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Wednesday, November 14

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Bears in Five

by the Bearscast.com Hosts

...is celebrating the Bears' bye week. Back next week.

Pucks in Five

The Game On TV
by Jeremy Piniak

One: Live, from the United Center
Monday afternoon was the dawning of a new era on West Madison Street, as the Blackhawks announced the seven-date "Game On! The Home Series" schedule, starting Sunday at 6pm against the archrival Red Wings. The rest of the schedule is as follows:

Friday, Nov. 30, 7:30pm vs. Phoenix Coyotes
Sunday, Dec. 9, 6pm vs. Calgary Flames
Wednesday, Dec. 26, 7:30pm vs. Nashville Predators
Sunday, Jan. 6, 6pm vs. Detroit Red Wings
Friday, March 7, 7:30pm vs. San Jose Sharks
Sunday, March 23, 2pm vs. St. Louis Blues

Besides division rivals Nashville, St. Louis and Detroit, the Blackhawks will televise the Wayne Gretzky-coached Phoenix game, as well as the return Iron Mike Keenan (currently coaching Atlanta) and the possible last Chicago game of Blackhawk great Jeremy Roenick, who is currently chasing his 500th goal as a member of the Sharks.

Team chairman Rocky Wirtz talked of additional possible games this season if the opportunity arose, as well as future season's home and road games being broadcast in high-def. Hockey in HD makes a world of difference in watching a game, and it's great that after so long of being behind the times, the Hawks are positioning themselves closer to the cutting edge of technology. Monday's press conference also saw Wirtz's first public comments since taking over the team after his father's death. While it's hard to make a full judgement so quickly, between his personable, positive nature and the changes made in the first month, the ice is starting to look clearer on the other side of the boards.

Two: October = Kaner
In the first of what is expected to be many accolades, number one draft pick Patrick Kane was named the NHL rookie of the month for October. Kane picked up five goals and 11 assists in his first 12 games to lead all rookies in scoring, and has already established himself as one of the top offensive threats on the Blackhawks. There were questions entering the season about his diminutive stature (Kane is only 5'8" tall), but he's answered those questions while also showing he has the heart and grit to win pucks from players that tower over him.

Three: Central Division Dates
After 14 games, the Blackhawks stand at an even 7-7, a respectable start for a team trying to return to relevance. Unfortunately, despite the .500 record, the team finds itself tied for third or last in the Central Division, depending on your perspective, with St. Louis and Nashville. Coincidentally, the Blues and Predators were the Hawks' opponents last weekend, which naturally, the team split. Following a come-from-behind 3-2 victory in St. Louis Saturday, the team came out flat in a 2-5 lethargic loss Sunday. Despite splitting the last two games, the Hawks can still make a huge move in the Central Division standings, as their next six games feature return engagements with St. Louis and Nashville, as well as a pair of games with both Columbus and Detroit. While division standings don't matter in terms of direct playoff implications, the NHL's unbalanced schedule currently has division rivals playing eight times, and picking up points within the division can provide bragging rights and increased confidence.

Four: Sharp Shorties
The hero of Saturday's 3-2 win against the Blues was Patrick Sharp, who netted two third period short-handed goals, tying a Blackhawks record with seven others, including current head coach Denis Savard. Sharp's picked up five goals and four assists in the first 14 games, putting him fifth on the team in scoring. Four of his five goals have been a man up or down, making Sharp a key fixture on both special teams lines. Sharp began his career in Philadelphia before a trade to the Blackhawks in 2005, and in his first two years showed a penchant of getting hot late in the year. Seeing him perform at this level early has him on pace to easily eclipse his career high 35 points (20 goals, 15 assists), set last year. Sharp's not an especially flashy player (my friend likes to call him the best 50-goal scorer that never was due to his missing some open nets on great feeds), but he's a well-rounded player who does many of the little things that don't show up in the highlight reels, but has the ability to make plays when called upon, as Saturday proved.

Five: Wolves Open Up the Offense
Despite missing their top scorers from a year ago, the Wolves' offense just keeps putting the puck in the net. Jesse Schultz netted the first hat trick of the year in a 7-1 victory over the Quad City Flames. Left wing Jordan LaVallee picked up two goals and an assist and Jason Krog notched three assists to pace the Wolves to the easy victory. The Wolves had an unusual five-day layoff after their last game, an overtime loss to Milwaukee, but came out firing to keep their record undefeated in regulation at 7-0-1-0. After the break, the team enters a difficult stretch of four road games in five days, including a return tilt at the Quad Cities and a rematch against last year's Western Conference final foe, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Chicago's off to their best start in franchise history, but will face a tough task to keep their undefeated record next week.

Bulls in Five

Winless Bulls
by Dan and Patrick O'Neil

One: Early to Follow, Early to Fallow
The 0-3 Bulls seem to be continuing a pattern of falling behind early in the game and early in the season. Bulls spend too much energy in the third quarter trying to get back on top, when, if they had come out more boldy or consistently at the start, they wouldn't have such a hole to get out of. Any matador will tell you if you get a sword in early the fight is easier. Think fast, Bulls! Find the open man. Olé!

Two: No Kobe
The big news was no news at Berto Center this week, as General Manager John Paxson called a press conference to say that Kobe wasn't coming. But really all he was saying was that he wasn't coming any time soon. "Who knows? The reality now is, it's done." The season's trade deadline isn't until February. Putting rumors to rest while pumping up future rumors. This is definitely not the last we've heard of this. Bulls play the Lakers on November 18 in LA.

Three: Circus
While the Bulls are out of town for a West Coast tour, another circus will be in town. The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus will be performing with the million-dollar Bello the clown at the United Center. Say hello to the friendly culture jammers from PETA who provide anti-circus coloring books and pro-elephant comics [PDF] outside the elephant area that indict Ringling as conspirators in the elephant killing business. They're good at their game. But for chrissake -- first they get rid of midget-tossing, now they want to get rid of elephants at the circus? What are we going to do next, get rid of $10 decorative-unicorn-motifed-flavored-shaved-ice-holders?

Four: Promotional Nights
One high note in this season's promotional nights is Luol Deng Bobblehead Night, Dec. 3. Several slots are left in the calendar; might I direct the attention of media buyers for these attractive products: Trojan condoms for the New Year's Eve Orlando Magic matchup (start the year off right), Red Bull energy drink for the New Orleans Hornets (Must-build-houses. Must-not-stop.), or the Writers Guild of America-West for the Nov. 6 L.A. Clippers game (no scabs!). Of course, I will enjoy a portion of the industry standard 17.65 percent mark-up.

Five: Try Trying Harder
Bigger sports minds can probably put this into better statistical terms than I ever could -- offensive rebounds, turnovers, points in the paint, etc. But the main reason the Bulls haven't won a game all season is because they're not trying hard enough to score more points than the other team. Maybe the most disturbing thing is that they're not exactly losing to the league's cream -- they provided the sole win for both Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Fighting for the cellar and winning. If you were looking for a bright spot (were you?), you could point to an injury report that only contains one guy, first round draft pick Joakim Noah. Here's a picture of him actually dribbling a ball in a Bulls jersey.

Fire in Five

This Ride is Not For the Faint of Heart
by Steve Gillies

One: A Quick Book Review
In case you didn't see it, I thought I'd draw your attention to this article on local soccer writer, Jamie Trecker, from the Chicago Reader's Fall Books issue. As the article states, Trecker has a reputation for being a lot crankier about the state of US Soccer than anyone around, including, um, even me. Still, the game in this country ought to be strong enough to withstand and certainly can benefit from some harsh criticism. Jamie was nice enough to send me a copy of his book, Love and Blood. It's an enjoyable read that's part travelogue, part sociological fan study, and part analysis of the money and corporate interests behind the world's biggest sporting event. Worth checking out.

Two: Turning A One Goal Lead Into A Three Goal Lead, Turning That Three Goal Lead Into A One Goal Lead
So, we left off last week with the Fire traveling to DC with a slender one goal lead. At the start of the game, it looked like the Fire would do little more than cling to that one goal lead for dear life. Then, in the 30th minute, something amazing happened. Two of the season's most maligned Fire players combined for a beautiful goal. Calen Carr, a surprise starter, hit a perfect pass to Chad Barrett. It was the usually profligate Barrett's only chance of the evening and he took it perfectly. Two minutes later a second goal came from more predictable sources, as Blanco flicked a ball to Chris Rolfe to bury it in the top right corner. So, with a two goal lead, 3-0 on aggregate, going into halftime, the Fire was basically free and clear. Right? Wrong. Within seven minutes of the second half, DC clawed back to 2-2. With all the momentum in the world and a rabid crowd cheering them on, DC needed just one goal to force the game to overtime. That's when the clinging on for dear life began in earnest.

Three: Soccer Is Not Escapism
Have you ever run the gamut of all possible human emotions within a minute? Well, Fire fans got that opportunity during minute 92 of the DC game, or as I like to call it, the most stressful minute of my entire life. It started with Floyd Franks, another maligned player, fighting his way through the makeshift DC defense and shooting on a wide open DC net with the crowd at the Globe going nuts. It seemed to take an hour, but the shot eventually, tragically, ballooned over the top of the goal to the sound of groans from the bar. The disappointment became absolute shock when DC tore down the field and Christian Gomez scored the tying goal. You could hear a pin drop. And then, you could hear someone shouting, "HE CALLED IT BACK! HE CALLED IT BACK." (OK, that was actually me shouting). Then you couldn't hear anything above the celebration as the Fire took a free kick, rather than a kickoff. Eventually, the replay showed Gomez clearly handling the ball to set up his chance, although how any ref could have spotted that without the benefit of a replay, I'll never know.

Four: In the Interest of Everyone's Health
Let's all take a second to breath a sigh of relief. OK, let's move on.

Five: New England, Again
With New England winning their playoff match against New York, it sets up our annual playoff disappointment in New England. Make no mistake about it. Foxboro, Massachusetts is where the Fire season has gone to die for the past three years. Four of the past five. Will it be different this year? It's tough to say. The Fire have lost by the narrowest of margins in recent years: a tight last minute offsides call in 2005, then penalties last year. And the law of averages says they can't lose to the same team every year. More importantly though, over the past two months this team has been tested every single game and I really think it's made them stronger. The second half Thursday night, DC United, the best team in the league, put them through hell and they came through it together. They just need to do that one more time. No. Make that two more times.

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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). Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

Patrick O'Neil is a Chicago designer and software developer. His second Bull's championship celebration was marred by a cordon of riot police at North, Milwaukee and Damen. Daniel X. O'Neil is Chicago writer and old skool Bulls fan. See more of him here. Send comments to bulls@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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