The last few days of training camp seemed to take forever to pass, a long wait for a Chicago Blackhawks team champing at the bit for the regular season.
“This last week dragged on,” Bryan Bickell said. “We’re excited for (tonight). It’s a special night but, more important, a big game.”
It’s a big game in a season that’s going to be full of them, as the Blackhawks open their home schedule and unfurl their Stanley Cup banner tonight against the Washington Capitals. Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus, Michal Rozsival and Corey Crawford, who had some preseason injuries, bumps and bruises, will all play tonight.
For the Blackhawks, the challenge of this season is a welcome one. Locked, stocked and loaded with just about everyone returning from last season, the Blackhawks have been garnered plenty of “repeat” talk. And they’re anxious to find out if they can make that happen.
“We’re ready, hungry to get things started,” Crawford said. “It’s going to be a pretty special night, and it’s going to be a good test for us, too.”
The Blackhawks have been here, done this before, so they’re not getting too ahead of themselves. For them, it starts with the start. As great as it would be, the Blackhawks aren’t counting on another 21-0-3 start. Still, a good record out of the blocks is pivotal. The Blackhawks got a rousing one last season, and look how that turned out.
“It’s going to be hard to repeat or get close to that,” Hossa said with a smile. “Whatever happens happens. But we want to focus on this year and try to start the right way. Just go step by step and keep building.”
There will be plenty of pomp and circumstance before tonight’s game. The opening ceremony, the videos remembering the highlights of last year’s triumphant season and, of course, another banner raising. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks should take in the moment, then let it go immediately.
“Make sure with all the distractions, fanfare and event, you enjoy it, but let’s go,” Quenneville said. “The start of our season last year put us in the perfect spot for the whole season. That seemed to start if off on the right foot. Trying to prioritize; lot of things you can achieve. Let’s worry about getting off to a good start.”
That has to be especially true for the newer Blackhawks who didn’t go through the 2010-11 season-opening ceremony and could get starry-eyed by tonight’s event.
“I don’t have the answer to exactly how, but it’ll be tough,” Brandon Bollig said of embracing the ceremony, then forgetting it ASAP. “There’s a lot of emotion going into tonight. But once the banner is up and the first period starts, you have to flip the switch right away and focus on the task at hand. It might be tough, but we’re definitely up for it. There’s a lot of emotion and two tasks: not only to enjoy the banner but also get the two points.”
The final links to the 2012-13 Cup run will be hailed, celebrated and unfurled tonight. The long preseason is also over. Now, it’s time for the Blackhawks to start new, and hopefully successful, business.
“Training camp was pretty long here. This is what we’re all waiting for,” Marcus Kruger said. “To get going here and play in front of our fans again.”