Blackhawks

A trying year behind him, Patrick Sharp 'happy, smiling every day'

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USA TODAY

A trying year behind him, Patrick Sharp 'happy, smiling every day'

Patrick Sharp raised his arms after connecting in an end-of-practice shootout drill at the University of Notre Dame. The season hasn’t started yet but the Blackhawks forward is already having a ball.

“I think you’ve been around long enough to know that when I’m acting like an idiot and having fun, that’s when I play my best. When I’m overthinking things and analyzing everything I don’t play good hockey. So that’s first and foremost, being mentally clear and happy and having fun,” Sharp said following Monday’s practice. “You want to be in a good place and I’m definitely there. I’m happy, smiling every day.”

Part of Sharp being in a happy place is being back with the Blackhawks. He had a lot of offers this offseason but Chicago was, “the No. 1 choice by far.” But it’s also about coming back after one of his most trying years on and off the ice and continuing a career that, when he underwent hip surgery last March, he wasn’t sure he’d have. So far, camp has been good. Sharp was once again one of the Blackhawks’ top fitness test finishers – “he looks like a freak of nature as far as working out and being in as good a shape as he is,” Patrick Kane said. So outside of the early aches and pains of camp, Sharp’s feeling good.

“Those first couple of days beat everybody up, starting with the fitness testing and then jumping right into the games. But the surgery is behind me now, I think. I think I’m over it and moving well and adjusting being back in Chicago,” he said. “There’s still a small transition when you switch teams but coming back to Chicago was definitely easier for me than leaving.”

Sharp’s first season in Dallas was good, especially with the Stars winning the West. But last year was difficult: the injury-riddled Stars had a disappointing campaign and Sharp struggled with concussion symptoms for a good part of the season. Also weighing heavily on Sharp was when his dad Ian, who was diagnosed with leukemia several years ago, was hospitalized when the disease worsened.

“I knew my dad was going through that in the hospital for six months and I wanted to play that much better to give him something to watch and maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself and got a little too upset when things didn’t go our way,” Sharp said. “There is some perspective there and it’s a lesson.”

Sharp was determined to come back following his hip surgery but the process was slow and he had to be patient. With an uncertain future, that wasn’t easy.

“It was just learning to bend at the waist again, learning to bend at the knees, getting that hip to hinge down and then graduating to things like walking, jogging and jumping and all that stuff. Nothing overly challenging. But the toughest part was just the day-to-day grind of staying with it, not knowing what the future would hold for my career,” he said. “But thankfully I’m over that.”

[MORE: Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow] 

His health no longer a question, one of the few that remains is where Sharp fits into the Blackhawks’ lineup. He could end up on the second line; coach Joel Quenneville put him there with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane in Sunday’s practice. He could also be on the third line, where he’s played with Artem Anisimov and Ryan Hartman; Sharp set up Anisimov’s goal in the Blackhawks’ loss to Columbus on Saturday night. Sharp said working with Anisimov has been easy.

“Sometimes when you get a new line or player you haven’t played with before it takes a few shifts or games to figure out how you’re going to play together. He’s just a complete player and he makes the game easy out there for his wingers. He allows me to do things I like to do on the ice,” Sharp said. “I watched him play the last two years on that great line with [Artemi] Panarin and Kane, so I feel like I know his tendencies and where he likes to camp out and how he likes to play. A guy like that, anybody can play with him.”

Sharp is healthy again. Even better, his father is feeling good again, too – “he’s golfing again and has the nicest yard in Canada,” Sharp said, adding that his dad is thrilled he’s back in Chicago, too. Sharp knows he’s been through a lot of grueling seasons and will be careful coming off his surgery. But he’s back where he wanted to be, ready to adjust and is happy again.

“I am 35, turning 36 (in December), so that possesses different obstacles throughout an 82-game season. It’s easy right now when we haven’t gotten into it yet but over six, seven months you have to take care of yourself a little bit differently than when you were 25. But I’d like to think I’m enough of a professional to be able to do that,” Sharp said. “There are a lots of ups and downs in a season. I try not to get too high or low and just enjoy the game.”

Blackhawks 2013 Stanley Cup champion Michal Handzus to retire from professional hockey

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AP

Blackhawks 2013 Stanley Cup champion Michal Handzus to retire from professional hockey

Michal Handzus, who helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup in 2013 as the second-line center, is officially hanging up the skates.

The 41-year-old forward hasn't played in the NHL since the 2013-14 season but spent the last three years with Banska Bystrica HC 05 in Slovakia, where he was a part of the championship-winning team in 2016-17. He sat out the 2017-18 campaign and has decided to call it quits for good.

Handzus played with six teams in his first 13 NHL seasons, including eight games with the Blackhawks in 2006-07, before getting reacquired by Chicago in 2013 at the trade deadline for a fourth-round draft pick and it turned out to be one of the more underrated acquisitions in the league that year. He had one goal and five assists in 11 regular-season games, then accumulated 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 23 postseason contests and found himself in the center of all the big moments.

In Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings, with the Blackhawks trailing the series 3-2, Handzus scored a crucial goal on the road in the opening minute of the third period to tie it up at 2-2, a game the Blackhawks went on to win to force a Game 7 back in Chicago. (We all know what the final result was in that one).

In Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, with the Blackhawks trailing the series again 2-1, Handzus set the tone early on the road by scoring the game's first goal shorthanded when he buried a feed from Brandon Saad before taking a hard spill into the boards in an eventual 6-5 victory:

And then of course in Game 6, Handzus was the extra attacker for the first of two goals scored 17 seconds apart in Boston as the Blackhawks captured their second Stanley Cup in four years:

It was the first Stanley Cup win of Handzus' career, so naturally, he was the first player to receive Lord Stanley from captain Jonathan Toews:

That's not all.

Handzus re-signed with the Blackhawks on a one-year deal for the 2013-14 season, which would be his last in the NHL, and gave Chicago this double-overtime goal in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final to keep the Blackhawks' hopes alive:

Handzus isn't the name who jumps out when you think of the three titles in six years run but he's a player that certainly made strong contributions in a Blackhawks sweater and delivered in key playoff moments.

Chris Chelios joins Pearl Jam on stage at Wrigley Field to honor Stan Mikita

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AP

Chris Chelios joins Pearl Jam on stage at Wrigley Field to honor Stan Mikita

The city of Chicago lost a sports icon earlier this month when Stan Mikita died at the age of 78 after a long illness. He's the all-time leading scorer in Blackhawks history with 1,467 points, but perhaps more importantly made as much of an impact off the ice as he did on it.

Former Blackhawks defenseman and current team ambassador Chris Chelios joined Pearl Jam on stage at Wrigley Field on Monday night, holding up a red No. 21 Mikita sweater to pay tribute to a Chicago legend.

Lead vocalist Eddie Vedder even dedicated the song "Come Back" to Mikita and his family, with the help of thousands of fans who paid homage by holding up their cell phones:

A touching moment.