How 'crazy' OHL season has Graham Knott ready for Blackhawks camp

How 'crazy' OHL season has Graham Knott ready for Blackhawks camp

Graham Knott started last season with the Niagara IceDogs, where the Blackhawks prospect was expected to be one of the veteran leaders on a young team. A month later that all changed; Knott was traded to the Windsor Spitfires, a strong team that was guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup because it was the tournament host.

A 44-day layoff and a great tournament later, Knott and the Spitfires were claiming the team’s third Memorial Cup since 2009.

“Yeah, it was crazy,” Knott said of unexpected events this season. “I was going to be relied on as a leader [with Niagara]. But I got traded and then was fortunate enough to go there, play on a good team. We had a chance to go in for the Memorial Cup and it was all uphill from there.”

The move provided Knott valuable experience as well as a championship. He had three goals and an assist in four Memorial Cup games, including the game-tying goal in the title game against the Erie Otters. Now Knott’s attention turns to prospect camp and then training camp, where he’ll see his chances of making the Blackhawks.

Knott will enter this Blackhawks prospect camp with a contract, the three-year, entry-level deal he signed last September. The 6-foot-4, 194-pound Knott would bring size and a habit of hanging around the net, something the Blackhawks will gladly take. Knott hasn’t had much of an offseason thus far but prepping for Blackhawks camps will start soon.

“I took it easy after we won [on May 28] so I can’t take any more days off. Get back into the gym, stay in shape,” he said. “I played not too long ago, so I’m in somewhat game shape, continue work in staying elite shape and up my strength. Coming to prospect camp, it’s fun. It’s going to be a good year. Hopefully I’ll show Chicago that I’m ready for the pros.”

As great as the Memorial Cup experience was, waiting to play in it was interesting. After being eliminated in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, the Spitfires went 44 days without a hockey game. That’s when Knott and teammates were introduced to then coach Rocky Thompson’s phase-focused plan.

“Phase 1 was [practicing] five days a week for about two weeks. We tapered off Phase 2 and 3 leading up to tournament, but Phase 1 was a battle: two workouts a day, skate, up at 7 a.m. and running hills,” Knott said. “We didn’t take any time off. We got back into it, really drove to be successful and we were.

“Rocky had a very good plan,” Knott said of Thompson, who was named the Chicago Wolves’ new coach on Wednesday. “Going so far early and tapering off was perfect. Everyone was in good shape, everyone was healthy. We took on game 1 and we were flying. We went up from there, kept getting better and better.”

Knott had plenty thrown at him this past season, from trades to long waits to championships. Now to see where he falls in the Blackhawks’ plans.

“You can’t sit on the sidelines and look at the lineup and see where you fall in and which place you take. I have to go in and work my hardest,” Knott said. “I know what kind of player I am and if I can play my game I’ll hopefully be ready to go.”

How Blackhawks are trying to stay positive despite postseason-high 12 iron shots 

How Blackhawks are trying to stay positive despite postseason-high 12 iron shots 

Goal posts apparently aren't kind to the city of Chicago in the playoffs. (Nobody needs a reminder of the double-doink).

So if you hear a ringing sound, you’re not alone. 

The Blackhawks are six games into their postseason run and have hit 12 iron shots so far — 10 off the post, two off the crossbar. Twelve! That’s an average of two per game and a pace of 164 across an 82-game season. For reference, they hit the iron 58 times — 48 off the post, 10 off the crossbar — in 70 games during the regular season.

No team has hit more iron than the Blackhawks (12) since the NHL's 24-team Return to Play tournament started and it's not even close. The next highest? Toronto at six. An incredible gap.

"It's always tough hitting the post," said Drake Caggiula, who's hit one crossbar this postseason. "You’re close to scoring a goal but that’s hockey. It’s all about bounces. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t, you've just got to stick with it. It's just something where you've got to keep shooting the puck and trust that you're going to get your chances and make sure that you try and capitalize. But hitting the post is never a fun feeling unless it's going in the net. We've just got to make sure it doesn’t discourage us."

Here's a list of where each team sits when it comes to iron shots, through Thursday's games:

  • 12: Blackhawks
  • 6: Toronto
  • 5: Boston
  • 4: Calgary, Colorado, Columbus, Montreal, N.Y. Rangers, Vegas
  • 3: Florida, N.Y. Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
  • 2: Carolina, Dallas, Edmonton, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Washington, Winnipeg
  • 1: Vancouver
  • 0: Arizona, Minnesota, St. Louis

The Blackhawks hit five posts in Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers, but it was easier to swallow because it came in a win. It wasn't so easy in a Game 2 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.

Patrick Kane, who leads all skaters this postseason with three shots off the post, hit another one with 43 seconds left in the first period on Thursday when the Blackhawks were trailing 2-0. He beat Robin Lehner five-hole, but the puck rang off the pipe and bounced out. 

You could see the frustration in his face:

The Blackhawks did, however, get a nice break on Dominik Kubalik's power-play goal that tied the game at 2-2. His shot went off the inside of the post and in.

But the one that kept Chicago awake is the crossbar shot in overtime. 

Just 1:53 into extra time, Dylan Strome fired a 35-foot wrist shot from the right faceoff circle and rang it off the bottom part of the crossbar. He lifted his hands in the air thinking it was a goal. It was centimeters away from going bar down but bounced out instead.

The Blackhawks are certainly getting their chances. It's challenging to stick with it when the puck luck isn't going your way, but you have to earn your bounces and the Blackhawks must keep pushing through. That's the message.

"We've had our chances," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Sometimes it's like that. The key is, how long can we stick with it? How long can we be persistent when we face adversity? We've faced some adversity here over the first couple games. Do we have the character to overcome it? It's an opportunity for our guys.

"You play all year to be in these games, so now we're here and we've faced some adversity. So what? Just keep playing and believe in what we're doing and believe in the guys in the room and we're going to give them a run."

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Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner remains unbeaten with Vegas Golden Knights

Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner remains unbeaten with Vegas Golden Knights

On Thursday in Game 2, the Blackhawks tested Robin Lehner more than they did in Game 1 of the first round Stanley Cup Playoff series, when he only had to save 19 of 20 shots.

The Hawks were able to put 25 pucks on the Golden Knights' net, with three getting past Lehner to take the game to overtime where Vegas would triumph to take a 2-0 series lead.

"It was a little bit of a weird game," Lehner said following his Game 2 win. "There was not that much to do and I thought they had some good chances. I thought that Chicago played really well. Everyone keeps saying they're (the) underdog, but you look at their team: the experience, the skill... it's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane out there. It's a lot of skill and they're world class players, so when they get opportunities it's hard. I got to look at the tape, I think I can be a little bit better, but a win's a win."

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner's birthday cake is ureal

With the victory, Lehner remains unbeaten in the 2020 postseason (4-0) and unbeaten as a Golden Knight. 

The 29-year-old netminder went 3-0-0 with 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage with the Knights during the regular season ahead of the NHL Pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12. 

Related: Robin Lehner opens up on getting traded by Blackhawks

Lehner was traded from Chicago to Vegas ahead of Feb. 24's trade deadline. He was 16-10-5 as a Hawk this season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage prior to the move.

Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champ with the Pittsburgh Penguins, may have lost the starter job to Lehner, at least for now. Fleury was only in net for one Golden Knights' round-robin game, with Lehner starting the rest of the postseason contests so far.

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