Fire to kick off season in Montreal

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Fire to kick off season in Montreal

When MLS says Bienvenue to its 19th franchise, Le Feu will be there.

The Fire will start its season on St. Patricks Day in Montreal according to the 2012 schedule released by the league Thursday. The Impact makes the jump from NASL to MLS and the Men in Red will be their first opponent at Olympic Stadium. (No word as to whether or not Youppi will be in attendance.) The Fires home opener is one week later when the Union visits Toyota Park.

With the leagues membership now at an odd number, the clubs 34-game unbalanced schedule will feature 25 matches against Eastern Conference rivals but theyll play each Western Conference team just once. The best news with this schedule is that the Fire wont have to visit raucous Qwest Field in Seattle where theyve only earned one point from three league matches and lost the U.S. Open Cup there last year. They will instead host the Sounders April 28th. David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy visit Toyota Park on Sunday, July 8th. The Brimstone Cup will be up for grabs in Bridgeview May 23rd when FC Dallas pays visit. On Oct. 3rd, the club will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its founding when former Fire midfielder Peter Nowak brings his Union side back to Chicago on Oct. 3rd.

The Fire are scheduled to appear 13 times on national television, including 5 matches on the brand, spankin new NBC Sports Network (shameless corporate plug!!!) beginning with an April 21st date at Toronto FC. The Men in Red will make their first ever appearance on NBC Saturday, Oct. 6th when they visit Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls. The Fire will have to save its best for last with the last 12 matches of the season against Eastern rivals ending with a home date against DC United Oct. 27th on NBC Sports Network. (You should watch that channel, you REALLY REALLY should!)

The entire schedule is below. Plan your travel accordingly, Section 8.

DATEOPPONENTTIMETVSat., March 17
at Montreal1:00 PM
Sat., March 24
vs. Philadelphia
7:30 PM
Sunday, April 1
at Colorado
6:00 PM
GalavisionSunday, April 15
vs. Houston
6:00 PM
GalavisionSaturday, April 21
at Toronto FC
2:30 PM
NBCSNSaturday, April 28
vs. Seattle
7:30 PM
Friday, May 4
at Chivas USA
10:00 PM
ESPN Deportes
Wednesday, May 9
vs. Real Salt Lake
7:30 PM
Saturday, May 12
vs. Kansas City
7:30 PM
Sunday, May 20
at Portland
6:00 PM
GalavisionWednesday, May 23
vs. FC Dallas
7:30 PM
Saturday, May 26
at Columbus
6:00 PM
GalavisionSaturday, June 2
at New England
6:30 PM
Sunday, June 17
vs. New York
4:00 PM
NBCSN
Saturday, June 23
vs. Columbus
7:30 PM
Friday, June 29
at Kansas City
7:00 PM
NBCSNTuesday, July 3
at Houston
7:30 PM
Sunday, July 8
vs. Los Angeles
2:00 PM
ESPNSaturday, July 14
vs. Vancouver
7:30 PM
Wednesday, July 18
at New York
12:00 PM
Saturday, July 21
at Toronto FC
3:00 PM
Saturday, July 28
at San Jose
9:30 PM
Saturday, Aug. 4
vs. Toronto FC
7:30 PM
Sunday, Aug. 12
at Philadelphia
6:00 PM
GalavisionSaturday, Aug. 18
vs. New England
7:30 PM
Wednesday, Aug. 22
at DC United
6:30 PM
Sunday, Sept. 2
vs. Houston
6:00 PM
GalavisionSaturday, Sept. 15
vs. Montreal
7:30 PM
Saturday, Sept. 22
vs. Columbus
7:30 PM
Friday, Sept. 28
at Kansas City
7:30 PM
NBCSNWednesday, Oct. 3
vs. Philadelphia
7:30 PM
Saturday, Oct. 6
at New York
2:30 PM
NBCSaturday, Oct. 20
at New England
6:30 PM
Saturday, Oct. 27
vs. DC United
6:30 PM
NBCSN

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

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USA TODAY

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

It's not something that's been said often over the decades, but Northwestern is one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

That's the story the standings tell, and with another week of the 2016-17 season in the books, the Wildcats sit at 5-2 in conference play, good for the second-best mark in the league.

That fifth conference win came Sunday afternoon with a 74-72 defeat of Ohio State. It was the first time Northwestern won in Columbus since 1977.

This is the first 5-2 start to Big Ten play for the Cats since 1968. So is this the first time ever the Cats get an invite to the NCAA tournament?

Of course that remains to be seen, but Chris Collins' squad sure seems to be setting itself up for inclusion in the field of 68. Sunday's win was just the latest to come away from Evanston, and in seven conference games, four of the team's five wins have come in road games, including three straight at Nebraska, Rutgers and Ohio State.

Northwestern had to find a way to win Sunday. A couple surges in the first half took the Cats from modest deficits to a lead that grew as big as eight. The halftime advantage was five, but that slipped away quickly as Northwestern shot poorly after halftime. Ice cold is a better descriptor, the Cats struggling to get their field-goal percentage above 30 percent over the final 20 minutes. It got there eventually, the team finishing shooting 32.3 percent in the second half, but it was the work from the free-throw line that made the win possible. Over the final 20 minutes, Northwestern was 14-for-16 from the charity stripe, including going 11-for-12 over the final minute and a half.

The key stretch came when a Scottie Lindsey 3-ball broke a 56-all tie with four and a half minutes to play. Ohio State countered with a bucket, but freshman point guard Isiah Brown turned in back-to-back scores of his own, the second a breakaway layup off a steal. That made it a five-point lead, and though the gap shrunk over the game's final three minutes, Northwestern's free-throw shooting allowed the Cats to hold that lead the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line. They were 12-for-23 on the game, and all but one of the attempts came in the second half, making for 10 missed free throws over the game's final 20 minutes. Northwestern committed a lot of fouls, but Ohio State couldn't capitalize, something that has to be quite painful for the Buckeyes, considering they had edges in other statistical categories. They shot 45.6 percent from the field compared to the Cats shooting 37.5 percent. Ohio State also had 16 second-chance points and 28 points in the paint. But Northwestern had 17 points off 13 Ohio State turnovers.

Lindsey finished with a game-high 21 points and has scored in double figures in every game this season. Bryant McIntosh had 17 points, and Vic Law had 10. Jae'Sean Tate scored 14 points for Ohio State, with JaQuan Lyle adding 13, Trevor Thompson scoring 11 and Cam Williams putting in 10.

The win was Northwestern's fourth straight and boosted its overall record to 16-4 to go along with the 5-2 mark in the conference. The Cats next play Nebraska on Thursday.

The loss snapped a modest two-game win streak for Ohio State and dropped the Buckeyes' record to 12-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. They next play Minnesota on Wednesday.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.