After days and months of uncertainty, the NHL and Blackhawks are back to work and will have to cram for a week to prepare for the season opener next weekend. Sunday afternoon the Blackhawks had their first practice since last spring under the watchful eye of coach Joel Quenneville. A nice-sized crowd filled Johnny's Ice House to watch their team prepare for an abbreviated schedule. There are so many questions about the NHL and how it will untangle after this messy labor dispute.
Every team will have a compacted 48 game season. Sensing the urgency of winning games, Blackhawk President John McDonough said, “It will be like a 48 game playoff series.” Think how grand that was for the NBA last season--cramming 66 games. The Hawks start on the road in LA to play the defending Stanley Cup Champions Saturday afternoon. In a normal year that would be a treat, but this will look more like a scrimmage. The players and coaching staff have a different perspective and think it will be competitive. Blackhawk fans, early on you will have very few home games, only two of the first twelve, in fact, since an ice show and two Lady Gaga shows take over the United Center during that time period. The home opener will be Tuesday, January 22 with the St. Louis Blues. After the extended time on the road it gets really interesting. Starting on February 12, the Blackhawks will be home for seven straight days. If you don’t live near the UC maybe you may want to rent a condo or get a hotel room. This is where the loyalty of the fans will really be tested as well as the time commitment. The “regular” season will end on April 27 in St Louis. The Stanley Cup playoffs can extend far into June.
Sizing up the Blackhawks:
Some players under the leadership of team captain Jonathan Towes spent the lockout working out at Johnny's Ice House. The Hawk center is relieved to hand his coaching duties back to Coach Quenneville. "Not being a coach for once was nice with guys goofing around like #88(Kane)," joked Towes, "Today the guys were flying around, we were excited." There were several players that went overseas and a number of the young players were active in the AHL.
Seven players were called up from the minor league club, forwards Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger, Brandon Pirri, Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw. Defensemen Nick Leddy and Ryan Stanton. After Sunday’s practice, Leddy said playing the past three months has been beneficial for this group, “We created some good chemistry that will translate to here (parent club).”
Coach Quenneville believes that the long layoff helped one of his stars-Marian Hossa. He suffered a major concussion at the end of last season and has been cleared to play again.
Now with the season starting with minimal practices and no pre-season games, the Blackhawks think they have a distinct advantage—a cohesive team that is basically the same as last year’s club that earned 101 points. They look to improve on the difficulties with the special teams. And they hope that their young goaltender Corey Crawford rebounds from his tough time in the playoffs. There is no secret formula for what will help a team succeed under these circumstances. Everyone from the front office to the players and the coaching staff are relieved that the dispute is over. Now one group remains—the fans.
Will the fans forgive?
That is the only question that really matters. Fans don’t care about percentages of revenues, they don’t care that the deal is ten years with an option after eight. They do care about the shortened season and the price of their tickets. John McDonough emphasized the need to make it up to the fans. The Hawks know they have had a solid fan base that has sold out the United Center five straight years. The team will be revealing plans for the fans later this week. Jonathan Towes vowed the players will reach out and sign autographs at every opportunity. Will it be enough? Probably for the hard core fans—it’s the casual fan that is likely a casualty.