Blackhawks' youth exceeds expectations

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Blackhawks' youth exceeds expectations

Coach Joel Quenneville made it clear what he was looking for from his young players: good, simple hockey and energy. They brought that and more.

Marcus Kruger had a critical goal at the end of the first period, and Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig also had noticeable evenings in the Blackhawks 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.

Krugers goal with 29.5 seconds in the first helped alleviate an otherwise forgettable first period for the Blackhawks. It gave them momentum, and the Blackhawks carried it through the final two periods.

For Shaw, his first game back since Mondays recall from Rockford was stellar. He opened the Blackhawks scoring in the first period, tallying his sixth of the season, and brought energy to the checking line with Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell.

I thought he was excellent, Quenneville said. He was effective in a lot of ways. He had jump, he took the puck to the net and checked well off the rush defensively. He had a real purpose to his game and brought us a lot of energy.

Bollig made his NHL debut on Wednesday, coming up to help the Blackhawks fill the physical void. A big guy with a penchant for fighting, Bollig didnt disappoint, holding his own with the Maple Leafs Luke Schenn.

He did a great job, Quenneville said. He had the fight at the end of his shift, he had purpose and he had a nice chance in the second period. We wanted him to play a north-south game, and he delivered it tonight.

Theyve had, and will continue to have, their growing pains. But the young guys gave the Blackhawks a boost a few times on Wednesday night, be it with their goals, their energy or their fists.

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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