Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz regaining confidence in their games in Rockford

Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz regaining confidence in their games in Rockford

ROCKFORD – Tyler Motte likes how his game was coming around. That game that showed great promise and power with the Blackhawks before he suffered his lower-body injury in November seems to be returning with the Rockford IceHogs.

"The pace and style's a little different but I'm getting at top speed more often, using my speed in certain situations," said Motte following the IceHogs' skate on Friday morning. "I'm getting open for my linemates to make plays, to get the puck on my tape or for me to get it on theirs. The confidence is definitely coming back, if not back already."

Hence the point of the Rockford assignment not just for him, but for fellow forward Nick Schmaltz. The two, who had their ups and downs in their first few months with the Blackhawks, are currently linemates (with Spencer Abbott) in Rockford. And while it was disappointing to leave Chicago, both know the work they do with the IceHogs now will benefit them going forward.

"I'm playing a lot of minutes and my offensive game has been improving and I've been making plays and playing well with the puck," said Schmaltz, who has six goals and three assists in 12 games with Rockford. "Hopefully I can keep that going and keep building my confidence."

Rockford coach Ted Dent said both have looked good with the IceHogs.

"[Schmaltz] has been good. He's handling the puck and he's playing in all situations – we're using him on the penalty kill as well sometimes. He looks comfortable," Dent said. "[Motte's] got a really good power move to the net on the right and left-wing side, because he's not afraid to go to the net and protect the puck, which is one of his strengths."

Motte has three goals and an assist in four games with the IceHogs. Anyone who saw Motte in his first few NHL games saw his power move to the net, one where he would out-hustle defenders and score a few goals in the process. But after returning from his injury, Motte didn't have that same drive.

"I don't think anyone comes back 100 percent right away after any injury but the injury itself can't be an excuse," said Motte, who added that he now feels as close to 100 percent as he has all season. "I don't think I played my best when I came back, was put in a little different role when I did come back, didn't see quite the same opportunities I had before. But again there's no excuse for not playing to the best of my ability and contribute more when I was up there."

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Schmaltz was healthy in his time in Chicago but still struggled to find consistency. With the IceHogs he's getting the minutes, responsibilities and confidence, and he's doing it with regular linemates. He and Abbott were together for several games before Motte joined them, and Schmaltz and Motte played together at development camps in the past.

"It's just a little bit of predictability," Schmaltz said. "You know what your line mates are going to do. They're two high-end skill players so that makes my job easier. Motte can shoot the puck and Abbs is a good play-making guy you can feed off. We have a little bit of everything on the line."

Guys like Motte and Schmaltz are there to improve their on-ice game but their mental approach to the situation is just as critical. Dent said both forwards have the right attitude about why they're there.

"Most of the time they start in Rockford and then they go to Chicago. It's different with these two and we haven't had that in a long time. So mentally, it's harder than anything else," he said. "It's just the right mindset. But they've been coached well and told the right things: go to Rockford, have the right attitude, play a lot of minutes, be the man, get your confidence back. And at some point in the near future I'm sure they'll go back up."

Getting that first taste of the NHL and then being reassigned can be a tough adjustment. Motte and Schmaltz are like any other player: being in the NHL is ultimately what they want. Right now, the stint in Rockford is what they need. 

"Obviously, eventually I want to be back. That's where everyone wants to play," Schmaltz said. "I'll keep working hard, keep building my game. In the long run, I'll look back and it and I think this will benefit me."

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery was identified as the victim in an early morning drowning on Sunday at the Hamilton Harbour, Hamilton Police confirmed. He was 35.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, Emery and his friends jumped in the water around 6:30 a.m., but Emery never resurfaced. His body was recovered later in the afternoon.

Emery played in the NHL for 11 seasons, two of which came with the Blackhawks from 2011-13, where he served as a backup goaltender to Corey Crawford.

In 2013, he teammated up with Crawford to win the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) with the fewest goals against in a single season, before going on to capture his first Stanley Cup. During that season, Emery went 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Blackhawks issued this statement following the confirmation:

The Chicago Blackhawks organization was deeply saddened to hear of Ray Emery’s passing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. The Blackhawks will fondly remember Ray as a fierce competitor, a good teammate and a Stanley Cup champion.

The hockey community took to Twitter to offer their condolences when news began to spread:

Thank you, Marian Hossa: An ode to one of the best Blackhawks ever

Thank you, Marian Hossa: An ode to one of the best Blackhawks ever

When the Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 and Patrick Kane with the No. 1 pick the following year, it was a sign that the dark skies were clearing in Chicago. Things really started to change when Rocky Wirtz took over as chairman following the death of his father Bill in September of 2007, and one of the first decisions he made was to televise all 82 games.

The fans were coming back.

For only the second time in 11 years, the Blackhawks finished above .500 in 2007-08 but missed the playoffs by three points, a season in which Kane won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.

The following year Joel Quenneville took over as head coach after only three games to provide some coaching experience behind the bench for a young team on the rise. It resulted in a 104-point season and ended in a Conference Finals berth at the hands of the arch-rival Detroit Red Wings in five games.

The Blackhawks were ready to make that step into championship contenders. They just needed someone to put them over the edge.

Enter Marian Hossa.

On July 1 of 2009, he committed to the Blackhawks for 12 years worth $62.8 million. He bought into the long-term vision and wanted to be a part of something special for many years to come.

Was he ever.

In his first game as a member of the Blackhawks, Hossa scored two goals in a 7-2 road victory against San Jose after missing the first month and a half of the season with a shoulder injury. It was at that moment where you saw what kind of powerhouse the Blackhawks could be and would become with a full lineup and future Hall of Fame winger added to a mixture of franchise-changing players scratching the surface.

Fast forward to Game 5 of the 2010 quarterfinals. You know how it goes. Series is tied 2-2. The Blackhawks trail 4-3 late in the third period. Extra attacker is on. How many times have we seen this? The Blackhawks were surely going to find a way to tie it up ... and then Hossa is sent to the box with 1:03 to play in regulation. A five-minute major boarding penalty.


Not so fast. 

Patrick Kane went on to score arguably the biggest goal in Blackhawks history, a shorthanded one that evened it up with 13.6 seconds to go. United Center is up for grabs. But there are still four minutes left to kill off on the penalty once overtime starts, which Hossa once called "the longest four minutes of my life." 

In a span of nine seconds following the penalty kill, Hossa jumped on the ice from the box, darted straight for the net and buried home what was the second-biggest goal in franchise history to put the Blackhawks up 3-2 in the series. Two nights later Hossa assisted on three goals and the Blackhawks eliminated the Nashville Predators in their barn.

The rest is history.

Who knows if the Blackhawks rally to win that series if they don't tie it up or win it in overtime. Who knows if they break through the next year. Who knows if that core group even remains together. The course of the franchise could've changed that night.

Instead, Hossa was handed the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career on June 9, 2010 from Jonathan Toews, who couldn't give it to him fast enough after he came up on the losing end in consecutive appearances with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and 2009.

Hossa would add two more titles to his résumé with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015, which almost certainly locked up his legacy as one of the all-time greats and his eventual next stop: The Hockey Hall of Fame. The wait was worth it.

"I was hoping to get one coming to Chicago and now I’ve got three," Hossa said following the 2015 Stanley Cup win. "What a feeling." 

The Blackhawks don't win three Stanley Cups without Hossa, who will go down as arguably the greatest free-agent signing in Chicago sports history.

On behalf of the city of Chicago: Thank you, 81.