Tanner Kero’s professional hockey career couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start.
The Michigan Tech alum has shown his scoring touch, recording a goal in five of his first six games with the Rockford IceHogs. Now Kero will see if that continues with the big club, which could definitely use more offense.
Kero was recalled by the Blackhawks on Tuesday and is expected to make his NHL debut on Thursday night, when the Blackhawks face the Winnipeg Jets. He was one of two Blackhawks call-ups these last two days; defenseman Erik Gustafsson was recalled on Wednesday morning, and while he practiced with the team it doesn’t look like he will play on Thursday.
The 23-year-old Kero centered the third line at Wednesday’s practice; Teuvo Teravainen was on the left and Ryan Garbutt on the right. Kero’s excited for the opportunity and hopes the puck luck follows him.
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“We’re just getting the bounces,” Kero said of the Rockford success. “[We’re] focusing a little bit more on the defensive zone play, being good defensively and penalty kill and it seems like that’s when the offense starts to come.”
Winning hasn’t been a problem lately for the Blackhawks; despite missing Duncan Keith, they’ve won their last four games. Scoring, however, has been an issue. Both of the Blackhawks’ last two victories have been 1-0 overtime decisions, with Jonathan Toews scoring both winners. So perhaps Kero can help spark things.
“It’s good for him. He gets rewarded getting called up. When you win you usually don’t make many changes but it’s a good opportunity based on how well he played,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We liked him in camp; we thought he played well in the exhibition games. We like him in the middle, like his quickness, but got off to a positive start, gets rewarded and look forward to seeing how he does.”
Kero hopes he can play his part.
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“They’re still finding a way to win which is a good thing. So hopefully I can get a chance to help them out and they’re really good defensively right now,” Kero said. “I was pretty surprised [at the call-up] and I was very excited for the opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Gustafsson partnered with Michal Rozsival during Wednesday’s practice. Past Kero’s installment on the third line, Quenneville said he’s unlikely to change the lineup for Thursday. Whether or not Gustafsson plays on Friday in Minnesota is unknown right now.
Gustafsson was one of the last defensive prospects in Chicago as training camp came to a close. At the time, Gustafsson said he’d be upset if he didn’t make the Blackhawks’ roster – he didn’t. As it turns out, Gustafsson’s time in Rockford has been a great learning experience.
“I think it helped me a lot,” he said. “The first two or three games down there in Rockford it was a little hard to play. I was just chipping the puck out. I didn’t have the confidence in me. In four or five games I got used to it and got a lot of confidence with the puck and how to play over here.”
- Quenneville ran a line drill with a twist on Wednesday: he ran it without a puck. The move was a tribute to Jimmy Roberts, who died of cancer on Friday. Roberts won five Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens and was an original member of the St. Louis Blues. Roberts later coached for Buffalo and Hartford. “It was great, because I could see him doing it, moving, he had the mittens and the hat he wore,” Quenneville said. “We do the drill every day, but without the pucks is his flavor we added to it. Players get a kick out of that part of it.”
- Rozsival continues to practice with the Blackhawks. The defenseman will be eligible to come off long-term injury reserve in a few days but it still could be a bit until he plays. Asked if Rozsival could play Monday against the Los Angeles Kings, Quenneville said that “may be stretching it.”
- Crawford will start vs. the Jets.