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


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.”

Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

During the Blackhawks' training camp festival on Sept. 15, coach Jeremy Colliton discovered a combination he's grown to like in David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad. And it's the only trio that's stuck together through training camp and into the regular season.

On paper, it's not a sexy line. But they all bring different elements and it's translating to on-ice success.

When the three of them are on the ice together at even strength, the Blackhawks are controlling 59.7 percent of the shot attempts, 68.6 of the scoring chances and 76.9 percent of the high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

When they aren't on the ice at even strength? The Blackhawks are controlling 47.6 percent of the shot attempts, 46.2 percent of the scoring chances and 41.7 percent of the high-danger chances. 

Those are ridiculous numbers for a third line, and they're doing it against top competition, too.

On Saturday against Winnipeg, the Saad-Kampf-Kubalik line was tasked with going up against the Jets' Big Three of Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and held them to three shots on goal for and three against in 14:06 of 5-on-5 ice time together. And on Monday against Edmonton, it kept one of the best lines in hockey in check, with Leon Draisaitl, Zack Kassian and Connor McDavid recording a minus-6 shot attempt differential in 15:25 of 5-on-5 ice time together.

The biggest mistake Colliton has made this season was separating the trio in the home opener after Kubalik scored a goal and recorded five shots on goal in the first period. He wanted to get the first line going and provide a spark by rewarding Kubalik, but the third line was dominant in the opening 20 minutes — it generated 10 scoring chances at 5-on-5 in only 4:30 together — and moving Kubalik away from Kampf and Saad really affected both lines in a negative way.

But don't expect Colliton to make that same mistake anytime soon. He learned his lesson and that's the last line he's going to touch if he's looking for a shakeup.

"They all just got real big motors, big engine," Colliton said. "They work and compete and they all bring a little bit different ingredient. Obviously like Saad is an accomplished, proven performer. He takes the puck to the net. He's a horse there. He's really hard to get the puck off, he transports it from D zone to the offensive zone, he can make those plays.

"I think Kampy is a workhorse. He takes a lot of responsibility defensively and can transport the puck from one end to another. Then you got Kubby, he's got a bomb. I've been very impressed with his play away from the puck. That's been a surprise for me. So now he can play on that line because he does so many responsible things. He wins a lot of races, he's a great forechecker. So, pleased with that line."

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Blackhawks honor Dave Bolland with “One More Shift” Friday

Blackhawks honor Dave Bolland with “One More Shift” Friday

Former Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland will be honored with “One More Shift” on the ice at United Center this Friday prior to Hawks matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Bolland will stand with the team during the National Anthem and skate on ice in full gear. Along with time on ice, the United Center will also honor Bolland by showcasing his career highlights throughout the arena.

The Blackhawks will be celebrating the 10 year anniversary of their 2010 Stanley Cup win at five games this season, coinciding with “One More Shift” nights to honor individual players.  The United Center Atrium doors will open at 4pm, giving fans a chance to look at the interactive photo opportunities and historical items on display. Bolland will participate in a Q&A in the atrium at 6:30 p.m. before he hits the ice.

Dave Bolland was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2004 and spent ten seasons of his NHL career in Chicago. Bolland played with the team during two Stanley Cup championships, scoring the game-winning goal in the final minute of Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals against the Bruins. Bolland played in all 22 playoff games in 2010, garnering 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) which shared fifth among Blackhawks skaters in the postseason. Bolland recorded his best season of his career during the 2008-09 campaign with the Blackhawks, skating in a career-high 81 regular-season games and recording career highs in goals (19), assists (28) and points (47).

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