Coach Joel Quenneville entered the Olympic break wishing good luck to those headed to Sochi. As for the Chicago Blackhawks who would be vacationing, resting and relaxing, he had another message.
“Get yourself ready.”
That mantra hasn’t changed as the Olympic-breaking Blackhawks returned to practice on Sunday. Half the team will have fresh legs heading into Chicago’s game at the New York Rangers on Thursday, while 10 others – especially the seven who played through the medal games – will be getting back to speed.
Most of the Olympians, including gold-medal gamers Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger, probably won’t return to practice until Wednesday or possibly Thursday morning in New York. So while the rested Blackhawks won’t be expected to carry the burden, they will need to bring the pep.
“I know we exited the Phoenix game with a message for the guys that aren’t going, that when we get back here we want those guys to lead the charge and make sure you get rest,” Quenneville said. “We’re going to rely on you guys to not carry the load, but let’s make sure we’re going to get some energy off of you guys and make sure you guys are ready to play when we get back.”
The non-Olympians are happy to carry a little extra responsibility.
“(Olympic) guys will be tired and such,” Bryan Bickell said. “But it’s up to us young guys – I’m still a young guy, believe it or not – to carry the team while they get their rest and get back into the flow of things.”
The way the Blackhawks are built, they put responsibilities on everyone, regardless of where they fall in the lineup. Obviously the top guys bear the brunt, and they still will. But the Blackhawks’ role players have had to pick up things in the past, and they have no problem doing that again.
[PHOTO: Corey Crawford's Stadium Series mask]
“It’s definitely going to put emphasis on our play with (the Olympians’) travel and playing and not getting much of a break. It’s nice to have the responsibility and hopefully we can carry the team a bit,” Brandon Bollig said. “Obviously we’re excited to get the rest and enjoy ourselves and get our minds off hockey. But I’m sure everyone had the itch to come back.”
Again, the rested Blackhawks won’t be carrying the entire burden. They’ll just be trying to lessen it. As Kris Versteeg said, the Blackhawks’ superstars are that for a reason.
“They’re the guys who make the engine turn. They’re big parts. They’ll be thrown into the fire because that’s what they do. They’re all competitors, so they’ll want to play.” he said. “But we know with the time-zone differences, and the games and intensity at which they played, they may be a little tired. We’re going to have to put our best foot forward in the next few games, all the guys who are rested, and give those (Olympic) guys as much support as we can.”