Brandon Saad recalls the greatness of Team North America


Brandon Saad recalls the greatness of Team North America

Brandon Saad remembers the lineup looking pretty good from the start. The Blackhawks forward was considered an elder statesman on that 23-and-under Team North America but what the group lacked in experience it made up for in confidence.

“Right away when you looked at the roster and saw the speed and skill we had and we had success, whether it was exhibition or the real thing. We were a confident group right off the get-go,” Saad said. “Once we started winning games it just builds that confidence and you kind of get that swagger. We just had fun with it and we knew what we were capable of.”

The World Cup of Hockey wrapped up in Toronto last Sept. 29, with Team Canada winning another gold medal in another international competition. But it was Team North America that, despite not getting to the medal round, left the biggest impression. It’s high-skill, up-tempo style was exhilarating, not just for those who watched it but for those who were a part of that team.

“There was so much enthusiasm from the players that it made every practice, every team meeting, every game,” said former Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who was an assistant coach for North America. “I told a lot of people that game against Sweden one of the most fun game I was ever involved in. Any time you can coach not just young players but young elite players, it just made it real enjoyable for everybody.”

It wasn’t the most structurally sound team, especially on defense – as Saad said, “it wasn’t too strenuous. We had our structure and our game plan but a lot of it was just letting us run with it and be creative offensively.” Yeah, that style probably wouldn’t work long-term for an NHL squad. But considering the talent on that team – including Saad, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau and Jonathan Drouin – it was understandable that coaches just let them rely on their strengths.

“There were a couple of parameters of how we wanted to defend,” Tippett said. “But the main thing is if we used our skill to the best capability we could and force teams on their heels and we were able to do that a lot.”

Unfortunately, the skill, speed and overall dazzling play didn’t get them far enough. North America lost to Sweden in overtime on Sept. 21, denying them a shot in the knockout stage.

“Everybody was really looking forward to getting that one game against Canada and we didn’t make it by a point or whatever,” Tippett said. “But that one game against Canada before the best of three would’ve been a pretty exciting game.”

There will be a World Cup of Hockey in 2020 but will there be a Team North America? Considering how stellar it made the competition in 2016 it would be a shame if there wasn’t. Saad wouldn’t be eligible for it the next time – he’ll be 25 in late October – but he nevertheless hopes Team North America lives again.

“It was a unique situation for a lot of young players to get a chance to play, whether they wouldn’t play on the big squad or crossing over and playing with different countries,” he said. “It’s a pretty neat experience so I think it’s a pretty cool thing to continue going forward.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks doomed to miss playoffs without Crawford?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks doomed to miss playoffs without Crawford?

Jesse Rogers (ESPN Chicago), Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) and Dan McNeil join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

Corey Crawford is reportedly suffering vertigo-like symptoms and there’s a chance he might not return this season. Are the Blackhawks playoff chances gone if he doesn’t come back?

Plus, the guys talk Bears coaches, preview Conference Championship weekend and Jesse discusses if the Cubs are saving their money for next winter’s big free agent class.

Listen to the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Why Corey Crawford situation is tricky for Blackhawks


Why Corey Crawford situation is tricky for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have been tight-lipped about Corey Crawford's status ever since he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 27 with an upper-body injury, and it's fueled rampant speculation on social media about what's really going on. That came to an end on Tuesday when Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that there's growing concern within the organization that its star goaltender could miss the remainder of the season with vertigo-like symptoms. (Blackhawks senior adviser Scotty Bowman went on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Wednesday to clarify it's post-concussion syndrome).

And while there's at least some clarity surrounding Crawford's condition, it's opened up more questions about what the Blackhawks may do going forward.

On Monday we broke down the unfavorable playoff picture for the Blackhawks going into the bye week, which was a glaring concern in and of itself. Add in the possibility that Crawford could be sidelined for the rest of the campaign and those chances absolutely diminish.

So what course of action should the Blackhawks take ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline? That's where the tricky part comes in.

Because of the nature of Crawford's injury, the Blackhawks aren't at a point right now where they want to put him on long-term injured reserve because that would require him to miss a minimum of 10 games or 24 days, and they're still holding out hope that he could come back within that timeframe. The problem with it is that nobody really knows. It could be days, weeks or months, and putting a restriction on that doesn't make much sense in the middle of a playoff run even though it would open up significant cap space.

Which brings us to our next point. There are certainly some decent rental goaltenders (Robin Lehner, Petr Mrazek or Antti Raanta, to name a few) on the market if the Blackhawks choose to go that route, but that might not be the wisest thing to do.

Given their spot in the standings and the chances Crawford could return, why risk giving up future assets for a playoff run that may not happen? It would be different if the Blackhawks wanted to add some insurance for the stretch run and postseason, but there's no guarantee it'll happen.

If the Blackhawks did, however, want to go that route, they would need to act quickly because there's no point in waiting closer to the deadline. Every point is crucial from here on out.

Perhaps the best and most logical idea is to stand pat.

Let it ride with Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass and hope they can hold the fort down until a potential Crawford return. Let the young guys continue to grow. Maybe add a defenseman to patch up the back end, but don't empty the tank. There's no reason to. The Blackhawks are hoping to sign highly-touted prospect Dylan Sikura after his college season ends, which would serve as a deadline acquisition by itself.

It will be tempting for the Blackhawks to be aggressive at the trade deadline in the wake of Crawford's injury, and they're surely already having these discussions as they continue to explore the different avenues. But this might be a rare case where doing nothing is the right way to go.