Alumni game rekindles Blackhawks-North Stars memories


Alumni game rekindles Blackhawks-North Stars memories

MINNEAPOLIS – Troy Murray was taking face-offs against Dennis Maruk on Saturday evening in a much less contentious manner than when the two squared off during their NHL playing days.

“That’s a guy I went head to head against for years with the Minnesota North Stars, and we just kind of laughed out there on the ice,” Murray said. "We had a great time.”

For the Blackhawks and North Stars alumni, Saturday night’s game, as well as Friday night’s gathering at former Blackhawks/North Stars defenseman Tom Reid’s restaurant, were great times to reminisce about those heated rivalry days.

“In the old Norris division, we’d play these guys eight times then you play them in the playoffs again and the preseason. It was no wonder we hated each other because we played each other so much,” said Steve Konroyd. “Today, everyone wanted to make sure nobody got hurt and everyone had a good time, and that’s what happened.”

Indeed it looked like everyone had a great time in the alumni game, which the North Stars won 6-4. From those who played in those venom-filled Norris Division games to those who were part of a newer generation for each team, it was an enjoyable day.

“It was a real treat,” said former Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers. “From the amount of fans that there were to the atmosphere, to meeting guys I watched play growing up and to get a chance to play against them – like Brian Bellows and Bobby Smith – it’s a real neat experience and a real brotherhood. It’ll be an unbelievable atmosphere for the [Blackhawks and Wild] tomorrow.”

There were some pretty nice plays out there, too. Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite made two great stops in the third period, one a stacked-pad stop and another a sprawling stick stop on Mike Modano.

“Some of those guys can still play, like Modano. He’s still flying out there,” Waite said. “I was pretty happy to make that save on him.”

Modano thought he had Waite beat.

“Flopping around, I thought I had him down and out. I’m just gonna lay it on the ice and that stick came back. I’m like, ‘oh,’” Modano said with a smile. “How do you not get it off the ice a little bit?”

[RELATED: Outdoor games enjoyable for both new, veteran players]

Murray’s big moment came when he scored on a penalty shot, beating goaltender Gilles Meloche.

It was funny because Gilles said, ‘I was giving you the five-hole,’” Murrsay said. “I just figured I could hold onto it, out wait him and it worked.”

The alumni game meant something to everyone who participated. All were happy to reminisce and see each other. They were thrilled to represent their former teams. And for some, reliving those glorious yet vehement Norris Division days in a kinder, gentler manner made the weekend.

“The stories that were going around [Friday] night… were just incredible. To hear their side of the stories of the rivalries that we knewinside our room, they felt the same way. They had to make sure they were prepared and they didn’t sleep the night before the games; we didn’t either,” Murray said. “We just went back and talked about the good-old days, the way the game was played. You realize for the guys, that’s the way it works most of the time: the guys you hate paying against are some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen


Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."