Blackhawks

Treating practices as games benefits Michal Kempny in return

Treating practices as games benefits Michal Kempny in return

Michal Kempny felt the frustration anyone would with multiple healthy scratches.

The 26-year-old is here to play. But with eight defensemen through most of this season, the shuffle on the back end meant someone had to be out. For nine of 10 recent games, that was Kempny. But in his latest opportunity Kempny has been strong, and the combination of defense and offense he’s contributing has got him playing regularly again.

“It wasn’t easy. But you do have to think positive, stay positive,” Kempny said through interpreter Igor Alfimov. “Every practice for me was like a game, I was trying to work out on the ice and in the gym waiting for the game to come.”

Kempny was a healthy scratch for four consecutive games before returning against the New York Islanders on Dec. 15. But he had a forgettable first few minutes, and was out the next five games.

When he got back in against Carolina on Dec. 30, however, Kempny didn’t disappoint. He had goals in two consecutive games — the one vs. the Hurricanes was the first of his NHL career — and has been steady.

“I think he’s always had some good offensive instincts to his game. He’s up in the play, he has speed, he shoots the puck. Getting the finished product can certainly help your confidence,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Defensively he’s played well since he’s been back in the lineup and I think his gap has been effective, his stick positioning and 1-on-1 play. To me that’s the area where, if he gets that improved it really compliments his whole game. He’s coming off a couple of strong games for us and he adds some speed on the back end as well.”

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Despite being out for the better part of a month, Kempny was sharp when he got back in the lineup. Kempny said it wasn’t easy to come back after a long layoff but, as he said, using every practice as prep helped. Trevor van Riemsdyk said Kempny’s work ethic has always been there, be it practice or games.

“He’s a great player and when he’s out there doing his thing he’s fun to watch,” van Riemsdyk said. “He’s physical and he can do all the right things. He moves out there really well so it’s nice to see him playing well these last few games. He’s been working hard, whether he was in the lineup or not, so it was only a matter of time.”

Kempny is also improving in his English, thanks to television and movies. He still relies on an interpreter to translate his answers to the media but the defenseman no longer needs much help understanding questions posed to him. On-ice communication, which was always pretty good, is also improving

“There wasn’t a big problem on the ice. The commands and hints are pretty much the same, so I didn’t really feel it was that big of an issue,” Kempny said. “I’m glad I feel more confident in English now and I understand more and more, so I hope it’s just going to go up.”

Kempny’s playing time, or at least his number of games, should be going up as well. The Blackhawks assigned Gustav Forsling to the Rockford IceHogs on Friday, leaving the team with seven defensemen. That will make game-to-game decisions easier — it was nice to have eight defensemen but it led to a lot of tough decisions and long layoffs for some players. Kempny was frustrated while he sat but having the right attitude paid off. So did having a strong game when he returned.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

On the latest edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast, Charlie Roumeliotis is joined by Scott Powers of The Athletic to discuss Stan Bowman's comments following the Marian Hossa trade and debate whether they're finished making moves this summer.

They also provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks' top prospects and which players have caught their attention as development camp winds down.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Jonathan Toews watched a lot of playoff hockey this spring. 

"Quite a bit," he admitted Wednesday before making his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut at MB Ice Arena. "More than usual."

That's because the Blackhawks missed out on the postseason for the first time since his rookie year in 2007-08. It's obviously not a position he'd like himself or his team to be in, especially after experiencing three Stanley Cups in a six-year span.

But you have to find a way to take the positives out of it at this point and let it fuel you for the upcoming campaign.

"You always want to be there playing," Toews said. "But when you can maybe step away from the game a little bit and just kind of breathe and — at the same time, look back and realize you’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of success. Obviously there’s no satisfaction there, but you understand it’s not the worst thing to stop and smell the roses and appreciate what you’ve been able to experience, because I think failing to get to the playoffs makes you realize how difficult it really is and maybe it’s something you took for granted.

"But watching more hockey this spring, I think, is something that was really motivating and kind of inspiring and exciting to want to get back to that level again. You dream of playing in the NHL, but at the end of the day, you want to play playoff hockey. That’s what it’s all about."

There were plenty of things that went wrong for the Blackhawks last season and contributed to why they watched the playoffs from home, whether it's the Corey Crawford injury, the down season from Brandon Saad, or the inexperience on the blue line.

For Toews, who turned 30 in April, it's about regaining that old form that made him one of the top players in the NHL and hoping it can filter down the rest of the Blackhawks lineup.

"For me, it’s part of just recapturing that energy, that motivation, excitement and that mindset of a young player who takes nothing for granted, that you had in your younger days," he said. "But also carrying the experience with you and understanding the impact of what you say, what you do, how you carry yourself can impact your teammates, especially the young guys. For me, it comes down to knowing what to say at the right time. But letting my play be the thing that helps me lead by example. No better time than now to use that experience and that excitement trying to rebound off the season we had last year."

If there's any reason to have belief that the Blackhawks can turn it around quickly, look no further than the two teams that collided in the Stanley Cup Final: Vegas and Washington. 

The Golden Knights had the longest odds to win it all at the beginning of the season while the Capitals' championship window was perceived to be closed after they failed to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017 in the second round yet again with a loaded roster. But it's not about what's on paper.

"Watching that last series, you just knew it came down to who had the most, the deepest belief in themselves," Toews said. "I even had a hard time predicting who was going to win every series. It could’ve gone either way in a lot of situations. It’s not only motivating, seeing how fast that play was and to have missed out on playoff hockey this year and to have the drive to get back there, but knowing if you do sneak into the playoffs it doesn’t matter. You can go a long way.

"For us, thinking, 'OK, we're gonna back and win a Stanley Cup this year,' it sounds like a long shot. But as always, our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs and being ready to hit our stride when we get there."