The Chicago Blackhawks figured theyd spend some time on the road early in this abbreviated season. That circus trip bit the dust with the lockout, but that lengthy road trip while the Disney ice show is in town remained.
So not only do the Blackhawks face a frenzied game schedule, theyll be on the road for a good chunk of it right out of the gate.
The Blackhawks will play 10 of their first 12 games on the road, including six on that ice show trip, part of the teams regular-season schedule that was released on Saturday night.
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The NHLPA ratified the new collective bargaining agreement on Saturday but schedules couldnt be officially released until both the PA and NHL agreed to and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The two sides spent most of Saturday working on that.
For the Blackhawks, the road test starts immediately: at noon on Jan. 19 they play the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, who plan to raise their Stanley Cup banner that day.
The next night theyre in Phoenix, facing a Coyotes team that booted them from the 2011-12 postseason. Phoenix forward Raffi Torres will still be serving his suspension for elbowing Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa in the head in Game 3 last April. The six-game ice show trip features treks to Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary, San Jose, Phoenix and Nashville.
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Not that the home schedule will be any easier. The Blackhawks will host the St. Louis Blues in its season opener on Jan. 22, then the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 27.
The schedule was already going to be hectic, given the leagues desire to get a 48-game season starting by Jan. 19. For the Blackhawks, however, the road presents another tough task to a team hoping to get off to a strong start.
But Bryan Bickell, when asked about the potential early road onslaught on Friday, didnt see it as a liability.
Well do some team bonding on the road; just to get some chemistry and get to know everybody. I know I havent seen most of these guys for four months, Bickell said. Every games important, whether we start at home or the road. And its going to be good to have the home games late because it may come down to that.
True, but if it comes down to that at the end its because the Blackhawks bobbed and wove their way through a brutal early road schedule oh, and their two home games in between all that travel are against division rivals St. Louis and Detroit.
The Blackhawks mettle will be tested early. And it will be tested far away from their friendly United Center setting.