Michal Handzus was hoping for more this season.
The veteran Chicago Blackhawks forward is coming off a tremendous postseason in which he went from anticipated fourth-line center to a steady second-line one. He hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career and looked to have another solid season in 2013-14. It hasn’t quite happened that way, as he’s been up and down the lineup and a healthy scratch several times. So what keeps Handzus going?
“It’s just fun to play hockey,” said Handzus. “It’s been a great ride so far but I still have fun and still want to be with a team that’s winning and having fun on the ice. If you don’t (have fun), I don’t think you can stay that long and play hockey.”
Handzus has rolled with the punches of this season, which included him playing in his 1,000th career game. For that dedication and more, Handzus is a candidate for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, as nominated by the Chicago chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game.
Joel Quenneville, who has coached Handzus in St. Louis and now here in Chicago, said Handzus exudes the right qualities.
“The best word(s) for him (are) professionalism, experience and consistency. He goes about his work in a quiet fashion and leaves it out there every single day,” Quenneville said. “He’s a throwback to some old-time hockey players: zero maintenance, does whatever he can to get himself in the lineup and contributes any way he can.”
After being scratched against Minnesota and Columbus, Handzus was back in the lineup Sunday when the Blackhawks beat the Blues 4-2. Back on the second line, Handzus played just over 14 minutes and won seven of 12 faceoffs. As far as weathering this season, Handzus said he just pushes through it.
“I don’t think it’s been a year I would’ve liked, but sometimes it is what it is,” he said. “I just try to focus on getting better. Obviously the playoffs are coming. I don’t think too much about the season; I just try to think about what’s coming up next.”
Ah, yes, those playoffs, when Handzus was a pleasant surprise at second-line center. Don’t be surprised if it starts that way again for him this postseason.
“I see him being a part of our team. How much he’s going to play? I probably slot him in a comparable position where he was useful for us last year and see how he handles that,” Quenneville said.