Illini hope bye week helps team say goodbye to the blues

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Illini hope bye week helps team say goodbye to the blues

CHAMPAIGN How do you put a calendar year without a Big Ten win out of your mind? According to Illinois head coach Tim Beckman you own the day.

At his press conference on Monday, Beckman said the emphasis for his team going forward was to play like champions each Saturday, regardless of the results from past Saturdays.

Those last games are done. We have five games in front of us, he said. Were taking it one day at a time. We talked about challenging this football team to own the day which means, basically, do everything to win that day.

Having a bye week last week, after losing 45-0 at Michigan on Oct. 13, was very beneficial to the team, Beckman said. Illinois (2-5, 0-3) got three extra practices in during their off week, giving the team extra time to work on areas where they have struggled in their last four games all losses.

The Illini did more than just run drills, however. One of the most important things the team did during its break, according to Beckman, was self-evaluate.

The bye week is not really a week off, its a chance to evaluate the things weve done, the Illinois coach said. Its an opportunity for our players to evaluate the way theyve played. Coaches to evaluate the way theyve coached.

This aspect of the bye week was very important to linebacker Jonathan Brown. He said the extra communication between the players and coaches was invaluable.

Losing at Arizona State in week two gave us a blow. I dont think we lost confidence but it was step back. Having the same problem week-in and week-out it compounded to where we finally were like, We gotta change something, Brown said. Everybody is on the same page this week. Coaches, players, training staff were moving forward. There was a lack of communication going on, but thats something we fixed and got better at.

The Illini also got better in a more literal sense during the bye week. A week with no competition gave the team the opportunity to get injured players back to full health or close to full health.

Senior defensive back Terry Hawthorne, who sat out the Michigan game, and junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who was pulled from the Michigan game, are both back to full go status according to Beckman. The rest week gave the players a chance to relax, nurse their injuries and regain strength.

The bye week came at a good time to get guys healthy, Beckman said. For all these guys, including guys who havent played that much who might not have been startersits good we had the opportunity to get these guys healthy.

Some players, like Brown, have been playing through pain. Having the chance to get him closer to full health is something Beckman hopes will boost the defense when Illinois returns to the field. Brown feels certain he can give his best when Indiana comes to town on Saturday.

I was able to sit back and let my body recuperate a good week of relaxing. It was definitely a positive for us, he said.

Illinois will need a full complement of healthy players on Saturday because Indiana, despite being winless in the Big Ten, has shown the ability to battle with some of the conferences best teams. In three Big Ten games against Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State, the Hoosiers have scored at least 27 points and lost by an average of just over seven points.

Indiana has found success with a quick offense that allows opponents little time to make adjustments between plays. The Illinois players feel ready for the speedy Hoosiers, bolstered by a week off and earlier games against other fast-paced offenses like ASU and Louisiana Tech.

Practice this week has been extremely fast. Coach doesnt move the ball from one hash to the other and he has two different groups running to the ball, back-and-forth. We have to run and call the play at the same time were trying to get into our formations as we get on the field, defensive back Ashante Williams said.

That preparation for the speed of Indiana combined with the Homecoming tradition at Illinois has the players very fired up for Saturdays game and not looking past the Hoosiers. For the Illini, all that matters is owning the day.

Kickoff for Saturdays game is scheduled for noon at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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