Pirri proving his talents in Rockford

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Pirri proving his talents in Rockford

As the lockout drags on, over 100 NHLers are playing in the American Hockey League, upping the pace and the standard of hockey expected to be played during each matchup.

Not only has IceHogs forward Brandon Pirri embraced the challenge, he's set the bar for what consistency and leadership should look like on the ice. With 13 points in 15 games played this season, he's leading the boards in Rockford, doubling his second-ranked teammate Martin St. Pierre in number of goals with a total of six.

As for the higher-caliber of players this season, Pirri hasn't felt the slightest bit intimidated, and he's proven that in his performance.

"The pace is higher, it's a little more open, but at the same time it's the same gritty league," Pirri told CSNChicago.com. "You have to battle for everything. Right now it's real tight, every game's close."

Playing alongside Blackhawks' Brandon Bollig, Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith, and Nick Leddy, Pirri has spent this season demonstrating that he can not only keep up with the Chicago players in town, but also shine among them.

Stan Bowman, Joel Quenneville and other members of the Blackhawks brass have been in attendance at the BMO Harris Center in Rockford for nearly every home game, scouting the team and preparing for NHL season to return.

"You see them at the rink, but at the same time you have to worry about yourself and stay focused on the game, because if you worry about that stuff then you're not going to play your game," Pirri said.

Having the big dogs watching closely from the press box may not be directly affecting Pirri's style of play, but it sure will help his outcome if he keeps up these numbers as the NHL teams wait to return to the ice.

In the meantime, he'll continue working towards his final goal, "becoming a consistent pro."

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

Brett Lawrie and Avisail Garcia will both return to the White Sox in 2017.

The team announced it reached deals with both players shortly before Friday’s 7 p.m. CST nontender deadline. Lawrie will earn $3.5 million next season and Garcia received a one-year deal for $3 million.

The club didn’t tender a contract to right-handed pitcher Blake Smith, which leaves its 40-man roster at 38.

Acquired last December for a pair of minor leaguers, Lawrie hit .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs, 22 doubles and 36 RBIs in 94 games before he suffered a season-ending injury.

Lawrie produced 0.9 f-WAR when he suffered what then-manager Robin Ventura described a “tricky” injury on July 21. Despite numerous tests and a lengthy rehab, Lawrie never returned to the field and was frustrated by the experience. Last month, Lawrie tweeted that he believes the cause of his injury was wearing orthotics for the first time in his career.

He was projected to earn $5.1 million, according to MLBTraderumors.com and earned $4.125 million in 2016.

Garcia hit .245/.307/.385 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 453 plate appearances over 120 games. The projected salary for Garcia, arb-eligible for the first time, was $3.4 million.

The team also offered contracts to Miguel Gonzalez and Todd Frazier, who are eligible for free agency in 2018, first baseman Jose Abreu and relievers Dan Jennings, Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka, among others.

The White Sox have until mid-January to reach an agreement with their arbitration-eligible players. If they haven’t, both sides submit figures for arbitration cases, which are then heard throughout February.

Jack Swarbrick shoots down Brian Kelly rumors, says things are 'business as usual' at Notre Dame

Jack Swarbrick shoots down Brian Kelly rumors, says things are 'business as usual' at Notre Dame

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick shot down any and all rumors about Brian Kelly being fired or leaving South Bend for another job on his radio show with Jack Nolan this week, and said things are operating as usual within the Irish football program. 

"I certainly understand the sort of the engagement and the discussion of the program, but it’s been very much business as usual," Swarbrick said. 

Swarbrick, who in an October comment to ESPN gave a vote of confidence to Kelly, said while he was disappointed with Notre Dame's 4-8 season, he evaluated the seventh-year Irish coach from a larger viewpoint. That viewpoint included 2015's 10-3 season, which Swarbrick said was a "remarkable" coaching job by Kelly after Notre Dame lost an unprecedented number of key players to season-ending injuries. 

"It was an extremely disappointing year,” Swarbrick said. “Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There's no way around that conclusion. It's not bad breaks, it's not a play here or a play there, we didn't do what we need to do. 

"But I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of evaluating football programs. That begins with — it looks one way from a this season perspective, but it feels a little different for me from a two-season perspective. I thought last year was one of the best coaching jobs I’ve seen, and I’ve been around elite-level coaches for 35 years. I think to achieve what we achieve with the things we faced with the attrition of our roster, which was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, was a really remarkable year as reflected in the contributions that the players and coaches made to collectively achieve that year.

"This year we get a different result. You don’t ignore it, you certainly evaluate it and pay attention to it, but I don’t look at it in isolation. I look at it in the context of where the program is overall."

Swarbrick made clear that Notre Dame's academic violations brought to light by the NCAA's Nov. 22 report are not a factor in reviewing Kelly's status, pointing to there being no evidence of a lack of institutional control or a coach or academic advisor spurring the cheating that took place a few years ago. Swarbrick's vote of confidence to Kelly came four weeks to the date of the NCAA committee on infractions' hearing with Notre Dame, at which Swarbrick and Kelly were present. 

"When in mid-season I made that comment I did about Brian’s future, I already had that information," Swarbrick said. "This wasn’t something new coming late into the season I had to factor in." 

Swarbrick said he and Kelly had a discussion the day after Notre Dame's season-ending loss at USC, after which multiple reports surfaced detailing that Kelly had explored other coaching options outside Notre Dame. Kelly said he "absolutely" wanted to be back at Notre Dame immediately after the USC game and put out an early-morning statement a few hours later pushing back on those reports. 

"I fully understood the background of those reports," Swarbrick said. "Brian and I had clear discussions about his intentions and his future, and of course he clarified those I think both at the press conference after the game and then when his subsequent statement went out."

When asked if Notre Dame's board of trustees could still step in and go over his head to fire Kelly, Swarbrick said "No, no. It doesn't work that way here."

So things are operating normally at Notre Dame, according to Swarbrick, even though end-of-the-season meetings are happening a month earlier than they normally do. Swarbrick said he'll meet with Kelly on Friday to discuss the future of Kelly's coaching staff, but doesn't expect massive changes beyond bringing in a new defensive coordinator. Whatever staff changes do come will flow from the new coordinator hire. 

"I think we have a very talented staff of committed coaches and broader staff in the program," Swarbrick said. "So I don’t anticipate wholesale changes."