Blackhawks rookies ready for the bigger Stanley Cup playoff stage

Blackhawks rookies ready for the bigger Stanley Cup playoff stage

It was just over a year ago that Nick Schmaltz was part of the North Dakota men’s hockey team that won the Frozen Four, the school’s first NCAA title in 16 seasons. On Thursday the quest for another championship begins, as Schmaltz get his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs.


“Not yet. Maybe a little bit on Thursday,” Schmaltz said with a grin. “I’m sure it’ll be a lot different pace, a lot different atmosphere and a lot more intense. But I’m excited for the challenge.”

The Blackhawks rookies have played their parts well during the team’s regular season, from handling top-line duties (Schmaltz) to filling Artem Anisimov’s void at second-line center (Tanner Kero) to moving up and down the lineup and still scoring 19 goals (Ryan Hartman). Still, the big test awaits them Thursday when the Blackhawks open their first-round series against the Nashville Predators. It’s as pressured a situation as they’ll feel, but they say they’re ready for it.

“It has that feeling of that first game of the year when you’ve been off for a bit and you’re ready to get going again,” Hartman said. “There’s a really positive vibe in here and we’re all really excited.”

Outside of John Hayden, most of the Blackhawks’ rookies have had a full season to adjust to the NHL: The schedule, the travel and most importantly, what was asked of them on the ice. They’ve been put in pressure situations often and have handled it all. Considering that, coach Joel Quenneville has confidence in them come Thursday’s puck drop.

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“I think they’ve seen in all their growing up and in different leagues they know there’s a different level each and every year when you get to the playoffs. You’re trying to win a Cup, you’re trying to win a championship and there’s always another level that everyone tries to get to,” Quenneville said. “There are different ways you can get them that message but individually, these guys are aware you have to ratchet it up a little bit. Young guys or old guys, we’re going to need everybody.”

As for that Frozen Four title, Schmaltz said he can definitely glean some things out of that run to help him now. Still, it’s not the same.

“That’ll help with the experience but this is different. It’s seven games and a lot more intensity. In college it’s just one and done. It’s going to be a long series and a hard battle,” Schmaltz said. “Every game’s going to be different so we have to be ready for whatever’s ahead of us.”

If the rookies have any questions or concerns, there are certainly enough veteran ears to bend in the Blackhawks’ locker room. Patrick Kane said while playoffs are a grander stage, considering how the rookies have handled everything else this season they should be fine now.

“There’s definitely another level, no doubt. But I think you saw that, whether it was from coming in at the beginning of the season, from wherever they were playing, colleges, CHL… from preseason games into the regular season, they made that jump pretty quickly.  So I’m kind of hoping for them to do it again at the next level,” Kane said. “I think everyone knows how intense it is and how fast the game is, so sometimes these players that are young and come in have a little extra boost. So, kind of hoping to get that from them as well.”

The Blackhawks’ rookies have learned a lot this season. They’ve also contributed a lot. If the Blackhawks want to go far this postseason, they’ll need them to do both at the next level, too.

Blackhawks remember Dave Bolland for more than just '17 Seconds'

Blackhawks remember Dave Bolland for more than just '17 Seconds'

The Blackhawks are honoring one of their own on Friday, with Dave Bolland set to skate “One More Shift” with the organization. He will join the team on the ice during the anthem, and will be featured throughout the game commemorating his time in Chicago.

When you think of Bolland, the first thing that pops up into the minds of fans is his game-winning goal in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. Or, better known as the second goal of "17 Seconds."

But his former teammates remember him for more than that.

"He was awesome," Patrick Kane said. "He was one of those guys who played a third-line role for like his whole time here and just really did well with it. I remember the line with him, [Martin] Havlat and [Andrew] Ladd really took off in 2009 and obviously [Dustin] Byfuglien, him and [Kris] Versteeg were a good line in 2010. But just the way he played, he got underneath the other team's skin, especially their star players. Wasn't afraid to chirp, wasn't afraid to get into the mix, especially with his size and the way he was built.

"But yeah, some great moments, some big goals, a lot of big shorthanded goals, you can obviously remember his 17 seconds was unbelievable as well, that's a goal I'm sure he'll never forget. We'll never forget that celebration too, so it's awesome he's getting honored."

Bolland, who earned the nickname "The Rat," is perhaps best known for the role he played in the Blackhawks' playoff series battles with the Vancouver Canucks. His line frequently drew the defensive matchups against Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and he's the one player who really knew how to throw both twins off their game at the same time.

"I think he's kind of like Shawzy," Jonathan Toews said. "He's one of those guys that fans here in Chicago really like. Aside from scoring goals and the plays that he made over the years in the playoffs, he was one of those guys that you loved having on your team that other teams hated. He found ways to chip away at their best players and get them off their game. He was good at a lot of little things like that, so he was a big part of those winning teams."

Andrew Shaw was teammates with Bolland for only two seasons, but they won a Stanley Cup together and Bolland was one of the best and knowing his role and perfecting it.

"One of the best at his job," Shaw said. "He played that shutdown centerman. I always thought he had the shortest shifts. His shift lengths were so short just 'cause he would play so much against top guys that he'd want to be so well-rested while he was out there. ... He was skilled enough to chip in offensively as well.

"That's the type of player he was. He'd play against the top guys, he'd shut them down, he'd be that little rat himself, just try to get them off their game as well as outworking them."

Bolland spent seven of his 10 NHL seasons in Chicago, where he registered 168 points (70 goals, 98 assists) in 332 games. He was drafted by the Blackhawks in the second round (No. 32 overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft.

Friday will mark the first night honoring the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Stanley Cup Championship, which ended a 49-year drought in franchise history. The first 10,000 fans on Friday will receive a Marian Hossa bobblehead.

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Robin Lehner to start in goal for Blackhawks vs. Blue Jackets

USA Today

Robin Lehner to start in goal for Blackhawks vs. Blue Jackets

Robin Lehner will start in goal for the Blackhawks when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, coach Jeremy Colliton confirmed after morning skate. It will be his second start of the season.

In his season debut against the Winnipeg Jets, Lehner stopped 30 of 33 shots for a save percentage of .909 in a 3-2 overtime loss. He gave up a 5-on-5 goal, power-play goal and overtime goal at 3-on-3. Overall, he was solid.

"Everyone wants to play all the time," Colliton said of the dynamic between Corey Crawford and Lehner. "Whether it's a goalie, forward or D, they play better when they play more. That's just the standard answer. But we've had a little bit of a lighter schedule. We're trying to make ... we want both guys going because we're coming up on a stretch where we're playing a lot of games, so we're going to need them both."

Lehner is 5-3-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average, .945 save percentage and one shutout in eight career appearances against the Blue Jackets. 

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