Chicago Blackhawks

The Cubs and Theo Epstein hit reboot on Opening Day

724754.png

The Cubs and Theo Epstein hit reboot on Opening Day

Theo Epstein made up his mind months ago, knowing that it was time to leave the Boston Red Sox. So maybe some emotions hit him on Opening Day. But the Cubs hired him to take a sledgehammer to the organizations sentimentality.

I think the best time for reflection is the morning after sipping champagne when you win a World Series, Epstein said Thursday. Until then, you just keep plotting forward (and) try not to look back too much.

For better or worse, this franchise has been all about looking back, celebrity traditions like Bill Murray throwing out the first pitch and singing the seventh-inning stretch.

That Epstein can talk champagne with a straight face after taking over a team that hasnt won a championship in more than a century and has finished in fifth place the past two seasons shows how big everyones thinking.

The fans were in such a good mood that they didnt even boo Alfonso Soriano during player introductions. The president of baseball operations took the ivy turning green this early as a good omen.

That morning, the back page of the Sun-Times showed Epstein striding across Lake Michigan, with the Chicago skyline as the backdrop.

Well, there was the photo of him walking on water, chairman Tom Ricketts said. You could call that expectations, but I think hes up for it.

There are game-changers off in the distance that could transform the Cubs into the Evil Empire of the Midwest.

But the new televisions deals are a few years away, and Ricketts described the Wrigley Field renovation plans as just having conversations, not the final-stage negotiation floated the other day by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Epstein knows what the upgrades at Fenway Park did for the Red Sox, but hes not focused on fixing Wrigley Field, and will be glad when the spotlight hits those who actually win or lose the games every night.

(Fans) look at me symbolically as a new direction, but its not me, Epstein said. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of people the players first and foremost working extremely hard to try to push this organization forward. It starts with Tom and the whole Ricketts family, a very hard-working front office, a new manager and major-league coaching staff.

(Its) our scouts and player development people. So its hard to sit there and put all those people on the back page of the sports. But they really should, because Im one small person in a very big machine thats hopefully going to get this thing right over time.

Near the end of a media scrum that surrounded Epstein, someone asked what it would be like to raise a banner here on Opening Day. No one snickered or rolled their eyes. Whatever happens this year, the Cubs have bought some credibility.

Theres no better feeling than being able to raise a banner and seeing the effect it has on just millions of people, Epstein said, what it means to them and their families and how they share it generationally. (To) sit back and watch that happen and know that you played a really small part in it, its a very rewarding, special feeling.

It keeps you driving forward. (There) are hundreds of people in this organization working hard to get to that day.

Tommy Wingels on 'cloud nine' getting to suit up for hometown Blackhawks

tommywingels.png
AP

Tommy Wingels on 'cloud nine' getting to suit up for hometown Blackhawks

Tommy Wingels remembers his Chicago youth hockey days. A native of Wilmette, Wingels said the leagues were pretty good then but nothing like the opportunities area kids have to play hockey here now.

“This city has so many youth programs, so much ability for kids to play at every level. If they want to travel, pursue it professionally, if they want to go to college or they just want to enjoy it because their buddies play it. You can do it everywhere around here, and it’s such a unique aspect,” said Wingels. “I think the expectation has changed now. Kids think everyone can make it now. Back then, nobody thought they would make it.”

Count Wingels among those who wasn’t sure he’d make it. But he did, and on July 1 he made a childhood dream come true when he signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks. Wingels was elated when Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville called him about his potential signing. The details of those calls? Well, those are a little sketchy.

“I don’t even remember half the stuff they said to me because you’re on cloud nine and you’re saying, ‘Yeah, when can we sign and where?’” Wingels said at the Blackhawks convention on Saturday. “My wife commented on how big of a smile I had [walking] off our porch and back into the living room. It was very exciting.”

As a kid growing up in the Chicago area, Wingels played plenty of travel hockey. He watched the Blackhawks when he could, trying to catch what games were on television at that time. But the thought of playing in the NHL, let alone suiting up for the Blackhawks someday, wasn’t in his mind at that time.

“I wouldn’t say until the middle of high school did I ever think playing professional hockey was a possibility,” Wingels said. “Coming into high school you think college might be one [possibility]. But not until then did I ever talk about it or think about it.”

Wingels said he talked to a good deal of teams in 2006, the first year he was eligible for the NHL Draft, but he wasn’t selected that summer or the next. It wasn’t until the 2008 NHL Entry Draft that former Blackhawks defenseman/now San Jose general manager Doug Wilson picked Wingels, then playing for Miami University, in the sixth round. Wingels was a steady presence for five-plus seasons with the Sharks, putting up career numbers in goals (16), assists (22) and points (38) in the 2013-14 season. Wingels is forever grateful to Wilson for the opportunity.

“He’s the No. 1 reason why I’ve had an NHL career,” Wingels said. “[He had] the confidence to draft me and he was extremely patient in developing me through my years at Miami. He’s one of the best guys I’ve met in the game and I’ve enjoyed all the interactions we’ve had with him. He’s a guy I’ll definitely keep in touch with while I’m here and for many years.”

On the ice, Wingels should help the Blackhawks’ penalty kill and add some necessary grit – “bring in some sandpaper, finish checks and at the same time chip in some goals, all kind of things I think [Quenneville] and Stan expect me to bring here,” he said. Wingels has gone on long postseason runs (2016 Stanley Cup final with the Sharks and the 2017 Eastern Conference final with the Ottawa Senators), and he can be another veteran voice and presence for the Blackhawks’ young players.

“Your star players will lead and be the best players that they are. But for a young guy coming up on the third or fourth line sometimes it’s tough for those guys to relate to the star players, not because what the star players do but they’re guys who are up and down and they’re guys who have different roles. [I’ll] be a part of that group who can help transition the young players, who can play a similar role to some of those other players and be a sounding board for guys as well. I’m 29 now. I feel young but somehow I’ve become a veteran. So I’ll just try to help out any way I can.”

As excited as Wingels is to be home, he said his family may be more so. His parents, Bob and Karen, get to spend more time with Wingels’ 1 ½-year old daughter. The Wingels are close to Scott Darling’s family, and know from the Darlings how great it was to have their son play here.

Wingels grew up wondering how far hockey would take him. Now it’s bringing him back home.

“It didn’t take long to decide this is where we want to be. My wife is extremely happy – she lived here a couple of years out of college and knows the city very well – and I have a ton of friends here with my family being from here,” Wingels said. “It’s going to be a fun year for us and I can’t wait to get started.”

28 Days to Kickoff: Lake Park

lplancers.png

28 Days to Kickoff: Lake Park

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: Lake Park

Head coach: Chris Roll

Assistant Coaches: Keith Lukes, Kyle Reehoff, Bill Erzig, Bill Modelski, Chris Benak, Tom Redlin, Larry Orrico, Peter Catalano, Kevin Johnson, Chris Salerno, Charlie Witt

How they fared in 2016: 2-7 (1-7 DuPage Valley Conference), missed the 2016 IHSA state playoff field

2017 Regular Season Schedule:

August 25th @ Waubonsie Valley

September 1st vs Wheaton South

September 8th @ DeKalb

September 15th @ Naperville North

September 22nd vs Wheaton North

September 29th @ Metea Valley

October 6th vs Glenbard North

October 13th @Neuqua Valley

October 20th vs Naperville North

Biggest storyline: Can Lake Park make some noise in it's final season in the DuPage Valley?

Names to watch this season:  Senior QB Jackson Behles Senior WR Diamante Smith

Biggest holes to fill: The Lancers bring back experience (15 returning starters) but will need to find more depth at a few key spots this summer.

EDGY's Early Take: Lake Park had a rough 2016 season and will rely on an experience senior class this season. The schedule remains as brutal as ever both in the DuPage Valley slate along with a tough Week 3 non conference game at DeKalb. Look for the Lancers to battle all comers and make a run at a state playoff berth this season.