs, winning can often cure the attendance blues, and below are three reasons to look at the glass half-full, though tempered with a troubling early injury. A fifth point covers the early season outlook for the Chicago Wolves.

One: Who Do They Think They Are, the Bears?
It's preseason. I've been repeating that mantra for four days now. I'm trying to not be optimistic. But the Blackhawks have now won five straight games. And yes, it's preseason, and none of these teams made the playoffs last year. But the Hawks have played with a surprising amount of strength and aggression and, dare I say it, they looked good. The offense has been putting the puck in the net, the defense has continued its growth from the previous year, and the collection of major- and minor-league goalies has provided a consistently strong presence in net.

Can I say enough that it's only preseason? Let me say it again, and come the season opener in Nashville, five wins in September will mean absolutely nothing. But regardless, it's the first time the team has had a streak like this since 2001. And it has been achieved while missing some key offensive players and providing enough playing time to prospects to sort out what few youngsters will make it out of training camp. For a team that floundered all last year and last made the playoffs in 2001, a positive start can't be ignored. It provides confidence that hopefully can be carried over to the regular season. And more importantly, a strong start might start to win back some of the fans who have deserted the team throughout the last decade.

Two: Savvy's a Savior
Coming into the season, one of the Hawks' biggest goals was to improve on the league-worst powerplay unit of 2005-6. From the complete upheaval of the team's offensive front to the decision not to renew assistant coach Bruce Cassidy's contract, the Blackhawks are starting from scratch. Taking over the coaching from Cassidy is assistant coach and former player Denis Savard, who has been on staff for seven years. Now, let's look at the Powerplay stats of the last four exhibition tilts: 2-8 Thursday, 3-10 Friday, 3-11 Saturday, 3-8 Sunday. What in the world is going on here? Even if you throw in the team's 0-8 effort the first game, the resulting 24.4 percent is an amazing improvement over last year's 12.2 percent, and would have been the best in the league. Granted, I don't expect them to convert on nearly a quarter of their chances throughout the regular season. But the fact remains that the powerplay has actually functioned as an efficient unit so far, executing crisp passes and quality shots. It could make a huge difference in games for the Blackhawks, especially if they cut down on their own penalties. It's a promising sign for a team who desperately needed an improvement in this area.

Three: Boucher Blanks Blues, Earns Backup Spot
After a 2-0 preseason shutout over the St. Louis Blues, the Blackhawks signed Brian Boucher to take the place of injured backup goalie Patrick Lalime, who is out two to three months after surgery for a herniated disc. Boucher (and no, I'm not going to make any Bobby Boucher/Waterboy jokes, thank you the 670 the Score) is probably most well-known for having a five-game consecutive shutout streak while with Phoenix in 2004, setting an NHL record. After only playing in 14 combined games between the Coyotes and the Calgary Flames in 2005-6, Boucher was brought into camp on a tryout basis after Lalime went down.

Assuming starting goalie Nicolai Khabibulin stays healthy, Boucher's role will be a small yet vital one on the team, insuring a veteran presence in the backup role. However, once Lalime returns, things will get interesting. Reports have Boucher having signed a one-way contract, which ensures NHL pay regardless of whether he's tending for the Blackhawks or the minor-league affiliate Norfolk Admirals. Lalime has a similar contract, which means once all goalies are healthy, the Blackhawks will be paying three major-league contracts for a role that only requires two players. Depending on Boucher's performance, one of the two will be put on the trading block. That said, signing Boucher is not a bad maneuver. He brings more experience than any other backup currently on the roster, but he'll need to play strongly if he wants to wear the red sweater the entire year.

Four: Ruutu's Knee Needs Repair — Again
Tuomo Ruutu injured his left knee during Friday's preseason victory in Columbus. The hit by Bluejacket defensemen Rostislav Klesla was labeled as "gutless" by defenseman Duncan Keith, who promptly jumped Klesla after the questionable hit to stand up for the felled right-winger (Keith gets a big round of applause from me for standing up for Ruutu). Coach Trent Yawney was expecting the league to review the hit for possible punishment. Tuomo is slated to be out four weeks with a sprained knee, adding to the myriad of injuries in his career, dating back to a reconstructed knee in Finland before his rookie season in 2003. He was limited to 15 games last year with a torn left ankle tendon and a sore back, and was also injured in the World Hockey championship in 2004 and was off-ice during most of the lockout year. His only full year with the Hawks was his rookie year, in which he lead the team in goals with 23.

After a tenuous off-season that supposedly had the 23-year-old Ruutu contemplating retirement due to his injuries and play in the 2005-6 World Championship, he avoided a holdout by signing a two-year deal the day before training camp opened, and is expected to be a major contributor to the Blackhawks if he is able to stay healthy. Ruutu is one of those players with "potential," a buzzword that never fails to add hype and pressure to a young career. While the injury is troubling, it was from a supposed cheap shot, and luckily does not appear to be as serious as it could have been. If he is able to bounce back and stay healthy, his presence on a top line with Martin Havlat could be a huge spark. On the other hand, if another injury brings him down it could be Mark Prior on ice.

Five: Wolves Season Taking Shape
The Wolves started out their 2005-6 preseason 1-1 with a split against the Peoria Rivermen in preparation for their regular season opener Oct. 7 against the same team. The Wolves finished with a respectable 36-32-4-8 record last year, but missed the playoffs by six points. The Wolves are an Atlanta Thrashers farm team, so the roster will be mixed with independent free-agent signings and players on the cusp of making the majors. Although the Thrashers missed the playoffs by two points, they have a young, promising team, and therefore many of last year's Wolves players will be returning to Allstate Arena, including Michael Garnett in goal, who spent a quarter of last year with the Thrashers in addition to his 35 starts for the Wolves. Top 2005-6 scorer Ramzi Abid signed with Nashville over the offseason and Kip Miller signed with archrival Grand Rapids, so the Wolves will be looking for someone new to light the lamp this year. Who that player is remains to be seen, as the roster is still being filled out with Thrashers players that didn't make the cut, and the Wolves are still making cuts of their own. Until final rosters are set, it's hard to have a good idea of what kind of team the Wolves will put on the ice this year, but looking at previous results, the team is always in playoff contention. I haven't been to a game in Rosemont since the NHL lockout days, but the hockey played is high-quality with NHL-caliber players, and the there's a lot of excitement generated throughout the night, both on and off the ice. Given my druthers, I'll still be at the soulless United Center, but the Wolves provide an entertaining product to watch that the rest of Chicago's teams can only hope to emulate.

Bears in Five

...has been rendered speechless by this undefeated record.

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About the Author(s)

Steve Gozdecki has been a White Sox fan his entire life, with the exception of an ill-advised flirtation with the 1984 Cubs in the days when his town wasn't wired for cable. Because he swears by the work of the "baseball outsiders," who believe that statistical analysis trumps old truisms like subjective evaluation and team chemistry, he found himself pleasantly surprised when the Sox won it all last year. Each week through the 2006 season, Steve will bring you five crucial talking points you can use the next time someone says, "Hey, how 'bout them Sox?" Send comments to

Steve Gillies watches too much soccer to be completely healthy. He's been a Fire fan since he stood in a torrential downpour while the Fire beat New England 6-0 and he realized watching American soccer games in person was a lot better than watching European football matches on television. Each week he'll give you five things to talk about if you happen to get cornered by one of those soccer people at a party. Send comments to

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he plans to execute a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions and arguments to

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