Friedrich makes Fire debut in friendly vs. Louisville

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Friedrich makes Fire debut in friendly vs. Louisville

Arne Friedrich played in 82 matches for Germanys national team. Despite his star-studded career in Europe, his debut with the Fire on Saturday came against a bunch of college kids.

Not surprisingly, Friedrichs superior skill was clearly evident as he lasted 88 minutes in a 1-0 victory over the University of Louisville, a squad that included Fire first-round draft pick Austin Berry on its roster last season. On Saturday Berry played beside Friedrich in the middle of the Fires back line.

Though Fire coach Frank Klopas used 21 players, this match -- designed to keep the team fit during a bye week -- was all about Friedrich. He didnt play in the Fires first three Major League Soccer matches because his fitness wasnt up to snuff. Hes expected to be ready for Sundays home game against the Houston Dynamo, however.

"This is my target," said Friedrich. "(Saturday) was my first game after six months. Im about 70 percent, but to be 100 percent I need some games."

Not only did Friedrich, 32, play his first game for the Fire, it was also his first game of any kind in the United States.

"I played against the United States when I was with our national team," he said. "And I saw only two MLS games because in Germany it was hard to get it (on television)."

Friedrich feels he needs to improve his fitness and get to know his teammates better on the field, but otherwise his adjustment to a new city hasnt been difficult.

"Its been no problem. From the first day I liked this city and the people very much," he said. "And I got lucky with the weather.

His first match was played in beautiful conditions on the Toyota Park practice field, and that encouraged about 200 fans to turn out. A group of Section 8 supporters was particularly vocal while standing on a hill behind the south goal. Friedrich was almost as vocal on the field.

"The most important thing is for us to know each other," said Friedrich. "Sometimes weve got to talk more on the pitch, but this takes time. I want to help this team with my experience. The target is to get to the playoffs, and when we get there anything can happen."

Klopas called Friedrichs performance "solid" and said hed be ready for the Houston match.

"We pushed him as much as we could in this game," said Klopas. "It was an easy game for him. Its important for someone to be vocal like that, with the experience to guide you."

Cory Gibbs, Dominic Oduro, Patrick Nyarko and Dan Gargan didnt play against the collegians, and only Marco Pappa played the full 90 minutes. He scored the lone goal with an 18-yard blast off his left foot in the 12th minute.

Gargan, nursing a left toe injury, jogged along the sidelines before the match. Jalil Anibaba, who started beside Gibbs as a central defender in the first three matches, moved to Gargans spot on the right side but Klopas would give no indication what lineup hell use against the Dynamo.

Sean Johnson figures to return in goal after missing preseason and the first three MLS matches while spending time training with Everton of the English Premier League and the U.S. under-23 team in its bid to qualify for the Olympics. Klopas held him out of the last MLS match because he hadnt seen much game action lately, and the last of those appearances didnt go too well. Johnson came on as a reserve against El Salvador in the last match of Olympic qualifying and allowed a tying goal in stoppage time. The tie advanced El Salvador and eliminated the U.S. in the tournament.

Klopas said Johnson has shaken off that negative experience, but feels last years starting netminder isnt game-sharp yet. He played the first half and Paolo Tornaghi the second against Louisville. Johnson played all 90 minutes for the Fire reserves in a 2-1 loss at Colorado on Monday and will likely play in the reserves next match, on Tuesday at Sporting Kansas City, before Klopas decides on Sundays starter.

"His attitudes been very good in training," said Klopas, indicating that Johnson has shaken off the letdown vs. El Salvador.

"You just have to move on with your career," said Klopas. "You cant hold on and let that bother you. Whether youre a goalkeeper or not, you learn through difficult moments. Sean has learned from that."

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The Blackhawks were finally getting healthy and now may be missing a key player once again. That depends on how Niklas Hjalmarsson feels after suffering an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

It was certainly the toughest part of the Blackhawks' victory, a 6-3 triumph that has the Blackhawks closing in on the Wild. We'll see what the Hjalmarsson update is over the weekend. Until then, let's look at the notables from this one.

What Worked: The offense. We'll give an honorable mention to the penalty kill, which snuffed out all of the Coyotes' chances including a double minor that overlapped the second and third periods. But the offense was just buzzing again. Here's another shocker: the top line is still working just fine. The trio got things started with Nick Schmaltz's goal just 37 seconds into the game (Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik assisted). And much like in their meeting with the Coyotes earlier this month, the Blackhawks needed just about every bit of that offense. While we're on this topic...

What Didn't Work: The first-period defense. The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape up 3-1 but then they gave up two goals within a minute late in the period. Michal Rozsival had a rough start in his first game since Jan. 15, but overall, the Blackhawks' defense through that first period looked discombobulated. Obviously, it didn't help that the Blackhawks lost Hjalmarsson during the first, either.

[RELATED: Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes]

Star of the game: Patrick Kane. One game after Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick Kane did the same, scoring his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. On a night in which the Blackhawks dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Kane got a little extra playing time. His first goal came on a first-period shift with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero, the second off a long pass from Brent Seabrook and the third with his usual line mates.

He Said It: "I didn't play much before I got hurt, then I missed four weeks with my injury. It wasn't easy but definitely the way the team's playing now, it made it easier for me. It felt like the first game of the season for me but glad we got the victory and glad I was back playing. I enjoyed it." — Michal Rozsival on returning to the Blackhawks' lineup. 

By the Numbers: 

6 – Number of times, in their last eight games, the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals.

342 – Assists for Jonathan Toews, who tied Dennis Hull for 12th all-time in franchise history in that category.

35 – Combined points for the Blackhawks' top liners Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik in their nine games together. The breakdown in those nine games: Toews has 16 points, Panik 10 and Schmaltz nine.

1997 – The last time the Blackhawks had hat tricks in back-to-back regular-season games. Alexei Zhamnov and Eric Daze had them on April 11 and April 13, 1997, respectively.