Cat with the hat: Alex DeBrincat's latest trick fuels high-scoring Blackhawks


Cat with the hat: Alex DeBrincat's latest trick fuels high-scoring Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp has been highly complementary of Alex DeBrincat since the 19-year-old started camp with the Blackhawks in September. But on DeBrincat’s biggest night as a pro, the night he celebrated his first NHL hat trick, Sharp nevertheless had to give the kid some grief.

“It was awesome. Only problem is he had that mustache for it,” Sharp deadpanned. “So he’s gonna be on TV a lot with that ugly mustache.”

All Movember-motivated facial hair aside, DeBrincat has developed his game just fine with the Blackhawks. He’s improving his defense with every game. He’s flipped from the left to the right side without missing the beat. And this month DeBrincat has tapped into the offensive potential that was on full display during his Erie Otters days, celebrating that hat trick in the Blackhawks’ 7-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night. DeBrincat now has nine of his 10 goals in November.

“Special night for him,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He finds the net, he sees pucks, gets himself available, the puck follows him around, he has a great stick, his anticipation is high end, play recognition, special player. Nice.”

DeBrincat had a huge smile on his face as United Center spectators threw hats onto the ice. After the game he was a little more subdued.

“It was nice. Pucks were bouncing my way, and it’s cool to get that over with,” he said. “I think today the puck luck was there for me and for a lot of the guys. So I thought that was a big reason I had those chances.”

Maybe, but DeBrincat was already a proven goal scorer at the OHL level. It was just a matter of time before the Blackhawks found out if he could do the same in the NHL. So far, so good.

“He’s a great player,” Sharp said. “You could tell that in training camp, whenever he got the puck he just has poise with it and he’s looking to make a play. I said earlier that he was playing like he’s in junior hockey still, and that’s a compliment. Because he’s looking to make those plays, he’s not intimidated at all by the speed or the pace of the game, and you can see the results.”

Patrick Kane recorded three assists, his second the feed that led to DeBrincat’s third goal. Sharp broke out of his slump. So did Ryan Hartman, with two assists. So did Nick Schmaltz. The Blackhawks got off to another strong start and didn’t look back, the goals that were so elusive a few weeks ago now coming in bunches.

“I mean, in those games we were just one play away. Pucks were rolling on us. Sometimes they don’t go in for you, and other nights everything goes in,” Schmaltz said “You have to stick with it, can’t get too high or too low. It’s a long season, so you just have to bring the same mindset every night.”

The Blackhawks’ tests don’t end. They’re just starting a busy week that continues Tuesday night in Nashville. But the confidence is surging. So is the offense. So is DeBrincat.

“He’s a great kid. He’s doing well for us, and he’s playing a big role,” Schmaltz said. “He’s a goal scorer. It’s fun to watch. The guy just finds a way to put the puck in the net and not a lot of guys can do that, especially at this level. Hopefully he keeps that up and he’ll help our team succeed.”

Life was a lot different last time the Blackhawks missed the playoffs

Life was a lot different last time the Blackhawks missed the playoffs

For the first time in a decade, the Blackhawks officially will not be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night at the United Center, the Blackhawks will be sitting at home mid-April instead of looking to add to their trophy case.

Exactly 366 days before, the Blackhawks actually became the first NHL team to clinch a playoff berth, also the result of a game against the Avs:

The last time the Blackhawks missed the playoffs, Denis Savard was the coach and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were just 19 years old in the midst of their rookie seasons.

The next year, Joel Quenneville took over as coach after four games and led the Blackhawks all the way to the Conference Finals.

Of course, the following year (2009-10 season) brought the first of three Stanley Cups.

For perspective on how incredible this stretch has been for the Blackhawks, here's how the other professional Chicago sports teams spent 2008:

—The Bears finished 9-7 in Matt Forte's rookie year (he's since retired) with Kyle Orton as the starting quarterback and Lovie Smith as head coach.

—The Cubs led the National League in runs scored en route to a 97-win regular season...before falling flat against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. Lou Piniella was still the manager and Theo Epstein was still three years away from coming to Chicago.

—The Bulls found some incredible luck, pulling the No. 1 overall pick and selecting Chicago native Derrick Rose. He helped the Bulls to a 41-41 season as a rookie under coach Vinny Del Negro.

—The White Sox lost to Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS after winning the AL Central under manager Ozzie Guillen. Carlos Quentin enjoyed a breakout season (36 HR, 100 RBI) while Gavin Floyd won 17 games. 

The Blackhawks still have eight games left before the 2017-18 season ends April 7.

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

For Alex DeBrincat, it was probably nice to hear Chelsea Dagger again.

But how about three times?

The 20-year-old rookie snapped out of a 13-game scoring drought in a big way on Sunday night, recording his third hat trick of the season. DeBrincat did all he could to help give the Blackhawks two points, but they only came away with one in a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

DeBrincat is now the first rookie in franchise history with three hat tricks in the same season, passing Steve Larmer. His last two hat tricks came against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 27, 2017 and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 25.

"It's pretty cool," DeBrincat said of his third hat trick, "but I wouldn't be able to do that without the guys we have in this locker room and the linemates I've had. Most credit to them."

Entering Sunday, his last goal was on Feb. 17 against the Washington Capitals.

"Obviously it's frustrating when you go through a slump that like that but what I've learned is to stay positive and there's other things you can help your team win with," DeBrincat said. "Just kind of focus on those things."

He netted goals No. 23, 24 and 25 on the season, tying Patrick Kane for the team lead. He is also tied for second among goals scored by a rookie this season.

DeBrincat opened the scoring with nice wrist shot on the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead midway through the first. With less than a minute to go in the period, he tapped one home in front of the net to make it 2-0.

In the third period with the game tied at 3-3, DeBrincat put his team in front 4-3 with 3:13 left in regulation. 

“We were talking about [DeBrincat] today, it had been a while since he had scored," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But whether he scores or not, he does a lot of good things in the game, and he’s very aware of his positioning, and doing the right things, finding pucks, getting in shooting lanes, or denying passing lanes. So he’s effective in a lot of ways, but nice to see him score a nice power-play goal today.”

But Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo even things up again after a shot from the point found its way past J-F Berube with 1:22 left. Patrik Berglund would net the game-winner in overtime to hand the Blackhawks a loss.

"I feel like we’ve played well and we just came up a little bit short," DeBrincat said. "I feel like that’s been the theme of this whole season.”