Tommy Wingels

Lance Bouma's second chance has meant steady work with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Lance Bouma's second chance has meant steady work with Blackhawks

Lance Bouma took his place at fourth-line left wing as the Blackhawks rolled their forward rushes on Tuesday morning. As the Blackhawks have tinkered with their trios, Bouma, whose final two seasons with the Calgary Flames were filled with uncertainty, has found a consistent role in this lineup.

“Obviously I was brought here for a reason,” Bouma said. “Things didn’t go the way I wanted them to in Calgary. To come here to Chicago and have that role, it’s been a lot of fun so far.”

The Blackhawks knew what they wanted from Bouma and his fellow fourth liners: some physical play, some energy and if there are any scoring opportunities, bonus. It’s a second chance for Bouma, whose contract was terminated by the Flames on June 30.

“I think it’s definitely a motivator knowing that you get in that situation where all of a sudden, ‘OK, I have to almost start over again and I have to prove to a new team that I belong in this league and I can play,’” coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday. “There are always circumstances where teams make decisions like that. We’ve been a part of it. And moving forward as a player, you’ve gotta look at it as a fresh opportunity. It’s an opportunity to get back to playing your game.”

After recording 16 goals and 18 assists in the 2014-15 season, Bouma signed a three-year, $6.6 million deal with the Flames. The next two seasons didn’t go as planned as Bouma dealt with injuries, inconsistent play and healthy scratches. So getting that call from the Blackhawks was a huge lift.

“I was just looking forward to a fresh start and something new,” he said. “I just was ready to come into camp and have a great season and it’s been great so far.”

[MORE: Eddie Olczyk expected to return to broadcasting booth this week

Tommy Wingels, who has centered the Blackhawks’ fourth line the last several games – and will again vs. St. Louis on Wednesday – said Bouma looks “refreshed” this season.

“Obviously whether it’s a team doesn’t want to bring you back or it’s a trade or buyout, there’s certainly something that deep down gets you going,” Wingels said. “I think it was a good summer for him mentally to come to a new organization, come to a new group of guys and re-establish his game. It’s tough when you’re with the same coaches, same team for so long; maybe what you do gets taken for granted. He looks good and he’s skating really well and I think he moves really well for a big man. He’s strong on the pucks and he’s a good asset for us.

Bouma isn’t here to be a top-six player. He’s not here to fulfill a contract that he no longer has. The Blackhawks needed depth, energy and a physical presence and in brining that, Bouma has earned steady work.  

“We knew the player coming in that we wanted him to play that style and he’s done a good job of it, too,” Quenneville said of Bouma. “So it’s something we were looking for in our needs and it fit perfectly."

Blackhawks Camp Notes: Top lines, tinkering and Day 1 tidbits

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AP

Blackhawks Camp Notes: Top lines, tinkering and Day 1 tidbits

Patrick Sharp was understandably apprehensive entering the last offseason, when a hip surgery and a 4-6-month recovery loomed. But from the skating he’s done since the summer and the fitness tests he and the rest of the Blackhawks took on Thursday, Sharp is back to where he wants to be.

When the Blackhawks reacquired Sharp on July 1 he said he’d be ready to go come training camp, and he was when the Blackhawks convened at the United Center on Friday. Sharp was naturally concerned of how he would rebound coming off the surgery. But the 35-year-old, who played with Artem Anisimov and Ryan Hartman during Friday’s scrimmages, feels great.

And much like during his first stint with the Blackhawks, he scored strong on the fitness tests.

“I was up there. I’ve got a couple of years on these guys, so I use that as an excuse. And a surgery to fall back on,” Sharp said. “But I was really pleased with my results, how I feel on the ice, ready to go.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said Sharp hasn’t missed a step.

“He looks quick, he looks sharp, he looks ready and he looks like he’s hungry and happy to be here,” he said. “We’re looking for a great contribution from him. His jump and his quickness right off the first step looked like it was caught your eye.

Good first look

You take Day 1 of training camp for what it is: a chance to look at some combinations, most of which probably won’t be finalized until later. But Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik, the Blackhawks’ expected top liners, were together right away and had a pretty good first showing.

“We were racking up minuses today,” Toews said. “It was a tough first day. We had a lot of chances and for me as a center man a lot of time you’re coming into the O-zone with the defensemen, you literally just have to throw it off either wall and both those guys can skate. It’s fun to be out there with two players of Panner and Saader’s caliber. We had a lot of chances so tomorrow we’ll start putting them in and be a little bit better defensively too.”

Saad said it was just like old times. Sort of.

“I think being reunited with a guy you played with before helps a little bit but it's still going to take a little bit just to get used to everything,” he said. “But for the most part, I think it went pretty well today.

Briefly

Nick Schmaltz played alongside Patrick Kane on Friday. The two meshed well last season and, while it’s uncertain whether or not Schmaltz ends up on the second line or center another one, it’s always an option. “We’ve been skating a lot together, chemistry’s been pretty good,” Kane said of he and Schmaltz. “We were tired there in the first half but as the game went on started to make some plays, have some chemistry.”

Tommy Wingels, who suffered a hairline fracture in his foot in July, was fine in his first day at camp. “(The injury) forced me to change the way I train a little bit, just because I was limited in what I could do when I was in a walking boot, but in no way did it take away from my ability to prepare for the season,” he said. “I feel good out there. I feel healthy. I’ve been cleared to play. Mentally and physically, I feel like I can contribute from Day One and it was good start to camp today.”

Nathan Noel suffered an injury in the rookie tournament in Traverse City and will not be participating in the Blackhawks’ training camp, general manager Stan Bowman said on Friday. Bowman added that veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival did not pass his training-camp physical and is not yet cleared to practice. 

Tommy Wingels on 'cloud nine' getting to suit up for hometown Blackhawks

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AP

Tommy Wingels on 'cloud nine' getting to suit up for hometown Blackhawks

Tommy Wingels remembers his Chicago youth hockey days. A native of Wilmette, Wingels said the leagues were pretty good then but nothing like the opportunities area kids have to play hockey here now.

“This city has so many youth programs, so much ability for kids to play at every level. If they want to travel, pursue it professionally, if they want to go to college or they just want to enjoy it because their buddies play it. You can do it everywhere around here, and it’s such a unique aspect,” said Wingels. “I think the expectation has changed now. Kids think everyone can make it now. Back then, nobody thought they would make it.”

Count Wingels among those who wasn’t sure he’d make it. But he did, and on July 1 he made a childhood dream come true when he signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks. Wingels was elated when Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville called him about his potential signing. The details of those calls? Well, those are a little sketchy.

“I don’t even remember half the stuff they said to me because you’re on cloud nine and you’re saying, ‘Yeah, when can we sign and where?’” Wingels said at the Blackhawks convention on Saturday. “My wife commented on how big of a smile I had [walking] off our porch and back into the living room. It was very exciting.”

As a kid growing up in the Chicago area, Wingels played plenty of travel hockey. He watched the Blackhawks when he could, trying to catch what games were on television at that time. But the thought of playing in the NHL, let alone suiting up for the Blackhawks someday, wasn’t in his mind at that time.

“I wouldn’t say until the middle of high school did I ever think playing professional hockey was a possibility,” Wingels said. “Coming into high school you think college might be one [possibility]. But not until then did I ever talk about it or think about it.”

Wingels said he talked to a good deal of teams in 2006, the first year he was eligible for the NHL Draft, but he wasn’t selected that summer or the next. It wasn’t until the 2008 NHL Entry Draft that former Blackhawks defenseman/now San Jose general manager Doug Wilson picked Wingels, then playing for Miami University, in the sixth round. Wingels was a steady presence for five-plus seasons with the Sharks, putting up career numbers in goals (16), assists (22) and points (38) in the 2013-14 season. Wingels is forever grateful to Wilson for the opportunity.

“He’s the No. 1 reason why I’ve had an NHL career,” Wingels said. “[He had] the confidence to draft me and he was extremely patient in developing me through my years at Miami. He’s one of the best guys I’ve met in the game and I’ve enjoyed all the interactions we’ve had with him. He’s a guy I’ll definitely keep in touch with while I’m here and for many years.”

On the ice, Wingels should help the Blackhawks’ penalty kill and add some necessary grit – “bring in some sandpaper, finish checks and at the same time chip in some goals, all kind of things I think [Quenneville] and Stan expect me to bring here,” he said. Wingels has gone on long postseason runs (2016 Stanley Cup final with the Sharks and the 2017 Eastern Conference final with the Ottawa Senators), and he can be another veteran voice and presence for the Blackhawks’ young players.

“Your star players will lead and be the best players that they are. But for a young guy coming up on the third or fourth line sometimes it’s tough for those guys to relate to the star players, not because what the star players do but they’re guys who are up and down and they’re guys who have different roles. [I’ll] be a part of that group who can help transition the young players, who can play a similar role to some of those other players and be a sounding board for guys as well. I’m 29 now. I feel young but somehow I’ve become a veteran. So I’ll just try to help out any way I can.”

As excited as Wingels is to be home, he said his family may be more so. His parents, Bob and Karen, get to spend more time with Wingels’ 1 ½-year old daughter. The Wingels are close to Scott Darling’s family, and know from the Darlings how great it was to have their son play here.

Wingels grew up wondering how far hockey would take him. Now it’s bringing him back home.

“It didn’t take long to decide this is where we want to be. My wife is extremely happy – she lived here a couple of years out of college and knows the city very well – and I have a ton of friends here with my family being from here,” Wingels said. “It’s going to be a fun year for us and I can’t wait to get started.”