My how time flies. This will be my third consecutive season doing the Illinois State High School Hockey Championship with Judd Sirott, and I couldn't be more proud. A lot of these kids will never play organized hockey again after this game, and I always marvel at the enthusiasm and exuberance they lay out there for their high school teams. The Wirtz family has been involved now for the last 25 years with the Illinois State High School Hockey Championship games taking place at the United CenterChicago Stadium. This year we'll see a team that won it just two years ago in St. Rita match up against a newcomer in finals hockey, St. Viator.
We had a chance to talk to both coaches last night, Chris Higgins of St. Viator and Craig Ferguson of St. Rita. What I love about these coaches is how they make sure it's not about them, it's all about the kids. And we're talking great coaches here. Ferguson was teammates of Chris Chelios at Mount Carmel and Higgins played college hockey at BU and St. Lawrence University and was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques.
So if you get a chance and want to see unscripted drama with kids putting every ounce of themselves on the line, give the Illinois State High School Hockey Championships a watch. Puck drop at 6:30 p.m. tonight on Comcast SportsNet.
Here are three keys and a prediction for Saturday's Notre Dame-Syracuse game in New Jersey.
1. Make a play on Amba Etta-Tawo: Orange quarterback Eric Dungey targets Etta-Tawo, college football’s leading receiver through four weeks, an average of 13 times a game. Covering Etta-Tawo well is one thing, but that won’t necessarily mean Dungey will look elsewhere to throw the ball. Senior Cole Luke will probably get the first crack at guarding Etta-Tawo, and he’ll have to make a few plays on the ball (a tipped pass, an interception, etc.) to force Dungey out of his comfort zone. If Luke can’t do it, look for an underclassmen — Donte Vaughn, who picked off a pass against Duke, would have to lead that next group — to step in. Stopping Etta-Tawo would go a long way toward keeping the points down against Syracuse’s going-to-plaid offense.
2. Meet “the standard” on offense. DeShone Kizer has been somewhere between very good and great this season, but it hasn’t been enough for Notre Dame to avoid any of their three losses. Syracuse’s defense is prone to allowing explosive plays and has struggled against the run, so triggering Josh Adams, Dexter Williams and/or Tarean Folston on the ground could allow Kizer to pick apart the Orange secondary as the game goes on. Most importantly, Kizer and his teammates need to avoid carelessly turning the ball over, as they did a few times against Michigan State and Syracuse.
3. Effective play from the young guys. Kelly said one of the defensive changes we’ll see going forward is a lot more younger, talented players getting on the field in situations in which they weren’t equipped to in Brian VanGorder’s complex defense. Maybe that means defensive end Daelin Hayes using his elite pass rushing trait to pressure Dungey, or linebacker Asmar Bilal using his excellent speed trait to run with a crossing route and break up a pass. No matter how it happens, it has to happen — with that “it” being making defensive plays. Without sacks, TFLs, fumbles and/or interceptions, all that talk of Notre Dame having more “fun” this week will ring hollow on Saturday.
Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Syracuse 42. Adams and Williams both have big games on the ground and Kizer leads an offensive oscillating between explosive and efficient to, for the first time this year, enough points to overcome a shaky defensive performance.
It was no secret after Theo Epstein's contract extension on Wednesday, but the Cubs officially announced extensions for general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod on Friday.
The new contracts run through the 2021 season.
Both Hoyer and McLeod joined the Cubs on Nov. 1, 2011. The team is set for its second straight postseason appearance this October.
CSN Chicago's Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney had more on Epstein keeping the band together when Epstein's deal was first announced on Wednesday.