Blackhawks

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

When you're on a roll, you hate disrupting it for anything.

The Blackhawks probably felt that in some respect heading into the new NHL-mandated bye week on Feb. 12, but the need for rest usurped any worry on that front. Still, when the Blackhawks reconvened last Friday, the question remained if they could pick up where they left off on that pre-bye, five-game winning streak.

As coach Joel Quenneville said of the unusual break, "we talked about it going into it: you don't know how you're going to come out of it."

Apparently it hasn't been a problem.

The Blackhawks have won two of their first three out of the bye, including their 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

Coming out of this break hasn't been easy for a lot of teams. The Blackhawks, like 11 other teams up to this point, lost their first game out of it. But in that loss to Edmonton, the Blackhawks played well. That continued on Sunday in Buffalo and on Tuesday in Minnesota. Now back in a rhythm schedule-wise, the Blackhawks are hitting their stride performance-wise.

"I thought we played a good game against Edmonton but we still felt there'd be some good will down the road. I thought we continued on with these next two on the road, probably played the same way going into it. So it's been a good stretch for us, and much better than we were at the beginning of the year," Quenneville said. "I like the improvement in our game."

A big part of the Blackhawks' success is finding their four-line rotation.

Jonathan Toews was joined by Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik early in the Ice Show trip, the three were given time to mesh and it's paying productive dividends. The second line is always a threat. Their third and fourth lines are a great combination of defense, skill and youth.

As the lines have started rolling, so have the Blackhawks. Each line had someone score against Buffalo. The top line thrived vs. the Wild. 

"I think all year we kind of expected the offense, coming from Arty's [Artem Anisimov's] line and maybe my line, but what's making us a really good team is our third and fourth line going out there and just battling every shift, just working, giving other teams no time, no chance to make plays with the puck," Toews said. "I think when you can rotate four lines like that, everyone starts to pick up their pace and their speed and then you just rotate in and it doesn't matter who scores on a given night. We're getting contributions from all over the place and it makes you a dangerous team and a tough team to beat."

Instead of taking steam out of the Blackhawks' sails, the bye appears to have re-energized them.

"Yeah it was good for our team," Ryan Hartman said. "We had a few guys who didn't get [rest during] the all-star break. They were still playing, and it was nice for those guys to get away from the rink and kind of get in the sun and take your mind of hockey for a bit, refresh the brain and body. I think we all needed those couple days of rest. As it's looked the last couple of games we've looked fresh and we've been bringing it almost a full 60. I wouldn't say we're quite playing a full 60 but we're really close and that was crucial for us."

Playing a full 60 was one of the Blackhawks' biggest problems earlier this season. Much like the four-line rotation, it's showing up at the right time. The Blackhawks have a great opportunity this week to get closer to the Wild, who started their break on Wednesday.

The issues that plagued the Blackhawks earlier this season are starting to dissipate. They weren't sure how they were going to come out of this break. So far, they've followed rest and relaxation with a rejuvenated game. 

"We're just rolling four lines now. Every line can score and every line's playing the best hockey," Panik said. "That's helped us."

Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

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USA Today

Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

For 33 years, Mike Gapski has been the glue of the Blackhawks' support staff. He's the longest-tenured head athletic trainer in the NHL, landing the job in 1987 shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

It's been a dream come true for Gapski to work in his hometown all these years, and on Thursday he is set to be involved in his 2,500th regular season game with the Blackhawks.

Current and former players took the time to congratulate and give thanks to Gapski, and share what he's meant to the Blackhawks:

Kirby Dach:

"It's crazy, you have the same guys in junior, but it's a little bit different level here. These guys take care of us, it's unbelievable the job they do. It's a tremendous accomplishment for Gapper. Couldn't be happier for him. I've only known him for a little bit and he's a really nice guy and helps everybody out and is very kind and caring. And that's what you need in a trainer, somebody who's going to have your best interest at heart. It's good for our group and obviously he's been through a lot with some of the older guys in here. I'm sure it'll be a fun celebration for those guys and for our group as well."

Alex DeBrincat:

"He's great. He's always helping. You try to stay out of the training room, but it's always nice to go in there and talk with those guys. Gapper specifically is a great guy to have around, always fun and lighthearted around there. He obviously knows his stuff, he's been in the league a long time, he's seen a lot of injuries. He's pretty quick to help us out and know what we need to get better."

Steve Konroyd:

"Michael Gapski, congratulations on 2,500 games. You're one of the first guys I ever met when I got traded to the Chicago Blackhawks way back in 1988. You're knowledgeable, you're professional and above all else you're a great guy. I was very proud to have you as a trainer and I think the Blackhawks are very lucky to have you over all these years."

Jamal Mayers:

"Just want to say congratulations to Mike Gapski on 2,500 games. Wow. That's a lot of games, Gapper, congratulations. I know all the players that have ever had you are thankful to have you around. You're a professional, you do things the right way, you really care about the players, it comes across every single day. And thanks for keeping me together when I was 37 and 38 at the end of my career."

Eddie Olczyk:

"Hey Frank, congratulations — 2,500 games standing behind the bench for our Chicago Blackhawks. A tremendous honor, congratulations to you and your family. One thing I love about you, Frank, is you're the same guy today as you were back in the late '90s when we were working together when I was still a player. So congratulations and here's to another 2,500 more."

Patrick Sharp:

"Gapper, Gappity, Frank, Mike Gapski, thank you so much for all the years that you've put in to the Chicago Blackhawks training staff. Countless players have come through the organization, nobody's got a bad thing to say about you. 2,500 games, that's no joke. How about we do another 2,500? Congratulations on all your success. I came to Chicago in 2005 as a young man, spent my whole adult life with having you taking care of me at the rink, so thank you for everything over the years. All the best to you and your family, Frank."

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Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Kris Versteeg recently retired and now the Blackhawks are honoring him with the team’s “One More Shift.”

Versteeg began the season with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, but retired in November after playing six games for the IceHogs this season.

The 33-year-old wrote an emotional letter to the Blackhawks organization after requesting his contract with Rockford be terminated.

Versteeg will be honored before Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. He will join the team on the ice for the national anthem and highlights of his career will be featured in the United Center.

Versteeg won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, in 2010 and 2015. He is part of the Blackhawks celebrating the 10-year anniversary of that 2010 Cup win. Brian Campbell was given the same treatment on Nov. 21.

The first 10,000 fans into the UC can get replicas of the 2010 ring.

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