Blackhawks

After stint in Rockford, Blackhawks hoping Dylan Sikura is here to stay

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USA TODAY

After stint in Rockford, Blackhawks hoping Dylan Sikura is here to stay

Dylan Sikura came into the 2018-19 season with relatively high expectations. He was slotted in to play a top-six role in everyone's minds going into training camp, but as camp went on, started to get jumped on the depth chart and it was apparent that he could benefit from a stint in Rockford. So that's where he began the year.

It was a little hard to swallow for the Blackhawks, who lost another Opening Night top-nine forward after Vinnie Hinostroza was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes in the offseason to clear Marian Hossa's contract off the books. It may have been a bit of a wake-up call for Sikura, who realized the transition from college hockey to the NHL wouldn't be easy.

But he took a positive attitude to Rockford after shaking off the initial shock, and that's when the development really starts.

"I'm in a lot better spot," Sikura said. "The adjustments to the pro hockey level is pretty tough and I kind of found out the hard way. But I'm going to use the experience from two years ago when I was up here and obviously the time down in Rockford and hopefully have a better jump start here.

"For me it was important to go down there with a positive mindset. Some guys go down there and they're not too happy about it. But I think it's something that's going to benefit me in the long run. I got a lot from it, improved my game, just getting adjusted to this level and hopefully it will show here."

Jeremy Colliton coached Sikura for the first month of the season when he was the IceHogs head coach. He knows what he brings to the table and what kind of progression he's been making. Colliton felt it was time to reward Sikura with a call-up after leading the team in goals (9), points (18) and shots on goal (90).

"He has played better and that’s important to reward guys when they show a progression," Colliton said. "He’s been more active away from the puck. He’s a little heavier stick, heavier in battles, maybe more confidence, too. He’s made more plays, pucks have gone in the net for him. It’s always nice as a skill player to see them go in."

Part of the reason Sikura is finally up with the Blackhawks is that he's earned a look. Another might be because of the Blackhawks' desperate need for depth scoring. It's probably a combination of both.

Sikura made his season debut on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and kept it simple. He had one shot on goal and two takeaways in 9:33 of ice time, but noticeably skated with more confidence and appeared to be more comfortable. That's a positive step.

But the one thing both sides are hoping for is that Sikura seizes the opportunity and stays here for good because the Blackhawks need to start patching up the holes, not creating more.

"Obviously there's times down there when you question yourself and you question your play or when you're going to come up and stuff like that," Sikura said. "But I think it's important to just leave that behind. You got to know you're here for a reason and when you're called you got to be able to step up to the plate."

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Jonathan Toews on self-isolation, state of Blackhawks and message to fans

Jonathan Toews on self-isolation, state of Blackhawks and message to fans

The NHL put its season on pause 20 days ago due to the COVID-19 outbreak, following the NBA's lead after a player tested positive for the virus. Since then, the world has shut down and it came at a time where hockey players were gearing up for the stretch run and playoff push.

To help give fans a glimpse of how the athletes are handling the quarantine, the NHL over the last few days made the captains of all 31 teams available via video conference call in a group-type setting sorted by division. On Tuesday, it was the Central Division's turn that featured Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators, Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues and Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks in the first group.

Toews said he has remained in Chicago, where he's self-isolating in his new home with his girlfriend and their little Yorkie. He joked that he didn't have much motivation to do anything the first three to five days of the quarantine period, but since then has stayed active by riding a stationary bike and preparing as if hockey could return at any point, even though that remains unclear.

"I can't complain, still finding stuff to do," said Toews, who has spent the past two nights watching Season 3 of Ozark. "Moved into a new place during the season this year and I think you guys can all agree, during the year you kind of put a lot on the backburner with how busy the schedule was and all that, so just catching up, calling some friends and little things that I don't have time to do when we're in season."

Toews was also asked about the state of the franchise and his thoughts on Chairman Rocky Wirtz confirming that the Blackhawks' leadership group of President & CEO John McDonough, GM Stan Bowman and head coach Jeremy Colliton will return for the 2020-21 season.

"Regardless of what's going on in the organization, I think your job as a captain and as a player and for myself and the other guys that have been in the room for a while, it's just to focus on getting the most out of ourselves but [also] getting the most out of our group," Toews said. "We've been through quite a few serious injuries with key players, guys that have experience in the playoffs but that brought that character and that leadership in the room as well, so I think that definitely hurt us.

"But on the other hand, we've got some young players who are learning and getting better really quickly, and I think we showed a lot of signs this year, even if we weren't sitting in a playoff spot right now, that we're right on the edge. ... It's just that experience of playing against the top teams and getting back to that level that we know we can to be a playoff contender."

While it's certainly been challenging for the players to put hockey on hold, all three captains had powerful messages to their fanbases and NHL fans in general. And Toews led the way by going first.

"First of all, we love our fans," Toews said. "We miss them, we miss seeing them at the United Center. Obviously this is a crazy time and a tough time for everybody, but the biggest thing we can learn is, no matter what your background or what your political views are, I think we all are kind of coming together around this and that's the biggest thing. ... That's the biggest message right now, is coming together with your family and friends and your community and wait this thing out. We gotta do what we gotta do to get through it."

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Blackhawks' jersey voted best in NHL by NHLPA poll

Blackhawks' jersey voted best in NHL by NHLPA poll

The 2019-20 NHLPA Players' Poll was released on Tuesday morning and despite no individual nods, which Chicago has been accustomed to in the past, Blackhawks fans will be happy to see the Hawks win one key franchise award: best jersey.

The Blackhawks demolished the competition in this category winning 28.25% of the vote. The Vegas Golden Knights and Toronto Maple Leafs tied for second place at 6.83% for their sweaters.

Nearly 600 NHL players were surveyed prior to the NHL pause for a variety of league-related categories for the poll.

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