Category Archives: Hockey

Sweet Home Month in Review: November

Its been a strange November here in Chicago. Winter came early, and much like the Chicago Bears, like a slap in the face. The Bulls and Blackhawks started off a bit bumpy, have overcome some core injuries and ended the month hot. The White Sox were the first to strike in free agency while the Cubs have been silent, at least on the personnel front, as the Wrigley renovation is finally underway. Lets take a look back at this month in Chicago sports.

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Chicago Blackhawks – 9-5

The Blackhawks started the month of slow, dropping three of their first four games. Early this month lines were constantly changing as coach Joel Quenneville attempted to find the right combinations. Corey Crawford returned to the  lineup after being injured for most of October, but they lost Patrick Sharp to a lower body injury on November 4. Despite losing Sharp and, later this month, Trevor van Riemsdyk, the Blackhawks finally found their offense thanks mostly to their Kane, Richards, Versteeg line. Brad Richards, off a slow start to the season, seems to be finally finding his role with the team and has been right at home playing alongside Kane and Versteeg.

While their offensive awakening has helped the Blackhawks return to the form we have come accustomed to seeing, it has been their defense that has really impressed. They are second overall in the NHL in Goals Against, and first in Penalty Kill Percentage (91.3%). The team finished 5-1 on their “circus trip”, no easy feat, and won eight of their last ten games.

December looks to be a challenging schedule, which kicks off Wednesday with three tough games in a row, against St Louis, Montreal and Nashville.

Chicago Bulls – 10-5Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets

It has been an up and down start for the Bulls as the Derrick Rose saga continues. In the first month of the season, Rose has only started and finished five of the team’s 17 games. But when he has played the entire game, he has looked very good helping the Bulls to a  5-0 record in those games.

But Rose hasn’t been the biggest story for the Bulls. Jimmy Butler has looking like an all-star early this season as he tries to prove to the Bulls he is worth more than the four year, $40 million contract he turned down before the season started. Butler leads all Bulls in scoring and is ranked third in the East behind only LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Its hard to say if Butler can keep this up, especially given the 40 minutes per game he is playing (1st in the NBA by more than a minute), but at least for now the Bulls are greatly improved on offense.

Pau Gasol is quietly having an all-star season as well, averaging a double-double and giving the Bulls the low post presence on both ends that they’ve been searching for. But the most exciting thing for me is the success of the Bulls’ bench. With an early season injury to Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic has taken advantage. He appears to be a better player than I thought he would be, with his ability to spread the floor and hit three pointers, but also drive to the hoop and rebound. Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich help round out what looks to be one of the best second units in the league.

The key to the Bulls is staying healthy. They are undefeated when their intended starting lineup plays, which has only happened five times. It will be an ongoing storyline worth watching as the season moves along

Chicago Bears – 2-2

matt-forte-stephen-tulloch-nfl-chicago-bears-detroit-lions-850x560And now, the bad news. As in, “Bad News Bears”. And they are living up to the name. The Bears entered this month coming off the bye week with an opportunity to get their season back on track, but it all came tumbling down as they gave up 55 points to the Green Bay Packers. They followed that up with wins against two bad teams (Minnesota and Tampa Bay) but continue to underachieve on both sides of the ball. The offense still hasn’t clicked, the play calling has been unoriginal and unproductive, and the defense has fallen to one of the worst in the league, giving up 28.1 points per game (tied for 30th with Oakland). They got off to a good start on Thanksgiving against the Lions, opening up with a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, but bafflingly continue to keep the ball out of Matt Forte’s hands and ended up losing 34-17 as any playoff hopes they might have had were ripped from their delicate grasp.

Its difficult to identify what the Bears will be playing for in these final four games other than pride. The bigger question will be how much of the coaching staff will be turned over and how soon it will or won’t happen. The obvious choice would be to replace everyone from the GM on down, but the Bears have not been known to make such bold moves.

In other news, Lance Briggs has been placed on season-ending IR, and has likely played his last game as a Chicago Bear. While Briggs has been a Hall of Fame player for most of his career here in Chicago, he’s been merely a distraction in his last two seasons.

Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox 

d88a375755f416b15988787c253397a3_crop_northThe Cubs started off the month strong, bringing in Joe Maddon as their manager and thus bringing tangible hope to the North Side. With his winning reputation and locker room shenanigans, Maddon is exactly the kind of manager the Cubs needed to bring excitement to the upcoming season while they hope to replace “rebuilding” with “contention”.

The acquisition of Maddon was supposed to spark a big free agent splash, but so far it has been all quiet on that front. The Cubs missed out on Russell Martin, and are in discussions with Jon Lester, although there is nothing eminent as he continues to meet with teams.  The Wrigley renovation is finally underway, but hit a snag this month as the team announced that the bleachers might not be ready in time for Opening Night. It’s always something, isn’t it?usa-today-8085980.0

While much of the focus in the offseason as been on what moves the Cubs would make, the White Sox struck first and signed first baseman Adam Laroche. The 35-year-old first baseman agreed to a two-year, $25 million contract, and will likely fill the role left vacant by Paul Konerko.

 

 

Sweet Home Week in Review (3/31-4/6)

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Chicago Cubs – Weekly Record: 2-4

Chicago White Sox – Weekly Record: 3-3

The baseball season kicked off this week, and it looks like this year is going to be as ugly as advertised here in Chicago. I got to watch a little of both teams this week and here is what I’ve learned – Jose Abreu is, in fact, a beast. Already has 6 RBI in his first week and its only a matter of time before he starts sending a few out of the park. The Cubs are still a major work in progress on offense, but their pitching has actually been solid. They just can’t score runs and leave way too many runners in scoring position. Elilio Bonifacio gave Cubs fans something to cheer about in his first two games, but appears to be coming back to earth, as expected. They need to start to see more from Castro, Rizzo, Olt and Lake otherwise any interest that may have been able to get in the Major League club this year is going to sputter out fast.

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Chicago Blackhawks – Weekly Record – 3-0

The Blackhawks have bounced back strong from their second big injury in as many weeks. They got good news as well that Toews and Kane should be back at full strength for the playoffs, and the Blackhawks have earned some much needed points this week as they attempt to get home ice in the first round. Their 5 points in their three games this week was capped off with a huge win over division rival St. Louis. They now sit in the 5 seed, 2 points behind San Jose and Colorado, who lost to the Penguins on Sunday. This is just the kind of effort they need to get back to being the champs we remember from last year, who had depth and were getting contributions from every line. Hopefully some wins to finish off the year without their two best players will be the extra motivation this team needed to head into the post-season with some serious momentum.

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Chicago Bulls – Weekly Record: 4-0

The Bulls have won 8 of their last 10 and continue to defy all odds this season as they are fighting for the 3-seed in the East. D.J Augustin has been amazing, taking the team on his back and leading them in scoring come off the bench. This from a guy who was picked up off the slush pile midway through the season. As much as we don’t expect the Bulls to be serious title contenders this year, I’d love to see them make a playoff run and make some teams sweat. The ideal scenario I see has the Bulls getting themselves the 3-seed and getting Washington (who spent the week talking shit about how they could beat the Bulls only to be embarrassed by them Saturday night) in the first round and Indiana, who is in the middle of a late season free-fall in the second round, all while avoiding red hot Brooklyn in round one and Miami until the conference finals.

Sweet Home Week in Review Double-Issue (3/17-3/30)

We missed a week, caught up in March Madness and what little time we had for non sports-related real life. So we present out Double Issue to look back on the last two weeks in Chicago sports. These last two weeks saw a some great highs and potentially devastating lows for our Chicago teams.

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Somewhere in the middle, today is Opening Day in baseball for the Cubs and White Sox, and while Opening Day always comes with a sense of excitement, there is still the sobering reality that both teams are re-building and expectations remain rock bottom on the North and South sides. There has been excitement for the Cubs in spring training with their young stars and future core, but most of them won’t see a Major League field for at least another year. So for now we hope to see steps forward from Castro, Rizzo and Wood and hope Mike Olt can continue his great spring and pan out to be one of the team’s biggest steals. But for both teams there won’t be much motivation to go to the ballpark outside of the general enjoyment of taking in a ballgame. And honestly, I’m still going  to enjoy that, especially since ticket prices on stubhub will likely drop with the quality of the baseball leading to some cheap tickets for me.

The Bears made another big splash in free agency last week, signing veteran DE Jared Allen from the Minnesota Vikings. This was a really unexpected move by the Bears who didn’t seem to be seriously perusing Allen. But he adds depth to a defensive line that has undergone a complete overhaul in free agency after an awful season. It will also allow the Bears more flexibility in the draft to address a secondary still in dire need of help. Allen fills the veteran Julius Peppers role, but hopefully has more in the tank than the older Peppers did last year. He is not going to be the 22 sack player he was a couple years ago, but if he can get to the quarterback as part of a tandem with Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, it will be a major upgrade for the Bears at a much better price. I also love how much the Bears have been hanging out this off-season, eveything from pottery to go-cart races. This is Marc Trestman’s philosophy at work, and hope a team that plays together grows together it’ll find its way onto the field come the fall.

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Chicago Blackhawks (3/17-3/30) – 3-4-1

The big low has been the Blackhawks. After losing Patrick Kane for the remainder of the regular season last week, Jonathan Toews suffered an injury in Sunday night’s game and will be out for a yet unknown amount of time. This coming during a span where the Blackhawks have lost 4 of their last 5 games, with only 6 games left in the regular season. They have not looked like champions all season but have shown up in big games when they needed to. But with Kane and now Toews out, their chance at defending their title seems to be dwindling. Hopefully the two will be back and full strength by playoff team, otherwise it may be an early exit in a greatly improved Western Conference.

Chicago Bulls (3/17-3/30) – 4-3

The Bulls are still fighting along, 1 game out of the 3 seed in the East. Last night DJ Augustin went for 33 points off the bench and Joakim Noah flirted with another triple-double in a winning effort against the Celtics. Derrick Rose is practicing again, but the Bulls have not budged on their stance that Rose will not be returning this year. Only 9 games left in the regular season and the Bulls look to be on pace for another second round exit in another exciting but still lost season.

Looking Ahead

Will the Cubs and Sox enjoy winning records, even if just for a day or two early in the season? Will injuries to Kane and Toews keep the Blackhawks from chasing the title again this year? Do the Bulls have enough to make a longer run in the playoffs and can they stay healthy enough to do so? Are the Bears done making moves?

Sweet Home Week in Review (3/9-3/16)

Chicago Bears Free Agency

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The big story this week was Bears free agency. The Bears addressed their biggest need, DE, with the signing of Lamarr Houston from Oakland. After their top choice Michael Bennett re-signed with the Seahawks, Houston was the next best guy available and fills a major need for the Bears at that position. And while YouTube highlight reels can make anyone look good, you’ll see he at least has the potential to make the Bears’ pass rush formidable again.

The other big news came late on Friday with the re-signing of Charles Tillman. While the Bears talked about how much they wanted Tillman back, it always seemed to me he was one of Lovie’s guys who was not happy with the coaching change and would take the opportunity to leave this off-season – and it was not surprising that his first visit was to Lovie in Tampa. What I didn’t expect was Tillman to leave without a deal in place (or at least an offer). But Tillman back to the Bears is a good thing. He is still one of the best corners in the game and a turnover machine. With so many other moving parts on the Bears defense, having the CB core back with he and Tim Jennings is a comfort, and if he can stay healthy it benefits all of the other positions in front of him. They still need some CB depth but I see them looking to the draft for that.

The Bears’ losses were Josh McCown to the Buccaneers and Julius Peppers to the Packers. While I hoped McCown would come back to Chicago, it was fair that he was given a chance to see what was out there. And while I am happy he landed where he did, Lovie Smith has never had a good eye for quarterbacks, and they just made McCown, a 34 year old journyman quarterback their starter. No matter how well he played last year, I would not be happy if that was who Lovie brought in to be the starter for my team. Peppers’ departure was a given after a pitiful season and his epic cap hit number. But what makes this news exciting is that he is going to division rival Green Bay. And if Peppers is anywhere near as effective as he was last year, Jay Cutler will be safe and sound for at least two games this season.

The other FA signings the Bears made this week were safeties M.D. Jennings and Ryan Mundy (who will compete for the starting job and will please-dear-god get it over Chris Conte), Defensive End Willie Young (from the Lions who will likely start on the other side of Houston) and special teamers Domenik Hixon and Jordan Senn.

Chicago Bulls – Weekly record: 3-1

The Bulls are in the midst of a challenging home-stand, which started last Sunday against the Heat (a game I attended, and one of the most exciting Bulls games I’ve ever been to). They went on to win 3 of 4 this week, with big wins also coming against the red hot Rockets and the Kings. The lone loss was a let down game against the Spurs – but the big story this week has been Joakim Noah playing out of his damn mind. This week Noah has averaged 17 points, 10.2 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2.7 blocks. Dating back to last year’s playoffs, Noah has become the leader of the team and the face of the franchise, and I think he will continue to be even after Derrick Rose returns (whenever the hell that’ll be). And though he says he doesn’t like the MVP chants from the crowd in games, he has very quickly become Chicago’s favorite current athlete.

Chicago Blackhawks – Weekly Record: 3-3

The hockey season is winding down and if the Blackhawks are looking to make a run at back to back Stanley Cups, now is the time to turn it on. And with home ice so important, the Blackhawks sit in third place in their division and 5th in the West. If there is one thing we have learned about them over the last two seasons, its that they are a totally different team with Marian Hossa. And they proved this again on Sunday when Hossa returned for injury and got them 3 points (1 goal and 2 assists) in a 4-1 victory over the Red Wings. With 14 games left in the regular season – 2 of which against the Blues who they have had trouble with all year – they need to start winning some games and making up some points and playoff seeding.

Sweet Home Sports Podcast Episode 2

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Eric and Justin return to the podcast to discuss the Bears’ week 17 loss to the Packers and whats next for the Bears. Should Jay Cutler be their QB? How can they fix the defense?

Click the link below to Subscribe to the Sweet Home Sports podcast and download the latest episode!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sweet-home-sports-podcast/id783332961?mt=2

Sweet Home Sports Chicago Year in Review 2013

The first year of Sweet Home Sports is coming to a close and its time to look back on the year that was – on a personal note, I’m so grateful for all of the support from my friends and family in starting this blog. Its been a great joy to be able to write about and talk about and share my love of Chicago sports with everyone, and I look forward to continuing to do so while hopefully growing and sharing with more and more people. My personal highlights were:

-Starting this blog. Collaborating with one of my best friends Justin Siddons and after several failed attempts, finally finding an outlet for our ridiculous love of our Chicago teams – we’ve attended a Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks game together and my New Years resolution will be for us to go see the Cubs and White Sox together next summer.

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-Attending a Blackhawks/Kings playoff game at the Staples Center (the only game they lost that series) with my dad – including a pre-game VIP party and then being able to see the game from great seats as well as a private box. And even though I took a lot of abuse from the Kings dancers (as evidenced by this photo), there are few greater joys and watching a game with my dad.

-I entered a song in the ESPN 1000 Holiday Parody song contest on the Waddle and Silvy show – it was played on the air 4 times, got all of the guys laughing, and finished in the Top 5 in the contest. My song was to the Twelve Days of Christmas, about all of the horrible players I remember from the last time the Bulls tanked – headlined by everyone’s favorite, Dalibor Bagaric.

As for this year, 2013 wasn’t a great year if you were wearing any team logo other than the Blackhawks. So with that, lets start with the high that was the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.

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While much of the run started at the end of 2012, we saw the Blackhawks set a record this season for the best record to start a season in NHL history, going 21-0-3 in their first 24 games. Patrick Kane has had the best calendar year of his career, which included winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as well as his most recent point streak. But the finest moments for the Blackhawks came at the very end. For me, it was coming back from down 3-1 to the Red Wings in the Western Conference semi-finals that stands out as the run that set the tone for the rest of their championship run. But this year came down to the final 17 seconds of the championship game. Every Blackhawks fan will always remember where they were for those 17 seconds. I was with some friends at a neighborhood bar, and with just a few minutes to go and the Blackhawks down one, were beginning to discuss their chances in Game 7. And even when Bryan Bickell scored to tie the game, I never could have imagined they would still win it in regulation. But 17 seconds later, in comes Dave Bolland sealing the game and the series. The second Stanley Cup in four years for the Blackhawks and as a lifelong Chicago sports fan who, in part, moved back to Chicago in 2002 to be closer to my teams, it was only the third World Championship I’ve been able to see here (two by the Blackhawks and one by the White Sox). And after an offseason where the Blackhawks kept their group mostly in tact, they are off to another hot start, in first place in the conference and the favorite to become the first team with win Back-to-Back since the Red Wings.

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2013 for the Bulls has been a different story, as we move from glory to agony. I never expected the Bulls to be any good last season, but they proved me wrong and kept the season exciting. The high probably being their playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, which culminated in an epic Game 7 victory. The Bulls, undermanned all year and absolutely devastated by injury, showed the kind of heart that had us licking our lips for the day Derrick Rose would return to the lineup at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season. And in the pre-season, Rose was out to prove that he was back and better than ever – playing more aggressively than we’re used to seeing anyone play in the pre-season. But before that, we dealt with the saga of “Will he or won’t he” in regard to Rose. The ongoing PR nightmare between Rose’s people and the Bulls organization was a complete mess. Maybe they kept hope alive so fans wouldn’t lose interest, but, as a fan there was nothing fun about sticking with them all season with the hope he would return, only to see him not come back, with no official announcement, before losing to the Heat (again) in 5 games. So Rose finally returns, and just as the rust is starting to come off, down he goes…again…this time with a torn medial meniscus in his right knee. Another season, another season-ending injury for the Bulls’ star. Now we deal with what will be next for Derrick Rose. Will he ever be the same again? What will happen with the rest of the roster? Right now its all questions and no answers in the most disappointing Bulls season since the Eddie Robinson era.

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The Cubs and White Sox did not earn themselves their own paragraphs this year and so they share one. For the Cubs, the season was mostly highlights by the still ongoing Wrigley renovations – which for the most part distracted the population from the fact that where was still pitiful baseball being played on the north side. Most of the Cubs highlights need to be marked “potential” at this point – the continued improvement of Javier Baez, the emergence of Travis Wood, the drafting of Kris Bryant. The Cubs are still a couple years away from the great re-build we’ve been promised, but the pieces seem to be falling into place. The lows were too many to name – from the awful step backwards that Starlin Castro took this season, to their failure to land a top tier manager like Joe Girardi to take the team to new heights. And of course the biggest low of the year, the baseball they played. abreauAs for the White Sox, not many highs for a 99-loss team. They have a great ace in Chris Sale, who still had a great season despite being on an awful team. They signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, who could be a piece of a re-build. But the White Sox continue to be a band-aid team, and under Robin Ventura, who has shown a lack of passion for his position, had one of the worst defenses in the league. Cubs fans are used to being basement dwellers, but this was new territory of late for White Sox fans. The high point? That I was able to see a lot more games live than usual due to overall lack of interest and overall dirt cheap tickets on StubHub.

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And finally the Bears. The highs and lows have been pretty self explanatory. The highs were on offense. The lows were on defense. But the notable highs include enough proof for me to believe that the Marc Trestman offense works, led by the outbreak season by Alshon Jeffrey. Jeffery set a Bears’ franchise record for single-game receiving yards with 218 in Week 5, and then broke his own record going for 249 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota. Jeffery is the first Bears player to record a pair of 200-yard receiving games in the same season. We also saw Josh McCown come off the bench, going for 16 TDs and 1 INT while Cutler was injured, leading to many wondering if Cutler should even return when he was healthy. He did, but wasn’t enough to beat the Packers and lead them to the playoffs. The lows included them being injury plagued all year as they saw Jay Cutler, Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, Nate Collins and DJ Williams all go down for most of the year. But this defense was an epic fail. Julius Peppers played the worst season of his career, and the Bears earned themselves the worst run defense in the NFL this season, and the worst in franchise history. Two particularly low lowlights were the blowout in Week 16 against the Eagles, on a day where all the Bears had to do was win and they would clinch the NFC North, making the outcome of this weekend’s Packers game basically moot, as well as the game many consider to be the one they truly lost the division on, a loss to the Vikings and Minnesota did everything in their power to hand to the Bears – ending in a very questionable field goal call on 2nd and 7 which was missed by Robbie Gould as the Bears went on to lose.

So there it is, 2013. So lets make some resolutions for 2014!

Blackhawks – Bring home a repeat

Bulls – Get DRose back, re-build the team, find a star to pair with Rose.

Cubs – Start bringing these players up and make “Next Year” now!

White Sox – Don’t become the “Cubs” of Chicago

Bears – Bring Cutler back at a discount and get a major defensive makeover

The Champs are back!

2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six

After last year’s strike-shortened season, its hard to believe the Blackhawks will open their 2013-2014 season tomorrow night at the United Center. But nobody in Chicago is complaining. The Blackhawks will raise their Stanley Cup Championship banner into the United Center rafters, and the quest to repeat will officially begin. Coming off their championship season, Blackhawks management took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” technique into the offseason, using most of their off-season moves to retain the cup winning team from last season. And why not? After starting the year with a record-setting 24 games without a regulation loss streak and finishing it as Stanley Cup champions, its clear they did something right. But lets not forget, much of the Blackhawks’ success came from their depth. And with the losses of Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg, and Dave Bolland, that depth took a hit. But the organization has proven that they can find guys to surround their core – the question will be, is this the right group of guys?

Repeating is more difficult in the NHL than any other league – the last team to repeat being the ’97-’98 Red Wings. So its hard to go into this season with those expectations. They are not going to go 24 games without a regulation loss. They may not win their division, even with Detroit moving to the East. But this team still has a shot, because they have the most talented, dangerous duo in hockey.

To me, you need to build on the steps forward they made last year, particularly from Corey Crawford. Craw earned his payday after last season, but it is important to note he got a lot of help during the regular season from backup Ray Emery, who left for Philadelphia. Nikolai Khabibulin, making his return to the Blackhawks, is a bit old and will not be able to split starts in the regular season with Crawford. We are going to need to see Crawford become the consistent everyday starter that we saw many great flashes of in last year’s playoffs. You also need to see steps forward from Bryan Bickell and Brandon Saad – both played MAJOR roles in propelling the Blackhawks to the championship last season, and we need to see them become regular contributors this season.

Even though it is really, really tough to repeat, I think the Blackhawks have a legitimate shot. If anything, they need to worry about the hungry, improved teams around them. The Penguins got a raw deal last year with the Crosby injury, the Bruins are still a major threat, the Red Wings pushed the Hawks to the brink last year and could not be a potential Stanley Cup opponent, and the Blues could be their new toughest division opponent. The Blackhawks will NEED to stay healthy, particularly Kane, Toews and Crawford. I think this team will be able to score (so a healthy dose of Chelsea Dagger), and if they can stay on the ice, protect the goal and kill the penalty with consistency, they have a real shot.

And the way I see it, they’ll need to figure out how to share Grant Park this summer with the Bulls….