Blackhawks

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Incentive. For many young prospects trying to latch onto an NHL roster, there's already plenty of it there. It's a chance at playing on a bigger stage, a bigger opportunity for a career and, if you're on a two-way contract, a bigger paycheck.

Tanner Kero already had that incentive but in November, received an even more special one: he and his wife welcomed their first child, a boy. Now when Kero plays, it's not just what it means for him. It's what it means for his family.

"It's been a fun experience. It's something a little extra special that you play for," Kero said. "You get your mind away from the game when you go home. You just relax and enjoy that part of life. It's just something extra to play for and it's been special."

Kero has been making the most of his second shot with the Blackhawks, recording two goals and two assists on the Blackhawks' dads trip. That included a three-point night against the Colorado Avalanche and a building chemistry with line mates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa. 

Coach Joel Quenneville likes what he's seen thus far.

"He did a great job for us," Quenneville said. "Defensively, we like his availability in his own end. We like his positioning offensively. He had a nice couple of games to finish the dads trip but he's been good for us. I like the consistency."

Rockford coach Ted Dent said Kero started playing better in November, not long after Kero became a dad. Whether or not that had anything to do with it Dent didn't know, but the results were there nonetheless.

"I think he'd be the first to say his season started off slow with us and he finally caught his stride, maybe 15-20 games into our season," Dent said. "He was skating better, skating stronger, he had more confidence with the puck and things just came together."

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Kero's line is a good blend of familiarity, defense and skill. Kero and Hinostroza are good friends who played together plenty in Rockford. Hossa is... well, Hossa, and pretty much benefits any line mate.

"It's been good," Kero said. "We've been trying to continue, get some secondary scoring. But we also want to be relied on defensively, be counted on to play in big situations, a defensive draw, at the end of a period or end of a game. We're trying to focus on being good defensively, being simple and hard to play against. We're getting fortunate enough to contribute offensively as well."

Hossa, whose game-winning goal in Boston came off a Kero feed, said the 24-year-old is adapting well.

"Since they called him up he took it to his advantage. Right now he's playing the 200-foot game, [he's] real smart in our zone, doesn't panic, makes the right play at the right time, and he's showing more offensive abilities," Hossa said. "It seems like things are going well for him and we're glad we can help as a third line right now in scoring some important goals. With young players, that's definitely big."

Kero's made an impact and an impression with the Blackhawks. Quenneville said on Sunday that, even when Marcus Kruger returns from his injury, Kero will likely remain where he is – "I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

"That comment tells you the trust level he's gained in Kero," Dent said. "I knew over time that Kero was a player that Q was going to love. I've gotten to know Q over the years and in talking to him I know what he likes in players and it was just a matter of time because Kero's a responsible two-way player. He doesn't cheat the game and he's very aware of his defensive responsibilities and that's what Q loves, first and foremost. A lot of us coaches love that."

Kero is making strides in his second stint with the Blackhawks. He already had plenty of incentive to make an impact on this roster. Now a new father, he has that much more of one.
 

Four takeaways: Corey Crawford heating up as Blackhawks extend point streak to four

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Corey Crawford heating up as Blackhawks extend point streak to four

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks fly out of the gates

The Blackhawks couldn't have started any better against the Wild, who were on the second of a back-to-back. It was important for the Blackhawks to take advantage of that and they did.

Jonathan Toews put the Blackhawks on the board 1-0 at 8:26 of the first period after burying a pass from Patrick Kane on the power play and Brandon Saad made it 2-0 with 2:31 left after scoring on a breakaway.

"It’s nice to get a lead and I think we’ve found good ways to give up one- or two-goal leads in second periods this season, and that usually feels like a kick to the midsection," Toews said. "We did a good job of limiting the bleeding in that second period and making sure we came back hard in the third and not giving up too much."

2. Special teams battle

This will be a work in progress all season long, but the Blackhawks are slowly making strides in the special teams department. Often times it could be the deciding factor of a game, whether it's a power play goal or a penalty kill at a key time.

The Blackhawks got two power-play opportunities in the first period and capitalized on the first one. They were able to create chances and have sustained offensive zone time, registering a combined five shots on goal.

"We want to dictate when we're going to try and make our plays," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought we were aggressive at the right time, we were patient at other times. We had some interchange, put them in some mismatch situations and then it's up to us to execute and I thought the guys did a great job in all three. ... We're getting better, we just got to be patient with it. It's not going to be perfect, but I see progression."

But the Wild also had their fair share of opportunities and got on the board when Zach Parise buried a Mikko Koivu pass on the power play to cut Chicago's lead to 2-1 at 7:56 of the second period, which looked similar to the Blackhawks' goal.

Most importantly, the Blackhawks killed off Brent Seabrook's penalty with 5:09 remaining in regulation.

"It was tough," Colliton said. "I thought we played quite a solid third and then all of a sudden you've got to go down five minutes to go and they also scored once against us. We did a good job, got us a couple saves, got a couple clears at the right time, so it was big. We needed the two points, obviously, and they got zero."

3. Corey Crawford heating up

The Blackhawks are starting to see the results of their progression, going 2-0-2 in their last four games. And arguably their most important player is, too.

Crawford made a season-high 39 saves in the victory and has stopped 98 of 100 shots in his last three starts for a save percentage of .980. His save percentage was .902 in his first nine starts. Even though there was never a concern about his numbers being down, the Blackhawks are encouraged to see him getting rewarded.

"It's no secret that he's great," Colliton said. "He makes those saves that can keep you in a game or if things are going against you, he holds the fort. We got some old guys, but we got some young guys too, and they need that. They need that security blanket. It's great to see. Obviously he had a great reputation coming in. He's been everything I expected."

4. Eddie Olczyk takes "One More Shift"

On "Hockey Fights Cancer" Night, it was only fitting that the Blackhawks honored one of their own. Before calling the game in the booth, Olczyk hosted a Purple Carpet event in the atrium, honoring fans who are currently battling cancer, have lost a loved one to cancer and those who are in remission and then took the ice for "One More Shift" with the Blackhawks and lined up for the ceremonial puck drop.

Olczyk overcame stage three colon cancer last season and has been an inspiration to many, both on and off the ice.

“I do believe and we do believe as a family that our purpose in life now is to share my story, to help inspire one person that’s either in the battle, going through the battle or helping support somebody,” Olczyk said. “Maybe down the road, somebody will say my biggest impact on our community was off the ice and away from the rink, and you know what, that’s OK.

“There’s nothing like knowing people feel good and that is all a part of going through what I did, getting incredible support and couldn’t have done it by myself. Now it’s my job and my family’s job to inspire people. Even if it’s just for a day or a month. It’s always with you, whether you’re in the battle or you’re outside the chemo or you’re cancer free. That cancer will always be with you. You got to take it head on.”

Eddie Olczyk takes "One More Shift" with Blackhawks on Sunday

Eddie Olczyk takes "One More Shift" with Blackhawks on Sunday

Pregame at the United Center was extra special on Sunday night.

Ahead of their game against the Wild, the Blackhawks honored former Blackhawk and current television color analyst Eddie Olczyk with "One More Shift." Olczyk suited up in his Blackhawks uniform, skating around the United Center ice ahead of puck drop.

In addition to honoring Olczyk, the Blackhawks also hosted their "Hockey Fights Cancer" night, wearing special lavender-colored jerseys during warmups. Olczyk recently beat colon cancer, so the night surely was special for him as a whole.

The Blackhawks selected Olczyk, 52, third overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. He scored 77 goals across five seasons with the team (1984-87, 1998-00).

In the past, the Blackhawks have also honored Bryan Bickell, Ed Belfour, Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour and Troy Murray, among others, with "One More Shift."