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Archive for May, 2009

Chicago Blackhawks Season Goes From Disaster To Dire

Posted by sportsmaven on May 25, 2009

Three weeks of training camp.  Eighty-two regular season games.  Sixteen playoff games.  What has been a remarkable, rise from the ashes, success beyond our wildest dreams of seasons, has all of a sudden become a disaster and now, with the season precariously hanging by a thread, it has become a dire situation for the Chicago Blackhawks.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Detroit Red Wings are the New York Yankees of the National Hockey League.  They are the defending Stanley Cup champions.  They are also the deepest, most talented team in the playoffs — battle tested, championship brazen.  They were missing 3 of their top players, C Kris Draper, captain D Nicklas Lidstrom, and leading scorer C Pavel Datsyuk.  They never missed a beat.  In contrast, the Blackhawks were missing only one player, G Nikolai Khabibulin, and that made all the difference in the world.

After today’s 6-1 drubbing of the Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the mighty Red Wings are once again in the drivers seat headed to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Where does that leave the Chicago Blackhawks?  They must now sweep the Red Wings in a 3 game series to keep their season alive, a task that’s nearly insurmountable.  The Blackhawks have been resilient all season.  They have been remarkably resilient in the playoffs.  But returning to Detroit carrying a 3-1 deficit against the best team in the NHL is a bit too much to ask.

It’s Sunday evening and Chicago Blackhawks fans are digesting the aftermath of this afternoon’s game, quelling the sting of a disastrous loss, resisting the notion that the season has already been wildly successful, beyond what anyone had imagined.  After all, making the playoffs was the goal and that was accomplished.  After all, with each win, and each preceding series victory, wanting more for the Blackhawks at this point could be construed as being  greedy.

So what do the Chicago Blackhawks need to do to get back into this series?  Three things they will need to get back into the series are:

1.  Take each game one at a time.  Game 5 is the most important game of the series.  You can’t look past that and you can’t have one thought about Game 6 until Game 5 is in the win column.  Game plan for that one game.  It’s a one game season now.  Win that, it’s another one game season, and so forth.

2.  The young Blackhawks need to play with more composure and maturity.  The Red Wings are a veteran, championship team.  They set the tone for this series with their hard checks and pinpoint rushes to the net.  The Blackhawks need to put the RW Martin Havlat hit behind them and play the type of game that got them this far.  Regardless of what Hawks Coach Joel Quenneville said about the referees, this game was lost when the Blackhawks abandoned their strategy to adopt a more physical, retalitory stance against the Wings.  It played right into the Red Wings strengths and the Hawks didn’t have the firepower to counter.

3.  It’s imperitave to get a full strength Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin Havlat back.  Havlat has been a marked man in these playoffs.  Both the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks pounded Havlat, trying to get him out of his game.  Havlat has been the Hawks catalyst, most clutch offensive performer of the playoffs.  It’s no surprise the Red Wings are bodying him up in this series.  Havlat has managed to avoid injury until now.  He will need to be at full strength for the Hawks to compete.  The loss of Khabibulin was probably the most brutal loss of all.  G Cristobal Huet was inadequately prepared to play and it showed.  If Khabibulin is out for Game 5, the Hawks are going home.  If he is back and ready to go, they have a fighting chance.

The Chicago Blackhawks are down to their final strike and the veteran Red Wings smell blood in the water.  The character of this Chicago Blackhawks team will be tested on Wednesday in Detroit.  The only question: will the young upstart live to fight another day?  By Thursday morning, we’ll all know……

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A Beautiful Day At Columbia College Chicago

Posted by sportsmaven on May 17, 2009

Crystal blue skies, not a cloud in sight.  Bright sunny day, so bright that a strong squint of the eyelids posed a constant reminder of sunglasses forgotten.  An unseasonably cool May morning, a Sunday morning.  The sign on the front of the building read UIC Pavillion, but inside, it was Columbia College Chicago all the way.

DSC03397

Today is May 17, 2009 and my step-daughter, Jessica Dreymann was attending her last official function as a Columbia College student, her graduation ceremony.  As of 10pm this evening, Jessi is officially a college graduate.  Actually, it was as of 2pm, but the celebration took us a few ticks  further on the face of the dial.

Jessi began her college career as a freshman at University of Iowa.  Eager to leave home for the first time, Jessi chose a school that was far enough from home to really experience being on her own, but close enough to come home if she really wanted.  Iowa was a learning experience in so many ways.

The first year of college is a dichotomy of life; you are a student, you are no longer under parental rule.  Iowa was a struggle in many ways for Jessi.  Normally an excellent student, with an impressive run at Glenbrook North High School in our hometown of Northbrook, IL, Jessi was really struggling in Iowa City.  In many ways, it was that first year of struggle that ultimately defined Jessi’s growth and development into the outstanding person she is today.  It is where she came of age, experiencing a giant leap in maturity and independence.  It is also the place that led her to today’s events at Columbia College Chicago, and it little did she know it was the most important experience of her life.

Jessi Dreymann graduated college today.  She graduated in 3 years.  She also graduated with honors.  She was able to accomplish every bit of this while working a full-time job.  Words can’t express how proud I am of Jessi’s accomplishments.  I only know one other person that has accomplished the same, and I’m married to her.  Yes, my wife and Jessi’s mom, Barb DeCesare, set the bar for today’s events.  I’m bursting with pride, inspiration, and joy for the accomplishment of both my girls.

Columbia College Chicago is a special place of higher education.  I noticed the minute I walked into the graduation ceremony at the UIC Pavillion.  From the smart, creative choice of excellent music to the guest speakers ability to provide short, but powerful words of wisdom, Columbia College’s dynamic, creative environment was on full display.  Distinguished honored speaker, author Ray Bradbury spoke stirringly about doing what you love and to love what you’re doing.  The spirit of love was the dominant theme of the day.

My highest compliments and regards to President Warrick L. Carter, Provost Steven Kapelke, and the various leaders of Columbia College for providing an environment for dynamic and creative learning, development of outstanding leaders, and most importantly, the mentoring of tomorrow’s change agents.

From create…change to Yes We Can, Columbia College Chicago ushered in two powerful phrases that define the spirit of Chicago, the destiny of higher education, and the intersection of the two into one magical morning.  After reading this post, you might be asking yourself  “What does this have to do with Chicago sports?”  Nothing at all.  It’s my daughter and I’m damn proud of her today, as I am every day and wanted to share that with my loyal and faithful audience.

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The Legend of Chicago Cubs’ Bobby Scales

Posted by sportsmaven on May 15, 2009

Deep in the heart of Georgia, a little boy tosses a baseball high in the air and catches it.  Each throw a little higher a bit more altitude, with a little more arc, making it harder to catch.  With each throw, a young man’s confidence grows, his belief that he can play this game called baseball becomes more and more immense by the minute.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Personal and family sacrifices, the hours of playing catch, hitting that little ball off the tee, running after a pop fly and fielding sharp grounders are finally paying huge dividends.  Joy intersects with passion and hard work, resulting in the formation of a dream come true.

Gradual advancement, more hard work, incremental improvement, maturity, the taste of success at the tip of your tongue, the fruits of your labor are starting to blossom.

Plateau.  They said it, not you.  Your stuck, stuck behind someone else’s dream, trying to find clear wind to fill your sails, but the others are tacking in front of you, stealing the very wind that drove you to success.  You move, they move, it’s not personal, it’s just competitive.  This is not the joy you envisioned, skewed but still in it’s light and nature.  A kalidescope of your original dream disappearing into a pattern of dashed hopes and missed windows.

Perseverance is a word whose meaning is deeply understood by few, lived by even fewer.  Tough times bring fight or flight, the tendency is finding a place to keep your head above water, settling for something steady and predictable, something more of a sure thing.  Common sense and fate may have been knocking on the door of the dream, a cruel foreshadowing of illusion, deep indication that it’s time to forge another path, to alter course.

Dusty roads, an endless bus ride, fast food and even faster competition.  Substitute teaching, working with kids, stealing time away to stay sharp, finding the inner strength to continue working on your game against all odds.  The dream is still at the end of your fingertips, if only someone could see the yearning, the desire, the intense burn of competition.

One chance is all he ever wanted.  One chance, if they could only believe in him a mere fraction as much as he believes in himself.  Portland, Oregon to  Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, and in the middle, Des Moines, Iowa.  Living year 11 of the dream, wondering if it will ever come true or will it be a constant reminder of what could have been…

By now, virtually every serious fan of the Chicago Cubs has embraced the feel good story of 2009, the emergence of rookie infielder Bobby Scales.  Scales, after toiling in the minor leagues for 10 seasons, finally got his cup of coffee in the major leagues on May 5th, courtesy of Cubs P Carlos Zambrano.  If Zambrano hadn’t been injured and if the Cubs didn’t have an immediate need for another infielder, the switch-hitting Scales would still be roaming the sweet dirt of Des Moines, Iowa.  Instead, all Scales has done is hit, going 8-18 (.444 batting average) with 1 HR and 5 RBI’s including a pair of two run doubles in yesterday’s 11-3 Cubs victory over the San Diego Padres. He’s gotten a hit in every single game he’s played.

There’s a good chance that Bobby Scales will be sent back to Iowa when the Cubs activate Zambrano from the 15-day disabled list.  The Chicago Cubs might be led by the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley, and Aramis Ramirez, but the heart and soul of the franchise is encased in players such as Scales.  If it all ended today, Bobby Leon Scales would have achieved the dream that every kid who has touched a ball has ever dared to imagine.

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Chicago Cubs Begin Their Struggling Season

Posted by sportsmaven on May 1, 2009

In comparison to 2008, the 2009 season has been brutally unkind to the Chicago Cubs.  From top to bottom of the organization, from the ballpark workers to the fans, the fuzzy lovefest that was 2008 has been replaced by a season that has all the markings of struggle written all over the brown, yet to grow ivy outfield walls.

(AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)

(AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)

The Cubs struggles seem to be set in motion during a devastating post season playoff series against the Los Angeles Dodgers to close out what was then developing into a magical season of 2008.  As dominant as the Cubs were in winning 97 games in 2008, they were equally as feeble once the playoffs began.  The Dodgers sucked the life out of the Cubs, exposing every weakness and shutting down the most powerful NL lineup and battering around the league’s #3 pitching staff in a NLDS sweep.

In the off season, Cubs GM Jim Hendry, tried in earnest to make his team more flexible for manager Lou Piniella.  What he did was inadvertently neutered his two-time division championship team, cutting them off at the knees.  Like a mad scientist, Hendry first moved to clear his entire bullpen, short of his All-Star setup man, RHP Carlos Marmol.  Included in that purge was All-Star closer RHP Kerry Wood, who finally found a successful niche as a power closer.  Not that he didn’t need to purge most of that bullpen, but it’s unclear to me as I watch the Cubs struggle, why Wood, the heart and soul of the Cubs team and the most tenured of all Cubs players, leader on and off the field, was allowed to depart. Essentially, Hendry traded Wood for former Florida Marlins closer, RHP Kevin Gregg, a one-sided trade then, and even more magnified in view of this horrible start.

The other perplexing move was trading 2B Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians, replacing him with free-agent RF Milton Bradley.  All Bradley has done since signing a 3-year, $30M contract is injure his hamstring, get kicked out of his first game at Wrigley Field, bump an umpire while arguing, earning himself a 2-game suspension, which he appeals, all while needing to sit out at least 16 games due to that injury, incidentially, while not being added to the disabled list.

This is the type of flexibility that Hendry and Piniella wanted?  A further highlight about how “flexible” the 2009 Cubs roster is, C Geovanny Soto injures his throwing shoulder and has to sit out a few games to re-evaluate the injury.  While Soto is out, reserve C Koyie Hill filled in very capably, but because the Cubs don’t put Soto on the 15-day DL, they are forced to list 2B Aaron Miles and others as the backup catcher.

3B Aramis Ramirez has missed the last 11 games due to a calf injury, but the Cubs choose not to add him to the 15-day disabled list, instead forcing an out of position 2B Mike Fontenot to play third.  In last night’s game, when Piniella needed to pinch-hit for the left-handed hitting Fontenot, he needed to employ Hill to finish out the game at 3rd base!  Recently, 1B Derrek Lee missed time with a strained neck.  1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir covered Lee at 1B, pushing RHP Carlos Zambrano into the lefty pinch hitting role.  Some flexibility.  This is the flexibility that results in 14 errors and many other misplays from players playing out of position.

Not to mention the current mess the pitching staff is in right now, started by the shoddy bullpen performance out of the gate and now spreading to the once very promising performance of the starting rotation.  The Cubs bullpen mess begins with the release of  RHP Chad Gaudin a trade-off engineered to essentially keep Rule 5 RHP David Patton and  RHP Angel Guzman, a player who is out of minor league options.  Patton’s been regulary pounded, the highlight, giving up a grand slam to St. Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols in a recent 8-2 loss to the Cardinals last Saturday.  LHP Neal Cotts not only hasn’t been able to get anybody out, he has been a bases on balls machine, walking 6 batters in 5 innings.  The bullpen picture became even more muddled when Hendry was forced to release RHP Luis Vizcaino and his $3M contract (Vizcaino was picked up in a off-season trade with the Colorado Rockies for RHP Jason Marquis) to bring up power RHP Jeff Samardzjia, who probably should have been in the bullpen in the first place.  With both Marmol and Gregg struggling, RHP Aaron Heilman has been exposed and has been used too frequently, resulting in a bullpen that can’t be trusted to get anyone out at this point, much less protect any sort of a lead.

So after 21 games, what do we make of this Cubs team?  Apparently, the early showing is that the Cubs are a team that still appear to suffer from the hangover of last season’s crushing playoff sweep.  They also can’t stay healthy.  They are also a team that can’t hit, field, or pitch.  This is a team built to struggle, and struggle they will, and I predict, for the entire season.  This Cubs team might not have to worry about a 3rd straight playoff disappointment.

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