Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Nick Mattson prepping for jump to Rockford

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Blackhawks: Nick Mattson prepping for jump to Rockford

Nick Mattson doesn’t know what to expect when he gets to Rockford this fall but he had plenty of brains to pick on the subject this week.

“I’ve been asking them all how it is. They all say it’s one of the best places to go,” Mattson said. “It sounds like a great spot. I’m definitely excited to get the rest of the summer wrapped up and get there.”

Mattson signed a one-year contract with the IceHogs last month, not long after he wrapped up his four-year collegiate hockey career at the University of North Dakota. For Mattson, who was drafted 180th overall by the Blackhawks in the 2010 NHL Draft, the AHL, that first season of professional hockey, will be exciting. It’ll also be a little daunting.

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“It’ll be interesting right away, just getting acclimated to everything,” Mattson said. “It’s a new step in life, and I have no idea what it’s like, so it’ll be fun. I can’t predict anything because I don’t know what to expect. But I’m excited.”

Mattson’s anticipation level was high to start his senior year at North Dakota as well. The beginning wasn’t so great, however, as he was scratched several games. But once Mattson got back into the lineup he had a strong season; the senior recorded four goals and 17 assists in 33 games. Mattson said a changed mindset led to a good finish.

“Once I learned how to put all the distractions out of my head I just had fun and played,” he said. “Once you clear your head, do what you can do, it’s a lot different game; it’s a lot more fun. Once you start having fun, you can play a lot better.”

Mattson’s been to a few of the Blackhawks’ prospect camps, and he’s treating this one as he has the others: it’s a chance to show the Blackhawks brass what he can do, especially now that he’ll be joining their AHL affiliate. Still, having not played since April, this week isn’t easy.

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“It’s tough jumping out here in the middle of summer but it’s been cool,” Mattson said. “You really learn a lot in the drills they do and the coaches they have helping you are top notch. You just try to soak in as much as you can and hopefully survive. It’s pretty tough.”

Mattson is preparing for the next step in his career. Playing four years of college hockey was a great learning experience. He doesn’t know what to expect in Rockford, but he hopes to apply those college hockey lessons during his first professional season.

“It was a blast, so much fun,” Mattson said. “As much as you get better at hockey and college, you grow as a person; anyone who’s ever been to college knows that. It was a really good four years and I’m grateful for the experience.”

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!