Hits won't stop as long as Hawks have control

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Hits won't stop as long as Hawks have control

GLENDALE, Ariz. For the Chicago Blackhawks, the hits just kept on coming from the Phoenix Coyotes last night. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, all of the Blackhawks top skill guys were in the Coyotes crosshairs.

The Blackhawks including Toews came out of it just fine health-wise. But facing a team thats more scrap than skill, the Blackhawks can probably expect more of the same from the Coyotes the rest of this series.

The Coyotes doled out 48 hits, according to the score sheet, in their 3-2 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday night. Yes, that number is high, and one that is a little skewed; the Blackhawks had good puck possession in the first and third periods, which meant the Coyotes were chasing more than dictating. And while the Coyotes would like to have the puck more than they did last night, theyre intent on keeping that physical edge.

Were going to be physical with everyone. We have to be, Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. We cant just let them skate. They have too much skill.

The Blackhawks have a lot of firepower and a lot of speed that the Coyotes will try to curtail. They took their lumps on Thursday night, including Toews, who was back after missing 22 games with a concussion. And although he was sore immediately after the game, Toews is feeling good today and considered that outing a successful test of his recovery.

He figured hed be taking some knocks.

I expected worse, he said about the hits on him. Obviously Im going to be at the net, in front of the goalie. Every chance they get theyre going to take shots. I expected that. Its no big deal; Im just happy with the way I dealt with it. Im going to keep playing and not shy away from that sort of thing.

Thats good, because theyll probably keep coming. While that physical game played a role in Game 1, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett is looking more at the big picture.

Were hoping it plays a role in the series as it progresses, he said. Theyve got some top-end skill that you have to try and make the game hard on. With that being said, you have too many hits when you dont do good things with the puck. But we have a purpose. We want to be physical in this series, that goes without saying.

Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal, who had a team-high eight hits last night, concurred.

Weve got to be physical against these guys because their first two lines they have such good skill, he said. And if you take the puck and time from them, its going to be to our advantage.

The Blackhawks, indeed, often become a target because of their strong puck possession game. And the more hits the other team has, the more they must be dictating things. Still, the Coyotes are good at knocking players off the puck and causing turnovers, something that hurt the Blackhawks last night. So the Blackhawks will weather the black-and-blue storm and keep playing their game.

We have a pretty skilled team. We try to keep the puck in our hands and try to spend as much time in their zone, Marian Hossa said. They like to play physical but we can play smart and get to their net as much as we can.

The Blackhawks being outhit isnt a stunning revelation; its happened quite a bit this season. The Coyotes will keep trying to hit them. The Blackhawks will just keep trying to dodge them and keep the puck with them.

The first few games of the series, we know what its going to be like. We were prepared. We knew they were going to come out crashing and banging, Dave Bolland said. We had the puck a lot and I think were working well pretty down low there, doing things to keep it in their zone. But we can do more to get back in this series.

Northwestern's Tre Demps joins Bulls' Summer League roster

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Northwestern's Tre Demps joins Bulls' Summer League roster

From Chicago's Big Ten Team to Chicago's NBA team.

Former Northwestern guard Tre Demps will play for the Bulls in this offseason's Summer League in Las Vegas.

Demps spent four seasons in Evanston and became quite a prolific scorer, averaging 15.7 points per game as a senior last season after averaging 12.5 points per game and 11 points per game during his junior and sophomore seasons, respectively. Last season, Demps connected on 39.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and shot 33.2 percent from behind the 3-point line, averages down from the previous season.

Demps had some incredible scoring performances last season, including a 30-point effort on the road against then-No. 3 Iowa that featured six made 3-pointers, a career high he matched with six triples in a win over Rutgers later in the season.

Demps is the son of New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps.

Cubs: How Kris Bryant became a superstar in the making

Cubs: How Kris Bryant became a superstar in the making

What initially looked like a garbage-time home run for Kris Bryant – and day-after spin from Theo Epstein – actually summed up why the Cubs have a homegrown superstar and a franchise ready for another close-up in October.

It also helps explain how Bryant – at the age of 24 – became the first player in history to hit three homers and two doubles in a Major League Baseball game. Bryant set a franchise record with 16 total bases during Monday night’s 11-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, becoming the youngest Cub to ever have a three-homer game (or 10 days younger than Ernie Banks in 1955).

After the New York Mets swept the Cubs out of last year’s National League Championship Series, Epstein sat in a dingy Wrigley Field storage room converted into a media workspace for the playoffs. During that end-of-season news conference, the president of baseball operations highlighted Bryant’s final at-bat, how New York’s right-handers kept attacking him with changeups.

Cubs officials felt like they were beaten at their own game, impressed how the Mets did such a great job with advance scouting, breaking down numbers and executing that night’s plan. If Bryant appeared to be vulnerable to that weakness – and a little worn down at the end of an All-Star/Rookie of the Year campaign – he still had the presence of mind to make an adjustment in Game 4.

With his team down seven runs in the eighth inning, Bryant drove a changeup from a two-time All-Star reliever (Tyler Clippard) 410 feet into the left-center field bleachers for a two-run homer.

Bryant can grow up as the son of an old Boston Red Sox prospect who learned the science of hitting from Ted Williams – and have his own batting cage at his family’s Las Vegas home – and still not feel burned out from the game or create the wrong Sin City headlines.

Bryant can get drafted No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego in 2013, shoot a Red Bull commercial with a goat before his first at-bat in The Show and have his own billboards in Wrigleyville – and still not alienate himself from teammates or come across as having the wrong priorities.

Bryant is athletic enough to play third base, right field and left field during that 5-for-5, six-RBI, three-homer game. He can also get analytical and self-diagnose – without feeling paralyzed at the plate.

Bryant didn’t remember the NLCS as an eye-opening experience or give the Mets too much credit: “They all throw 96 (mph), which is kind of just where baseball is nowadays, too – a ton of people are throwing gas.”

For Bryant, it’s a constant process of self-evaluation, from his 0-for-4, three-strikeout debut last April, through the 21 games it took before hitting his first big-league homer, beyond hitting the rookie wall last summer (.639 OPS in July).   

“It’s the peaks and valleys of baseball,” Bryant said. “From August and September last year, I had two really good months (.900-plus OPS). I didn’t really have the postseason I wanted to. But up until that point, I was swinging the bat really good. I was feeling really good about myself.

“I kind of just went back to what I did in college, a drill that kept me more flat to the ball. That’s what helped me. And then going into the offseason, I really wanted to expand on it. Just continue with it and see where it took me.”

After finishing second in the majors with 199 strikeouts last season, Bryant struck out 12 more times in 37 playoff plate appearances. He’s now on pace for around 160 strikeouts – with 21 homers and 57 RBI a week out from the Fourth of July.  

“What he had been doing before was not going to work (long-term),” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m not one of those guys (who says): ‘Hey, you can’t hit like that in the big leagues.’ I always used to hate hearing that from coaches. (But) the fact was that he had such an abrupt uppercut or chicken wing – whatever you want to call it – easily exposed by good pitching. Easily. And it had to go away.

“(He) worked through it. He knew how he was getting beat up at the plate. He knew what he couldn’t get to that he was able to get to before. He’s only 20-something years old, (but) he’s quick (and thinking): ‘I’m seeing the ball good. I just can’t get to it. What do I have to do to get to those pitches?’ Now he is.”

The Mets won the pennant, but their foundation might already be crumbling, with Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard reportedly dealing with bone spurs in their pitching elbows and Matt Harvey (4-9, 4.64 ERA) struggling to live up to his Dark Knight of Gotham persona after throwing 216 innings during last year’s return from Tommy John surgery.

The Epstein regime built a franchise around young power hitters like Bryant – believing that young power pitchers are inherently too fragile – and the Cubs could be 25 games over .500 when they get another shot at the Mets in an NLCS rematch that begins Thursday night at Citi Field.  

“Obviously, the front office has done a really good job of getting good players,” Bryant said. “You look at the young talent around the room, it’s pretty cool to see that.

“They’re just good people. They drafted good people, signed good people, and I think that just makes it easier to go out there and play our game and be yourself.”

Terps add ex-New Mexico State receiver Teldrick Morgan

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Terps add ex-New Mexico State receiver Teldrick Morgan

One of the most productive receivers in college football during the 2014 season is joining Maryland for the 2016 campaign.

Teldrick Morgan, who spent the first three seasons of his collegiate career at New Mexico State, has joined the Terps as a graduate transfer and will be eligible to play this season.

“Teldrick brings a great deal to our program, and we’re excited that he’s a part of our family,” Maryland head coach DJ Durkin said in the announcement. “It’s always great to bring a local kid back home, and on top of that he’s very skilled and brings a wealth of experience to our receivers unit.”

The 2014 season was a big one for Morgan, a native of the Old Line State. He ranked 32nd in the FBS with 75 receptions and 50th in the nation with 903 receiving yards.

Morgan missed three games last season due to injury and finished with 44 receptions (still a team high) for 543 yards and four touchdowns. He did have a pair of triple-digit receiving-yardage games, though, racking up 151 yards against UTEP and going for 101 yards against Louisiana Monroe.

Maryland can use all the help it can get when it comes to the passing game. The Terps ranked 13th out of 14 Big Ten teams in pass yards per game, averaging just 174.3 yards through the air per Saturday.