Blackhawks rookies learning, bonding on Circus Trip

Blackhawks rookies learning, bonding on Circus Trip

Patrick Kane was trying to remember his first Circus Trip with the Blackhawks.

“I couldn’t really tell you what happened,” Kane said with a laugh. “I’m pretty sure that I struggled on it. It’s something I had not really been through before. It was a different one, that’s for sure.”

Kane’s right about that 2007-08 Circus Trip, his first. He did struggle on it, getting just one point (vs. Nashville in a 5-4 overtime loss). And much like several Blackhawks rookies now, the biggest adjustment was going on a trip that long and playing in that may games in a short amount of time.

But for the players who are going on this trip for the first – and at least in its present form, last time – it’s not so bad. It’s a big traveling adventure, with a few hockey games thrown in for good measure. And while we talk about the bonding that goes on with this trip every season, there’s a reason for that: it really helps.

“It’s kind of fun to get away and hang out with the team and get to know the guys a little bit more. You get to see different cities,” Nick Schmaltz said. “It’s a little different than college, being on the road, but we get treated so well.”

We’re past the midway point of this trip but for the Blackhawks who are new to this trek, it’s been a good one. And while they’re not used to lengthy travel, it’s not really disrupting a thing.

“If anything we’re more focused because there are less distractions,” Vinnie Hinostroza said. “When we’re at home everybody’s got families, girlfriends, wives, all that. When we’re on the road it’s just the team.”

Hinostroza has been on a long road trip before – last season the Rockford IceHogs were in Texas for the first nine days of December. But on that excursion, the IceHogs to Cedar Park and San Antonio (by the way, those cities are about 90 minutes apart by car). Jumping from various cities over Western Canada and California is different, but Hinostroza feels more part of the team because of it.

“It’s been really good. I’ve gotten to know more guys more than I already did,” he said. “For me, it’s been a beneficial road trip.”

Still, this is a very busy playing schedule. Through this trip the Blackhawks will play seven games over 13 days. For the veteran Blackhawks, this is nothing new. But if you’re not used to that – European league schedules are nothing close to the NHL’s 82-game season – it can have its effect.

“I think my body’s feeling pretty good. It’s more mental, playing so many games in a few days,” said Gustav Forsling. “That’s something that’s been hard.”

Fans are probably thrilled that the Blackhawks won’t be booted out of Chicago by the circus every fall – although, as Brent Seabrook quipped, “the schedule makers could still give us a two-week trip in November.” This trip has nevertheless been very beneficial to the Blackhawks. They’re usually successful on it, although this season’s trip has been so-so thus far. But given the turnover they’ve usually had the past few seasons, this trip has been a great opportunity for new players – be it those in the system or veteran acquisitions – to get to know each other better.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The rookies are learning a lot this season, be it how to develop on the ice or how to handle the schedule off it. This trip has helped them with both.

“Some of these young guys have been some of our best players as of late. They’re creating a lot, they’re getting adjusted more to the NHL and the speed of the game and even the intensity,” Kane said. “It’s a tough schedule playing on the road for two weeks. There’s a lot of late nights where you’re getting into the hotel at 1, 2, 3 a.m. A lot of flights. You’re living out of a suitcase for two weeks, and not in the same place. It’s a pretty tough schedule for us, but at the same time I think the young guys have done a really good job.”

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in


Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

The youth movement is underway in Chicago and it's happening quicker than expected.

Adam Boqvist played in his 10th NHL game of the season on Sunday, officially triggering the first year of his entry-level contract. That means he will become a restricted free agent at end of the 2021-22 season. If he appeared in nine games or fewer, his contract wouldn't have kicked in until next season, which would've bought the Blackhawks an extra year of Boqvist playing at a cap hit of $894,167.

"Maybe that was a discussion very early on but as far as coach perspective, we like him," head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he and GM Stan Bowman had conversations about burning Boqvist's first year. "I think he's played well and it's an opportunity with some injuries to give him some ice time. He's handled it well so far."

Boqvist is the second rookie on the Blackhawks this season to burn their first year, joining No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach. Whether the decisions were dictated by circumstances or not, the Blackhawks have seen enough of both of them to feel they can have an impact on the team in the short term without hindering their developments in the long term.

The number to watch now is 40. Like Dach, if Boqvist appears in 40 or more games this season, it will count as a full season and bring him one year closer to unrestricted free agency. Any player that's accrued seven full seasons or is at least 27 years old as of June 30 of that respective year can become an unrestricted free agent.

Boqvist appeared in six games for the Blackhawks during the month of November before getting reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14 when Connor Murphy was ready to return from his groin injury.

But with Calvin de Haan (shoulder) expected to be out long term and Duncan Keith still out with a groin injury, the Blackhawks called up Boqvist for insurance and because they lacked defensemen with offensive upside. It appears he will remain with the big club for the time being and it serves as a chance for their No. 8 overall pick in 2018 to prove he can handle NHL minutes on a consistent basis during a desperate time for the Blackhawks.

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Patrick Kane's hat trick propels Blackhawks over Wild


Patrick Kane's hat trick propels Blackhawks over Wild

As things seemingly spiraled out of control for the Blackhawks, who had lost four straight games - being outscored 14-6 in their past three - and going 3-8-2 in their past 13, they needed their top player to step up. Step up is exactly what Patrick Kane did Sunday night against a hot Minnesota Wild team. 

The three-time Stanley Cup champ and 2013 Conn Smythe trophy winner scored two goals early in the first period before throwing the puck into the Wild's empy net for the 5-3 final score with a little over one minute remaining in regulation.

"It was nice to get one," Kane said of snagging his sixth career regular season hat trick. "You get two early on, you think, 'Maybe I have a chance at one.' Obviously it came a little bit later in the game, but huge fourth goal for us (from Brandon Saad) and I was able to finish it off with an empty net. Obviously that's a big win for us."

Kane made a wraparound attempt at 7:42 of the first period and the Minnesota Wild's Kaapo Kahkonen seemingly denied him with his left pad. However, the United Center crowd went crazy when they saw the replay of the attempt on the jumbotron. After a video review officials determined the puck completely crossed the goal line and the Hawks were up 1-0.

Kane recorded his second goal of the game, putting the Hawks up 2-0 at 11:33 of the first, scoring from the slot off a give-and-go with Jonathan Toews on Chicago's first power play of the game. 

"Showtime" scored into the Wild's empty net at 18:57 of the third period to complete the hat trick. It was his 18th goal of the season.

"He’s such a well-rounded player," Robin Lehner said of Kane. "I think as a goalie, going in practice every day against him, he has such patience with the puck and he’s so accurate with his shot. 

"He doesn’t shoot in the conventional — just go high or try to go bar and in. He goes between the arms, between the legs, over the pads, you know it’s very hard as a goalie to get a read. 

"He waits you out and then it’s in. He had a hell of a game today. He’s one of our leaders and he stepped up and helped turn this around for us."

Kane felt he's been in a rut and knows when he's able to produce, it can give the team a lift.

"I don't think I've been playing as well the past 10 games or so," he said. "Want to start playing better for the team. If I play better it's obviously going to bring more to the group and (there's) a better chance for us to win. That's something we're all trying to do in here is take pride and ownership."

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