Alfonso Soriano wont go down without a fight

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Alfonso Soriano wont go down without a fight

In the minds of Cubs fans, Kerry Wood will be forever young.

When they look at Alfonso Soriano, they picture the meter running, some version of the national debt clock near Times Square, 136 million through 2014.

Soriano was supposed to breathe new life into the New York Yankees dynasty. Thats how hes remembered around Manhattan, an exciting young talent at the turn of the century, who was shipped out of town in the Alex Rodriguez deal.

Soriano hasnt been that player for some time now. Since signing that megadeal and it wasnt only former general manager Jim Hendry with fingerprints on that contract Sorianos legs have betrayed him.

So it was interesting to watch Wood whos less than a month from his 35th birthday play his final game last week. While taking a curtain call, the new Mr. Cub soaked it all in and pointed at the 36-year-old in left field, before disappearing into the dugout.

Afterward, inside Wrigley Fields interview roomdungeon, Wood sat down for the first of his two farewell press conferences. The final question last Friday asked Wood to sum up his career, and he took it in another direction that may surprise Cubs fans.

I learned from a lot of the injuries, Wood said. I learned what it takes to compete and go out and play in this game every day. Ive got respect for guys who have played this game a long time, because its not easy to do.

Tremendous respect for what Sorianos doing out there in left field for us this year. The way hes worked and what hes put in, knowing what his bodys gone through, (its) just more respect for guys that played the game a long time.

Since 2007, Soriano has gone on the disabled list with injuries to his right quad, right calf, left knee and left quad. The knees bothering him again, but hes not looking for a way out.

I just want to play every day, Soriano said. I dont want to be on the bench. I have to learn to play with pain. Im not young anymore. Thats what I have to do just play with the pain and see what happens.

I try not to think about it. (I) go outside and enjoy myself and have fun and try to make the team better and try to win.

I dont even pay attention or worry about it. I just try to concentrate and do my job.

Theres the outside perception of Soriano and the reality inside the clubhouse. First-base coach Dave McKay who had spent 26 seasons on Tony La Russas staff noticed it when Soriano came to him asking to work on specific aspects of his defensive game.

And what about that showdown with the manager that fans wanted to see whenever Soriano posed at home plate? Dale Sveum wrote it off as a weird habit, and wrote the teams only established power hitter into the middle of the lineup.

Like Ive said from the start, hes been the biggest surprise (for) me coming from the other side of the fence, Sveum said. (Its) his work ethic and the way he goes about his business and how much he wants to play every single day with the pain he has to go through with his knees.

Hes a very refreshing guy to be around all the time. Hes (always) got a smile.

Soriano had zero home runs in his first 30 games waiting 119 at-bats to get hot and then homered four times in his next eight games.

The pain, well, Sveum says, Hes good enough to go out there.

Hes in one of those streaks where hes feeling pretty good at home plate and seeing the ball good and then putting some good swings on (it).

Maybe the numbers will be there by the end. Soriano, Albert Pujols and David Ortiz are the only three players to reach 20 homers for 10 consecutive seasons through 2011.

Soriano knows he has to adapt. He entered Tuesday hitting .333 with runners in scoring position, and ranked second on the team with 22 RBI. His defense has become much less of an adventure in left field, and thats a direct result of the time hes put in out there.

The finish line to Sorianos contract is almost in sight. At some point, Anthony Rizzo figures to push Bryan LaHair from first base to the outfield, where Brett Jackson is trying to force the issue and get the call-up from Triple-A Iowa.

As Wood knows, it happens to every player you just dont know when or how itll go down. You usually dont get to script the ending.

But for now, Soriano will grab his bat and walk to the cage with Starlin Castro, fighting time to enjoy another day in the big leagues.

Those young guys, they give me a lot of energy and motivation, because I feel young like that, Soriano said.

I like the (attitude) of the team. We never give up. We have a bad record, but I like what I see so far. And I think sooner or later were going to be better.

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Yanic Perreault came onto the ice as the Blackhawks wrapped up practice on Thursday.

It’s been a relatively common sight the last few seasons. Most of the time, Perreault has helped out when a particular player is struggling from the faceoff dot. That was true with Artem Anisimov earlier this season. But with Jonathan Toews sidelined the Blackhawks have been even more focused on improving upon and winning faceoffs. Thanks to the extra diligence, they’ve done that.

The Blackhawks’ overall faceoff performance has steadily improved. They’ll see how it goes again on Friday night when they face the New York Rangers, their eighth consecutive game without Toews.

“We’re working almost every practice and trying to get better on faceoffs,” Anisimov said on Thursday. “If we win the faceoff, we start with the puck and it’s pretty good. You can go to the offensive zone or win in the offensive zone you start with the puck and you have the opportunity to shoot the puck all day and get chances. It’s a big part of the game.”

Enter Perreault, who was a great faceoff man during his NHL career. The Blackhawks players say Perreault offers a wealth of information in each session.

“It’s different every day. The whole science behind it, he’s been great since he was brought in,” Marcus Kruger said. “He always has something new he wants us to work on, whether it’s just timing or body-positioning or something like that. It’s a lot of different stuff and we work on new stuff every day.”

Rasmussen agreed.

“It’s a lot of things you can work on,” he said. “You try to work on being in a low position so you get stronger. [There are] a lot of small things on how you can go against other guys that do it certain way, and you have to find your own way, too.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Their first game without Toews, against the Anaheim Ducks, was dismal. Part of that is the Ducks having some tremendous face-off guys. But Toews is the Blackhawks’ best at the dot – he’s won 60.3 percent of the time this season – so that first game without him was rough.

Here’s how things have progressed for the Blackhawks, with faceoffs won and lost and percentage, in Toews’ absence.

Opponent Wins-Losses Percent
Ducks 18-49 27 percent
Kings 21-37 36 percent
Panthers 39-35 53 percent
Devils 22-27 45 percent
Flyers 22-31 42 percent
Jets 31-27 53 percent
Coyotes 30-28 52 percent

So yes, there’s been improvement.

“I think we hold our own,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Yan works well with our center men, they take pride in trying to be the best they can and now they’re taking some important faceoffs and some they probably haven’t taken in the past, whether they’re defensive or special-teams faceoffs. They’ve all won some important faceoffs for us at key times, too.”

The Blackhawks have done their best filling the void left by Toews, especially on faceoffs. There’s been a lot of work put into it, especially with Perreault following practices. But the results have been there.

“We know we’d like to start with the puck, and we had a couple of tough games when Jonny went down initially,” Quenneville said. “But it’s been much better since.”

High School Lites Week 2 basketball capsules

High School Lites Week 2 basketball capsules

CSN Chicago will have cameras covering the biggest high school basketball games across Chicagoland for another basketball edition of High School Lites. Catch the show live at 11 p.m. Friday on CSN and streaming at CSNChicago.com

The show will feature numerous teams in the CSN Preps Power Rankings. The best game on Friday night could be No. 16 Benet traveling to No. 15 Notre Dame in a clash of unbeatens in the ESCC but there will be plenty of other highlights to check for.

The Red-West, North Suburban and Southland are all prominently featured on the show this week while High School Lites will also have highlights from the SouthWest Suburban.

This week's Viewers' Choice Game of the Week generated over 5,000 votes as Von Steuben will travel to Taft to represent the Red-North.

We'll also have a Getting to Know feature on Conant senior guard Jimmy Sotos.

Thursday's Game

Hyde Park at No. 7 Kenwood, 4:30 p.m. -- Kenwood will try to keep its momentum going as they host Hyde Park in a Red-Central battle. Kenwood (5-1, 1-0) is coming off of a Red-Central win over Dunbar earlier this week while Hyde Park (3-1, 1-0) defeated Lindblom for a conference victory as well. The Broncos are still unbeaten in Illinois as they're relying on senior big man Manny Patterson and his talented group of teammates. Hyde Park is trying to figure things out in head coach Jevon Mamon's first season as Andrew Anderson had a nice game against U-High at the Chicago Elite Classic.

Friday's Games

No. 11 North Lawndale at Westinghouse, 4:30 p.m. -- The Red-West is going to be a lot of fun to watch this season as this should be an interesting game. The Phoenix (5-1, 1-0) knocked off Marshall for a Red-West win on Wednesday while Westinghouse (3-3, 0-1) is coming off of a tough double-overtime loss to Farragut. Westinghouse is going to have to slow down Carlos Hines and Martrell Barnes but they can counter with a talented senior of their own in Coreyoun Rushin.  

Kankakee at Crete-Monee, 6:00 p.m. -- We also head to the Southland on Friday night as Kankakee (1-3, 0-1) travels to Crete-Monee (3-2, 1-0). The Warriors survived a high-scoring, double-overtime win over Rich East on Wednesday as they're led by senior and Toledo commit Dwayne Rose, the nephew of Derrick Rose. Kankakee is off to a sluggish start as they've lost some close games and they could use a conference road win here.

Rich East at No. 19 Bloom, 7:00 p.m. -- Keeping it in the Southland, Rich East (2-4, 0-1) will try to shake off a double-overtime loss this week as they travel to face No. 19 Bloom. Rich East has two one-point losses and the double-OT loss to Crete-Monee this year, so they could be better than the 2-4 record indicates. Bloom (4-1, 1-0) was impressive during Thanksgiving week at the Chicago Heights Classic as they look like one of the premier teams in the South Suburbs this year.

No. 24 Thornton at Lincoln-Way West, 7:00 p.m. -- These two teams battled in the SouthWest Suburban Red last season and both programs return some key pieces. Lincoln-Way West (2-4, 1-0) is led by senior Marco Pettinato as he's an All-Area candidate and big-time scorer. Thornton (3-2) will counter with a big scorer of its own with senior Alonzo Verge.

No. 16 Benet at No. 15 Notre Dame, 7:00 p.m. -- This could be the best matchup of Friday night as two unbeatens clash in the ESCC. Benet (5-0) is coming off of a runner-up finish in Class 4A as they bring back some talented players like Jack Nolan, Liam Lyman and Justin Enochs. The Redwings have looked very good early this season as they've piled up a lot of double-digit wins. Notre Dame (6-0) is also off to a hot start as they picked up an overtime win over Loyola and another victory over Bartlett last weekend. The Dons have a lot of size on the inside as Chris Heinichen, Jeameril Wilson and Sean Johnson are all 6-foot-5 or bigger.

No. 12 Stevenson at Mundelein, 7:00 p.m. -- Stevenson is off to a great start as they try to carry that into Mundelein in this North Suburban contest. The Patriots (6-0, 2-0) are led by Indiana commit and senior Justin Smith as he's one of the best players in the state this season. Mundelein (2-4, 0-1) dropped one to Zion-Benton earlier this week as they try to get back on track in the North Suburban race.

Lake Zurich at Zion Benton, 7:00 p.m. -- Two team with high expectations in the North Suburban face each other in this one. Zion-Benton (2-1, 1-1) dropped a conference game to leader Stevenson last weekend but recovered with a double-digit win over Mundelein during the week. Lake Zurich (4-1, 0-1) dropped its conference opener to Waukegan after a 4-0 start to the season.

Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Von Steuben at Taft, 6:30 p.m. -- This week's poll was a tight one as over 5,000 people voted and this game barely beat Lane at Uplift. The Panthers (0-2, 0-1) are trying to pick up their first win of the season after losing to an out-of-state opponent and No. 9 Uplift. Senior Rafael Cruz put up monster numbers last season as he's the player to watch for Von Steuben. Taft opened its Red-North slate at home against Lincoln Park as they're facing two tough opponents right out of the gate at home. They'll try to capitalize on those early conference home games with a win here.