Beckman starting to focus more on future


Beckman starting to focus more on future

CHAMPAIGN Illinois head coach Tim Beckmans weekly press conferences are always focused on the future the immediate future. On Monday, however, the discussion turned to more distant concerns.

After Illinois (2-8, 0-6) latest disappointing game, a 17-3 loss at home to Minnesota, both the coach and the press were eager to talk about recruitment and beyond.

One hot topic on Monday was true freshman Mason Monheim, who earned his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor after an outstanding, 15 tackle, performance against the Golden Gophers. Monheim, along with fellow true freshman Mike Svetina, started at linebacker for Illinois and encouraged the coach with his play and maturity.

Anytime an 18 year old and steps in to play Big Ten football as well as he does, I think, it surprises us all, Beckman said. Im proud of this freshman class. We have a lot of Masons, a lot of guys who step up and dont act like 18-year-oldswhen recruiting we look for guys who want to be great, we look for guys who are willing to do everything to be the best in everything they do.

In recent days Beckman and his staff have turned their attention finding more players like Monheim. Because of quirks on the Illini roster, including players who have already graduated but retained eligibility, Illinois has as many as 13 positions available in the current freshman class for players to assume in January.

So far the team has identified seven players, mostly high school students, who will fill those spots. For the final eight positions the coaching staff will look through the remaining talent pool and also try to recruit some players from the junior college ranks.

We are very active right now trying to find the best players, junior college or high school, Beckman said. Its huge to get those players in here early.

Though his attention was often turned toward future, perhaps more fruitful, concerns, Beckman did spend a good deal of time talking about Illinois final home game of the season against Purdue (4-6, 1-5).

The Boilermakers come to Champaign this Saturday on the heels of their first conference win, a 27-24 victory over Iowa, clinched with a last second field goal. Beckman said Purdues athleticism was crucial last week and felt their picking up a conference win on the road would be a boost for the struggling team.

This is going to be another challenge for us, he said.

One challenge for Illinois in particular, will be containing Kawann Short, who picked up Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after notching four tackles for loss against Iowa. The challenge is not a new one for the Illini, though.

Before the season quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase names Short as one of the best defensive players in the league. He said Short forces change in the game plan because of how good a player he is. Scheelhaase did not think Short of the Purdue defensive line presented a challenge the Illini could not overcome, however.

Since Ive played against them their defensive line has always been a strength. Theyre a big blitzing team, so we have to not only prevent them from making big plays when they do blitz, but make big plays ourselves, Scheelhaase said.

To make big plays, however, the offensive line for Illinois will have to improve. Beckman made it clear no linemans job was safe, and changes to the line could be forthcoming.

Weve been working on different things and trying to get better. If it means some personnell changes, thats what it means, the coach said.

Last week the Illini failed to convert a few short yardage plays, most notably from second and goal on the one-yard line. Center Graham Pocic acknowledged his units shortcoming and said the line was working on improvement.

Short yardage, goal line situations, those are key situations in the game. As an O-lineman you pride yourself on those situations and obviously we didnt do a good job on that, he said. As a group we have to win the match-ups, one-on-one.

Illinois will kick-off their final home game of the season at 2:42 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

Illini Notebook

-The status of junior linebacker Jonathon Brown (shoulder) is still uncertain for Saturday. Beckman said the Butkus Award semifinalist was out of the sling he was seen wearing on the sideline against Minnesota, but had not been cleared by the doctors yet.

-When asked to assess Scheelhaases contributions so far this season, Beckman said the quarterback has been good as a player and excellent as a leader. When you accounted for injuries that have limited him to just six fully healthy weeks, he continued, and the fact that this his first season in a new system, Beckman was very pleased with Scheelhaase.

-Illinois is last in the Big Ten in several offensive categories, including rushing offense, total offense and sacks allowed per game.

-Saturdays game will be the final home contest for 21 Illini seniors.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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