Chicago Blackhawks

Is Dempster gearing up for Opening Day?

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Is Dempster gearing up for Opening Day?

MESA, Ariz. Dale Sveum speaks in a low, monotone voice and believes its a sign of weakness to show your emotions. But a reporter who keeps asking about the Opening Day starter got a reaction out of the Cubs manager.

Give it a rest, man, Sveum said Tuesday. I keep telling you the same thing. Youll be the first one to know.

It was the logical follow-up question during Sveums media session. The manager had just finished raving about Matt Garzas energy and loud personality. It will either be Garza who has Cy Young stuff, but hasnt quite put it all together yet or Ryan Dempster, a clubhouse leader and franchise ambassador beginning his ninth season in Chicago.

Its hard to believe that a coaching staff with a microscopic attention to detail and very specific ideas about the roster is really still debating the decision. Sveum seems to have pushed his timeline back, now saying that the announcement could come Friday.

Still, it would be a surprise if Dempster, who earned the assignment last season, doesnt take the ball on April 5 at Wrigley Field against the Washington Nationals. He stretched out to six innings during Tuesdays 6-2 loss to the Texas Rangers and looked sharp, giving up only a two-run homer to Dusty Brown.

Dempsters in line to make two more starts in the Cactus League, and the next fifth day would be April 4.

Well talk about that when it happens, Dempster said. I got work to do tomorrow and get ready for my next start.

For an organization that has undergone sweeping changes, there really arent many jobs up for grabs this spring. Sveum again confirmed that Paul Maholm will be in the rotation, and at this point it would be a shock if Jeff Samardzija doesnt make it.

The Cubs arent going to panic with first baseman Bryan LaHair, whos hitting .189 this spring and played in a minor-league game on Monday to get some extra at-bats. They arent going to rush Anthony Rizzo or Brett Jackson either.

Joe Mather has just about nailed down the final bench spot. Welington Castillo or Steve Clevenger will be the backup catcher. The bullpen is undefined, but its just a matter of who will get the ball to Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol.

Then again, everything can seem neat and orderly once you fall into the Arizona routine. Dempster looked great last spring and then put up a 9.58 ERA in his first six starts.

Youre still talking about April last year? Dempster said. Im just worried about this year. Ive forgotten all about that. I dont even think about (those) games. Im focused on getting everything as sharp as I can and just worry about executing pitches. Thats the difference between success and failure.

Hopefully, by the time the season starts, its right where I need to be.

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

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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

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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.