Holiday Cheer!

Holiday Cheer!

Wednesday, December 30

Now that the stress of the Christmas part of the holidays is over, I can concentrate, or should I say re-concentrate on sports. Besides Team Frankie O in the fantasy football playoffs I havent had as much time for the sports world. Well that ends now!

Ive always considered the New Years holiday as kind of like my Opening Day. All of the frustrations of the past year are gone and I hit the reset button. As always, I have great anticipation, and am convinced that, finally, this is the year. Now usually I open up on the road because Im at work, but this year Im off so Ill open at home. And I couldnt have picked a better year. New Years Eve is stacked with bowl games and Ill probably catch most of them, in between snacks.

But a game Ive been waiting for since the hockey season started will be on the 31st this year. The New Jersey Devils are coming in to play the Blackhawks and this will be a real test. Over the last 15 years or so, or when Martin Brodeur became their goaltender, the Devils have been good, but then there is a year when they have the look, usually it ends with them hoisting the Cup, three times in fact. Well, they have that look again. It all starts with Brodeur. I dont think that most people could name 2 other people on their team, but with Brodeur, who cares? They start with him and build the team out. Whos 2 behind the Hawks in goals against? The Devils. Whos tied with the Hawks for most points? The Devils.

Who has beaten the defending Stanley Cup Champion 3 times, in their own building, by a combined score of 12-1? Thats right, you guessed it, the Devils. Theyve got the look all right. One thing in the Hawks favor though, is that the Devils are on the second night of a back-to-back (Pittsburgh again, this time in New Jersey), and their 4th game in 6th nights. They should be a little tired, but then again, there is that guy in net. I cant wait for the game. It will make a statement to the league about both teams. And, I know, a little early, but if youre dreaming the big dream, this could be the team that ultimately stands in the way.

After a couple hours of sleep, it will be right back to the sofa for an early, for a nocturnal bartender anyway, trifecta of 2 bowl games and the Winter Classic starting at 10:00 am. (How do people get up that early?!) First up is Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Like Ive said here many times, Im a fan of Coach Pat Fitzgerald and love how his teams play. They dont quit. I think its time for them to get the schools second bowl victory and first in 61 years, especially after their heart-breaking loss last year in over-time in the Alamo Bowl. Go Cats!

Then, near the end of the NW game, its time to watch two of MY teams, unfortunately I dont feel good about either one. At noon, Penn State takes on LSU in the Capital One Bowl and the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Boston Bruins in Fenway Park in the 3rd Winter Classic hockey game.

Any time a team from the Big 10 takes on one from the SEC, there is concern. With PSU this year, the two times they played tough, fast defenses, (Ohio State and Iowa) they looked over-matched and got spanked. LSU is very tough and physical on the defensive side, and like most SEC teams, scary fast. This could get ugly. One thing though, Joe Paterno owns the all-time record for bowl wins (23) and this is because, given time, he can come up with a game-plan to play anybody. Thank goodness hes had plenty of time, (7 weeks) I hope hes been staying up late!

As for the Flyers, theyve had a tumultuous season to say the least. Carrying the weight of high expectations, they started out good, then, out of nowhere fell apart. (Sound familiar?) This led to their coach getting fired. It was a classic case of getting rid of the nice guy, players coach, and replacing him with the stern task-master. Theyre probably having lots of fun in their clubhouse these days. NOT! It seems to be working though, theyre on a little winning streak, and actually went into Boston and beat the Bruins 3-1 two weeks ago. Ill keep my fingers crossed. But the thing about the game, obviously, is watching them skate around in Fenway. It looked awesome here at Wrigley last year and I wouldnt expect it to be any less so this year. Will there be Chow-dah at the end of the bench to help keep the players warm?

After the inevitable afternoon nap, Ill be ready for the Granddaddy. Doesnt matter whos playing, Ill always watch the Rose Bowl. Does any other football field look better on TV? Someday Ill have to go and check it out for myself.

Then its time for the soap-opera that will be the Sugar Bowl. Whats superman going to do next? Deliver a baby at halftime? And, whither Urban Meyer? Do you think the announcers will talk about the game at all? Keep Tom Brennaman away! Im glad the games on New Years Day though. I like that Im able to watch almost all of the big-time traditional bowls, since for the BCS they spread them out, but theres still a part of me that misses the log-jam of games that used to occur on the 1st. I'll just have to make do with the 5 games that are on, stretching out for 13 hours, finishing off with the Sugar Bowl, which will provide the perfect background noise for me to doze off to.

I cant wait. The two-day New Years sports feast will be the perfect way to start the year and, most importantly, help me get my sports swerve back on! And, not a moment too soon, because the NFL playoffs are less than 10 days away, and Ive got to be ready for that heartbreak!

Happy New Year!

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

CSN's JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos discuss the struggles of James Shields while also going over a difficult upcoming series for the White Sox in this week's Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana Honda dealers.

On the back of Chris Sale and his 13th win, the White Sox are back to .500 after taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays.

The South Siders have now won five of their last seven games, and won back-to-back series for the first time in nearly two months. They're now 2.5 games behind the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot and are playing much better baseball as they head toward the All-Star break.

Hear what JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos had to say about their big week, as well as their upcoming three-game series against the Twins, in this week's Honda Road Ahead video above.

White Sox win consecutive series for first time since late April

White Sox win consecutive series for first time since late April

The White Sox have been adamant the baseball they’ve played the past six weeks isn’t far removed from their torrid start to the season.

Now they have something to show for it.

Courtesy of a 5-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox have back-to-back series victories for the first time since they swept the Texas Rangers and Toronto two months ago. With five wins in their last seven tries, the White Sox improved to 38-38 as they head into a much-needed day off.

“It’s huge,” said outfielder J.B. Shuck, whose second homer in as many days provided an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. “You feel kind of a weight lifted off the shoulders in the clubhouse. We’ve been grinding. Even some of our losses, we’ve been in games. We’ve come back, we’ve given ourselves a chance and one thing here or there kind of led us to losing and now it’s starting to work for us a little bit.”

A week ago the White Sox were coming off yet another demoralizing road sweep against an AL Central opponent. They had played well in two of three contests against the Cleveland Indians but came up empty. That sweep followed one at the Detroit Tigers earlier in the month and another previous one during a hellish May weekend in Kansas City.

But starting with an extra-innings win at the Boston Red Sox on Monday night, the White Sox have started to put things together more consistently than they had of late.

They capitalized on good pitching in the first two victories over the Red Sox and then the offense did the heavy lifting in an 8-6 win on Wednesday. Though they didn’t close out a sweep of Boston, the White Sox carried it over to their home series against Toronto.

“We need some of those,” said closer David Robertson, who retired the side on 10 pitches in the ninth to convert his 20th save. “When you get your butt kicked and you get swept in places, you gotta come home and win some games. We’re playing a lot better baseball. We’re pitching better. Hopefully it continues and we stay strong.”

Sunday’s victory was full of quality play in all aspects for the White Sox.

-- Chris Sale was dominant for seven of eight innings and earned his 13th victory in 15 decisions.

-- Robertson’s inning aside, Sale gave the bullpen another critical day of rest.

“It’s kind of relaxing,” reliever Zach Duke said.

-- Beginning with Adam Eaton’s major-league leading 10th outfield assist in the first inning, the defense turned in several big plays behind Sale, including double plays in the fourth and seventh.

-- The offense provided several timely hits, whether Melky Cabrera’s two-out RBI single in the third or Shuck’s solo homer to increase the lead back to three runs in the eighth.

Now the White Sox have a day to rest before they continue their homestand on Tuesday with the first of three against the Minnesota Twins.

“I like the way we're playing,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think offensively, we're swinging it a little bit, doing some things, and playing defense along with it. That's a good sign for us to be able to continue to do that. Pitchers are getting back to being healthy and getting after it. I like the way this is headed. I like the fire that these guys have shown and bouncing back in some tough situations.”

Fire defender Brandon Vincent picked up some extra bling

Fire defender Brandon Vincent picked up some extra bling

Brandon Vincent had a good ‘what I did on my summer vacation’ story when the Chicago Fire went on break in early June.

When the Fire took a week off of training in the first week of the Copa America Centenario break many of the players left town. Vincent went back to Stanford, where he helped the Cardinal men’s soccer team win the NCAA Championship for the first time ever.

Vincent was able to see familiar faces while visiting his old stomping grounds and received his championship ring.

Most of the team had received their rings earlier in the year, but Vincent left campus to participate in the MLS combine less than a month after the Cardinal won the national title in December.

“It’s good to see my friends and my old coaching staff and the guys that helped me get to where I am now,” Vincent said. “It’s kind of a quick turnaround not being there for the second part of the quarter to get the ring to celebrate the championship and everything, but it’s nice to be back and just be with the guys for a little bit and then reset and come back here.”

The turnaround for draft picks in MLS, especially after deep tournament runs, doesn’t leave much time to linger on campus. Just over a month after winning the national title, Vincent was drafted No. 4 overall and headed to the Fire.

The busy season schedule kept things moving for Vincent. His visit to Stanford provided a slightly different perspective for the rookie left back.

“It’s different when you’re in the moment and you’re in school and it’s like I want to be done and move onto the next step,” Vincent said. “Then once you’re at the next step you’re looking back. I appreciate it more when you’re back there and all the people that were a part of it.”

With the Fire, Vincent has made nine appearances, eight starts, in MLS play and played the full 120 minutes in the first U.S. Open Cup match against Indy Eleven right after the break.

After starting the first three matches of the season, Vincent didn’t play at all in April. He returned to the field on May 11, nearly two months after his previous appearance on March 19. Since then Vincent has missed just one match, which came in Colorado three days after playing 120 minutes in the Open Cup match.

Vincent admitted to an adjustment period early in the season and hopes he can keep improving.

“I’ve struggled here and there and I’m just trying to learn and keep my head on straight and keep going forward,” Vincent said. “Everyone is so much quicker and sharp on this level. It’s just a matter of getting the same wavelength with everybody else on the field and reading plays to kind of make plays offensively and defensively. Then just going forward, trying to be more accurate and precise with what I’m doing.”