Spring Break is good for all

Spring Break is good for all

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Hello again everybody! Sorry I havent been here for a while, it was time for me to once again play Clark Griswald and take the family on a spring break adventure. Hard to believe, but break time just kind of snuck up on me this year. This whole winter without Arctic Circle weather has my timing all off. March Madness came out of nowhere, and was gone before I could work up much enthusiasm. I rooted against Kentucky the entire time, and that was fun, but to no avail. The salt in the wound was the fact that I had Kansas and Kentucky in the final game and if K.U. had won, I would have celebrated along with them. Teased once again! Just like when I didnt win the 656 million Mega Millions jackpot. Like most of the people I talked to at the bar, I was buying tickets all over the Chicagoland area. Just 2 dollars here and there, but I guess they add up. Judging by the lines I stood in, I wasnt alone. (I have several different people-watching environments that amuse me to no end, as we all do, but I might have found a new favorite. Watching the interactions of all types of people waiting in line, then getting their chance to buy the golden ticket was priceless.)

That Friday at the bar was one of the few times in memory that the conversation wasnt dominated by sports talk. It was a day of speculation of what one would do with that much cash, and oddly enough, sports never entered the discussion. I found this ironic since there is hardly a time now when we talk sports and money isnt mentioned.

As with any trip, planning is a must. You cannot go on the road without the essentials, and for me that meant a new phone. This because I found out in the week before we left that my iPhone 3 was yesterdays news for keeping up with my roto baseball addiction. What?! Im not going to bore you -- at least at this time! -- with the early trials and tribulations, of which there are many, that have befallen my two teams, but being able to deal with them anytime, anywhere is a non-negotiable! I might have taken a while to get on-board the technology revolution, but Im in knee-deep now. (Or, is that in over my head?) I want information, any information, to be on my person 247 so I can access it whenever the mood strikes, or, more importantly, when I can sneak away for five minutes. Say hello to a proud new iPhone 4S owner. I cant wait until I can figure this thing out! At least I have a new woman in my life, Siri. And like the rest of them, she cant give me a straight answer. This forces my kids to ask who Im yelling at, their mother or my new cell-phone-wife. (Im just kidding, I would never yell at Siri!)

Of course, the funny thing is, that after I went to the trouble, and expense, to acquire my new traveling companion, the news it (she) gave me about my baseball teams was nothing I wanted to know. I find myself being like some managers, maybe one that you know, in that I just keep saying its early, way too much time left to panic. And like those said real managers, while I want to believe the words coming out of my mouth, I realize that Im just whistling in the dark.

As I was getting the car ready for the trip, late at night after getting home from work, I couldnt help but notice the large, illuminated orb in the sky. Typical, nothing like starting a vacation under the watchful eye of a full moon, right? And the fact that I would return to work on Friday the 13th thats not a cause for concern either, is it? Where I sit, I would expect nothing less. I laughed as I reminded myself of this as we sat in over-night construction for two hours outside Sandusky, Ohio. Wheres Tommy Boy when you need him?

While something like setting up my e-mail accounts made me want to pull my hair out, I soon was able to find one of the immediate benefits of my 4G -- HD phone: Masters.com. Im one of those who think that there cannot be enough Masters on TV. It takes forever for the network coverage to start. Well, at Masters.com there are as many as seven live streams and they start when the golfers do. How cool is that? And say youre watching the kids and theyre insistent on what they want to watch on the only TV, having a hand-held option comes in, dare I say, handy. Go ahead kids. Watch whatever you want because Daddy loves you! (And his phone!) And the great thing is that you can take your Masters coverage anywhere. Thats right, you heard me, anywhere!

The hype leading up to this years tournament was, I thought, very appropriate. There were a lot of great story lines and most of the top guys were playing very well at the same time. Unlike watching team sports, I usually have more than one rooting interest when watching golf. There are a bunch of guys that I root for and seeing any one of them doing well is cool. Cooler yet would be seeing a bunch of them in contention, together. Im always rooting for the Tiger vs. Phil, and while that was not going to be, at least Phil was in the final group on Sunday and hes as exciting as there is at Augusta. Couple that with the fact that no one except his family, and even them Im not so sure of, expected 54-hole leader Peter Hanson to remain on his perch, and this had the makings for another memorable Masters.

Having been to Augusta National, I agree that while spectacular on TV, that medium still doesnt give the golf course its due in regard to how overwhelming the surroundings are. But as a fan, I want to be watching the final round on TV because I want to be able to watch the whole story as it is being told. Being able to sit back and watch every shot of the leaders on Sunday is how I like to experience a Major. For this years Masters I was pretty much able to do that. From Louis Oosthuizens double-eagle on 2, all the way to Bubba Watsons 150 yard snap-hook from the woods to 10 feet on the second playoff hole, (10) I was on the edge of my seat, or enjoying Easter dinner, or both. It was as exciting a golf tournament that you could ever watch, let alone one that was played on the best course in the world. The best part was trying to explain what a double-eagle was to a room full of people more focused on dinner than I was, if you can imagine that.

The next day was spent downtown in Philadelphia, but not at the Phils opener as some might expect. I took the opportunity to take the kids into the city for the first time that any of them could remember. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were naturals to show the history. Tony Lukes was also a natural, to eat amazing, authentic cheesesteak and soak up some of the Phillies pre-game vibe. But next was about THE fictional hero of the city Im from, Rocky Balboa. First we cruised through the neighborhoods and outdoor Italian market that Rocky made so famous. After which there was only one place to go, the place he made most famous of all: The steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. I had not been there in years but thought the kids would get a kick out of it. And even though they didnt have any idea who Rocky Balboa was, through the wonder of YouTube, they found out all they needed to know about the steps. Watching them run up and then mimic the triumphant Rock at the top was something I wont soon forget. What a blast. I guess theres a reason why places become ultimate destinations, their charm cannot be denied.

It was then time to head back home and to get ready for all the spring calendar has to offer in the world of sports. Baseball has started and even in spite of rampant pessimism of fans on both sides of town, there are going to be storylines to follow all summer long. But the main focus right now has to be on the playoffs: The ones in hockey that are already off to a riveting start and of course, the good versus evil narrative that will be the Bull vs. Heat. For a fan, this will be non-stop, every night for the next two months. This is better than the gifts under the tree at Christmas, although, like Christmas gifts, some might not be happy with what they receive. But the season is going to give until it, and every player that is left standing, hurts. These are the best four-round reality shows on this earth and in June there will be only one team left standing in each sport. I cant wait to see who they are and thanks to my hiatus, Im as ready as the players to get on with it. While Im pretty confident that the Bulls and Heat are going to meet again, and I cant wait, there is another rematch out there that I dont know if Im ready to handle again. It always happens when you least expect it, so Im watching out for a meeting in the NHL Finals of a 5 and 6 seed, the ultimate reality show for yours truly, Flyers-Hawks. Can you imagine? Thank goodness Im rested up, lets watch and get ready, its going to be an interesting ride.

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

Ulf Samuelsson saw the changes the Blackhawks made this season, his hiring as assistant coach being one of them. Soon he’ll be working with the team’s defensemen, another area that’s had some upheaval.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, some uncertainties and some moving parts that I probably, typically haven’t seen going into a season. So that makes it even more interesting and challenging,” Samuelsson said. “So I’m looking forward to this opportunity to really develop and work with some of the younger players.”

From its immediate coach to its personnel, the Blackhawks’ defense is dealing with plenty of change that will continue when the season begins this fall. The Blackhawks have had some addition (Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta and Jordan Oesterle) but dealing with the subtraction (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk) will nevertheless be tough. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday that pairings are a work in progress.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we're going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” he said. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

For Murphy, who was acquired in the deal that sent Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, there are no set expectations as to where he fits yet.

“With any team you go into training camp proving where you’re going to be. Everyone has to come in and earn certain positions, especially me being a guy who they’re not as familiar with; I have to show what I can do,” Murphy said. “I definitely want to bring a more physical edge to defending at times and be able to skate well, have a good reach, make smart reads and try to help out with whatever’s needed with that.”

As for young players, the opportunity is there. Gustav Forsling admits he wasn’t happy that fellow Swede and role model Hjalmarsson was traded. But Forsling, who looked strong coming out of camp last September, knows he has to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I want to take the next step and play more,” he said. “I want to keep progressing my game and keep developing.”

The same goes for Jordan Oesterle, who the Blackhawks signed to a two-year deal on July 1.

“When I wanted to come here the opportunity was tremendous. Just the chance to come in and try to make the top six is there, it’s a battle with a number of us guys but that’s all you ask for in the situation I’m in,” he said. “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more. I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Again, the Blackhawks could re-address defense once they implement Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve after the season begins. General manager Stan Bowman said there’s “no exact plan” right now on how they use that space – “that’s probably going to be dictated by where we’re at when we get to October, how the team’s playing, what areas are strong, what areas we want to add to,” he said.

It remains to be seen on that front. Regardless, from coaching to personnel, much has changed with the Blackhawks defense. 

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

fire-villa.jpg
USA TODAY

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

A game which paired two of the top teams in the MLS standings didn’t deliver in a traditional sense, but did produce a wild game on Saturday.

The Chicago Fire looked like a team coming off a break in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at New York City FC. The Fire played up a man from the 12th minute on, but defensive lapses throughout and a lack of crispness in front of goal cost the Fire.

After a first half in which the Fire (11-4-5, 38 points) were outshot 7-4 despite the man advantage, NYCFC (11-6-4, 37 points) scored twice in the first five minutes of the second half and held off the Fire’s late surge.

For much of the match, the Fire struggled to complete passes and couldn’t even put shorthanded New York City under pressure. Once the Fire fell behind 2-0, David Accam, who entered the match as a halftime sub, got the Fire within one with a long-range effort that slammed in off the bottom off the crossbar.

The final 30 or so minutes resembled the Fire’s previous struggles this season of playing against teams defending deeply. The Fire couldn’t score against Orlando when the Lions were down two players on June 4. Later in June in the U.S. Open Cup, the Fire couldn’t score against USL opponent FC Cincinnati which defended deep the entire match.

NYCFC took the lead two minutes into the second half on a David Villa volley where Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson was screened on the shot. A few minutes later Frederic Brillant rebounded his own header on a set piece to double the lead.

Accam’s goal finished off a stretch of three goals in eight minutes, but the Fire couldn’t beat former goalkeeper Sean Johnson again despite 25 shots.

The loss snapped the Fire’s 11-match MLS unbeaten run and tightened up the Eastern Conference race. Toronto FC, which tied NYCFC in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, is up a point on the Fire. NYCFC is now a point behind the Fire with an extra game played.

Before the red card, the Fire caught a big break when a Bastian Schweinsteiger turnover nearly led to a penalty kick. Johan Kappelhof slid to knock the ball away from Herrera in the fourth minute, and appeared to miss the ball, but the ref did not give the penalty to the hosts.

Fire defender Brandon Vincent was announced as a starter before the match, but the club said he suffered a left quad strain in warmups and was replaced by Michael Harrington in the lineup.