After a five-day holiday break, the Blackhawks returned to practice at Fifth Third Arena on Monday feeling refreshed. The time off allowed players and coaches to truly recharge their batteries, both mentally and physically.
"It was [nice] actually," Connor Murphy said. "Usually we just have the two and a half, three days where you're trying to get home quickly after a game, having a late night and then not getting as much rest, so we were able to do a little bit of both over this break, get some sleep and some rest and stay healthy, and then on top of that, see family. ... Usually don't get to see them often throughout the year, so it's always nice to be able to do that around the holidays. It's a special time."
"It was nice to have some time off, but I think we’re all ready to be back," Alex DeBrincat echoed. "The rest is very nice and almost like the start of a new season. You feel rejuvenated and have some energy back. It’s just good to get practicing again."
The Blackhawks have some newfound energy, but it looks like they'll have to wait a bit to channel that in a game setting.
Late Sunday night, the NHL announced that Tuesday's Blackhawks game against the Columbus Blue Jackets has been postponed for COVID-related-reasons. Less than 17 hours later, Wednesday's game in Winnipeg was also postponed.
The next Blackhawks game is currently slated for New Year's Day in Nashville. That's exactly two weeks from their last game, which was played on Dec. 18 against Dallas.
"Obviously it sucks when games get postponed and stuff like that," DeBrincat said. "But hopefully we can get them all in and go from there. I think everyone just wants to be playing hockey right now and I'm sure all the fans want to be watching hockey. We're just trying to get back to playing and being healthy and going about it like that."
In some ways, the uncertainty day to day has been more frustrating for the players than last year.
"I’d say it's probably a higher frustration level," Murphy said. "Last year we knew what we were getting into for a longer period of time, so as much as it was hard dealing with some of the different protocols and the no fans in the bubbles, we were able to know that that was just the way it was going to be for that season.
"This year, when you have so much more hope having games in a row and a pretty long stretch of getting to play over 30 games like that, the way we're pretty normal, it is frustrating to go back. It’s something that’s out of your control, how the COVID outbreaks have hit lately and you just try to do what you can and that’s staying healthy and washing our hands, we're all vaccinated and trying to get the boosters.
"We're just trying to stick with that process and really hope that it clears and goes back to normal and keep that frustration down into focusing on our game with whatever practice days we have because of missed games."
The Blackhawks have now had five postponed games, including four at the United Center:
- Dec. 13 vs. Calgary
- Dec. 21 vs. Florida
- Dec. 23 vs. Dallas
- Dec. 28 vs. Columbus
- Dec. 29 @ Winnipeg
Make-up dates have yet to be established but expect a majority of them to be sprinkled into February with NHL players not going to the Olympics anymore.
Things are seemingly changing by the minute, and the Blackhawks — like every other NHL team — are just trying to roll with the punches.
"We’re just trying to follow what’s being told to us and staying ready and staying optimistic and positive that we're going to be able to get back to play and be back in front of our fans and keep that going strong," Murphy said. "You look at situations, it could be worse, just some teams in Canada that don’t have fans and that’s a tough way to go back to, so we're just really looking forward to a chance to get back to games and get back to trying to win and progress our game."