For champion Blackhawks, it was all about the journey


For champion Blackhawks, it was all about the journey

With tens of thousands of Blackhawks fans gathered at Soldier Field on Thursday afternoon, Pat Foley talked of a journey.

This particular story was about a particular player, and we’ll get to that later. But as the Blackhawks celebrated their third Stanley Cup in the past six seasons, the “journey” talk could have been about several few players or the team itself.

For Duncan Keith, it was coming full circle. The defenseman talked of an old trip home to British Columbia from Norfolk, Va., where he played for the Admirals at the time. That trip included a stop in Chicago and scalped Cubs tickets that left him with an obstructed view. Today, as the three-time Cup/two-time gold medal/two-time Norris Trophy/Conn Smythe winner said, “it turns out I have a pretty good view 10 years later at Soldier Field."

For Brad Richards, it was a phone call at the end of last year’s disappointing Stanley Cup Final end that led to this year’s Stanley Cup Final triumph. His new good friend/line-mate Patrick Kane sang his praises on Wednesday, hoping the two could keep winning together. Richards heard it. “Kaner has some pull around here,” he said at the lectern. “Maybe you’ll want me back.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Relive the Blackhawks 2015 Stanley Cup Parade and Rally]

For Scott Darling, to whom Foley was referring to, it was a plethora of minor league stops, a battle against alcohol won, a chance with the Blackhawks, a backup job won and the pivotal role he played in the first round.

For Teuvo Teravainen, who entered this 2014-15 season uncertain on the ice and in his new country, enters next season a strong postseason player whose wit and personality are coming through in his second language.

For Michal Rozsival, it was a second Cup, albeit one he wasn’t on the ice to hoist this time. A fractured ankle sustained in the second round and travel disrupted by Monday night’s storms prevented that. But he was there lifting it on Thursday, getting an ovation from a crowd that recognized the defenseman’s worth once he went down with that injury.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your 2015 Stanley Cup champs gear right here]

For Kimmo Timonen, it was getting traded here to fulfill the career-long dream of winning the Cup. Timonen, who will retire, had the same Ray Bourque-like look on his face — Google it, kids — when he hoisted the Cup again on Thursday. It was sheer joy for a player who ended a great career with the ultimate prize.

For the Blackhawks, it was one last celebration for a team that won’t look the same once 2015-16 begins. The Blackhawks weathered a lot this season, from the usual ups and downs to the heartbreaking losses of assistant equipment manager Clint Reif and former teammate Steve Montador. The Blackhawks weathered it all, once again claiming a Cup that’s so difficult to obtain once in the salary-cap world, let alone three times.

Will the Blackhawks be celebrating another Cup in the near future? Players were already talking about it on Thursday; they’re familiar with the difficult journey it takes to get there again. But the reward’s been worth it.

Brandon Saad joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Brandon Saad joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.

Man Child. The Saad Father. Baby Hoss. Kneel Before Saad.

You’ve got to have a pretty good start to your career to get nicknames and phrases like that coined after you as a 20-something breaking into the league. What Brandon Saad did in the first few seasons of his NHL career certainly qualifies.

After being selected in the second round of the NHL draft in 2011 (a steal, by all accounts), Saad eventually worked his way into the Blackhawks’ lineup and became a key contributor on two Stanley Cup teams…and did so before the age of 23.

Saad has spent parts of seven seasons in Chicago, notching 95 goals and 211 points in 374 games as a member of the Blackhawks. But his presence has been felt even more so in the playoffs. In 67 playoff games with the Hawks, Saad has 15 goals and 19 assists with a plus-16 rating. And if it weren’t for a tough-luck loss in Game 7 against the Kings in the 2014 Western Conference Finals, he might have had his name in consideration for a Conn Smythe Trophy, too.

Unfortunately for Saad, his career might forever be linked to Artemi Panarin’s because of the 2017 trade that brought the power-forward back to Chicago. But for as good as the Panarin/Artem Anisimov/Patrick Kane line was for a while – and that line doesn’t happen without Anisimov coming to Chicago in the first Saad trade – there might not have been a better two-way line in the NHL at one point than Saad/Jonathan Toews/Marian Hossa.

Whatever nickname you choose for him, Brandon Saad earns a spot on our Blackhawks All-Decade team as the left winger on the third line. 

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Alex Nylander on healthy scratch, feedback from Jeremy Colliton and role with Blackhawks

Alex Nylander on healthy scratch, feedback from Jeremy Colliton and role with Blackhawks

Alex Nylander's first couple weeks of the 2019-20 season have been interesting. He started on the top line and scored a goal in the season opener but by the third game found himself on the outside looking in.

Nylander sat out for one game before drawing back into the lineup on Monday, where he was placed on the fourth line with Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith. He logged a team-low 8:20 of ice time, but scored the second goal of the game that turned out to be the game-winner.

While he was disappointed about being a healthy scratch against Winnipeg on Saturday, Nylander took the positives out of observing the action from afar and taking a step back to collect himself.

"Of course you always want to be in the lineup but that could've been good for me to watch the game and learn from that game and take what I learned from that game into my game," Nylander said. "It was obviously something you don't want to do, you want to be in the lineup as much as possible and obviously stay there. I played a good game last game so I'm just going to build off that and keep doing what I've done all training camp, be confident and make my plays."

Nylander and head coach Jeremy Colliton sat down on Wednesday and watched every shift the 21-year-old took in Monday's 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. And the review was positive.

"I thought he was very good," Colliton said. "Eleven shifts, he was probably good for five, great for five and he had one tough one. He helped us win. He was a big part of our win the other night. It can be a little easier for him when he's playing less to really focus on the quality when he's out there. It may not be a bad thing for him as he grows into an everyday NHLer."

Nylander said he appreciated having that kind of line of communication with his head coach. He was drafted No. 8 overall in 2016 but hasn't been able to break through at the NHL level, so he's been open to any kind of constructive criticism.

"It's been really great," Nylander said. "Obviously I want to have a positive mindset every day here and get better. Getting feedback from my linemates as well as the coaches has been really good, just taking everything in and applying it to my game."  

The Blackhawks are trying to being patient with Nylander, but they're also trying to find a balance between giving him a long leash and holding him accountable. That goes with any young player.

"It's a combination of giving a guy enough room to make some mistakes and that's how he's going to grow but it's also accountability," Colliton said. "Sometimes you got to get a guy's attention. But he's responded great. Got no issues with his work ethic. He came out of the lineup for one game and I think he did everything right after that. Just how he approached practice, how he approached the media, being asked about it and how he approached his chance when he came back to make a difference for us."  

For now, Nylander will remain on the fourth line because the four-line rotation worked so well in their previous game. But it's clear he wants to have a large role on the team. He's just got to earn it on a consistent basis.

"Just focus on every shift I get here and obviously want to be good every shift and show that I want to be back on the top line or get more ice time," Nylander said. "But I've just got to play good here, work hard every shift and take advantage of who's out there and use my skill out there and just try to make plays and be good defensively as well."

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