Blackhawks

Tanner Kero's two-way game keeping him in Blackhawks' fold

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Tanner Kero's two-way game keeping him in Blackhawks' fold

SAN FRANCISCO – Tanner Kero’s trip to the Blackhawks was originally to spark the big club’s offense.

The 23-year-old had scored six goals in seven games with the Rockford IceHogs when the Blackhawks recalled him in late October. Those were great numbers for a team that, at the time, was struggling mightily to score. Well, Kero’s offensive output in Rockford hasn’t translated to Chicago. But his ability to play both sides of the puck and join the team’s penalty kill has led to him staying here a while longer.

Kero has a goal and an assist in 12 games with the Blackhawks but his all-around game has kept him here. Kero has bounced back and forth from third- or fourth-line center and has also been part of the penalty kill.

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“We gave him some responsibility in the penalty killing department and he’s taking advantage of it and he’s done a nice job," Coach Joel Quenneville said. "He’s a pretty good student of the game. He anticipates well, as far as his thought process goes. He has a reasonable stick, reasonable quickness, he wants the puck, he’s in and around the puck; so we like what he’s done across the board.”

Kero said he’s played on the penalty kill for several years now, so the only adjustment was to the Blackhawks’ system.

“Yeah, I mean I try to play as well as I can defensively and help out in that end as well. So to get the opportunity to play penalty kill, it’s been an honor to be out there and have them trust me to be out there,” Kero said. “I just want to do my best and kind of learn as I go and play whatever role they need me to play.”

Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said Kero broke out as a scorer in his senior season with the Huskies, recording his best college numbers in goals (20) and assists (23). But Pearson said Kero’s always been a reliable two-way player and that would be how he’d carve his NHL niche.

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“He was our hardest worker in practice. He was real good defensively, killed penalties. We were second in the country in team defense in college hockey last year, and we had guys like Tanner set that example,” Pearson said. “He’s a very smart player, he works extremely hard and is a really good skater. Given all those elements, I’m not surprised he’s off to a pretty good start.”

Kero always had a good game in college. But Pearson said he needed to add some grit to that game. So Kero went to the Minnesota Wild’s development camp between his junior and senior seasons. Pearson said the differences in Kero’s game showed during his senior season.

“That opened his eyes a little bit. He got a taste of how good players are; they work hard but also work at another level,” Pearson said. “It was his learning that what we call that sandbox mentality: two kids and one toy, one’s going to get it. You have to make sure you get it. That’s his biggest thing is learning to play with that mental toughness – not taking penalties, just being tough on loose puck battles, getting to the net.”

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Kero has worked hard to get to this point. He was brought up for his scoring. He’s stayed for his all-around game.

“You try to go day-to-day and just work hard, try to play both ends of the ice,” Kero said. “[Quenneville] really wants you to play well defensively and compete every day. So you’re trying to compete both ends of the ice and do well offensively and [I’ll] just try to contribute offensively when I can.”

Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Connor Murphy to participate in USA's Stars and Stripes Showdown

Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Connor Murphy to participate in USA's Stars and Stripes Showdown

In honor of the late executive Jim Johannson, who died unexpectedly in his sleep in January at the age of 53, USA Hockey is hosting a Stars and Stripes Showdown at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan on Sunday, Aug. 26 and three Blackhawks will be participating in it: Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Connor Murphy.

Kane served as USA's captain at the 2018 IIHF World Championship in Denmark this past May and set a new American record with 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 10 tournament contests, which earned him MVP honors. DeBrincat had one goal and eight assists while Murphy led USA with a plus-7 rating.

Other star-studded headliners participating: Connor Hellebuyck, Seth Jones, Dylan Larkin, Auston Matthews, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, James van Riemsdyk and Zach Werenski. It's a great group getting together to celebrate the life of Johannson, who was an instrumental part of USA Hockey's program for the last 18 years.

Tickets are being sold for $10 and $15, which you can purchase here. Doors open at 1 p.m. ET with the game starting at 2 p.m.

A few events that will occur throughout the game: a ceremonial puck drop, a live game-worn jersey auction, an online auction featuring game-worn jerseys and autographed NHL memorabilia, special raffles and an opportunity postgame to meet and greet select players and coaches. All proceeds will benefit both the Jim Johannson Legacy Fund of The USA Hockey Foundation and the Ellie Johannson College Fund.

Five games to circle: Blackhawks to appear on national TV a league-high 19 times in 2018-19

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USA TODAY

Five games to circle: Blackhawks to appear on national TV a league-high 19 times in 2018-19

Despite missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade, the Blackhawks will appear on national television a league-high 19 times during the 2018-19 season, NBC Sports announced on Monday. Eleven of them will appear exclusively on NBC or NBCSN, with the other eight on NBC Sports Chicago in the Chicago area.

Eight of the 19 games will also land on "Wednesday Night Hockey," which will replace "Wednesday Night Rivalry" as part of NBC Sports' most diverse exclusive schedule to date that will include a total of 109 games. 

Here are five games to circle from the 11 games that will be aired exclusively on national TV, in order of how they appear on the schedule:

1. The new-look Blues — Nov. 14 vs. St. Louis at 7 p.m. on NBCSN

There might not have been a team in the Central Division that had a stronger offseason than the Blues. After failing to secure a postseason berth for the first time since 2010-11, they went out a traded for top-six center Ryan O'Reilly, signed Tyler Bozak to ensure even more depth down the middle, and added power forwards Patrick Maroon and David Perron to round out their top-nine. Not to mention the offensively skilled Robby Fabbri will be returning to the lineup after missing the entire 2017-18 campaign with an ACL injury. It'll be a nice early test for the Blackhawks.

2. Three Cups vs. three Cups — Dec. 12 vs. Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. on NBCSN

Whenever the Blackhawks and Penguins get together it's always a fun battle to watch because there's so much firepower sharing the same sheet of ice: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews. That's five future Hall of Famers right there. There's also the fact that they are tied for most Stanley Cups in the salary cap era with three, adding some extra juice between two teams that don't often see each other.

3. Winter Classic — Jan. 1 vs. Boston at 12 p.m. on NBC at Notre Dame Stadium

For the sixth time in franchise history, the Blackhawks will appear in an outdoor game. But they haven't had much luck in those games, losing four of the previous five, including all three of their Winter Classic appearances. The Bruins are 1-1 in outdoor games and will look to break the .500 mark in a rematch of the memorable 2013 Stanley Cup Final — at least for the city of Chicago — and Original Six showdown.

4. The defending champion Capitals come to town — Jan. 20 at 11:30 a.m. on NBC

Any time the reigning champions visit your city, it's a game you know you can't take off. Especially since it's the Game of the Week. Alex Ovechkin fell one goal shy of hitting the 50-goal mark for the eighth time in his NHL career at age 32 last season, but it was still good enough to win his seventh "Rocket" Richard Trophy. More importantly, he scored 15 goals and added 12 assists in 24 postseason contests to help lead the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs while doing so. He's still the greatest goal scorer in hockey — perhaps even of all time — and that's a reason in and of itself why it's a must-watch, even though in his last game against Chicago he was held without a shot attempt for the first time in his NHL career.

5. Rekindling an old rivalry with Red Wings — Feb. 20 at Detroit at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN

Ever since the NHL realigned the divisions in 2013-14, the Blackhawks and Red Wings get to see each other only twice per season — once at home and once on the road. No two teams in NHL history have squared off more than these two, so it's certainly been an adjustment. But fans know how deep this rivalry goes, and every time they do clash, there's a playoff-like atmosphere in the building and you can feel it through your television screen as well. This will likely be no different.

Check out the Blackhawks' full national television schedule here: