Rockford won't be slowed by lockout


Rockford won't be slowed by lockout

It's been exactly two months since the NHL's collective bargaining agreement expired, and since then, anger, hostility and little hope have surrounded the negotiations between the league and union. But for some fans, this setback wouldn't slow them down and they've discovered a new outlet to experience the hockey they've been missing.
It was a Wednesday night and the BMO Harris Center was far from sold out. But the fans who were in attendance -- whether they were regulars at IceHogs games or Chicagoans searching for a way to reconnect with the Blackhawks during the lockout -- displayed a deep appreciation for the team and for the fact that these games are much for affordable.
Whether it was participating in chuck-a-puck during the intermission or dancing with others sitting around them when Gangnam Style played over the speakers, IceHogs fans seemed to share the in-game experience with not only the people they arrived with, but also those they didn't even know yet.
"The crowd isn't as full as an NHL game would be," said Jessika Hujar, who's been coming to Rockford, in addition to games in Chicago, for many years. "The tickets are a lot cheaper, which is a plus, and the atmosphere is still the same. We're all here to see the same team and whenever the team scores, everyone's up from their seats cheering. You can come here knowing nobody and before you know it, it's like you know everyone by the time you leave here. It's a really great experience.
There are a lot of NHL season ticket holders here, a lot of those people from Chicago now also have season tickets here."
One of those people being Kristin Wolf, a lifelong Blackhawks fan who attended her first IceHogs game at the beginning of this season and has since commuted two hours to see each matchup in Rockford.
"I bought tickets the day before the lockout started. The fans are all very, very dedicated here. At the United Center you have a lot of bandwagon fans. But everyone here is very into the game."
"It's not as loud or as big as a Hawks game would be, but still, the people behind us and around us are funny, everyone's laughing and having a good time," added Laura Menne, who was attending her first IceHogs game that night. "It's the same general experience you would get if you were at a Hawks game."
Now the same question continues that many have wondered since the start of the lockout: Will NHL fans come running back whenever the new collective bargaining agreement is in place?
"Part of me doesn't really mind whether it ends this season," Wolf said. "I can afford these games and I enjoy them. I'm getting really into here and I don't want to stop coming mid-season, so if the lockout ends it wouldn't really affect me that much because I come here now."

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”