Illini not defeated by dismal record

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Illini not defeated by dismal record

CHAMPAIGN After seeing their chances of making a third straight bowl game disappear with a 30-point loss to Ohio State on Saturday, the Illini (2-7, 0-5) have every right to be disappointed. In fact, the Illinois coaches and players could be forgiven for having a lackluster attitude, or a general reluctance to talk about their struggles this season.But thats not how Tim Beckmans team operates.
Instead of letting their plight dictate their demeanor, each member of the Illinois football team gathered for Mondays press conference exhibited a positive attitude and an eagerness to show improvement before the end of the season. Improvement was key for Beckman, the Illinois coach, and he made no excuses for his teams mistakes.
When you play undefeated teams, you cant not score when you get the opportunity in the red zone. You have to do more than just kick field goals and you have to play 60 minutes of football, he said. I was proud of the way our kids continued to play with OSU but it wasnt good enough.
Beckman went on to say it was incumbent on his team to show growth in these last three games of the season and learn from their mistakes. Though the opportunity to compete in a bowl game is no longer an option for Illinois, there is still the opportunity to end the season on a positive note.
For quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, not being able to play for a bowl berth means focusing on what he says should be a daily goal for all Illini.
Obviously we didnt reach our goals, but in a sense this should refocus us on what should be our goal every day: just going out and getting better performing to the best of our abilities, he said. We still can end the season on a positive note. We still can go out and win some games.
This Saturday the Illini get a chance to pick up a win with a return to Champaign for a Dads Day contest with Minnesota (5-4, 1-4). The Golden Gophers started the season with a flurry of wins but have cooled down since starting Big Ten play, beating only a winless Purdue team in five conference games.
Beckman has experience against Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill from their time as Mid-American Conference coaches (Beckman at Toledo and Kill at Northern Illinois). He described the Gophers as a typical Jerry Kill team: the kind of team that fights for everything and earns every success they have.
You see them get better and better each week. Theyre very competitive, Beckman said. Their defense is very aggressive and offensively theyre playing with a quarterback Philip Nelson that has taken over for them.
Senior defensive back Ashante Williams, who returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown in the OSU game, said Minnesota was a better team than he has seen in years past. He called them explosive, specifically comparing quarterback-turned-wide receiver Marquis Gray to the Buckeyes Braxton Miller.
Its going to be a challenge for the defense again this weekMarquis is the kind of guy who, when you get the ball in his hands in the open field, can make guys miss and create big plays, Williams said.
The Gophers feature several other playmakers, but Williams said their offense did not differ too much from other spread teams Illinois has faced this year. He expects the game to be played fast, but not to get out of Illinois hands.
The Illini at Mondays press conference all felt as though this weekends game and the teams two games afterward were important, and, more importantly, were winnable. The Illini avoided seeming despondent or as if the upcoming games were nothing more than necessary.
Beckman summed everything up nicely when he pointed out all of the various parties this team still has to play for, including some of the guests of honor at this weeks game. We want to win in the worst way. We want to win for our dads, for veterans, for Illini nation we want to win for ourselves.
Illinois and Minnesota will kick off Saturday at 2:42 p.m. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Illinois Notebook
-- Beckman chuckled when asked how he felt about his former team, Toledo, cracking the top 25 in the BCS, Associated Press and USA Today polls this week, the year after his departure.
Figures, he said with a short laugh. Those are my boys, my sons. Those kids playing there are now are a part of what were trying to get established now at Illinois. I cant be more proud of them, and Ill tell them to keep working to win.
-- The injury status of linebacker Jonathan Brown, a Butkus award semifinalist, is still uncertain. The junior was taken off the field in the first quarter of the OSU game and did not return to play. Beckman said Brown would see a doctor later on Monday and only afterward would his status be determined for this Saturday.
-- Running back Josh Ferguson, who is second on the team in yards per reception, should be able to play this week after sitting out two games to injury. Beckman said the freshman participated in lifting last week and ran with the team on Sunday. He said hes optimistic Ferguson would be 100 percent by Saturday.

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Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

The Blackhawks’ starts have been all over the map this season but their finishes have usually been strong. That was the case again on Sunday night as the Blackhawks took a lead, lost a lead and regained a lead for good in their 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

This one featured a little bit of everything. So let’s just get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over Vancouver.

1. Jonathan Toews breaks through. If the Blackhawks captain’s confidence was a little shaken with his lack of scoring this season, it should’ve gotten a boost with his Sunday outing. Toews’ goal and three assists were as big for him as they were the Blackhawks, who needed every bit of it late against the Canucks. In his last 12 games Toews has three goals and eight assists. He’s getting there. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “it seems like he was around the puck way more and when he does that, usually good things happen.”

2. Great start. This hasn’t been written very often but it was more than evident on Sunday night. If this wasn’t the Blackhawks’ best opening period of the season it was pretty close, as they broke out to a 2-0 lead against the Canucks. The Blackhawks, outside of a 3 ½-minute sequence without a shot on goal, were tenacious and ready to shoot, taking an 18-9 shots-on-goal edge in that first.

3. Corey Crawford rebounds. Quenneville considered Scott Darling for this game, an understandable thought with Darling coming off a 30-stop shutout. But he wanted Crawford to get back to where he was prior to his appendectomy, and Crawford took a step in that direction on Sunday night. In stopping 26 of 28 shots Crawford got his 18th victory of the season and 200th of his career. Quenneville said Crawford “looked like he was in control.”

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4. Michal Kempny’s tough stretch. When Kempny has been good this season he’s been very good. When he’s been bad... The defenseman was in the penalty box when the Canucks scored their first goal and he was beaten by Bo Horvat on the Canucks’ second goal. Kempny didn’t play the final 14 minutes of the game. Quenneville, who liked what Kempny brought on the team’s road trip, said Kempny just has to work through some things. “Coverage with awareness and knowing sometimes it’s man coverage, sometimes it’s playing the puck and clearing the loose stuff,” Quenneville said. “Defenseman is a tough position as you’re growing and learning it, but the more you play the better you play and I still think he’s making progress.”

5. Brian Campbell gets to keep No. 500 this time. Campbell thought he had his 500th point against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night but it was taken away. Well he got it back on Sunday night, setting up Richard Panik’s 11th goal of the season in the first period.