Bickell sees improvement after playing in Europe

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Bickell sees improvement after playing in Europe

Bryan Bickell was so used to the bigger European ice that when he first returned for the Blackhawks informal workouts, he misjudged the area.

I remember the first practice (back) here at Johnnys, I ran into the boards, Bickell said. All the guys liked that.

All kidding and smaller ice area aside, Bickell took advantage of his time playing over in Europe. And he said the biggest improvement he made was with his skating.

It was the systems, I think, Bickell said. There isnt a lot of structure but its a very big skating league with the bigger ice, and just the open ice so much more. It was just overall the ice and how good the skaters were. The systems arent what they are here, but it was a good league.

Bickell joined HC Znojmo, an Austrian League squad based in the Czech Republic, in early October. Besides adjusting to the country, Bickell had to get used to the bigger ice fast.

Positioning-wise, the smarter play is probably the easier play with less skating. There is so much ice, so much more time that if you give any guys that are skilled a chance, theyll blow by you. You had to position yourself in the right spot, Bickell said. It took a couple of games to figure it out; a lot of huffing and puffing those first few games. But hopefully I can keep it going over here.

Coach Joel Quenneville said he saw the change in Bickell immediately.

I noticed him the first day in camp that he's skating better, Quenneville said. He might have shed a few pounds, and he was talking about the big ice surface over there, where it's more of a skating game. We like his size, we like his quickness, and with his physicality added to that.

Bickell got his skating work in over in Europe. He hopes to keep seeing results of it now that hes back in a Blackhawks uniform.

I know we have to stick to our systems and its not a run and gun game over here, but my cardio and and fitness right now is probably the highest its ever been. Coming off that and not sitting here waiting for the season to start was huge. I feel good and were playing good.

Preview: Corey Crawford ill, Scott Darling in for Blackhawks vs. Blues

Preview: Corey Crawford ill, Scott Darling in for Blackhawks vs. Blues

The Blackhawks were already without Niklas Hjalmarsson on Sunday night. Now they’re without Corey Crawford as well.

Crawford is ill and Scott Darling will start in his place when the Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues at the United Center. Crawford was expected to start but did not skate this morning – goaltending coach Jimmy Waite took the other net. Coach Joel Quenneville does not believe Crawford has the mumps – “I haven’t heard the word mumps around here,” he said. The Vancouver Canucks are currently working through an outbreak of the mumps and several teams battled it a few seasons ago.

As for the backup, Quenneville was hoping Lars Johansson could be up in an emergency situation, as long as logistics work out. The Rockford IceHogs are scheduled to play at the Ontario (Calif.) Reign later today.

Marian Hossa did not skate this morning but he is expected to play tonight. As Quenneville said on Saturday, Hjalmarsson is day-to-day with the upper-body injury he sustained on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes but is out tonight.

The last time the Blackhawks faced the Blues was in their Winter Classic game on Jan. 2. A month later coach Ken Hitchcock was fired and, now under Mike Yeo, the Blues have gone 7-3-0 since then. That includes two losses heading into their bye week, however, which they come out of tonight.

“I think usually teams seem to respond pretty well with coaching changes. Whenever you get something new, something to renew the group, whether it’s systems or different energy in the locker room, teams seem to respond at least in the beginning,” Jonathan Toews said. “We can expect this team to be really hard to play against and obviously pretty eager to, maybe, be better overall than they have been all year, knowing what they’re capable of as a team. We know whether we’re playing St. Louis or Minnesota, teams that are close to us in the points race, the points are always huge.”

BLACKHAWKS VS. ST. LOUIS BLUES

6:30 p.m.

TV: NBCSN

Live stream: NBC Sports app

Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks

Forward lines

Nick Schmaltz -Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Tomas Jurco-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa

Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Andrew Desjardins

 

Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell-Michal Rozsival

 

Goaltender

Scott Darling

 

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Corey Crawford (ill).

 

St. Louis Blues (via NHL.com)

Forward lines

Alex Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Dmitrij Jaskin-Jori Lehtera-Magnus Paajarvi

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

 

Defensive Pairs

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

 

Goaltender

Jake Allen

 

INJURIES/ILLNESS: None.

Tomas Jurco ready for 'fresh start' with Blackhawks

Tomas Jurco ready for 'fresh start' with Blackhawks

Tomas Jurco lingered near the end of the Blackhawks' practice on Saturday, watching as fellow Slovak/now-teammate Marian Hossa drew a few things up on the dry-erase board.

Having a few familiar countrymen's faces (Hossa and Richard Panik) in the room helps. But for Jurco, just getting a fresh start is a welcome sight.

Jurco skated on the third line with Marcus Kruger and Hossa, and it looks like he'll make his Blackhawks debut there when the team hosts St. Louis on Sunday night. Jurco spent the last few seasons with the Detroit Red Wings but couldn't find a steady place in the lineup. Now here, he's hoping to change his fortunes.

"I mean, it's been tough couple of years for me in Detroit, so I was talking to [general manager] Ken Holland and we were discussing some options. I wasn't progressing in the last year or so, so I think this is a great time to push my game to another level," Jurco said on Saturday. "Like I said, this is another fresh start for me and I'm very excited for it."

[MORE: Niklas Hjalmarsson out Sunday vs. Blues]

Jurco joins a Blackhawks team that is surging (winning eight of nine) these last few weeks of the season. He and Hossa played together in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, so there's some familiarity as well as friendship there.

General manager Stan Bowman said Friday night that, based on Jurco's skills and the Blackhawks' style of play, Jurco should fit in well.

"I think he's going to get better here," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's going to get a little bit more comfortable with how we have to play, knowing that you want to go right through the puck and you want to pressure. Offensively I think he's got a chance to recapture some confidence. I think he moves well. I like his size. [It's] just getting a little more comfortable with our game and trusting his own instincts right off the bat."

It was time for a change for Jurco. Whether he blossoms like Panik, who came here from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and is now putting up career numbers as part of the Blackhawks' top line, remains to be seen. It's an opportunity nonetheless, and Jurco is ready to take advantage of it. 

"It was a number of different reasons in Detroit it didn't work out for me. I wasn't playing much, so that's obviously tough. And when you don't play for a few weeks and you play a couple of games, it's very tough," Jurco said. "I'm very happy that I'm here and excited for tomorrow."