Young Blackhawks adjusting well to big stage

Young Blackhawks adjusting well to big stage

Nick Schmaltz lifted Mike Ribeiro’s stick just enough to get control of the puck before skating back to the middle and scoring his first career NHL goal.

It was a slick play, one showing the ability Schmaltz already had. But be it with him or some of the other young players, the Blackhawks figured it was going to take some time for that talent to come through on the bigger stage. So far, however, the adjustment time hasn’t been so large.

Tyler Motte has been good since the start of camp and earned some second-line work out of it. Vinnie Hinostroza’s speed and energy earned him a top-line shot on Saturday. Coach Joel Quenneville has been very happy with Gustav Forsling and Michal Kempny on defense. Yes, Kempny may be a few years older than some of the Blackhawks’ other first-year players but playing on this side of the pond is still very new to him.

Schmaltz had his best game on Saturday, when he got that first goal in the Blackhawks’ victory over the Nashville Predators. He admitted afterward that jitters may have affected him in his first two games – it didn’t help that the Blackhawks’ fourth line barely played in the season opener, either. By the end of Friday’s game in Nashville, Schmaltz looked more comfortable and that carried over to Saturday.

“I think you have a little more time than you think,” he said Saturday night. “I think in the first couple games I was just kind of chipping it, because I was kind of nervous to have it. But I’ve got to focus on playing my game and that’s controlling the puck.”

Really, for some of these guys, that’s probably the trick: recognize you’re in a bigger, better league but don’t become overwhelmed by it. It’s not easy, but ultimately that “play-your-game” cliché holds true.

“I’m not going to come out and try and play a different game. Coaches and guys have told me that,” Motte said recently. “I may be on a bigger stage… but the sport’s no different.”

And it also takes an organization being patient with young players. The Blackhawks, who have once again gone through big changes with the salary cap are in the position where they have to give these guys a real chance.

“You have to give them that adjustment period. For some guys it can happen within a couple weeks or a month. Other guys it takes almost a whole year. They’ve never played in these buildings before. It seems maybe silly, but little things like that. You have to get through that at some point,” general manager Stan Bowman said this weekend. “But I think you if you can hang in there with these guys, they’re going to be better players once they acclimate to the NHL because they have growth to their game.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]​

There are going to be growing pains. There are going to be mistakes; players are human, no matter how many years they’ve been in the league. As Quenneville said following the season opener, “there’ll definitely be some learning going on and we’ll be accepting mistakes from hard work, because that’s where you get better.”

But so far, the youth has been progressing just fine.

4 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 5-2 to Coyotes

USA Today

4 Takeaways: Blackhawks lose 5-2 to Coyotes

The Blackhawks fell 5-2 to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, giving them their third straight loss. Here are four takeaways:

Ex-Hawks Haunting

Former Blackhawks forward and Bartlett, Illinois native Vinnie Hinostroza helped dig the Hawks a three-goal hole to climb out of in the first period. Hinostroza picked up secondary assists on goals from Michael Grabner (2:56), Clayton Keller (5:03) and Brad Richardson (15:04) in the opening frame. 

Another former Hawk, Nick Schmaltz got past Patrick Kane and scored off a faceoff in Chicago's zone at 8:25 of the second period. 

D hurtin'

Calvin de Haan, one of the Hawks' more reliable defensemen this season, left the first period of Thursday's 5-1 loss against the Golden Knights in Vegas with a right shoulder injury. He could miss a decent amount of time as he had surgery on the same shoulder in the offseason, which sidelined him for several months. 

Chicago has given up 10 goals since de Haan left the lineup. His injury came with two-time Norris trophy-winning defenseman Duncan Keith (groin) not on the current three-game road trip which wraps up in St. Louis on Saturday. 

A positive for the Hawks' defense tonight was Dennis Gilbert getting his first NHL point by assisting on Jonathan Toews' second period goal, which came off a Dominik Kubalik rebound. 

Olli Maatta was back in the lineup on Thursday after missing the last four games with flu-like symptoms. Maatta had a +/- rating of 0 and recorded three shots. 

Top players on scoresheet

Another positive was The Captain, Kubalik, Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat all finding the scoresheet. Strome scored at 12:58 of the third period on a power play, giving the Hawks their fifth straight game with a power-play goal. Kubalik got an assist on Toews' goal and DeBrincat has three goals and an assist in his past four games.

If the defense can find a way to tighten up a bit, the Blackhawks will be able to ride two very capable goalies and their top two lines, which are gaining some confidence. 

2,500 for 'Gapper

Blackhawks head athletic trainer Mike Gapski worked his 2,500th game with the Blackhawks Thursday. Gapski is the longest tenured trainer in the NHL. 

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Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

USA Today

Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

For 33 years, Mike Gapski has been the glue of the Blackhawks' support staff. He's the longest-tenured head athletic trainer in the NHL, landing the job in 1987 shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

It's been a dream come true for Gapski to work in his hometown all these years, and on Thursday he is set to be involved in his 2,500th regular season game with the Blackhawks.

Current and former players took the time to congratulate and give thanks to Gapski, and share what he's meant to the Blackhawks:

Kirby Dach:

"It's crazy, you have the same guys in junior, but it's a little bit different level here. These guys take care of us, it's unbelievable the job they do. It's a tremendous accomplishment for Gapper. Couldn't be happier for him. I've only known him for a little bit and he's a really nice guy and helps everybody out and is very kind and caring. And that's what you need in a trainer, somebody who's going to have your best interest at heart. It's good for our group and obviously he's been through a lot with some of the older guys in here. I'm sure it'll be a fun celebration for those guys and for our group as well."

Alex DeBrincat:

"He's great. He's always helping. You try to stay out of the training room, but it's always nice to go in there and talk with those guys. Gapper specifically is a great guy to have around, always fun and lighthearted around there. He obviously knows his stuff, he's been in the league a long time, he's seen a lot of injuries. He's pretty quick to help us out and know what we need to get better."

Steve Konroyd:

"Michael Gapski, congratulations on 2,500 games. You're one of the first guys I ever met when I got traded to the Chicago Blackhawks way back in 1988. You're knowledgeable, you're professional and above all else you're a great guy. I was very proud to have you as a trainer and I think the Blackhawks are very lucky to have you over all these years."

Jamal Mayers:

"Just want to say congratulations to Mike Gapski on 2,500 games. Wow. That's a lot of games, Gapper, congratulations. I know all the players that have ever had you are thankful to have you around. You're a professional, you do things the right way, you really care about the players, it comes across every single day. And thanks for keeping me together when I was 37 and 38 at the end of my career."

Eddie Olczyk:

"Hey Frank, congratulations — 2,500 games standing behind the bench for our Chicago Blackhawks. A tremendous honor, congratulations to you and your family. One thing I love about you, Frank, is you're the same guy today as you were back in the late '90s when we were working together when I was still a player. So congratulations and here's to another 2,500 more."

Patrick Sharp:

"Gapper, Gappity, Frank, Mike Gapski, thank you so much for all the years that you've put in to the Chicago Blackhawks training staff. Countless players have come through the organization, nobody's got a bad thing to say about you. 2,500 games, that's no joke. How about we do another 2,500? Congratulations on all your success. I came to Chicago in 2005 as a young man, spent my whole adult life with having you taking care of me at the rink, so thank you for everything over the years. All the best to you and your family, Frank."

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