Confidence is everything, and Nick Schmaltz now has plenty of it

Confidence is everything, and Nick Schmaltz now has plenty of it

Imagine being a 20-year-old rookie like Nick Schmaltz was this fall, entering the Blackhawks' locker room and making the team out of camp. In one way it's a dream come true. In another way, you're joining a venerable group of players, some of whom have won multiple Stanley Cups among other hardware.

That can be a little daunting.

"Definitely high expectations coming in," Schmaltz said. "You want to make sure you're helping out the team right away but you don't want to try to do too much."

In those first few months, perhaps Schmaltz was trying to do too much. He was going through the first-year growing pains, and he's not the first to deal with them. But as this season has progressed Schmaltz has gained confidence and regained his game. 

Being physically ready for the NHL is one thing. Having the right mental approach and confidence to be there is another, and in those two departments Schmaltz has made the greatest strides. Prior to the Blackhawks' break Schmaltz, playing on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik, was on a five-game point streak (two goals and seven assists). The rookie, who admits the first stay with the Blackhawks was a little bit overwhelming, is certainly more confident this time around.

"Obviously you want to be a part of the team and to contribute offensively," Schmaltz said. "I want to play well away from the puck, too, play well defensively and make sure I'm responsible out there. I'm just trying to play both sides of the puck and contribute as much as I can."

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It's not unusual for a young player to need time to adjust to the NHL, especially coming straight from college. It can be a heck of a leap, and Schmaltz said the Blackhawks' veteran players helped him feel more at ease. Coach Joel Quenneville said Schmaltz has handled "the big hurdle" of college-to-pro well.

"There's definitely a learning curve when you first come into the NHL. Expectations are higher for some guys than others. But him getting down and getting some games [in Rockford], getting more confident offensively and with the puck, he added a little pace and another dimension to his game, we like how he's playing during this recent stretch," Quenneville said. "We like how he's handled himself in a situation where, as the season's gone on here, he's gone to a different level."

Schmaltz's 12-game stay with Rockford was a chance to get more pro experience but it was mainly an opportunity to regain his game, as well as the confidence to play it. The initial experience of joining the Blackhawks was eye-opening and a little daunting but Schmaltz now looks like he belongs here.

"It's definitely tough coming in, but the more and more you get to know the guys they make you feel so comfortable in there," Schmaltz said. "Once you settle down you can focus on playing your game and you're not trying to worry about who you're with, how historic the locker room and the franchise is. And I think I've done a better job of that lately."

Blackhawks release team statement, stand by name and Native American logo

Blackhawks release team statement, stand by name and Native American logo

In light of the news that MLB's Cleveland Indians and the NFL's Washington Redskins are considering name changes, the Blackhawks released a team statement on Tuesday standing by their name and Native American logo.

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The full statement reads:

The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public.

We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.

We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation.

Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people.

We will continue to serve as stewards of our name and identity, and will do so with a commitment to evolve. Our endeavors in this area have been sincere and multi-faceted, and the path forward will draw on that experience to grow as an organization and expand our efforts.

Why Blackhawks won't be at a disadvantage facing Oilers in Edmonton

Why Blackhawks won't be at a disadvantage facing Oilers in Edmonton

The NHL and NHL Players' Association took a significant step forward on Monday, announcing that the two sides have reached a tentative agreement on the Return to Play plan and Collective Bargaining Agreement extension that also includes transition rules. It's not official until the owners and players ratify the entire package, but there's little reason to believe it won't get approved.

If all goes as planned, the qualifying round will begin on Aug. 1 in the two hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. Each conference will stay in their respective regions, which means the Blackhawks will be anchored down in Edmonton.

The NHL was originally planning to send the Western Conference teams to the Eastern Conference hub and the Eastern Conference teams to the Western Conference hub to avoid giving a Return to Play club any sort of competitive advantage, but the league and players decided against that due to the geographical complications.

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So will the Blackhawks be at a disadvantage in their five-game play-in series against the Oilers on the Oilers' home surface? The simple answer is, no.

For one, there will be no fans in attendance and that's half the battle in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blackhawks may be considered the road team as the No. 12 seed taking on the No. 5 seed, but the only thing that's going to be different throughout the series is their jersey color.

Where the home-ice advantage would really come into play is off the ice, but the Oilers won't exactly be in the comfort of their own environment.

All 12 teams are required to stay inside the bubble — which the NHL is calling its "Phase 4 Secure Zone" — and any individual that leaves without permission may be subject to consequences up to and including removal. The team could also be punished in the form of hefty fines and/or loss of draft picks. That should be enough for players to take things seriously, in case there's any temptation.

But the overall point is, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and the rest of the Oilers won't have the luxury of sleeping in their own bed or being in the comfort of their own home during off-days. They have to pack multiple suitcases and stay inside the designated boundaries that includes hotels, dining destinations, the arena, practice facilities and demarcated areas (indoor and outdoor), just like everyone else. That's how life would have been for the Blackhawks had Chicago been chosen as a hub city.

In some ways, this could actually play in the Blackhawks' favor. There aren't any expectations when you're the road team going into a game, let alone a series in this unique situation. The Blackhawks had nothing to lose to begin with, considering their playoff chances were all but over prior to the NHL suspending its season on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even though they had a better win percentage at home, the Blackhawks played some of their best hockey this season when they were on the road, so it wouldn't be surprising if they upset the Oilers by sticking to their road mentality.

“On the road, you’re kind of naturally an underdog," Connor Murphy said in February. "Going into those games, you just seem to rally with each other even more and have some more of that desperation, knowing they could gain momentum with a goal and or a big chance. When you have a little bit of that underdog mentality, I think that can be good, and it gives a little more fight and bite in your game.”