Vinnie Hinostroza yelled “Tanner!” as Tanner Kero came onto the ice for the Blackhawks’ practice on Thursday. He did it again as Kero was about to talk to the media a few minutes later.
“He’s a pretty shy kid so I’m trying to get him to open up a little bit,” Hinostroza said. “We’re pretty good buddies, so it’s always good to see him come into the locker room.”
The Blackhawks’ locker room that Kero walked into on Thursday isn’t so strange to him now, thanks to the 17 games he played here last season. At that time, Kero was recalled from Rockford after putting up strong scoring numbers with the IceHogs. On another productive streak with the IceHogs, Kero’s getting another chance.
Kero was recalled on Thursday morning, as the Blackhawks put center Artem Anisimov on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. The 24-year-old Kero has seven goals and 13 assists for the IceHogs; he said the team, overall, has been finding more success lately and he’s just been part of that.
“As a group we've been playing a lot better the last few games,” Kero said. “We're focusing more on being responsible defensively and just being a little smarter in the offensive zone, keeping a higher guy and worrying about that aspect of the game and now our offense is starting to show.”
It’s been a good few weeks for Kero in general. Not only is he getting this call after a productive early season with Rockford, but he became a father to a baby boy about a month ago. Juggling hockey and parenthood has been interesting, but thrilling.
“It's a little adjustment, but it's been awesome,” Kero said with a smile. “It's crazy. It's that new adjustment right now. But it's been fun.”
As for this latest trip to Chicago, Kero said he feels, “a little more comfortable” this time around. He still expects some adjustments come game time; nevertheless, coach Joel Quenneville said past experience should help Kero.
“He’s made good progress in his development,” Quenneville said. “Last year, we liked him a lot. I thought he did a great job for us for first time being a pro and then coming up and getting some meaningful ice time, good responsibilities and just watching him practice, there’s an appreciation for watching him play and thinking I like what we saw.”
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Kero could also get some added responsibility right out of the gate.
“He’s going to get a chance probably to play in some situations, maybe kill penalties for us because we know he’s responsible,” Quenneville said. “He has good patience with the puck. His quickness and his speed, it looks like he can handle the NHL.”
Kero’s time with the Blackhawks may not be too long this time around. Quenneville said he’s hopeful Anisimov and Marian Hossa, also out with an upper-body injury, could return Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets. Regardless this is a great chance for Kero, and he’ll take advantage of it.
“You try not to think too much about it,” Kero said of how long you stay with the big club. “You just go out every shift and try and work hard and prove that you earned that spot here and that you kind of belong [here]. So you just want to go shift by shift and just play it from there.”