<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - Sports]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/sports http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago http://www.nbcchicago.com en-us Thu, 18 Dec 2014 21:22:31 -0600 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 21:22:31 -0600 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Cutler’s Fallout Continues Off the Field]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 18:34:25 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/173*120/460514190.jpg

Jay Cutlers fallout on the field and with fans doesn't stop with him being benched from Sunday's game.

It appears Cutler's latest mishaps on the field, and the latest headlines speculating about his future with the team has prompted a decline in sales merchandise surrounding the star quarterback.

Dick’s Sporting Goods’ jersey report website ranks the quarterback’s namesake gear at 62nd in sales, a steep fall from the start of the season where he stood as the NFL’s 12th bestselling jersey.

“Jay got benched and he should have been benched at halftime at any number of games,” Bears fan Peter Rubnitz said.

But no matter how poorly some say Cutler led his team’s performance this season, the downtown Sports Authority at LaSalle and Ontario Streets said Bears merchandise is still a big seller.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on out there, a Bears fan is always loyal,” the store’s manager told NBC Chicago.

Unfortunately "what’s going on out there" does indeed matter to ticket distributors, who are feeling the pain when it comes to this Sunday’s game against Detroit.

“Tickets are going for $40 apiece,” said Max Waisvisz, owner of Gold Coast Tickets. “Even those expensive club-level seats are going for a third of their price.”

StubHub reports more than 2,000 tickets are still available for purchase online from fed-up fans like Peter Rubnitz, who is left trying to unload his seats after his friends are no longer willing to sit it out at Soldier Field.

“They’ve got a million other things they’d rather be doing,” Rubnitz said. “But Detroit is in the playoffs, so some Lions fans might be interested.”

Detroiter Sue Torgerson was able to snag her last-minute game ticket for $150, nearly 40 percent off from its $350 face-value.

“It’s wonderful! Merry Christmas!” proclaimed the Lions fan.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Questions Surround Trestman's Handling of Cutler Demotion]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:27:33 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/459960262a.jpg

To say that the Chicago Bears are a dumpster fire isn’t fair to either trash receptacles or flames, but the metaphor is still about as close as we can get to describing what is going on at Halas Hall over the past few weeks.

Thursday added a new chapter to that saga, as the big players involved in the team’s quarterback switch spoke to the media. Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen were both supportive of one another during the press conference, and Marc Trestman described his emotions on the decision as he opened the media availability.

“We need a lift at quarterback,” he said. “I think we need a spark. The weight of the world should not be on Jimmy Clausen, but I’m hoping that our team against a very good defense will get some response from our team.”

Those statements contradicted earlier statements by Trestman that he would stick with Cutler at quarterback so long as he was healthy, and Trestman owned up to the change in direction when asked about it.

“I did say that at the time, and I’ve changed my mind,” he said. “I think this is in the best interest of the team today.”

Trestman also went into detail about the process by which the team arrived at the decision to bench Cutler, who threw three interceptions against the New Orleans Saints on Monday.

“The normal course of events is that I wanted to make sure the quarterbacks knew my intent,” he said. “We all know in this day and age it’s difficult to keep those things (private). We knew it could get out in the course of the day, but I wanted the team to know first. Ultimately I wanted them to know about it before it got out.”

Despite Trestman’s assertion that he told the team before the reports started circulating on Wednesday night, both Kyle Long and Jermon Bushrod said that they found out about the benching via social media. Long conceded that finding out in that fashion “was not ideal,” but expressed confidence in Clausen’s ability.

“Jimmy has had a lot of success against our number one defense (in practice),” he said.

Trestman was also asked about the difference in his handling of the Cutler demotion and in Aaron Kromer’s role in an NFL Network report that contained criticism of the quarterback. Kromer wasn’t disciplined in any public way for his transgressions, and when asked about it Trestman got very defensive.

“That’s a completely…..that’s not a question I’m going to answer,” he said.

For a team that values accountability and communication, the Bears certainly seem to be lacking on both counts.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cutler: "I'd Like to Stay Here"]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:07:57 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000010197847_1200x675_374625347820.jpg Jay Cutler speaks after being benched for Sunday's game.]]> <![CDATA[Cutler, Clausen Support Each Other]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:04:35 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/453989948+%281%29.jpg

The Chicago Bears allowed media reports to announce that they had benched starting quarterback Jay Cutler in favor of Jimmy Clausen for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, and on Thursday afternoon the team faced the music as they spoke to the media for the first time.

Even though he put on a brave face and answered questions forthrightly throughout his availability, Cutler admitted that he wasn’t happy with the way things had turned out.

“When the decision was made, I didn’t stick around and ask a lot of questions,” Cutler said. “I didn’t take it well at the time. I’ll try to help Jimmy and make sure that he’s ready on a short week.”

That preparation time for Clausen is limited because of the Bears’ game on Monday against the New Orleans Saints, and is made even shorter by Marc Trestman’s decision not to have the team practice until Thursday for the first time.

Despite the limitations of only having two practice sessions to prepare as the starter against one of the best defenses in the NFL, Clausen isn’t making any excuses.

“It really doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not,” he said. “We’re just trying to get ready each and every day.”

Fortunately for Clausen, he has made it a point to prepare thoroughly for every game this season, and so getting thrust into the starter’s role hasn’t really changed his approach.

“I’m taking the same approach that I have the entire year: just to be myself and go to work,” he said. “That’s the only thing you can do right now. I’ve been in way worse situations than this, and the only thing we can do is go out each and every day and work. All the guys on the team are doing that.”

The Bears’ other offensive players are not only having to deal with a new quarterback under center, but they’re also having to deal with a teammate who’s been relieved of his duties as the starter in the same locker room. Despite any potential awkwardness, Cutler insists that his teammates have been supportive.

“They were good. Everyone’s been supportive,” he said. “We have a lot of good guys in the locker room. Now they have to support Jimmy 100% just like I have to.”

Helping Clausen prepare for his start is something that Cutler got used to last season. With Josh McCown as the back-up, Cutler watched him start a number of games while dealing with injury, and he says that experience is going to help him this week.

“Last year helping Josh when I was hurt helped me now,” he said. “Just trying to help relax him and help him through the reads. We’ve played them once before, so I have some insight from that. He’s played a lot of high level football games from high school to college to starting in Carolina. I expect him to play well.”

Even though he has a game to prepare for, Clausen is still sympathetic to the struggles that Cutler is going through as he adjusts to being the number two player on the depth chart.

“It’s tough on him being the starting quarterback and the coach going a different way,” he said. “He’s been great with me yesterday and today. That’s the way Jay’s been with me since day one. Nothing has changed from his perspective and my perspective.”



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rodgers Empathizes With Cutler]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 19:51:12 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/459954730.jpg

The Chicago Bears’ trainwreck of a season is nearing its end, but even opposing players are weighing in on the messy situation in the Windy City.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was asked Wednesday about his take on the Aaron Kromer/Jay Cutler situation. Cutler, who was benched by the Bears on Wednesday evening, was criticized in the media by an anonymous source, and eventually it was revealed that it was Kromer who was behind the report.

To his credit, Cutler accepted Kromer’s apology, but Rodgers wasn’t so sure he would have.

“I would have a major problem if somebody said something like that,” he told reporters. “I think anybody that plays that position, you can’t help but empathize with Jay for that situation. You talk all the time about being connected, being a unit, believing in each other. But if you have unnamed sources, people out there cutting you down, and then you find out it’s the person calling the plays -- that would be really hard to deal with, to look at him the same way.”

Cutler’s performance on Monday against the New Orleans Saints would certainly suggest that he had started to tune out Kromer. He completed just 55 percent of his passes, throwing for just 194 yards and three interceptions against the second-worst defense in the NFL.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Opinion: Cutler Benching Unnecessary]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 19:35:13 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/459992820.jpg

Between Aaron Kromer taking his criticisms of Jay Cutler outside of Halas Hall and players like Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett reportedly creating tension in the locker room, it didn’t seem like the 2014 season could get any weirder for the Chicago Bears, but on Wednesday we were all proven wrong as Cutler was benched by head coach Marc Trestman.

Only, we didn’t find out that Cutler had been benched directly from the head coach. He had an entire press conference scheduled that afternoon, and didn’t mention that benching Cutler was even an option, much less a course of action. Instead, we had to find out the same way that we found out that there was dissention in the team’s front office: via anonymous sources.

This evening, it was ESPN’s Adam Schefter that reported the news, and Chris Mortensen quickly followed and said that Cutler was told by Trestman that he would be sitting on the bench for Sunday’s game earlier in the day.

Trestman allowing the media to bring this news to light instead of taking the reins and doing it himself is yet another example of just how dysfunctional this Bears team is. It was a cowardly move by a coach who has pretty clearly given up hope that he is going to be employed by the Bears in 2015, and if this is the way he’s going to choose to conduct his business, then there’s good reason for that fact of life.

In addition to being cowardly, the decision doesn’t make much sense on a strategic level. Sure Cutler looked awful against the New Orleans Saints on Monday, but why make this move now? There are two games left in the season. If Jimmy Clausen was going to be the guy that would lead this team to a better chance to win, why wasn’t he called in after the Miami game? Or the New England game?

If this move isn’t about winning and is more about protecting Cutler as a potential trade asset, then why start Clausen over David Fales? The team signed Fales to its roster to protect him from teams that were inquiring about signing him off the Bears’ practice squad, so why not run him out there against a team with playoff aspirations and see how he does against some real competition?

The weakness that this move projects will also diminish any possible return that the Bears could get for Cutler if they choose to trade him in the offseason (and why would Cutler want to come back to a team that’s treated him in this way?). Why should a team cough up precious draft picks to help bail the Bears out of a mess that they clearly don’t want to be embroiled in? This desperate move, whatever the motivation, weakens whatever leverage the Bears have, and should make trying to trade him an almost impossible endeavor.

This story, more than any other, is the story of the 2014 Bears in a nutshell.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Vote: Who Should Bears Fire?]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:09:35 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/190*120/bears+dolphins+getty9.jpg

With the Chicago Bears sitting at 5-9 and facing an offseason full of firings and coaching moves, Marc Trestman apparently has added more fuel to the fires of controversy surrounding the team as multiple reports have emerged that he has benched starting quarterback Jay Cutler. 

 

 

Adam Schefter of ESPN was the first to report that Cutler had been benched in favor of veteran back-up quarterback Jimmy Clausen: 

According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, Cutler was informed of the decision this morning by Trestman: 

During his press availability on Wednesday afternoon, Trestman conceded that he hasn't had the same success with Cutler that he has with other quarterbacks during his various coaching stints, but he didn't explicitly say that he was benching the quarterback. 

"That's evident I haven't up to this point," he told reporters. "Am I working at it? Yes. We've seen moments but we haven't seen it on a consistent basis. I can't hid from that. I haven't been able, and we haven't been able to do the things that we want to get done, (and) we're working towards that."

Grizzly Detail has been unable to independently verify the report, but local scribes are chiming in with confirmation:

The benching comes after Cutler put up one of his worst games of the season against the New Orleans Saints Monday, throwing three interceptions. Overall on the season however, his numbers aren't as bad as they've been cracked up to be. His 66.1% completion percentage is the highest of his career, as are his 28 touchdown passes and his 89.5 quarterback rating. 



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<![CDATA[Road to the Winter Classic: Episode 1 Recap ]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 06:54:39 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/hawks_5-26.jpg

The Epix original series "Road to the NHL Winter Classic" premiered on Tuesday night while the Chicago Blackhawks were busy beating the Minnesota Wild 5-3, and as the first episode in the series, it naturally focused on the big stars of both the Hawks and the Washington Capitals.

The show is available on Epix, and can also be streamed live on NHL.com at 9 p.m. Central on Tuesday nights (the show is also available On Demand if fans sign up for a free trial of Epix's online service).

If you missed the first episode, here is what we learned in the first installment of the four-part series chronicling the team’s path to Nationals Park on January 1.

-The show made it a point early on to establish narratives. The Hawks looking for revenge after losing Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final was one, and the Capitals’ transition to a more defensive team over a strictly offensive one under the tutelage of head coach Barry Trotz (along with a helping of dispelling “Alex Ovechkin is lazy” narratives) were the focuses on the Washington side of things.

-There was a particularly cool scene in the middle of the episode where Trotz took his family to the zoo in Washington DC. His interactions with his son Nolan, who has Down’s syndrome, were heartwarming, to say the least.

-There was a good scene with Bryan Bickell discussing his facial injuries he suffered after going face-first into a post. When Andrew Shaw razzes him about the injury, Bickell counters with a jab of his own.

“I drew a penalty. And you guys didn’t (bleeping) score,” he said. Shaw of course had to have the last word, as he joked that it was better to see someone else with a cut-up face.

-At the Hawks and Capitals’ practices, interactions between coaches and players were featured. Joel Quenneville casually skated by Scott Darling during one workout, simply saying “you’re playing tomorrow.” Trotz was a bit more nuanced with Andre Burakovsky, discussing with him the reasons he’s still a healthy scratch from the lineup.

-Speaking of Quenneville, he has some of the weirdest reactions to goals. When discussing Duncan Keith’s tally against the Devils, Quenneville exclaims “back door Susie!” Twice during the Hawks’ win against the Boston Bruins, the coach yelled “peanut butter!”

Stats from the Episode (Cumulative Numbers in Parentheses):

Goals Scored (Game play only, not including shootout)

Blackhawks: 8 (8)

Capitals: 8 (8)

Team Record in Games Featured

Blackhawks: 3-0-0 (3-0-0)

Capitals: 2-0-1 (2-0-1)

F-Bombs Dropped: 43 (43)



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<![CDATA[Scott Darling Reassigned to Rockford]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 06:49:28 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/452324639.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks were faced with a decision on which goaltender to have on the roster to back-up Corey Crawford, and it appears as though they’ve made that choice as Scott Darling was sent back to the Rockford IceHogs on Tuesday night.

Darling played in four games while Crawford was on the shelf after suffering a lower body injury at a concert following the team’s circus road trip. In those games, Darling went 3-1-0 and only allowed eight goals in the four games.

Darling’s reassignment means that Antti Raanta will resume his role as Crawford’s back-up. It’s unclear at this point whether Crawford will be on the ice when the Hawks travel to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets Saturday night, but even if he isn’t he could return when Chicago plays against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday.

Raanta allowed three goals on 29 shots Tuesday night as the Hawks knocked off the Minnesota Wild at the United Center.  



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<![CDATA[Coach Q: "Unlikely" Keith has Mumps ]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 06:44:19 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/451177164.jpg

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith missed Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild with an illness, and while head coach Joel Quenneville admitted he didn’t know whether Keith was sick with the mumps before the game, after the contest he was a bit more optimistic on the matter.

After, the game, Quenneville said it was "unlikely" that Keith had the disease, which has afflicted players on five different teams, and has fallen everyone from role players (Beau Bennett, Tanner Glass) to stars (Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Ryan Suter).

The Hawks have yet to have a confirmed case of the disease, but Keith’s absence from the lineup was enough to drum up speculation on the matter.

As for when Keith will return to the team’s lineup, Quenneville said the team was hoping that the defenseman would be able to join the team for their next practice. They won’t hit the ice in game action again until Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, so Keith should have another few days to rest up.



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<![CDATA[Kane Goal Gives Hawks 5-3 Win Over Wild]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 23:07:45 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*122/456092778.jpg

They coughed up two third period goals, but the Chicago Blackhawks got a late tally from Patrick Kane to help lift them to a 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, and Jonathan Toews all scored for the Blackhawks, and Ben Smith added an empty netter late as the Hawks won their 10th game in their last 11 contests. Antti Raanta made 26 saves in the victory.

The first period got off to a sluggish start for both teams, as the Hawks struggled to move the puck and the Wild couldn’t figure out a way to break the neutral zone pressure Chicago was putting on them. There were random chances here and there, including Kyle Brodziak ringing a high wrist shot off the post, but the game remained scoreless.

With about seven minutes remaining period, it was Minnesota that pulled ahead. Niklas Hjalmarsson turned the puck over initially, and Mikael Granlund skated in behind the Chicago net. He patiently waited for a lane to open up, and he fed a pass to the front of the net that Thomas Vanek ripped home for the goal to make it a 1-0 Wild lead.

Minnesota continued their move forward as they got a power play in the final minute and a half of the period, but they were unable to score as the first 20 minutes came to an end.

As the second period got underway, it was Chicago that started to generate some momentum. They got a power play when Nathan Prosser gave a forearm shot to Andrew Shaw, but they couldn’t quite score as their passing game continued its ineffective stretch.

Finally though, the Hawks got some good puck movement, and they scored a goal to tie things up. Kane tossed a pass back to Kris Versteeg near the point, and the forward pulled up near the face-off circle. He eventually found Seabrook with a pass as he came into the zone, and the defenseman rifled a slap shot top shelf to tie things up at 1-1.

The Blackhawks were forced to kill off a Tim Erixon penalty shortly after the Seabrook goal, but they did and then took the lead a short time later. Toews grabbed the puck behind the Minnesota net, and he pushed a pass out to the front for Hossa. Hossa didn’t get much on the shot, but it was enough to evade Nicklas Backstrom in the crease as Chicago grabbed a 2-1 advantage.

A short time later, the Blackhawks scored again with about three minutes remaining in the period. On the play, Toews stole the puck as the Wild attempted to get out of the zone, and he fed it to Smith. Smith drove to the net and got two straight chances on Backstrom, but eventually Toews popped in a loose puck to give Chicago a 3-1 lead.

The Blackhawks racked up a total of 21 shots in the second period, but Minnesota wasn’t done yet as the third period got underway. They got an early power play when Marcus Kruger was sent to the penalty box, and even though they couldn’t convert, their momentum carried over. Ultimately it was Nino Niederreiter who sealed the deal, scoring on a penalty shot and bringing the Wild back to within a goal at 3-2.

A few minutes later, Minnesota tied things up about halfway through the period. With Jason Zucker near the crease creating a screen, Marco Scandella got the puck out at the point and blasted in a slap shot that evaded everybody and snuck inside the far post to tie things up at 3-3.

Over the final 10 minutes of the period, the Hawks got two power plays, and on the second one they were finally able to convert. Kane collected the puck off a pass from Toews near the net, and he tried to feed a puck across the crease to Patrick Sharp. It didn’t reach its intended target, but it did achieve its desired result as it ricocheted off of Jonas Brodin’s skate and into the net to give Chicago a 4-3 lead.

The Hawks’ defense made a couple of nice plays after Backstrom retreated to the bench, and Smith was the beneficiary as he got the puck at center ice and eventually popped a shot into the empty net to give the Hawks their margin of victory.

The Blackhawks will have three days off to savor the victory, and on Saturday night they’ll head to Columbus to take on Jeremy Morin and the Blue Jackets.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[U.S. to Bid for 2024 Olympics]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 03:15:47 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/TLMD-aros-olimpicos-juegos-olimpicos-olympic-rings-getty-images-470969827.jpg

The U.S. Olympic Committee has decided to bid for the 2024 Olympics, hoping to bring the Summer Games back to America after a 28-year absence.

The USOC board heard presentations from four candidate cities Tuesday — Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington — and voted to enter a field that already includes Rome and either Hamburg or Berlin, with Paris likely to join.

A decision on which city the U.S. will put forward for a bid is expected next month.

The United States hasn't hosted a Summer Games since the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

The country's last two tries have been flops, with New York (2012) and Chicago (2016) each finishing fourth in voting. The USOC chose not to bid for the 2020 Games, which will take place in Tokyo.



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<![CDATA["Very Angry Bears Fan" Sings Holiday Tunes With a Twist]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:15:20 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/188*120/A+Very+Angry+Bears+Fan+Christmas.jpg

Chicago Bears fans aren’t exactly pleased with the team’s performance this season, but one fan put a hilarious holiday twist on the team’s nearly unbearable season.

In a viral YouTube video titled “A Very Angry Bears Fan Christmas," posted by Parkview Community Church, singer and church volunteer Phil Guay belts out what all fans have been thinking, but he does it to the tune of “Last Christmas."

Last season I gave you my heart,
But the very first play, you threw it away.
Next year, save me from tears,
And draft someone real special.

The video and lyrics are inspired by last year’s “A Very Angry Browns Fan Christmas,” the YouTube account states.

“This video could apply to any point in the season. We could have done it much earlier,” said Seth Hurd, Parkview Christian Church’s communications director. "It just really started to go viral because of [Monday's] loss. As soon as they tanked, that's when it really started getting shared."

Since being posted Sunday, the video has garnered more than 50,000 views, though many have noted the misspelling of Alshon Jeffery's name in the lyrics.

Unfortunately the season is past the point of being saved, but still in Christmas spirit the not-so-cheerful renditions of the classic holiday hymns are sure to be ones all Bears fans will want to sing along to.

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<![CDATA[McCaskey Pushed by Saints Fan: Officials]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:25:42 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/George-McCaskey.jpg

Chicago Bears Chairman George McCaskey was pushed by a New Orleans Saints fan during Monday night’s game at Soldier Field, the Chicago Bears said Tuesday.

Police said the incident took place around 10 p.m. Monday night when officers were called to the stadium for an altercation.

McCaskey was pushed in the back by a Saints fan and that fan was then tackled by a Bears fan, according to Vice President of Communications for the Bears, Scott Hagel. Hagel said security then arrived and the fan was ejected from the stadium.

Richard Kohnke, 58, from New Orleans, was charged with simple battery for pushing someone, police said.

The Bears lost to the Saints Monday 31-15.

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<![CDATA[Keith, Crawford Extend Leads in All-Star Balloting ]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:33:16 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/166*120/489816057.jpg

With two weeks remaining in fan voting for the NHL All-Star Game in Columbus, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Chicago Blackhawks will be well-represented in the contest.

That’s because the team is still holding down four of the six spots reserved for starters in the game. Goaltender Corey Crawford has extended his lead over Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens to nearly 110,000 votes, and he has also moved into the top-five vote-getters in the entire league, according to an update provided by NHL.com.

Defenseman Duncan Keith is also padding his lead as voting goes on, racking up an advantage of approximately 106,000 votes over Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. Not to be outdone, Keith’s linemate Brent Seabrook is also drawing ever-closer to the top-two vote getters on the blue line, as he trails Subban by about 16,000 votes.

Among forwards, Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons continues to get massive support from his home country of Latvia, and he’s racked up nearly 1.1 million votes as the runaway favorite for top vote-getter in balloting. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are still well out ahead of the competition for the final two forward spots, with Sidney Crosby the only one within shouting distance as he trails Toews by 88,000 votes.

Voting continues through January 1, when the top three forwards, two defensemen, and one goaltender will all be guaranteed spots in the game. According to the NHL, over 20 million votes have been cast for the game so far, which is up 120% from the last time All-Star voting was conducted in 2012.



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<![CDATA[White Sox Introduce New Signings]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 15:17:35 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/177*120/455208014_8.jpg

A day after the Chicago Cubs held their big press conference to introduce Jon Lester to the media, the Chicago White Sox took their turn at the center of the ring as they introduced their three big offseason acquisitions.

Pitchers Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson joined outfielder Melky Cabrera at US Cellular Field on Tuesday as they were introduced to the Chicago media for the first time. 

"Growing up in Northwest Indiana, I came to a lot of games," Samardzija said of coming back to Chicago. "To be able to come here and be a part of it is really exciting, and it feels like I've come full circle in my career."

All three players fill important needs for the White Sox as they attempt to go from after-thoughts to serious contenders in the American League.

"We have a special feeling around here quite frankly," White Sox GM Rick Hahn said. "We feel with these acquisitions, the growth of our young core, and the development of prospects, we put ourselves in a position where White Sox fans can be proud of. It should be a fun summer on the south side." 

The White Sox made some moves earlier in the offseason, signing Zach Duke to a three-year contract in free agency and inking first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year deal. The big moves came last week at the Winter Meetings, as they traded for Samardzija and signed Robertson and Cabrera to contracts. 

Samardzija, who had a 2.99 ERA and a 1.065 WHIP with the Cubs and Athletics last season, will fit into the starting rotation in between left-handed pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. 

When asked if he was looking forward to facing the Cubs, the team that drafted him and traded him to Oakland in July, Samardzija tried to take a shorter-term view of things. 

"Oh, we play them this year?" he asked. "We'll get to that when we get there, but we start with the Royals." 

Robertson was the most sought-after relief pitcher on the free agent market, and he will make $11.5 million per season over the next four years with the White Sox. In his first full year as closer in 2014 with the New York Yankees, Robertson had 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA for the Bronx Bombers, and he will be paired with Duke at the back-end of the bullpen for the Sox.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think this team was capable of getting to the playoffs," Robertson said. "I want to win the World Series. It's fun for the players, and it's fun for the fans. I haven't been to the playoffs the last two years, and I'm hungry to get back." 

Finally, Cabrera comes over after a two-year stint with the Toronto Blue Jays to help solidify the team’s outfield situation. His power numbers are solid, with 16 home runs and 73 RBI during the 2014 season, but more importantly for the White Sox he also brings a disciplined approach to the plate, only striking out 67 times in 621 plate-appearances despite his solid power numbers.

"It was a decision I made with my family, and I'm happy with the decision," Cabrera said. "My family is happy too. I like this city. I like this ballpark, and I like the White Sox." 



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<![CDATA[Keith Ruled Out for Blackhawks Tuesday]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 12:12:33 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/175*120/458307842.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks will be looking forward to a bit of rest and relaxation as they finally get some time off on their schedule, but before they can kick their feet up they have to deal with the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night at the United Center.

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they will be playing the game short-handed, as defenseman Duncan Keith will miss the contest due to illness. The defending Norris Trophy winner only missed three games all of last season, and this season he’s been putting up similar numbers to that award-winning campaign, scoring six goals and dishing out 12 assists in 31 games for the Blackhawks.

With the NHL’s ongoing mumps outbreak, head coach Joel Quenneville was asked whether or not Keith was affected by the disease. His response did little to inspire confidence:

We’ll surely find out in the next few days if Keith has it, but if he does, he would join a growing list of players who have been diagnosed. Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby was diagnosed with the disease in the last few days, and his teammate Beau Bennett is showing mumps-like symptoms. Players from the New Jersey Devils, St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, and Anaheim Ducks have all contracted the disease this season.

“We’re doing everything we can to prevent it,” Quenneville added.

The Blackhawks have declined comment when asked in the past what they have been doing to prevent mumps from spreading into their locker room, but other teams have instituted mandatory vaccine booster shots and other protocols in recent weeks.



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<![CDATA[Game Photos: Bears vs Saints]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 11:07:51 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*121/46051986810.jpg The Chicago Bears are talking a good game about not being resigned to their fate, but they didn't show that on the field as they put forth a listless effort in a 31-15 drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints.

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<![CDATA[Bennett Calls Out Teammates After Loss to Saints]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 11:08:44 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/162*120/459183898.jpg

The Chicago Bears have been accused of a lot of things this season, but one of the most prevalent accusations (especially in recent weeks) has been that the team has already thrown in the towel on the season.

Those statements found new voice within the Bears’ postgame press availabilities on Monday night, as tight end Martellus Bennett threw down the gauntlet and accused certain team members of lacking the appropriate fire after the team’s 31-15 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

“We need passion to come from certain places, and I don’t think the passion is always there all the time,” he said. “I don’t really get into the name thing. They know who they are.”

The Bears’ locker room has already had quite the tumultuous time of things lately after offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer admitted to criticizing Jay Cutler in a report last week on NFL Network. Bennett’s comments about certain team members not being emotional enough is sure to ruffle some feathers as well.

Now, with the season nearly over and the team seemingly far from competing for a playoff berth in the near future, much less a Super Bowl, it will be interesting to see if Bennett’s comments fuel a new fire within the Bears, or if they will simply add more fuel to the fire as the Bears deal with locker room dissension and anger over a lost season.



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<![CDATA[Week 15 Report Card: Saints vs. Bears ]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 05:22:57 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/176*120/460520698.jpg

The Chicago Bears went into Monday’s game looking to derail the playoff hopes of a team that has one of the worst defenses in the NFL, but instead they found themselves on the wrong end of a 31-15 drubbing at Soldier Field.

We’ll have plenty of reaction to the game throughout the next few days, but we’ll get things started by evaluating each phase of the game in our Week 15 report card.

Offense: C-

Sure, the Bears’ numbers ultimately looked halfway decent at the end of the game thanks to a couple of late drives, but the team’s offensive struggles that have plagued them all season reared their ugly heads in a big way in this game.

For starters, quarterback Jay Cutler looked positively atrocious throughout the game. Sure, he had a couple of late touchdowns to make the game more respectable, but his carelessness with the ball, seeming indifference to pressuring defensive linemen collapsing the pocket, and his poor execution on numerous throws all stood out.

To make matters worse, the Bears’ third down offense was terrible, only converting on two of a potential 12 chances. Whether it was the third-and-one pass that Cutler threw for an incompletion in the first quarter, or the third down pass that went right through Martellus Bennett’s hands for an interception, the Bears’ inability to keep drives alive killed them the entire night.

Defense: B-

There were plenty of bad moments for the Bears’ defense in the game (the Saints’ final drive of the second quarter saw two really silly Bears penalties and Tim Jennings playing so far off of Kenny Stills down the sideline that the Saints’ receiver had a decide whether he should go out of bounds or move another ten yards or so up the field), but there were still a few bright spots to pay attention to.

For starters, the Bears’ third down defense was solid, holding the Saints to just four conversions in 11 attempts. Willie Young picked up a sack on a key third down in the second quarter, and later in the game, Demontre Hurst and Jon Bostic made a big stop on Mark Ingram to keep Chicago’s slim hopes alive.

Add in the turnover that Brock Vereen forced on Nick Toon right after Cutler threw a first quarter interception, and the Bears’ defense largely kept them in the game Monday.

Special Teams: C-

Let’s get the good thing out of the way first: Pat O’Donnell did a nice job punting on Monday night.

Now that’s out of the way, it’s time to focus on the bad. The Bears opened up the game with a special team’s penalty, as Senorise Perry was whistled for holding. Danny McCray got the ball on a fake punt attempt, but the Bears were flagged for only having six men on the line of scrimmage and 10 total men on the field. Marc Mariani had a couple of good moments in the game, but he also had several bad returns, including one late in the second quarter.

With the total lack of discipline the team has shown at every interval this season, it’s pretty evident that Joe Decamillis’ job is in dire jeopardy once the season wraps up. Having to deal with the number of rookies he has isn’t easy, but the fact that the same simple discipline lapses and mistakes keep occurring is a damning indictment of his philosophies.



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<![CDATA[Listless Bears Fall 31-15 to Saints ]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 22:34:15 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/173*120/460514190.jpg

The Chicago Bears are talking a good game about not being resigned to their fate, but they didn't show that on the field as they put forth a listless effort in a 31-15 drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. 

The Bears got the ball to start off the game, but Jay Cutler quickly went into "Bad Jay" mode as he threw an interception on the third play from scrimmage. Fortunately for the Bears, the Saints were in a giving mood and gave the ball right back, as Nick Toon had the ball knocked out of his hands as Brock Vereen put his helmet on the ball to force a fumble that Jared Allen recovered. 

On their next drive, the Bears got things going with the run as Matt Forte picked up the first down, but they inexplicably abandoned it a few plays later and it cost. Them. Cutler tried throwing for a first down on a third-and-one play, but his pass fell incomplete and forced Pat O'Donnell to come out to punt the ball away. 

The Saints converted on a long screen pass for a first down, but after Drew Brees fumbled a snap, the Bears forced New Orleans into kicking a field goal. Luke McCown fumbled the snap on the first attempt, but a Jared Allen holding penalty gave Shayne Graham another chance. He missed the second field goal attempt from 51-yards out, and the game remained scoreless. 

The Bears' offense was once again stymied after a positive start by Forte, but this time it was bad blocking that was the culprit. Cutler was sacked on second down as Kyle Long and Forte miscommunicated on a block, and on the next play Jermon Bushrod blew his block completely as Cutler was sacked again to force the Bears to punt. 

As the first quarter ended, the Saints moved the ball down the field again thanks to another Pierre Thomas screen pass, and on the first play of the second quarter, New Orleans made the Bears pay. On a dump-off pass, tight end Josh Hill found a soft spot in the coverage and scampered into the end zone to make it a 7-0 game. 

The Bears went three and out on their next drive, but the Saints weren't able to capitalize on the miscues. Kyle Fuller made the biggest play as he stopped Jimmy Graham well short of a first down, and the Saints punted the ball away. 

Not content with their previous failures, the Bears found an even more embarrassing way to end their next drive. After Cutler was sacked again on third down, the Bears attempted a fake punt with a direct snap to Danny McCray, but he was stopped short of the marker. To make matters worse, they were flagged for only having 10 men on the field and only six men on the line of scrimmage, but the Saints wisely declined and got the ball back. 

The team traded three and outs on their next drives, but the Saints finally got things going on their last possession of the half. The Bears helped out with plenty of penalites, from Shea McClellin's tripping infraction to an illegal hands to the face flag on Willie Young, and then Brees made them pay as he hit Marques Colston with a touchdown pass with 32 seconds remaining to make it a 14-0 game. 

The Bears made two nice plays to get the ball to midfield before halftime, but a Cutler interception on the final play meant that the Bears were once again shut out in the first half and trailed heading into the break. 

As the second half got underway, the Saints established a good possession using their passing game, with Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills each receiving passes for first downs. Nick Toon got the ball in close to the goal line, and eventually Josh Hill caught his second touchdown pass of the day as Ryan Mundy blew the coverage to give New Orleans a 21-0 lead. 

After yet another Cutler interception, throw into the waiting arms of Pierre Warren for the second time on the evening, and the Saints once again moved down the field. The Saints got in close to the goal line as Toon caught a pass at the two-yard line, but the Bears' defense came up with a couple of huge stops, forcing Shayne Graham to kick a chip-shot field goal to put the Saints up by a 24-0 margin. 

The fourth quarter began with the Bears moving the ball with both the pass and the run, as Forte and Josh Morgan each got first downs. Forte caught another screen pass to bring it close to the goal line, and three plays later it was Marquess Wilson scoring his first career touchdown to get Chicago on the board. Martellus Bennett caught the two-point conversion attempt, and the game stood at 24-8. 

After the Saints punted the ball away, the Bears began moving the ball again with Cutler leading the way. A lengthy run on third and long by the quarterback got the first down, but after two more sacks, the Bears were forced to punt the ball away when Wilson was flagged for a false start on fourth and long. 

The Saints went three and out again after the Bears made a couple of good stops, but Chicago couldn't take advantage. On a fourth down play, Cutler overthrew a wide open Josh Morgan down the field, turning the ball back over to New Orleans on downs. 

Mark Ingram scored a quick touchdown for the Saints to make it a 31-8 game, but the Bears responded with some late fight. Ka'Deem Carey caught two long passes for first downs, and ultimately it was Jeffery getting the touchdown as he snared a dart from Cutler to cut the Chicago deficit to 31-15. 

Jay Feely attempted an onside kick late, but the Saints recovered and ran out the clock. 

The Bears will continue their slow march to the end of the season when they take on the Detroit Lions Sunday in the home finale at Soldier Field. 



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<![CDATA[Blackhawks Recall Joakim Nordstrom]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 17:47:06 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/162*120/490146297.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks have been playing with fire in recent days as they’ve carried only 12 forwards on their roster, but they changed that on Monday night as the team recalled Joakim Nordstrom from the Rockford IceHogs.

It’s unclear at this point if Nordstrom’s call-up has anything to do with an injury to a forward, but at the very least it gives the team some wiggle room as they head into Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

Nordstrom has two assists in 10 games with the Blackhawks far this season, and after being named the captain of the IceHogs, he has eight goals and five assists in 17 AHL games on the campaign.

During his most recent call-up, Nordstrom played plenty of minutes on the fourth line along with Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith, but he has the capability to fill in other roles as well. He can help kill penalties if need be, and he can fill in at the center spot as well.



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<![CDATA[Central Division Power Rankings: Week 11]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:43:59 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/164*120/457623216.jpg

It’s been several weeks since we have gone through the Central Division to check out how the competition is doing for the Chicago Blackhawks, but as the Hawks have ascended back to the top of the heap, it’s high time that we resume our look with this week’s edition of the Power Rankings.

1: Chicago Blackhawks

With their recent eight-game winning streak and their run of 12 wins in 14 games, the Blackhawks are arguably not just the best team in the Central Division, but in the entire NHL as well. They are only allowing two goals per game, the second-best total in the NHL, and they are scoring nearly three goals per game. That blend of offensive skill, defensive prowess, and solid goaltending (even without Corey Crawford in net) has vaulted them to the top of the rankings, and with good reason.

2. St. Louis Blues

It was tempting to put the Predators ahead of the Blues due to their victory over St. Louis earlier this season, but that temptation went out the window as they scored 12 goals in two wins over the New York Islanders (a team that beat the Blackhawks on Saturday). The Blues are a complete team on offense and defense, but questions still remain about their goaltending. Can Jake Allen seize the starting job full-time? Can Martin Brodeur come up big if Allen doesn’t?

3. Nashville Predators

The Predators have been up-and-down so far in the month of December, winning three games and losing three after ending November on a four-game winning streak. The one constant over that stretch has been goaltender Pekka Rinne, as he continues to put together a Vezina-caliber season. His 19-6-1 record is impressive enough, but a 1.75 GAA and a .937 save percentage are both absolutely oustanding. He’s been the Predators’ rock this year, and it’s pretty obvious as to what this team was missing in a lost 2013-14 season.

4. Minnesota Wild

If you want to talk about a team with up and down results recently, look no further than the Wild. Since they extended a winning streak to four straight games on November 20, they’ve alternated wins and losses in each of their next 10 games. They have benefitted greatly from Ryan Suter’s return to the lineup after missing time with mumps, but an inconsistent scoring attack hasn’t helped matters in recent weeks.

5. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets were expected to be buried in the basement of the Central Division, but a funny thing happened on the march to mediocrity. They found a solid goaltender in Michael Hutchinson that has helped them to the fifth-best goals against average in the league, and their power play has been steadily improving, scoring six goals in their past four games. Games against Buffalo and Boston loom on the schedule however, and a test against the Blackhawks on December 23 will help prove whether or not they are for real.

6. Dallas Stars

While the Jets have been proving that they were underestimated, the Stars continue to prove that they were vastly overestimated when the year began. They’ve lost five of their last seven games, giving up five goals in each of the games, and their special teams have been far from special. They’re in the bottom 10 in the league in both power play and penalty killing percentage, and they’ve allowed six power play goals in their last six games. Tyler Seguin continues to be the lone bright spot for Dallas, scoring four goals and dishing out two assists in their last three games.

7. Colorado Avalanche

While teams like the Blackhawks and Blues show the value of bringing a balance of offense and defense to the ice on a nightly basis, the Avalanche are showing that a lack of both qualities can be devastating. They rank in the bottom 10 in the NHL in both goals for (21st) and goals against (26th) this season, and they’ve lost five of their last six games as they continue to struggle to find their form that won them a division title last year. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is helping out the offense a bit as they try to turn things around, picking up five assists in his last four games.  



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<![CDATA[Lester Talks World Series in Cubs Intro]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:39:38 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000010141164_1200x675_372875331795.jpg As Jon Lester was officially introduced as a Cubs player Monday, he discussed his enthusiasm at gaining the chance to help the team win the World Series.]]> <![CDATA[Report: Kromer Could be Fired for "Cause" After Season]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:49:13 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/kromer153641709.jpg

The Chicago Bears are looking to win against the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, but there are still some big picture issues that the team is dealing with.

Among those is the continuing fallout from Aaron Kromer’s admission that he was the culprit behind an NFL Network report blasting quarterback Jay Cutler after the team’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys. In his press conference after Kromer addressed the media for the first time about the controversy, Cutler accepted the offensive coordinator’s apology, but according to Jason LaCanfora, that isn’t the end of the story:

“While Cutler took the high road when he met with the media Friday, privately he has been fuming at this latest media tempest, and it’s hard to imagine him working with Kromer beyond the duration of this last season. Furthermore, clauses included in Bears coaching contracts regarding guidelines for dealing with the media could result in a case for Kromer’s termination “for cause,” while Cutler will be watching very closely to see what changes, if any, occur to the staff, with his contract essentially guaranteed through 2015.”

What this story boils down to is that Kromer’s future with the team is not only in doubt, but he could potentially be fired without having to pay the rest of his salary. There has been speculation about whether or not Kromer would be able to ride out the storm after going against the team’s policy of keeping things in-house, but this report indicates that even if Marc Trestman wanted to keep his offensive coordinator in the fold, Cutler and some other members of the team may not share the same vision.

At any rate, the story is yet another example of how the Bears’ hierarchy has not only messed up this season, but they may have done enough damage for there to be long-term effects on the team’s future. A clean slate of coaches and front office personnel could help reverse that trend, but it’s still unclear whether or not the organization wants to go in that direction.



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<![CDATA[Forte Could Run All Over Saints Monday Night]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 10:58:38 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/460466000.jpg

If it feels like the narrative of “the Chicago Bears need to run the ball more” has been trotted out approximately 2,342 times this season, that’s because it has.

Everyone knows that the Bears are a team that is primarily going to pass the ball, and with good reason. With weapons like Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett, it would make sense for Jay Cutler to sling the ball all over the field on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t at least be an attempt on the part of the Bears to balance things out at least a little bit.

Over the past two weeks, that pass-almost-exclusively philosophy has ground the team’s offense to a virtual halt. In those two games, both blowout losses, Matt Forte rushed for a combined 32 yards on just 18 carries, and not surprisingly teams focused completely on baiting Cutler into making the kinds of mistakes that he makes on a regular basis when facing a team that doesn’t respect the Bears’ running game.

That all could, and should, change this week against the New Orleans Saints. In Week 12 against the Baltimore Ravens, the Saints allowed 215 yards on the ground, including 182 yards and two scores from Justin Forsett. In Week 13, a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Le’Veon Bell rushed for 95 yards and a score, and for good measure added eight catches for 159 yards. Last week against the Carolina Panthers was the icing on the cake for New Orleans, as they surrendered 271 rushing yards in a blowout loss on their home field.

With numbers like that, Marc Trestman would simply be out of his mind not to use Forte early and often in Monday night’s game. If he needs more incentive, he needs to remember this: Forte rushed for a combined 206 yards and two touchdowns in Weeks 11 and 12 of the season. What do those two weeks have in common? The Bears won both games.

The Bears have got to run the ball in order to take some of the pressure off of Cutler and company. The passing game will already be hindered by the loss of Marshall for the remainder of the season, and giving Cutler a bit of a safety valve in the run game can only do the Bears’ offense a world of favors. Giving Forte the ball should not only prevent the Saints from dropping seven guys back into coverage on a consistent basis, but it should also open up more space for other offensive weapons to do work.

Of course, we’ve seen how quickly Trestman abandons the run, but he’s got to stick with it if the Bears have any chance of winning the game Monday night.



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<![CDATA[Brothers' Bond Captured at Marathon]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 08:00:28 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/image33.JPG

Thousands of runners crossed the finish line at the Metro PCS Dallas Marathon on Sunday, but there was one picture that captured everyone’s heart.

Photographer Gerry “G.J.” McCarthy with The Dallas Morning News was at the finish line just as brothers Trace and Judson Greer, from Melissa, were crossing.

His picture shows Trace, who’d just crossed the finish line, with Judson in his arms.

“At the beginning I was feeling pretty good and then about halfway through, when I started struggling, talking to Trace. I thought maybe I went too fast, not sure I could do it. He just kept me going the whole way and I probably couldn’t have done it without him,” said Judson.

Judson Greer is in the sixth grade at Melissa Middle School, and Trace Greer is a senior at Melissa High School.

Both boys are competitive runners, but they had never run a race together.

They decided to sign up for the Dallas half-marathon before Trace headed off to college.

“The race ended up starting and he took off and I was like, alright. You want to run at that pace? Let’s do it!” said older brother Trace, describing Judson.

Trace said Judson was averaging 6:45 per mile and at the end was nearly down to 6:20.

“Coming down that final shoot I’m yelling my head off. He’s just running as hard as he could and it was crazy!” Trace said.

The two sprinted across the finish line and that’s when Judson began to stumble.

“I ran up to him and I hugged him and he was going, he was falling. And it was like, here you go,” said Trace.

Trace then, without thinking, picked up his younger brother.

“Basically at the end, after I’d just sprinted, I couldn’t really hold myself up and I wasn’t feeling very good. So he scooped me up and walked away,” said Judson.

Both boys love that the image captured by McCarthy is now a hit on the Internet. But, more so, they’re thankful to run together.

“I’m really glad he chose to run with me and stay with me. I was afraid he would bolt off. But he stayed with me all the way and pushed me through to the end. So I’m really glad as a senior we could get one last run together,” said Judson.



Photo Credit: Dallas Morning News ]]>
<![CDATA[Three Stars: Flames vs. Blackhawks]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 10:21:19 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/171*120/457276698.jpg

Their offense came out sluggish and their defense surrendered a gorgeous goal to Jiri Hudler, but the Chicago Blackhawks bounced back and were able to use some quality puck movement of their own to knock off the Calgary Flames on Sunday night at the United Center.

The win was the Blackhawks’ ninth in 10 games and 12th in their last 14, and it showed that even though they’ve been playing through one of their most difficult stretches of the season, the team can still flip the switch when necessary.

For more on the victory, here were our Three Stars of the game.

Third Star: Antti Raanta

Being the back-up goaltender behind a hot netminder like Corey Crawford is one thing. Being stuck as the back-up behind a rookie with scant NHL experience is quite another, but that’s what Antti Raanta has had to deal with in recent weeks as he served as the back-up to Scott Darling for the Blackhawks.

On Sunday night, Raanta showed that even though he hasn’t gotten many chances to prove his mettle lately, he’s still got what it takes to make this back-up goaltender job a competition. He only made 22 saves in the game, but the way he maintained his rebound control throughout the game, he definitely looked sharp.

One sequence where that stood out came in the second period as the Flames were on a power play. With Joe Colborne providing traffic in front of the net, Raanta had to fight through a screen early in the man-advantage situation and absorbed a bouncing shot from the point off the stick of Mark Giordano. A little bit later on, TJ Brodie fired in a shot from the blue line that went through some serious traffic, but Raanta again vacuumed in the shot and didn’t concede a rebound with several Flames players lurking.

Those two shots could have easily yielded rebounds, especially with a cold goaltender in net. Raanta rose to the occasion however, and he did a great job overall on Sunday of limiting Calgary’s offensive chances.

Second Star: Jonathan Toews

The Blackhawks’ captain has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the past several days, but on Sunday he vaulted himself back into the spotlight for the right reasons as the Hawks won.

The Hawks’ power play has been struggling in recent weeks, but thanks to a smart move by Toews, they were able to score less than 10 seconds into their first power play. After Toews won the face-off to get the man-advantage started, he slowly worked his way through the slot and eventually below the goal line. Patrick Kane saw the play developing, and he carefully carried the puck before tossing a pass down low. The Flames’ defense over-rotated to counter the move by Toews, and Patrick Sharp took advantage as he pinched in from the point.

Toews watched Sharp’s move, and quickly fired a pass back across the front of the goal. Sharp buried the ensuing shot, and in the blink of an eye the game was tied up at 1-1.

When fans see coaches diagramming plays on the bench in an NHL game, that’s the kind of thing that’s being devised. Forcing a team to over-rotate on defense can open up a myriad of lanes to pass through, and that’s exactly what Toews and the Hawks baited the Flames into doing on that play.

First Star: Brandon Saad

Saad was a dominant force for the Blackhawks on Sunday, using his speed to help the first line establish lengthy possessions and using his eye for open ice to jump onto a 2-on-0 breakaway with Toews to set up the game-winning goal with about seven minutes left in the game.

Even though that goal will be the one immortalized in the scoresheet from the game, it was Saad’s play on a penalty kill earlier in the period that stood out even more. With the Flames threatening to take the lead back thanks to a Johnny Oduya penalty, the Hawks’ forwards got particularly aggressive on the forecheck, preventing Calgary from getting zone entry at the blue line.

For Saad, that wasn’t good enough. He eventually stole the puck, and he skated down ice into the Calgary zone. While there, he fought off several poke-check and body-check attempts, killing almost 30 seconds off of the man-advantage just by holding onto the puck. Eventually Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa came to help him out, and they proceeded to play keep away for even longer.

The Hawks’ penalty killing unit is arguably the best in the league because of the dynamic play of the forwards involved, and Saad is in that conversation as the best of the bunch. Even on nights where he isn’t scoring, he constantly is bringing the heat offensively, and Sunday provided yet another example of that dominance.



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<![CDATA[Brees Looking to Thrive vs. Bears' Pass Defense]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 10:02:49 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/457498604.jpg

Against all odds and perhaps against all logic, the 5-8 New Orleans Saints are still very much in the hunt for the NFC South title, and they’ve done so in spite of some poor performances in recent weeks by quarterback Drew Brees.

Sure, he’s had the occasional great game, like he did when he threw five touchdowns and no interceptions against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13, but far more often lately we’ve seen a Brees that can’t quite lead his team over the top. The Saints have lost four of their last five games, and in those four losses Brees has eight touchdowns and four interceptions.

The low point came in Week 14 against the Carolina Panthers. On home turf with an opportunity to pull out ahead in the division, the Saints laid a huge egg, and Brees was one of the primary culprits. He only threw for 235 yards in the game, and the Saints were plastered in a 41-10 drubbing at the Superdome.

On Monday night, Brees will be looking for a reversal of fortune against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. The Bears have been savaged by opposing passing games to the tune of 265.5 yards per game so far this season, and they’re coming off of a game where Tony Romo only threw for 205 yards, but he completed 21-of-26 pass attempts for three touchdowns in a huge victory for the Dallas Cowboys.

For Brees, this game has to look particularly appetizing. The Bears not only have trouble containing physical wide receivers on the outside of the field (Marques Colston), but they also have difficulty in covering big tight ends over the middle of the field as well. That was evident in their struggles against players like Rob Gronkowski, and it could become a huge issue against the Saints as Jimmy Graham looks to bounce back after a couple of rough games of his own (just three catches over the past two contests).

The big question in whether or not the Bears will be able to neutralize those threats will be whether or not they allow Kyle Fuller to get physical on the outside with receivers. They’ve been having him play off the receiver regularly during this recent stretch of games, and guys like Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant have absolutely been eating the rookie for lunch. Letting Fuller get back to his style of play, which involves physicality and taking advantage of his strength off the snap, could go a long way toward helping the Bears limit what Brees can do.

Ultimately, the other formula for success for the Bears could come down to simply limiting the number of times Brees has the ball in his hands. That would involve getting their own offense going, but as we’ve seen this season, that’s far easier said than done in year two of the Trestman regime.



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<![CDATA[Kobe Bryant Surpasses Jordan]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 04:53:06 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/212*120/Kobe-Bryant-passes-Jordan-points_12-14-14.jpg

On Sunday evening in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kobe Bryant further cemented his place in basketball lore by becoming the third greatest scorer in NBA history.

Bryant passed Michael Jordan's total of 32,292 points in the first half of Sunday's game at Target Center. Only needing nine points on the day, most expected Bryant would surpass the required total before halftime, and Bryant did not disappoint.

Though Bryant missed his first three shots and the Minnesota Timberwolves were consistently putting a hard double team on the Lakers' star, the 19-year veteran began to slowly solve the defensive riddle.

After eight scoreless minutes on Sunday, Bryant's first two points on the night came from the foul line. By the time the first quarter ended, Bryant had four points on five shots, but he did not appear to be in any particular hurry to pass no. 23 on the all-time scoring list.

Instead, Bryant was happy to chaperon the Lakers to a three point lead after one quarter. In the second quarter, Bryant would return from his rest and immediately launch a three-pointer. Bryant took the ball on a turnaround jump shot to pass Jordan, but the ball went in and out. On the next possession, Bryant would head to the free throw line and sink two free throws.

Bryant moved to third all-time on the NBA scoring list, and Jordan dropped to fourth.

The game was momentarily halted as Bryant received hugs and congratulations from his teammates. The Timberwolves' PA announcer congratulated the 36-year-old and the fans in attendance applauded in appreciation. For a night, Minnesota felt like the home of the Lakers again.

With Jordan out of the way, Bryant is still a long way behind Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Malone's total of 36,928 points and Abdul-Jabbar's total of 38,387 points would likely require Bryant to play past the summer of 2016, when Bryant's current contract is set to retire.

On Sunday in Minneapolis, no. 24 passed no. 23 on the all-time scoring list, as Bryant further solidified his case for being the greatest Laker of all time in the city where the Lakers were born.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Saad Lifts Blackhawks Over Flames ]]> Sun, 14 Dec 2014 22:31:39 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/164*120/457603994.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks saw their eight-game winning streak snapped on Saturday night, but Sunday was a different story as a third period goal from Brandon Saad lifted them to a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames.

Patrick Sharp's power play tally in the second period tied the game up for Chicago, and Antti Raanta made 23 saves as the Hawks won for the 12th time in their last 14 games. Jiri Hudler scored the lone goal of the game for the Flames, and Jonas Hiller made 26 saves in a losing effort.

The game started out pretty slowly for both sides, with the Hawks preferring to use their defense to stifle the Calgary attack over getting things going on the other end of the ice. Hiller was forced to make a couple of saves when the Hawks finally got some transition play going, but both Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw were denied on quality opportunities.

Calgary did seem to gain some momentum from that sequence of saves, but despite getting a power play, they were unable to forge ahead. David Jones beat Raanta on a breakaway, but his shot rang off the post. Johnny Gaudreau also had a good scoring chance from in close, but Raanta kicked across the crease and kicked the puck away. Finally with about five minutes remaining in the period, Alex Monahan ripped a wrist shot toward the goal, but Raanta tracked it through traffic and made the save.

The Hawks did get one final chance late in the period, but Saad was denied by Hiller as the game remained scoreless through 20 minutes.

As the second period got started, the Flames ratcheted up the pressure on offense, and they were able to take the lead about four and a half minutes into the period. TJ Brodie made a brilliant play to pinch in through the middle of the ice, drawing the attention of several Hawks defenders. Hudler skated into the seam opened up by that pinch, and he ripped a shot just under the crossbar to give Calgary a 1-0 lead.

The Hawks bounced back nicely from that goal as Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell both had quality scoring chances, but it took a power play to tie things up. Off a face-off win by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane got the puck and eventually found the captain below the goal line. As Calgary’s defense over-rotated to compensate, Toews feathered a pass across to a pinching Sharp, who buried a one-timer past Hiller to tie things up at 1-1.

In the remaining minutes of the second period, both teams got some great scoring chances. Sharp nearly scored his second goal of the period from the point, but Hiller made a save and Shaw couldn’t untie himself from defenders as he dove for the rebound. Joe Colborne and Brodie both had good chances during a Flames power play a bit later in the period, but Raanta soaked up both shots and continued to display the quality rebound control he’d been showing throughout the game.

Finally, Kane and Richards nearly made a great goal later in the frame, but Kris Versteeg was unable to elevate the puck on the rush and Hiller made the save to keep the game tied through two periods.

When the third period got started, the Blackhawks dominated time of possession, and even a Johnny Oduya penalty wasn’t enough to stifle the momentum. Saad did a great job of killing off 30 seconds of the power play thanks to his strong puck presence, and Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa both did an excellent job of providing supporting on defense to help finish off the penalty kill.

With about seven minutes remaining in the game, the Hawks were able to get in behind the Calgary defense, and Saad made them pay. Niklas Hjalmarsson stripped the puck from Gaudreau at the defensive blue line, and he fired a transition pass up the ice to Toews. Saad drove in behind the defense, and when Toews found him the youngster didn’t miss as he scored on the breakaway to make it 2-1 Blackhawks.

The Hawks were unable to capitalize on a chance for an insurance goal when they got a power play with five minutes remaining, but the Flames couldn’t take advantage in the final moments of the contest. They did get a few chances, but the Hawks were able to shut things down as they secured the hard-fought victory.

The win vaults the Blackhawks back into first place in the Central Division, and they will put that status on the line Tuesday night when they take on the Minnesota Wild at the United Center.  



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Best of NFL: Week 15]]> Sun, 14 Dec 2014 22:22:57 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/460466000.jpg Don't miss the most dramatic images from the fifteenth week of the 2014 NFL season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Eagles' McCoy on Playing Sunday Night]]> Sun, 14 Dec 2014 14:12:02 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP383450712423.jpg Philadelphia Eagles' star running back, LeSean McCoy, ran for 159 yards and a touchdown in a convincing win against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. McCoy looks to continue that trend against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, where he always seems to come though for the Eagles.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Blackhawks Swap Morin for Blue Jackets' Erixon]]> Sun, 14 Dec 2014 13:09:45 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Jeremy+Morin1.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks had a decision to make regarding forward Jeremy Morin after Patrick Sharp returned to the team’s lineup, and on Sunday they made that choice as they shipped him to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman Tim Erixon.

To make room for Erixon on the team’s roster, they reassigned defenseman Klas Dahlbeck to the Rockford IceHogs.

Morin has been an interesting case with the Blackhawks throughout his career, as he’s had difficulty in cracking the lineup on a consistent basis. This season was supposed to be his big chance after signing a two-year extension with the team, but after going without a point in 15 straight games, head coach Joel Quenneville benched him in favor of Joakim Nordstrom before the Hawks ultimately sent him back to Rockford on a conditioning assignment.

Erixon is a solid puck-moving defenseman who was a highly touted prospect before he was traded to Columbus in the deal that sent Rick Nash to the New York Rangers. This season in 19 games, Erixon has a goal and five assists for Columbus, and he could see a little bit of time on the Hawks’ struggling power play unit.

Big picture, this is yet another example of the Hawks simply having too many talented forwards. Guys like Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes and Jack Skille have all fallen victim to that lack of extra roster spots, and with the re-emergence of Kris Versteeg this season, Morin was going to have to really show his stuff in order to get regular playing time. As this trade (and the zero points on his resume) show, he wasn’t able to get the job done, and the Hawks were forced to move on from him.  



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sox Snag Cabrera on Three-Year Contract]]> Sun, 14 Dec 2014 08:58:25 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/454435556.jpg

The Chicago White Sox have proven over the past few days that they mean business in terms of improving their team, and they made that point even clearer late Saturday night as they signed outfielder Melky Cabrera to a three-year contract.

The deal (first reported by Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago), which will pay Cabrera somewhere between $42-43.5 million over the life of the contract, is yet another example of GM Rick Hahn’s commitment to overhauling his roster. The team has already traded for starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and signed relief pitcher David Robertson and Adam LaRoche via free agency, but the addition of Cabrera adds one more piece to the puzzle as the team looks to make a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Cabrera was instrumental for the San Francisco Giants when they won the 2012 World Series, but after a down 2013 season he rebounded nicely in 2014. Playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, Cabrera hit 16 home runs and drove in 73 RBI, and the switch-hitter had an OPS of .808 in 621 plate appearances.

As for where Cabrera will slot into the White Sox lineup, it remains to be seen. The thought when the Sox signed LaRoche was that he would provide some protection for the right-handed hitting slugger Jose Abreu in the lineup, but Cabrera could either bat in the fourth or fifth spot in the order, depending on what Robin Ventura wants to do on a given day.

The Cabrera signing also brings into question the status of Dayan Viciedo with the team. The outfielder has reportedly been shopped throughout the offseason, and he could be on the radar for several teams in need of corner outfield help. The Seattle Mariners are one team that has reportedly been inquiring about Viciedo’s services.

With the Cabrera signing, the Sox are likely going to be done with bigger-ticket signings at this point. Additions could still feasibly be coming both in the bullpen (although the acquisition of Dan Jennings really solidifies their seventh through ninth inning pitchers) and in the starting rotation, depending on whether or not Hahn wants to add another right-handed hurler to the mix.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hawks Look to Win 9th Straight vs. Islanders]]> Sat, 13 Dec 2014 16:24:50 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/167*120/457253202.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks will be looking for their ninth win in a row on Saturday night as they wrap up a road trip with a date against the New York Islanders.

The game will not only be the last regular season game the Blackhawks will play at the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum (the Islanders will be moving to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn next season), but it will be the first time they’ve had the opportunity to play against former Hawks defenseman Nick Leddy. In 29 games with the Islanders so far this season, Leddy has scored five goals and dished out nine assists, and he’s been a big boost to the team as they fight for a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.

As for the Hawks, they’ve been rolling lately, and they got some favorable news as they try to keep their winning streak going. Jonathan Toews, who left Thursday’s game against the Boston Bruins after hitting the boards head-first on a hit from Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, was given a clean bill of health by team doctors, and he will be in the lineup for Saturday’s game on Long Island.

His health is crucial for the Blackhawks as they try to scrape by with only 12 forwards on the active roster. Jeremy Morin is currently in Rockford on a conditioning assignment, and the Hawks sent Joakim Nordstrom down when Patrick Sharp was activated off of long-term injured reserve Tuesday.

The Blackhawks’ offense could be poised for another big night against the Islanders Saturday, as New York has struggled in a big way to stop opposing offenses in recent games. Over the past three contests, the Islanders have surrendered 17 goals in three consecutive losses, and they’re near the bottom of the league in goals against per game, surrendering an average of 2.9 per contest.

To make matters worse for the Islanders, they also have the league’s worst penalty killing unit, only killing off 71.3 percent of penalties against. The Hawks’ power play hasn’t been good lately, only scoring once in its last 24 attempts, but if there’s a night where guys like Toews and Patrick Kane could help the team potentially break out of its funk, it’s this one.

On one other note, Scott Darling will make his fourth consecutive start for the Blackhawks. While Antti Raanta will probably get the start Sunday night against the Calgary Flames, the writing is on the wall about who the team’s back-up goaltender is when Corey Crawford returns to the lineup. Joel Quenneville isn’t willing to acknowledge it yet, but he clearly trusts Darling more than Raanta at this point, and while the back-up isn’t going to get a lot of games with how well Crawford has been playing, it’s still a bummer for Raanta to likely be back on the road toward Rockford when Crawford returns.  



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Crosby to Sit Out after Swollen Face Causes Mumps Fears]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 16:35:07 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*120/12.15_crosby.jpg

It hasn’t exactly been a banner few days for NHL medical staffs, with Jonathan Toews’ return to the Chicago Blackhawks’ victory over the Boston Bruins after slamming head-first into the boards getting things started on Thursday night.

On Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins upped the ante. Star forward Sidney Crosby showed up to practice with the team for their morning skate ahead of a game with the Calgary Flames, but there was something slightly off about him:

No, it is not necessary to adjust your computer monitors. The right side of Crosby’s face was indeed swollen, and it immediately raised fears that the NHL’s mumps outbreak, which has affected 11 players with five different teams, had hit the Penguins locker room. Penguins head coach Mike Johnston insisted that Crosby did not test positive for the disease when the team had bloodwork done recently, but the team later back-tracked a bit on giving Crosby a clean bill of health later in the day as they announced he would sit out their next two games as a precautionary measure.

Whether or not Crosby has mumps remains to be seen, but the fact remains that the Penguins’ medical staff didn’t do its job properly in this situation. With the disease spreading around the NHL, teams are forced to be extra vigilant, and the Penguins abdicated that responsibility in this instance. If it’s mumps, Crosby needs to be put in isolation away from his team. If it’s a dental abscess, Crosby needs to be treated for it as soon as possible. If it’s a bug bite, he needs to hire a better exterminator.

Whatever the case may be, the fact that the Penguins waited until a media circus had been ginned up speaks to their medical staff doing a poor job of handling the situation, and it should never have come down to reporters posting pictures on Twitter for something to be done about it.

In order to answer the question of why team doctors were perhaps lax to hold Crosby out of the game, perhaps we would be well-advised to take into account the words of Dr. John D. Kelly, former assistant team physician of the Philadelphia Flyers, who told Toni McIntyre of The Hockey Writers this:

“You can do what’s best for the patient or what’s best for management. You can’t serve two masters.”

Perhaps the physicians in the Crosby case were afraid of holding him out of the Penguins’ lineup. Perhaps team doctors were hesitant to pull Toews into the “quiet room” to go through concussion protocol because the Blackhawks are on a winning streak.

Whatever the case may be, the NHL needs to make it abundantly clear that the health and safety of its players is superior in importance to whether or not that player can skate on his next shift. It would seem obvious that should be a priority, but if the last few days are any indication, common sense isn’t so common.


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<![CDATA[Cutler Emerges as Sympathetic Figure in Kromergate]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 14:59:17 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/459954730.jpg

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is a sympathetic figure.

Unfortunately it took offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer criticizing him in a recent report to draw out the sympathies. 

Last week after the Bears were blown out by the Dallas Cowboys, Kromer told NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport that he was upset that Cutler didn’t check out of bad plays in the game, and that he was “killing” the team. On Monday, Kromer apologized to Cutler and the team for the remarks, admitting that he was the source of the report.

On Friday afternoon at Halas Hall, Cutler had every right to admit that he was upset with Kromer, and that the criticism stung. Instead, the quarterback took the high road and shrugged off suggestions that his relationship with his coordinator was damaged.

“It goes back to knowing that I’ve said things I wish I could take back,” Cutler said. "You could feel he was sorry, and the situation got the better of him. The way he talked to us and approached the issue and cleared the air with everyone (was good).”

Cutler also complimented Kromer for stepping up to the team, saying that if Kromer hadn’t come forward the team never would have known who made the statements.

Contrast that to what Kromer and Trestman had to say during their respective press conferences. Kromer dodged questions and insisted that he wanted to talk football and handle the other stuff internally (didn’t you already let the cat out of the bag on that one, Mr. Kromer?). Trestman said that Kromer talked to him about the report on Friday (even though it didn’t come out until Sunday), and echoed the same sentiments about handling the matter internally.

Cutler did that to a degree as well, but instead of justifiably expressing anger that he had been called out in the press by his offensive coordinator, Jay elected to take the high road and accept Kromer’s apology. He maturely decided that having a spat in public could be just as bad as what Kromer did in the first place, and instead of pouring gasoline on the fire, he instead tried to quash rumors of discontent and insisted that Kromer made a mistake and not some unforgivable sin.

In a season where Cutler and the Bears have struggled mightily, their quarterback scored arguably his biggest victory on Friday. Straddling the line between being angry at the guy who stabbed him in the back and crying victim to the media, Cutler instead took the best path available: he forgave Kromer and elected to move on.

Now if only he could take care of the football as well as he takes care of potential conflicts...



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bears Stand Pat After Kromer Apology Goes Public]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 14:18:12 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/170*120/459956290.jpg

The Chicago Bears talk all the time about handling issues in house, but on Friday that mentality was put to the test after it was revealed that Aaron Kromer had been the source for a scathing criticism of Jay Cutler after last week's loss to the Dallas Cowboys. 

During their press availabilities, both Kromer and Cutler sought to move on from the situation and hoped that the team would move forward from it. 

"I made a very poor decision of talking about things outside the building," Kromer said. "I admit that, but I can't take that back. I recognize that I made a mistake, and I instantly apologized to the offense, and apologized to Jay in front of the offense for singling him out in that situation. 

"The rest will be handled internally, and we'll work through that," he added. 

As for Cutler, he accepted Kromer's apology, and insisted that he didn't harbor any resentment toward his offensive coordinator. 

"Obviously we all know what's happened," he said. "We've all made mistakes. I've said things out of character and things I wish I could take back, and that's what happened here. In my room, it's a dead issue." 

Bears head coach Marc Trestman said that Kromer's job was not in jeopardy, saying that "Aaron is with us to coach with us." 

Asked whether or not he considered resigning over the incident, Kromer emphatically said that he did not. He also dismissed concerns that there would be permanent damage to his relationship with Cutler, saying only that "we're getting ready for the Saints now." 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Redhawks Win Pop Warner Super Bowl]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 12:49:03 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Hoffman-Estates-Red-Hawks-1.jpg

The Hoffman Estates Redhawks Junior Pee Wee football team got a second chance to become champions on Friday, and they took advantage of that at the 58th Pop Warner Division II Super Bowl in Orlando.

The Redhawks won the national championship title, defeating the Arizona Deer Valley Snakes 16-0.

With the win, the Redhawks capped a perfect 3-0 stretch, beating the Stanley (NC) Blue Devils, 18-12, in the first round and the Watchung Hills (NJ) Wolverines, 35-12, during the semifinals.

Friday's win was the Redhawks' first national championship trophy in the program's history. The first time the Redhawks competed in the Pop Warner Super Bowl was in 2013.

Teach Coach Rick Cyr contributed their success to working with what they have.

"Work within ourselves and get our stuff done. Do what we do best and good things happen," Cyr said in a post-game interview.

The team last year was faced with financial troubles and was close to not being able to afford the trip. They were able to raise the money in less than week, thanks to the community.



Photo Credit: Gerardo Mota / Pop Warner Scholars
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<![CDATA[Did Hawks Handle Toews' Injury Properly? ]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 11:29:47 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/164*120/460223566.jpg

The Chicago Blackhawks won their eighth consecutive game on Thursday, knocking off the Boston Bruins 3-2 at TD Garden. Even with the victory, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that the team had other things on their mind as they headed off the ice in Beantown.

That’s because team captain Jonathan Toews was forced from the game in the second period with an upper-body injury. Just after a 5-on-3 power play expired about midway through the frame, Toews had trouble corralling a puck near the goal line. As he turned toward the boards to play the puck, Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg drilled him from behind, sending the captain head-first into the barrier.

Toews was slow to get up after the hit, but he stayed in the game for another shift before committing a penalty a few minutes later. After Toews got out of the box, he headed into the dressing room, and he was kept out for the remainder of the game.

As the game was going on, there was some concern expressed by media members and fans alike about how the team handled the injury. When looking at the replay, it’s clear that Toews’ head was the primary point of impact against the boards, and watching his head snap back after hitting the barrier is frankly jarring. He was clearly trying to shake off the hit when he was sitting in the penalty box following his hit, which begs the question: did the Blackhawks handle the injury properly?

In a word, no. Head coach Joel Quenneville said after the game that Toews was pushing to get back into the game when Seidenberg was sent to the penalty box for the hit, but the decision should not have been the captain’s. Hockey players are always going to try to get back into a game even if it’s detrimental to their health, and that’s why the NHL has adopted all sorts of concussion protocols designed to take that decision out of the players’ hands.

What makes the situation worse is that this isn’t the Hawks’ first rodeo when it comes to questionable procedures for handling injuries. Toews himself admitted to playing with a concussion earlier in his career. Niklas Hjalmarsson also rushed back from a concussion in 2012, missing an additional two weeks after he returned to the lineup the first time. Finally, Andrew Shaw came back quickly in 2013 after being elbowed in the head by Paul Stastny, raising more questions about concussions.

Needless to say, the Blackhawks handled the situation poorly in letting Toews skate, and even if he turns out to be fine and can play in their next game on Saturday, letting him back on the ice after that kind of a hit was a foolish risk that they shouldn’t have taken.
 

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