Toews: We were this close again, just came up a bit short
ST. PAUL, Minn. – The same group of Blackhawks, mostly present and a few from the past, gathered at Johnny’s IceHouse West just about every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the lockout.
The workouts were consistent, even if they weren’t up to true game-situation snuff. There were some drills, plenty of skating and plenty of preparation players hoped they would use in the NHL eventually this season. And when the season finally did begin, the Blackhawks were glad they put all those lockout days to good on-ice use.
While some teams struggled to shake off rust and start well, the Blackhawks didn’t. And for those Blackhawks who stayed on this side of the pond, the three-day-a-week informal workouts provided the conditioning and constant work to get them off to that great 6-0-1 start.
“It wasn’t the same thing as playing on a team, being in Europe or being in that everyday routine. But we pushed ourselves hard,” Jonathan Toews, who organized the skates in September, said. “I’m sure a lot of guys across the league thought the same thing, that ‘Hey we don’t know when this will end.’ We just kept that optimistic feeling that at some point it was going to happen, and we wanted to be ready to play our best hockey when it did.”
Indeed, the biggest concerns when the NHL returned earlier this month were sluggish starts and injuries incurred from a curtailed training camp. But there was none of that for the Blackhawks. As impressed as coach Joel Quenneville with his Blackhawks who played in Europe, he was doubly pleased with the jump and conditioning of those who stayed here.
“The guys who were all there working out, making sure they were in the best shape of our lives, that was important to our start and important for them getting off to good years individually and collectively,” he said. “Whether it was Johnny or a group of them, they should all be commended. They all got themselves in the right place and they’re ready to go.”
Patrick Sharp said players did what they could to challenge themselves in workouts.
“We tried to push the pace every day and play at that NHL speed,” he said. “Obviously we didn’t have game situation but as far as practice, we were ready at the start of the season.”
And if the players struggled to push themselves, Kenny McCudden, the Chicago Wolves’ skating and conditioning coach, was usually there to do it for them. Nello Ferrara, a defenseman who has played in the ECHL and CHL and skated with the Blackhawks during the lockout, recommended McCudden to the group. McCudden ran the Blackhawks through a series of drills, and players say he rarely repeated the same drill twice.
“If not for a coaching figure out there, we would’ve done some 3 on 3s, no drills and probably would’ve been off the ice in a half hour,” Dave Bolland said with a grin. “He gave us some great drills and got us ready for the season.”
“Everyone in the room had a practice of their own during the lockout, and no question when Kenny was there they were better, more crisp,” he said. “It’s tough to stay motivated when things are going on -- you saw the way the lockout went down. Having Kenny out there, it felt like we were a team getting ready for something.”
In hindsight, they were getting ready for a historic start. The Blackhawks took care of themselves during the lockout. They’re reaping the benefits of that lockout work now.
“The guys in this room that were in Chicago the whole time (during the lockout) definitely did a good job,” Toews said. “And you’re seeing that with our start.”