Brandon Bollig didn’t want to be just a one-dimensional player.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ fourth liner didn’t want to be just a fighter, even though that’s how he got into the league in the first place. He didn’t want to just play five minutes a game. The Blackhawks didn’t want that from him, either.
“I wasn’t satisfied with getting five or six minutes a night, and luckily neither were our coaches,” Bollig said. “It feels great that (more minutes are) what I’ve been getting. I can only look to build on that and put the one-dimensional game behind me. That’s what I’m looking to do here.”
Bollig continues to hone his game and, with Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith, has formed a strong fourth line that soaks up valuable minutes for the Blackhawks. Bollig, who was playing around six minutes a game when he came up two seasons ago, is now close to 10 per contest.
General manager Stan Bowman said they told Bollig, when he first joined the Blackhawks, that he could do more.
“We talked to him a few years ago. He got his foot in the door with our team by being a physical player but we wanted him to round out his game, work on his skill level and be a complete all-around player, a guy coaches can trust. Obviously Joel (Quenneville) has done a good job of recognizing that and trusting him, and Brandon’s come through,” Bowman said. “We always want guys to try to grow their game, and he’s taken it to heart. You have to tip your cap to him and the staff for having the confidence in him to do it.”
Quenneville’s liked what he’s seen from Bollig.
“In today’s game you need to find a niche to get ice time and stay involved. It’s a tribute to him how his role changes a bit,” Quenneville said. “He’s evolved with the puck as well. It really adds a nice dimension to our team that he has that presence and can play in a meaningful role offensive and defensively.”
In a way, Bollig didn’t have a choice. Fighting continues to be scrutinized as injuries and concussions mount. The one-dimensional player is being phased out from the game. And while many players still feel the NHL needs fighting to police each other– Bollig is among them – Bollig ultimately wants to add more than that.
“Expanding my role will be what keeps me here and what prolongs my career, hopefully,” he said. “Defensively, you have to be able to get around the ice and play more quality minutes rather than two or three minutes a night, fighting the other team’s heavyweights. As fun as it is watching those types of guys, the game is changing. You definitely have to expand your role.”
Bollig has eight points through 39 games after totaling none his previous two seasons here. He’s shown he has good hands, with some passes to linemates recently that left onlookers impressed.
“Me too. I didn’t see that coming,” Kruger said. “He’s getting better every game. You can just tell how, in his game, he’s comfortable holding onto the puck, and he creates room in the offensive zone doing that.”
Perhaps Bollig picked up a few things in his parody of Patrick Kane’s stick handling video. Watching some of the Blackhawks’ skill players doesn’t hurt, either.
“It’s a bit of everything, as well as being comfortable with linemates,” Bollig said. “I’ve played with Ben and Marcus most of the season here, so it’s great knowing where they’re going to be and working off that. Watching my teammates and how good they are with that stuff, and even at practice, I’m acting like a sponge and soaking that stuff up. I’m feeling more comfortable with these guys.”
Bollig’s game is evolving. The Blackhawks demand it of every player, but Bollig also demanded it of himself. He’s garnered more minutes, more responsibility and the Blackhawks have watched him run with it.
“He’s making plays, scoring goals. He’s been good defensively, as well,” Kruger said “He’s just getting better and better.”