The players fielded the question, the thought of it bringing a smile to each of their faces.
“You don’t practice that much, do you?”
No, the Chicago Blackhawks don’t practice much. And you’ll be hell bent to find a player complaining about it.
“We love it, it’s awesome,” said Patrick Kane, with one of those smiles. “I think it pays off, too. Come game time, we have a lot of rest and energy going into the games. For whatever reason, you start to think other teams would kind of adapt to that system. But it’s been good for us.”
Coach Joel Quenneville has done well balancing the practice/no practice portion of the Blackhawks’ schedule. The team seldom practiced last regular season, when the lockout led to a condensed, busy schedule in January. Quenneville applied that same thought process on the team’s circus trip. They had one practice on the road; they went 6-1-0 on the trip.
“Players don’t want to practice much, anyway,” Quenneville said with a grin. “You have morning skates, guys are ready to play and they have more energy that way. (Players) would rather play games. But if we do have the time to come out here, let’s make it productive.”
It didn’t hurt them last year, and it’s not damaging them much this season, either. Entering Wednesday night’s games, the Blackhawks are atop the Western Conference with a 20-5-4 record; Tuesday’s loss to the Dallas Stars was the first in two weeks.
“We understand (there are few practices) as long as the attention to detail is there, we’re having good starts and playing that solid team game we need to be playing,” said Jonathan Toews. “Not that it’s a motivation factor, that we know if we win we’re going to practice less. At the same time we know that when things are going well, we’re working, we’re saving our energy for when it matters most. It makes a big difference for us in that room.”
Even if the team loses and the schedule is hectic, it may not practice. With three games in four nights, the Blackhawks were off on Wednesday. They’ll probably take Saturday off, too, coming off a road/home back-to-back.
“If you’re practicing every day you get sick of it. It kind of becomes painful at times,” Andrew Shaw said. “Going into games fresh like that, your mind is clear, your legs are good. It gives you that motivation to keep winning, so you keep doing the same thing.”
Kris Versteeg is one more guy smiling about the practice schedule. The Blackhawks practiced more in his first go-around because they were still young, still getting to know each other. Versteeg, who played with Toronto and Florida between his two Blackhawks stints, is readjusting to this team’s schedule.
“It’s a much different pace for me. I’m used to being at the rink every day and doing a lot of things, be it (watching) video or extra ice time and practices,” he said. “The guys here seem to find a groove, a rhythm with (fewer practices). It doesn’t always work everywhere. Some places I’ve played, not always when you get days off do the guys come back with good effort. But coming off a long run for these guys and a lot of hockey, days off are much needed.”
When the Blackhawks do practice, it’s likely a brief one. But don’t let the time element fool you: the Blackhawks know Quenneville wants them focused, no matter how long they’re on the ice.
“It’s just maintaining that routine,” Toews said. “If we need to practice, get our legs moving, go out there and be as effective as we can and get the most of out every practice we do have. It still allows you to work on little things that maybe you haven’t had the chance to if you’ve been playing a lot of games.”
“We try to get good flow practices, a lot of speed, intensity and also have some fun out there,” he said. “But come game time, it’s all business, all serious.”
The Blackhawks have balanced their schedule pretty well between rest, practice and games. Yes, they’re still going to have the bad game once in a while; that doesn’t mean they’re going to overreact and bag skate. Players have responded well to the plan. The results are there. So are the grateful smiles.
“Since he’s been here, we’ve probably practiced the least amount of any team in the league,” Kane said. “It’s good for us. We take advantage of that time, get away from the game a little bit and come back hungry.”