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Wednesday, November 14

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Pucks in Five

The Future of Chicago Hockey?
by Jeremy Piniak

One: Sterling shines in Game 1 win
With two goals from AHL Rookie of the Year Brett Sterling, the Wolves pulled out to a 3-0 lead before holding off the Milwaukee Admirals 3-2 in the first game of the West Division semifinal. Sterling continued his spectacular play in his first postseason contest, opening the scoring just 87 seconds into the game, and his second goal was a power-play marker off a feed from the corner by line mate and AHL MVP Darren Haydar. Goaltender Michael Garnett gave up a penalty shot goal to let Milwaukee pull within a goal, but held on for the final 11 minutes, making 20 saves in the game. Given the Wolves' struggles at home during the regular season, picking up the first win at Allstate Arena had to be a load off their minds, and Chicago came out firing to keep their advantage, playing a strong game and withstanding the Ads late rally.

Two: Relaxed Wolves Roll
Sunday's Game Two saw the Wolves continue their winning ways from Friday, notching two more goals in the first period and extending their lead to 3-0 on Brett Sterling's third postseason goal en route to a 4-1 victory over Milwaukee. The Wolves now lead the best-of-seven 2-0, and in their history is 10-0 in series victories when winning the first two contests. Darren Haydar ripped a wrist shot past Admiral goalie Pekka Rinne for a 1-0 lead, and center Matt Anderson put the Wolves up 2-0 with a rebound goal in his first professional game for Chicago. Milwaukee poured on a furious third period effort, out-shooting the Wolves 17-4 in the third, and 30-24 for the game, but goalie Michael Garnett had his second strong game in net, giving up only a single goal on a cross-ice one-timer. Garnett has yet to lose a game in his postseason career for the Wolves, running his record to 4-0. With two consecutive quick starts leading to home wins, the Wolves have set the tempo of the series and put Milwaukee in a tough spot to mount a comeback. Chicago was 4-0-1 in Milwaukee this season, and the team tied an AHL record for road victories with 27, and all the pressure is on the Admirals to pull themselves back into the series.

Three: Schedule is Stuffed
As the Wolves-Admirals series shifts to Milwaukee tonight at 7pm for Game Three, Chicago finds itself looking at a busy week if they let the Ads force their way back into the series. Game Four will happen on a 24-hour turnaround tomorrow, and if necessary, Game Five will be back at the Allstate Arena Friday night. Chicago would like to end the series in the first five games, as Game Six would then shift back to Milwaukee 24 hours after the end of Game Five and would be their fourth game in five days, a stretch that can definitely be tiresome. Were the series to reach Game Seven, that would happen next Tuesday in Chicago. The Wolves have the momentum heading into Game Three, and a win tonight can very well lead to a sweep tomorrow, as the back-to-back games provide little time for Milwaukee to adjust and implement a new strategy if tonight finds them struggling.

Four: Anderson's A-game
Making a great first impression in Game Two was center Matt Anderson, who scored the game-winning goal in his first professional game. Anderson was signed by the Wolves to an Amateur Tryout Contract March 29, but had yet to join the lineup until Sunday. A recent graduate of UMass-Amherst, he tallied 90 points in 126 games of his college career, with 19 of those (nine goals, 10 assists) coming during his recently completed senior season. The 24-year-old will be fighting for a spot on next year's team, but if he continues to light the lamp, he will find a line spot somewhere in the Wolves strong offensive attack.

Five: Have my prayers been answered?
Friday's Toronto Star had a report that depending on who is named as the new president of the NHL Players Association, Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz may sell the team.

Let me repeat that. Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz may sell the team.

The rest of the article was somewhat of a blur, as I couldn't stop rereading that sentence over and over while rubbing my rosary and saying Hail Marys, but had something to do with previous union rep Bob Goodenow's accusing teams like the Hawks of lying when saying they were losing money, which Chicago has done for the last 10 years to the tune of $191 million. This past season, the team was second to last in attendance at 12, 727 and lost $31 million. Goodenow's decade-long tenure as NHLPA president ended during the lockout of 2004, which was caused by Goodenow and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's inability to reach a deal that would keep league franchises solvent under escalating player salaries.

For a franchise that has long been thrifty under "Dollar Bill" losses of that amount have to rankle, and the erosion of the fan base will continue to make these losses mount for Wirtz unless he puts a playoff-caliber team on the ice and returns the roar to the United Center. Of course, one has to imagine selling the rights to televise home games could have cut those losses as well. Whether Wirtz was making idle threats or serious about ending his 41-year ownership of the team remains to be seen, but new management could reinvigorate an organization that often operates like it's still 1967.

Bulls in Five

by Jason Maslanka

...is out of the office. Please leave a message at the buzzer.

Cubs in Five

Woo! South! Woo! West!
by Jeff Webber

One: Even My Cheapo Insurance Would Send Me to Surgery By This Point
Mark Prior is finally getting that shoulder surgery we've all pretty much known he needed. Famed sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews will be performing what the team is calling "exploratory" surgery today in Alabama. I used to live there, and I'm giving you permission to get cold chills from this information: the "future of the franchise" in the hands of the smartest guy in Alabama. Alabama.

Two: There's Always Room for Pie
It's nice to have an actual centerfielder on the team in the person of phenom Felix Pie. And word is, he may get to keep that job permanently, with Alfonso Soriano sliding over to left and Murton and Floyd sharing right. That's great and all, but do keep this in mind: through Sunday, Pie is just 3-for-22 at the plate for a dismal .136 average. Jacque Jones was in the lineup in center on Monday. With Piniella clamoring for another pitcher on the staff, somebody is going to get sent down or dealt and it's going to be soon.

Three: Favorite Cubs Player Name of the post-Angel Pagan Era: Rocky Cherry
The Cubs called up reliever Rocky Cherry from Triple A Iowa today, placing starter Wade Miller on the disabled list for "middle back spasms" in the process. (I guess "failure to stop sucking" isn't considered a legit medical condition.) Cherry isn't necessarily a top-tier prospect, as he's already 27, but he could be interesting all the same. After Tommy John surgery in 2005, Cherry was converted to relief and he's excelled ever since, clocking 12 strikeouts in only nine innings at Iowa this year (against no walks!) and ringing up a sparkling 1.74 ERA with three saves during spring training with the big club. Plus, he's named like a Ben & Jerry flavor, which is never bad.

Four: "On Pace For..."
You can flip a coin five times and get heads four times and no one will be ridiculous enough to suggest that from that moment forward, 80 percent of your coin flips will be heads. But in baseball, people love to get overly excited about small sample sizes, usually in the form of the phrase "So-and-so is on pace for..." So why not indulge a bit ourselves? After all, Michael Barrett is on pace for 150 RBIs. On the other hand, Carlos Zambrano is on pace for 17 losses. Ted Lilly is, too. But then again, Ronny Cedeno is pace to slug 26 homeruns... while batting .107. Rich Hill is on pace for 26 wins and zero losses. The message? You can take those "on pace for" discussions from sportscasters with a boulder-sized grain of salt this time of year.

Five: Ronnie Woo-Woo, As Experienced on a Southwest Flight to Phoenix
Nope, this wasn't on the way to a Cubs game. Ronnie was on his way to Country Thunder. I am not making this up.

Sox in Five

Happy Days Are Here Again
by Steve Gozdecki

From 5-7 to 10-8 in the space of a week? This, we can get used to. And with another game in Kansas City, then back home for two against Detroit and three against the Angels, things may look even rosier for your Chicago White Sox next week.

One: Hurly Buehrle!
Like perfect games but slightly less so, no-hitters are fascinating in part because they go down in history as something a pitcher did even though they are very much a team achievement. This was especially true last Wednesday night at the Cell, when Mark Buehrle sported some exceptional stuff and got some solid defense behind him in the course of throwing the first no-hit game of his career, which saw 18 outs being made by his well-positioned, flawlessly executing fielders. The crafty lefty had stuff like we hadn't seen in quite some time, reaching 90 miles per hour with his fastball to make his low-70s changeup that much more effective. And while I, like most baseball-know-it-alls, dismissed all the talk the next day about how the team would "feed off of his momentum" and what not, the fact is that a pair of Buehrle wins have sandwiched the team's recent 5-1 hot streak. Causality? Correlation? Or just a good team playing good ball? (Speaking of good ball, Buehrle actually pitched a combined 12 innings over three games without allowing a hit between the end of his April 11 start against Oakland and last night's game against the Royals.) If Buehrle is back, the 2007 Sox will be a very different animal than I expected them to be.

Two: We Won Against a Left-Handed Starting Pitcher!
C.C. Sabathia shuts the Sox down twice on the young year. Johan! Makes 'em look silly. Even Oakland's Joe Kennedy kept the Sox from doing anything when he pitched against them a week and a half ago. But finally last Saturday the Sox managed to win a game started by a left-handed pitcher when they thumped Detroit's Nate Robertson. With Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede all theoretically bringing big lumber from the right-hand side, the spell that lefties cast upon the White Sox offense remains a vexing mystery.

Three: Digging a Hole
Is there a new grinder rule that the Sox have to fall behind every night and then rough up the other team's middle relievers while bringing on the mighty power bullpen to suppress the opponent's offense? I mean sure, it's what this team was built to do and all, but the early three and four spots the Sox are giving up suggests that some of the "woo, our pitching staff is back!" talk is a bit premature.

Four: Paulie!
Ya know how Paul Konerko likes to go through a long slump or two each season? And how it sees him feebly thrashing about in the dugout after another popup or whiff and generates great quotes like his recent "We've got some [expletive] pros that want to play the game. It would be different if they didn't give a [expletive], but they give a [expletive]"? Well we may have to settle for the Rated G Paulie for a while after his three-for-four, two homer, five RBI performance last night got his average back above the Mendoza line. Rise above, Paulie — rise above.

Five: Curls for the Girls
Since this past weekend marked the first time that I've caught the Tigers on the tube this season, I have to admit that I was unprepared for the interesting sight that is Magglio Ordonez's hair. Is he growing it all big and crazy in hopes of making his face — quite possibly the largest in major league history — appear smaller? Does he moonlight in an '80s hair metal cover band? Is he trying to deny that he's in his thirties? Is it a Sampson thing? (A mere two home runs this year suggest that the ole boy's strength is waning, not waxing.) Inquiring minds want to know what makes Mags grow the hair. Why, Magglio, why?

Bonus: Oddly Enough...
Through 18 games (including eight losses), only closers named Joe (Nathan and Borowski) have recorded saves against the 2007 Chicago White Sox. Having Nathan close the door on you is no disgrace, but letting Sweaty Joe Borowski do it three times? Ouch.

Fire in Five

Some Good Things Happened, One Shockingly Bad Thing Didn't
by Steve Gillies

One: Being Positive
This weekend's 2-1 win over Kansas City was a marked improvement over the first two games. The main difference? A lot of those passes that were going backwards and sideways last week were being played forward, behind the Kansas City defense this week. It was refreshing to see the Fire really looking to create chances as soon as they got the ball, rather than just trying not to lose it. The first goal was a perfect example, with Armas playing the quick through ball for Chad Barrett, who finished clinically.

Two: Rolfe and Barrett
And while we're talking about strikers, Barrett and Chris Rolfe definitely look like they should be able to complement each other. Barrett's the bruiser that will run people over, while Rolfe is the sneaky little guy that will create havoc in the space Barrett leaves in his wake. And they both have a knack for scoring goals. The only worry is that neither of them is particularly good in the air, but that might be a benefit if it keeps the Fire from sending long, hopeful balls out of the back. They haven't played together very much over the years and it looks like they still need a little bit of time to click, but I think the pairing has a lot of potential. They'll need to fulfill it fast though, since they're playing with the Sword of Cuauhtémoc dangling above their heads.

Three: How Not to Handle Security Issues
After the first game of the season Fire and Toyota Park officials were not happy about smoke bombs coming out of Section 8 (the supporter's section behind the goal) or the empty beer cans they left behind. Their response was to send emails and voice mails to everyone with tickets telling them they would have to enter through Gate C where they would be subject to extra security attention, including pat downs. You can imagine how that went over.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the Fire would need to rethink how they dealt with security issues with the arrival of Blanco and the group of passionate fans he'll attract. Their reaction to the only group of current fans that bring any passion to the stadium is a pretty huge cause for concern. Singling out people for extra attention based on what section they sit (or stand) in, well it's about a quarter-step away from profiling. That's not a technique you want to use, or even be perceived as using, if you're an organization that is looking forward to having a large influx of Mexican fans in the near future.

There is also the issue of practicality. Once word got out about the policy, the internet was full of people that don't stand in Section 8 but were perfectly willing to smuggle in smoke bombs and booze for those that do. So rather than preventing anything, all the policy would have accomplished would be to create a sense of animosity between security and fans right out of the gate (literally), and to make supporters feel a little less welcome at Toyota Park.

Four: Cooler Heads Prevailed
Notice how I said "would have" in the last sentence? The good news is that the pat downs were canceled, thanks to intervention from Steve Landek, the Mayor of Bridgeview (who ended up watching the first half of the game from Section 8 and got pretty upset when they wanted to pat down Peter Wilt coming into the stadium). Section 8 responded by being on their best behavior. The section was full and noisy, but there weren't any smoke bombs. They even went so far as to not do that certain chant when the opposing goalie took goal kicks in front of them. So there's a happy ending for now, but the bad news is that somebody in the Fire organization thought this was a way to handle the problem in the first place.

Five: Something That Should Have Happened But Didn't
There should have been a moment of silence before the game and the players should have worn black armbands. Seriously.

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Comments

Nuke LaLoosh / April 24, 2007 12:29 PM

Jeff:

Excellent comment about the "projected to" numbers. Small sample sizes and too much Old Style are the devil's workshop.

That said, we now have 10% of the baseball games in the record book. It might be a reasonable time to have a good old fashioned "fish or cut bait" discussion on some players. Here are 3 players to keep in the tackle box and 3 to send to the briny depths.

Keep 'em:

Ryan Theriot: Some growing pains (his fielding range as a MI could use a step up) but he has made some nice plays, seems an legit .300-ish hitter, and has 25-35 SB speed. Little power, but can score from first. He should be the leadoff man of the present. Plus, with "Cherry," "Pie," and "The[R]iot," we now have 3 cool-looking jerseys to wear as Cubs fans.

Felix Pie: needs to be more patient, but looks legit -- runs well, makes solid contact, powerful arm, and defensively, it appears that leather is with him at least as much as it is with Berman

http://deadspin.com/sports/chris-berman/he-could-go-all-the-way-166410.php.,

3) Cliff Floyd: I am convinced of the legitimacy of Floyd's ability as a hitter, though he can't run well with his gimpy ankles. Despite this weakness, his bat is potent enough to hang on to him. He can at least do the defensive job of #3, listed below.

Sink 'em (poor baseball fundamentals edition):

1) Ronny Cedeno. Regarding last Friday against the Cards -- nice slide, jerk. I am sure you will hold on to the bag next time -- in AAA.

2) Cesar Izturis. Here is an equation: 3 errors/1 game x (.294 career OBP + .355 career SLG%) + 1 SB = 0 playing time. Welcome to the waiver wire!

3) Daryle Ward. A poor-fielding, out-of-shape "power" hitter who has no speed and a career OPS of .759? Please, enjoy your softball league this summer! Anything you can do, Floyd can do better.

I may have Sox suggestion later.

Michelle / April 24, 2007 2:06 PM

Steve,
"Is it a Sampson thing?".... Do you mean a "Simpson thing," as in Marge?

Steve / April 24, 2007 3:49 PM

Michelle -- definitely closer to Otto than Marge. Is Maggs on the chronic and driving a school bus? And is Sweaty Joe Borowski really Principal Skinner?

Jeff Webber / April 24, 2007 9:09 PM

Hiya Nuke. Some nice thoughts there. I mostly agree.

I'm a believer in Pie. He'll struggle some at the plate, but they way he fields and as much natural talent as he has, I am all for letting him keep CF.

I think Floyd, at this stage in his career, is something like the latter stages Darryl Strawberry. No, no... I don't mean arrests and coke, I mean he's good for maybe 350 at-bats of productivity, so long as we don't push him too hard. I hate to see Murton stuck behind him, but we do need the lefty in the lineup.

Theriot has no power at all...not even doubles. His career minor league SLG is an appalling .337. I think as soon as that batting average settles down, he's going to look punchless. I'd love to be wrong, though.

Nuke LaLoosh / April 24, 2007 10:12 PM

Jeff -- Thanks for the reply. I apologize for the slightly rambling, typo-ridden post above-- I'm working on very little sleep today. I'll be more succinct in the future.

Sox in Fivers (and baseball fans in general):

Joe Crede - is his back bothering him again? I was at the no hitter and he made a couple of sterling defensive plays -- he didn't play the field like he had an injury. If he isn't hurt, why the .232 BA?

Also -- mad, mad props to Buehrle! Well said -- a great individual and a great team performance. But why no Sox in Five love for the Pride of Peoria, Jim Thome? His 2-HR performance that night was remarkable and moved Thome up in the "all time" HR list ahead of Stan "the Man" Musial!

One last question -- section 161 let Kenny Lofton have it all night during the no hitter. It is rare to hear such a constant barrage of vitriol directed at the guy who was a non-entity in the game.

I understand the Sammy Sosa boo-birds, but Kenny Lofton? Is there a secret reason the Southside faithful hate Lofton so much? Is the fact that he wore Cubbie blue for a few critical weeks in 2003 enough reason?

Andrew / April 25, 2007 10:38 AM

Hey Jeremy, did you see that the Hounds' Greg Puhalski was named UHL Coach of the Year? They may not have had a winning season, but their coach is pretty good, I guess.

Steve / April 25, 2007 12:40 PM

Hey Nuke,

Thome gets no love from Sox in Five. What kind of a grinder misses a game with "sore ribs"? (Oh, I kid -- if I don't mention Thome enough, it's because I expect excellence from him and may overlook him. Five walks in a game against the Rangers last week? Now that's getting r-e-s-p-e-c-t!)

Raise your hand if you ever thought grindErstad would DH for the Sox, as he did last night. Bueller? Anyone? Bueller? Reminds you how thin the bench becomes when you're carrying a dozen pitchers.

Why anyone would boo Lofton is beyond me. The Sox were only the second team he played for back when they signed him before the '02 season (amazing that he's now on his ninth; that's Reggie Sanders-licious!).

vijay / April 28, 2007 9:55 AM

dudes, this is stupid. The most important Chicago sports story right now is the Chicago Bulls. I know Bulls in five is out for the moment, but that's no excuse. Everything in five should take a back seat to the Bulls. Let's give them their due. They've earned it.

Maardvark / April 30, 2007 1:41 AM

Vijay--the Bulls are getting so much coverage right now that it's good to remember that the baseball season is heating up, that we actually DO have a playoff hockey team, and that the Fire apparently have smoke. And when was the last time either the Fire or the Wolves made the front page of either paper's sports page, hm?

And baseball--there's a lot to talk about with both teams.

Nuke LaLoosh / April 30, 2007 10:06 AM

Okay, okay. Go Bulls.

Beating the Heat in 4 is impressive, no question.

Personally, I am only passingly interested in the NBA (or other pro sports, for that matter) and I basically wait all year for baseball to start, with college hoops serving as a brief respite.

That said, there is no real question that Skiles has put together a pretty special group of guys and wrings the best out of them.

Go Bulls, and beat those Pistons! In my opinion, this series will be a substantially more difficult test of their ability than playing Miami.

 

About the Author(s)

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

Jeff Webber spends hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word he can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season he's boiling them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. Send comments to cubs@gapersblock.com.

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 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 sox@gapersblock.com.

Steve Gillies has 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 fire@gapersblock.com.

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