Hawks look to keep team-oriented mentality

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Hawks look to keep team-oriented mentality

It was game seven of that nine-game winless streak that the Blackhawks decided to change some things; namely, their system. It wasnt a drastic change; actually, it was just simplifying things.

It was just the way we looked at games and what we needed to do better. We kept it simple, forward Bryan Bickell said. Stick to the team game and dont get into individual style of play and such.

The Blackhawks kept that mentality through the rest of the skid, which lasted just two more games. They also followed that plan when captain Jonathan Toews missed 22 games with a concussion. And while the captain could be back on Thursday, the Blackhawks still need to play exactly how they did without him.

Toews is likely playing when the Blackhawks open their first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday. His return is obviously a welcome one. But while lines and responsibilities will change, the Blackhawks play, the style that earned them a 13-5-4 record in Toews absence, cannot.

We dont have the luxury to say, Oh, Johnnys back. We can relax and Johnny can take over. Were not that kind of team, anyway, coach Joel Quenneville said. I just think everybody has to continue on with what got us here at the end of the year. We have to turn it up, too.

Indeed, this is the time of year for which each team plays. The pressure is on, and everyone has to be on board. For the Blackhawks, everyone has the past month and a half. When Toews first went down, the sky-is-falling mentality was running rampant on blogs and on Twitter. But the Blackhawks regrouped, got strong performances and faced the adversity fine. They were at their best during March, when they went 10-2-2 en route to solidifying their hold on the No. 6 seed.

When losing a guy like that other players have to step up and take on some responsibility, said Patrick Kane, who did that as well as anyone. But to be honest with you, we played a better team game. We just worried about the little things defensively. Even offensively, we were playing simpler, too. Sometimes when you play simple you get some confidence and it opens things up to be creative. That should be the mindset for all of us: work hard, play simple right away and let the game come to us instead of chasing it.

When he does play, Toews will be back on that top line with Kane and Hossa. He was also on the top power-play unit for the second straight day. Hes said hell just do whatever is necessary to fit back into things, and the Blackhawks hope to keep going the way they have.

I think we just need to stick to that, to the way weve been playing, Bickell said. When (Toews) comes in, hell adapt to the system that Q and the coaches want. Thats the most important part going into the playoffs.

The Blackhawks found success without Toews by simplifying things and spreading around the responsibilities. The duties and lines will change. The Blackhawks game cannot.

Things are going to get ratcheted up. Johnny has to be excited as well. But dont feel comfortable knowing Johnnys going to return, Quenneville said. There are going to be that many more demands on everyone. Were expecting more come playoff time.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany offers his take on College Football Playoff picture

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany offers his take on College Football Playoff picture

INDIANAPOLIS — Once upon a time, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was quite the advocate that only conference champions should reach the College Football Playoff.

It sounds like he's OK with losing that fight, though, as one of his conference's teams, Ohio State, looks ready to become the first team to reach the Playoff without winning its conference championship.

Delany joined the crew of ESPN's College GameDay on Saturday morning in Indianapolis and discussed the current Playoff picture, which is a little clearer — and a little worse for the Big Ten — after Washington won the Pac-12 championship on Friday night.

With Alabama and Ohio State looking like Playoff locks, Washington seemingly punched its ticket to the final four with a dominating performance in a 31-point clubbing of eight-ranked Colorado. That would leave one spot up for grabs, and another Big Ten team that will finish the year without a conference championship, Michigan, is certainly still in the mix. So too are Wisconsin and Penn State, who play each other in Saturday night's Big Ten title game. The other team competing for and perhaps the favorite for that fourth spot is Clemson, currently ranked third and playing Virginia Tech in Saturday night's ACC title bout.

So Delany provided an assessment of the landscape on GameDay, though his comments revealed some politicking for either Michigan or the Big Ten champ, as he left two spots open without acknowledging Washington.

The idea that two of the four teams in the Playoff field, should both Ohio State and Michigan find their way in, would box out three champions of Power Five conference clashes with the argument Delany made just a few years ago.

"Well I was a campaign manager four years ago for the four best conference champions. We lost that election, and what we decided on was the four best teams, which I'm fine with," Delany said. "Obviously this year's unique in some ways. We have the two divisional champions playing head to head here today for the conference championship, and they won their division and they should be respected for that. The committee has another role, and that is to pick the four best teams in the country. I think there are a couple teams that are unequivocally among those four best. I think Alabama has had a great year, Ohio State. It seems to me like there's probably winners of games today plus Michigan who the committee's going to have to sort through to fill out those next two spots. But in my view, this event has been great for this conference, and the College Football Playoff has been terrific for college football in large part because people are playing people. So it should be about who you play, who you beat.

"For sure you have to — when teams have similar resumes and records are similar — you have to look at conference champions, but there are 10 conference champions. Not all conference champions are equal, OK? There are 10 in the FBS. Several conference champions are going to be evaluated, including the one out of this conference, the one out of the Pac-12, the one out of the Big 12, the ACC. I myself think Alabama has done enough whether they have a conference championship behind their resume or not. I think Ohio State has done enough. I think the committee has suggested that in their early years. So what we have right now, I think, are two slots available and probably three, four, five teams fighting for those. Conference champion is relevant, but also who you played head to head, who you beat. Who'd you play in the non-conference, who'd you beat."

Again, that seems to be some not-so-subtle campaigning for either Michigan or the Big Ten champ. The Wolverines boast a resume with three top-10 wins, including a non-conference game against Colorado. Ohio State, too, won a big non-conference game on the road against a top-10 Oklahoma team. Penn State has already beaten a top-10 team in Ohio State, Wisconsin opened the season with a non-conference win over LSU, and Saturday's winner will gain another top-10 win. Washington earned its first top-10 win Friday night after playing non-conference games against Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State.

Paul Chryst says Alex Hornibrook will be available for Badgers in Big Ten Championship Game

Paul Chryst says Alex Hornibrook will be available for Badgers in Big Ten Championship Game

INDIANAPOLIS — Wisconsin will have quarterback Alex Hornibrook available to play in Saturday night's Big Ten Championship Game.

After Hornibrook was listed as questionable on Friday afternoon's injury report, Badgers head coach Paul Chryst told ESPN's Sam Ponder on Saturday morning that Hornibrook will be ready to go.

"Each day this week he's progressed, so I think that he'll be available to play, which is good," Chryst said in the interview.

Hornibrook sustained a head injury last weekend during Wisconsin's win over Minnesota and sat out the second half, forcing Chryst to turn his two-quarterback system into a one-man show starring Bart Houston.

But Saturday night, it seems that things will return to what they've been for the majority of the season: Hornibrook and Houston splitting time under center.

The Badgers' offense typically relies on its customarily strong rushing attack, but having both guys will be important for Chryst, who likes to keep opposing defenses on their toes by mixing up the two quarterbacks. 

Hornibrook has completed 58.1 percent of his passes this year for 1,243 yards and eight touchdowns compared to seven interceptions. Houston has completed 63.9 percent of his passes on the season for 912 yards and five touchdowns compared to three interceptions.

Houston is the more mobile and accurate of the two, though he hasn't completed more than nine passes in any one game since losing his starting job to Hornibrook early in the season.