Blackhawks feeling the pressure of shortened season

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Blackhawks feeling the pressure of shortened season

Its been a quiet, too quiet, four months. For hockey players who didnt go overseas, its been a lot of skating, drills and just-stay-in-shape work.

But the quiet is about to be shattered. Because starting Jan. 19 most likely the NHL is back in business. And itll be a fast, frenzied, 48-game schedule business. With this brief post-lockout schedule, there is no time to adjust and no time to work out wrinkles. The action is going to be intense, as will the competition to get into the postseason.

Im pretty sure now you cant take a night off. You have to be steady every game, Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland said Monday. Its going to be the team that gets out of the gates quick thatll be on top.

Indeed, theres no room for a rough start. If the season was an hourglass, its already half empty. If a team lags behind early, its not going to be easy catching up to the pack.

Its a long playoff run for everybody. Its going to be right from the get-go, Brian Campbell said. The playoff picture after 48 games last year would probably look a lot different than it does at the end of the season. Its definitely important to get off to a good start.

On the bright side, its not very often players enter the January part of the schedule rested and energized. Theyll be dying to play again. But theres a flip side: a shorter training camp means greater potential for injuries. Players have said theyre fine with the shortened schedule, although its still going to take time to get up and running.

Timings important, Marian Hossa said. Weve had some pretty good skates, good workouts. I dont think itll be a huge issue but timings going to take a little bit.

From a fans perspective, the intrigue will start early. Think of it as catching hockey in mid-season, because thats basically what its going to be. Pressure will be there immediately, but so will the energy. Yes, it may not be the prettiest product in those first few games. But it wont take long before its back to good hockey.

And soon after that, the race is on.

Its going to be a sprint to get to the playoffs, Jamal Mayers said. Its going to produce better hockey and its going to be intense and exciting.

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

For the past two seasons, David Accam was a bright spot on bad Chicago Fire teams.

This season, with more talent on the roster, Accam has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in the league.

He had a hat trick and an assist in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando. That gives him 10 goals and six assists on the season. Only two other players in Major League Soccer have 16 combined goals and assists, New York City FC's David Villa and teammate Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goal-scorer in the league).

“I thought I could do anything on the pitch today,” Accam said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself and entertain the fans and also help the team win. That’s what we did today, especially after my first goal. I just thought I could get more goals and also help the team win.”

Accam’s big game comes after he sat out the previous two games, which were both played on turf. He wasn’t listed on the injury report, but coach Veljko Paunovic said, “he didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game.”

The rest seemed to do Accam some good, but his success in the game (as well as his recent run of eight goals and four assists in his last eight matches) coincides with questions about his future. He was recently rumored to be the target of a Turkish club.

In the past, Accam has spoken about his ambition to play at the highest levels. Typically, that means Europe. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said last month that he expects offers to come in for the 26-year-old because he is a good player in his prime ages.

So is Accam playing like someone trying to earn a new contract? That could be either impressing potential suitors in Europe or boosting his negotiation position with the Fire. Rodriguez has talked about contract negotiations with Accam before, and said those will not resume again until after the season.

“I wanted to be in a team where I would develop as a person and also win trophies, whether here or somewhere (else) I don’t know,” Accam said. “For me, I’m doing really well here and every year if I keep playing well there will be always interest. I know there is a lot of interest because I’m doing well. For me it’s always extra motivation to keep doing well. You don’t know where I will end up, whether here or somewhere else. I’ll just keep playing.”

Accam’s play earned him another call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He will join the team on Sunday for a pair of friendlies in the U.S. The Black Stars will take on Mexico in Houston on June 28 and the U.S. in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 as the two North American countries prepare for the Gold Cup.

“That’s where I want to be,” Accam said. “I want to be playing for the national team so it’s extra motivation for me to perform well and also to go to the national team.”

Accam has been one of the most productive players in MLS this year, based on goals and assists, and is young enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams. For now, the Fire have him as a key part of the best season the club has had in years.

“I think that he understands very well how to play with the team that we have now and with the teammates that he is surrounded with,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We just have to work to give David opportunities… Then we expect that performances like that will come even more.”

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