“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.” -- Benjamin Franklin
Jonathan Toews took a quick moment to enjoy the Presidents’ Trophy the Blackhawks earned after beating the Edmonton Oilers last week. It was a culmination of a tremendous start; a start -– and a season –- that came about thanks to a metamorphosis of sorts.
“We’ve learned from our mistakes the last few years and we’ve grown,” Toews said. “Everyone’s matured as players in this room.”
There’s something to be said for the Blackhawks doing just that this season, in a variety of ways. Maybe it was some players just getting a year older. Perhaps it was some accepting and honing a new role. Others grew into their game. One way or another, the Blackhawks have matured. And the results came with that experience acquired and lessons learned.
“It’s hard not to (grow),” Viktor Stalberg said recently. “Obviously everyone talked about after they won the Cup they had to make changes, get some younger guys. It’s not easy to get that change or culture in a year. For me, feels like I’m more comfortable and this year came in and really felt like home. I think a lot had that feeling, especially guys who got their first chance last year. It’s good to see and I think we’re a lot better as a group for it.”
Indeed, the Blackhawks were going to endure growing pains after that post-Cup player purge. Half a locker room was traded away, and the Blackhawks had to adjust to new players and new styles. After two consecutive summers of upheavals, the Blackhawks made subtle changes last summer. As of now that looks to have been the right move.
When the Blackhawks reconvened this winter, they were familiar with most of their teammates. That allowed the Blackhawks to hone their games. It’s shown, from Nick Leddy’s improvement on the blue line, Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger’s great work on the penalty kill, forwards helping defensemen do their job and vice-versa and, of course, stronger goaltending.
“Everyone’s accepted their roles and everyone’s doing great in them,” said Andrew Shaw, who accepted the new third-line center role this season and has been part of a successful trio with Stalberg and Bryan Bickell. “Everyone’s pushing each other. The team’s been great and leadership’s been unbelievable, from the coaching staff down to the players.”
The Blackhawks had to go through their lumps, their lessons and their “aging” process. This season, they’ve done it very gracefully.
“We’ve been pleased that everyone’s been pretty consistent and met their goals,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Across the board, the consistency is what you appreciate the most. That’s where you see the growth. You can measure the players being that consistent, and expectations, game in and game out, doing the same things. I think that’s what we’re talking about here. It’s made us a better team.”