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Bears in Five

The Scarlet 'C'
by Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon & Friends

One: The Scarlet 'C'
Devin Hester (Prynne) is giving us fits. He's scored touchdowns. He's muffed and fumbled punts. And then he makes up for all of it with his record tying 108-yard return of a missed field goal by Jay Feely. Hester is a game-changing player who comes with a catch, sometimes his explosiveness backfires on him. We'll take it, though. As long as he keeps scoring touchdowns we'll keep thinking about taking off the mark of shame. That 'C' will be changed back to its intended orange soon enough.

Two: What a Difference a Half Makes.
Rex Grossman is scaring the Bears in Five team. And if you are prone to fits of insanity while watching Bears games, he's scaring you as well. He isn't the same quarterback he was at the beginning of the season. He isn't the same quarterback from drive to drive, it seems. But he keeps winning football games. That's why we haven't outfitted him with the same markings as Mr. Hester. Yet.

Three: Guess Who Isn't Getting the Scarlet 'C'?
Alex Brown will not be given the mark of shame. Brown kept piling on to his Pro Bowl caliber statistics against the Giants on Sunday. Alex registered the only two sacks of the game for the Bears. The number is more significant when you consider that the defense was not credited with one against the Dolphins last week. And by the way, Mr. Brown forced fumbles on both of his sacks. The Bears recovered one of them. That Scarlet 'C' is going nowhere near Alex Brown.

Four: Enough Nathaniel Hawthorne. Enough Plaxico Burress.
There will be no more talk of certain colored letters for the rest of this column. Sorry, Plaxico, Charles Tillman covered you all night. And covered you well. But it happens in the sports world all of the time. Friendly talk between opponents. Just make sure your statements are accurate. The Chicago Bears defensive backs are as good as advertised. They are number one in the league in passing yards allowed. They did shut down the passing game of the Giants. Aren't you a part of that passing game, Plaxico?

Five: Is Next Week Considered a Home Game or Not?
The New York Football Jets are next on the schedule for the Bears. In the same stadium they just played in. Two road games in the same place? That doesn't happen ever. Nonetheless, business as usual, another Bears victory is expected. Write it down, take a picture, do whatever. A Bears victory is our guarantee and we stand by it.

Pucks in Five

Turning Things Around by Jeremy Piniak

The Blackhawks' week off leads to a change in fortunes, and possibly a change in minor-league affiliations in this week's Pucks in Five. Plus, we also find out what happens when there's a game scheduled but no ice to play on.

One: Ding Dong, the Streak Is Dead
Finally. The Hawks managed to earn their first points since Oct. 18 this past week. Although losing in New Jersey Thursday night, the team gained a point for the shootout defeat. They followed up that effort with a 3-1 home win against St. Louis Friday night, breaking their eight-game losing streak. On Sunday, the team started a new streak with a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, their second straight win. While the week of "training camp" that coach Trent Yawney put the team through before the Devils game showed in the team's effort in New Jersey, the two wins were much more important, coming against key division rivals on home ice. If the Hawks want to be competitive, these are the kind of games they need to prevail in.

Despite the past week, many of the issues that have plagued the team lately still remain. All three goals the team scored Friday were on the power play, which had been absolutely abysmal of late. However, the offense is still a liability, and the team is consistently outshot and needs their goalies and defense to keep them in games. After some early season struggles, the defense has started to shore up and the play of goaltending tandem Sebastian Caron and Brian Boucher enabled the Hawks to earn their victories, helping to stop the bleeding for now.

Two: Rehab Report
Despite initial projections after Martin Havlat's and Nicolai Khabibulin's injuries three weeks ago, neither player has returned to the Hawks lineup. Havlat's high ankle sprain has been healing slowly, and the Blackhawks sniper just started skating on it this weekend. With the Hawks offense as anemic as it has been since Havlat went down, most would think the team would want to get him back onto the ice as quickly as possible. However, rushing him back before the ankle is 100 percent can make him more susceptible to re-injury, and the focus is on making sure Havlat is healthy for as many games as possible.

Meanwhile, Khabibulin returned to practice last week and is now slated to be back between the pipes Thursday night in Phoenix. Habby had struggled some at the beginning of the year but led the Hawks to a 4-2 record before the broken finger. While Khabibulin is the undisputed starter, Boucher's play in his absence has shown the Hawks that unlike last year, there is a dependable and skilled backup if Khabibulin struggles or is hurt again.

Unfortunately, more Hawks have fallen by the wayside in the meantime. Speedy winger Tony Salmelainen has missed the last five games with a separated shoulder, and there is no word on when he'll be able to return. In Sunday's game, Rene Bourque suffered a scary injury when a flipping Blue Jacket's skate cut him across the neck late in the second period. Bourque was taken to the hospital, where he was reported to be in stable condition and had surgery to repair the laceration. While thankfully it doesn't seem to be serious, it's definitely a frightening thing to experience. Latest reports Monday have Bourque being released from the hospital in the next day or two, but he is expected to miss anywhere from three to six weeks.

Three: Send in the Clowns
In an annual November tradition, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus descends on the United Center today, which means the Hawks are homeless until the circus pulls up its tent stakes November 26. The circus trip to the West Coast is a make-or-break time of year for the Blackhawks, as they usually face a number of top-tier teams. This year is no different. They'll play the top team in the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks, along with the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, who currently hold the seventh through ninth seeds in the conference (the top eight teams make the playoffs). They open the trip Thursday against the lowly Coyotes of Phoenix. With their current win streak, the Hawks sit four points outside of the eighth playoff seed. While it's entirely too early to be discussing playoffs, the fact remains that if the Blackhawks are in contention come springtime, they will most likely be battling the three Canadian teams for one of the final spots. Earning some tough road wins against these teams now could be the difference come April. Likewise, if the team continues their offensive struggles, they could return to the United Center November 29 against Dallas already focusing on next year.

Four: The Road to the United Center Heads through Rockford?
Reports surfaced over the weekend that the Blackhawks are in negotiations to move their AHL affiliation from Norfolk to Rockford next year. The city, 70 miles down the highway from Chicago, is currently home to the Icehogs, who play in the UHL with the Chicago Hounds. The move makes a lot of sense on paper — many teams try to keep their minor-league teams somewhat close by in order to more easily facilitate player movements and enable the front office to keep track of the progress of some of the young prospects. It would not be the first time the Hawks affiliate was in the Midwest. In the days of the old International Hockey League, the team had an affiliation with the Indianapolis Ice before shifting to Norfolk when the IHL folded.

There are some complex issues regarding the move, however. First, the ownership group in Rockford would either need to purchase the Norfolk team and move the entire operation to Rockford with approval from the AHL, or find another franchise to move, as the AHL is unlikely to have a one-team expansion. There are currently 27 teams playing in the AHL, with three teams currently dormant, and all teams need to have an NHL affiliation. Most likely to happen is Rockford purchases the dormant Edmonton franchise, and the Admirals affiliation shifts to Carolina, who currently share an AHL team.

Once a team is found, the question remains how an AHL franchise would function in Rockford with two other franchises already in the nearby markets of Chicago and Milwaukee. I'm assuming that if the team has been negotiating with Rockford, there are no problems with regards to territorial claims, but the current Icehogs team, which is currently affiliated with the NHL's Nashville Predators, would need to find a new location for their players and management. While nothing regarding the deal has been finalized, here's hoping that a deal can be struck. Being in close proximity to the front office staff should help keep tabs on the young prospects and foster their further development, and the synchronicity of having teams in the same geographic area can help build a larger fan base as people are able to see a player develop throughout the years.

Five: Release the Hounds!

The Chicago Hounds began their inaugural season back on October 14th, earning their first win 4-3 over the Rockford Icehogs. Due to the finishing touches being put on their Sears Centre home in Hoffman Estates, the Hounds had to play their first five games on the road. Finally, on November 3, the Hounds were ready to return home. Unfortunately, their home opener had to be put on ice for the night; as it turns out, there wasn't much ice in the arena. After an ice skating show the night before, changes being made to revert the ice back to a hockey rink resulted in significant melting that wasn't repaired in time for the game, an inauspicious start to the Hounds' home season. The ice was fully repaired the next night for the Hounds game against Bloomington, a 3-2 loss which drew 4,444 fans, an impressive start for the franchise. November 10 saw the team earn its first home win 6-2 over the Quad City Mallards in front of 3,130 people. As the team settles into its new digs, its long-term viability will depend on fans continuing to support the Hounds. Pucks in Five is hoping to make a trip out to Hoffman Estates soon in order to take in the Hounds firsthand, and will provide more detailed analysis on the team and league.

Bulls in Five

Early Season Trends
by Jason Maslanka

The Bulls are 3-3 in this young season. That .500 record means absolutely nothing this early in the season. Of all 30 teams in the NBA, precisely zero have no wins or no losses. Since records mean nothing now, what are the indicators of where this team is going?

One: The Ben Wallace Factor
With his inability to hit free throws regularly and an offensive game that resembles Dennis Rodman, many fans are wondering what it is that the four-time defensive player of the year brings to the team. Well, part of the answer was inherent in the statement: defense. It may be hard to quantify defense, but strangely the answer to the above question is offense. Wallace is averaging 4.5 offensive rebounds per game. That really translates into the Bulls having five more offensive possessions per game then they should have because of Wallace. The team overall is averaging 12.5 offensive boards, while their opponents average only 5.8.

Two: Hang Onto That Ball
The young Bulls have been plagued by turnovers for years, but this year has made for better ball control overall. The team averages only 16.0 turnovers per game, while their opponents average 20.5. Turnovers act as the opposite of offensive rebounds in that they take away an offensive possession that should have existed. The maturation of Kirk Hinrich as one of the better point guards in the league and steady play by Chris Duhon are big factors here.

Threeeeee: Hinrich Taking Charge
Last year, Hinrich shot 42 percent and 44 percent from behind the arc. Anyone who's watched Hinrich throughout his career and at Kansas believes he's a better shooter than that. This year, he's taking shots when he's open, driving to the hoop more, and shooting 50 percent both inside and outside the three-point line. This team's offense is very jump shot heavy and it won't survive poor shooting every night. This holds especially true for Ben Gordon, shooting 38 percent and a miserable 20 percent from behind the line in the young season.

Four: Take That Ball
Marquette University Men's Basketball Coach Tom Crean keeps track of his players' deflections in games. Deflections are noted every time a player gets his hands on the ball defensively. Those deflections may not necessarily lead to turnovers, but he feels they're all important in the scheme of team defense. Deflections aren't a tracked stat in the NBA, but steals are. Particularly Wallace, Hinrich and Luol Deng have helped lead the Bulls to nine steals per game so far. Their opponents have averaged only 6.8.

Five: Who's Playing?
Wallace, Hinrich and Deng are averaging over 30 minutes per game. Expect that to continue. Currently, Gordon is not. That could change. Gordon's minutes appear to be directly related to his performance on any given day. As a streaky player, he'll play anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes on any given night. A successful Gordon will join the 30 -minute club soon. Andres Nocioni, PJ Brown, Chris Duhon round out the rotation, along with surprising minutes from rookie Thabo Sefolosha. The only change may see more minutes from fellow rookie Tyrus Thomas as he heals from a broken nose and gets control of fouling issues.

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Comments

zamees / November 20, 2006 12:59 AM

Hey, I've seen two of these billboards around town. This one for "bears" (obviously) and one in Bucktown for the bulls. Has anyone seen any other ones? Cool text service.

 

About the Author(s)

Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and friends are not really friends but rather fierce competitors on the fantasy gridiron. They meet weekly to embarass each other with random football trivia at the Noble Street League HQ. This is where they write their column. Craig knows where every professional athlete went to college, and in some cases the names of their roommates. Creepy. Send comments to bears@gapersblock.com.

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

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 executes 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 bulls@gapersblock.com.

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