Blackhawks have fun practice, defend Coach Q

670662.png

Blackhawks have fun practice, defend Coach Q

With the 1,800-pound gorilla also known as an eight-game losing streak weighing on his team as it took the ice for a practice at Johnnys West before departing for Nashville to open the final leg of their nine-game road trip, Joel Quenneville encouraged what else? a little fun.

We tried to have a pulse thats positive, Quenneville said. Coming off two tough road trips here, the moods down, and low, and we tried to instill some positive things, some fun drills, and try to get a little life.

The Hawks ignored the too-many-men-on-the-ice rule and skated up and down, clogging every lane and zone possible to begin the session, and goals were met with whoops and hollers. Leading the way was Mr. Light-hearted (and team prankster) Patrick Sharp, who ended the 50-minute workout flicking a puck or two up to young fans in attendance.

I try to keep it light, have fun, goof around. I feel I play my best when its loose, and the team does, too, the alternate captain said.

That said, theres one of many schools of thought citing with regards to Sharp, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as the guys who will have to lead the way out of this with so many areas springing leaks. Hossa went into the All-Star break with a nine-game point streak, but has exactly zero in the six games since.

100 percent (that its up to the stars to lead the way). We say we need everybody but we have to be the couple (of players) and lead this team, Hossa agreed. Im expecting myself to be better and help the team get a win after a long time.

In being outscored 34-15, the goals-against average now sitting at even 3 per game, the power play 1-for-21 during the skid, and the penalty kill just 17-of-24 starting with the two meetings with Nashville prior to the break, there are a multitude of areas that need improvement, and the trade market remains dormant. That has led many to believe Quennevilles job could be in jeopardy, something general manager Stan Bowman denied in a Monday interview with Comcast SportsNet.

Asked his reaction after practice, the head coach who reached 600 career regular-season wins earlier this season remained focused on whats directly in front of him and his team.

Im confident in what I do and look forward to the challenge of instilling in our group a way to win and an environment in having to get better as we go along. Coming out of this were going to need everybody to find a way to be together, and when we look back over time, hopefully we can talk about being better as a team and I can be better as a coach. Its something you dont think about as you go along as a coach, but with the situation, it can be a reality.

Theyre trying to do everything I think they should do, Hossa said. I think the coaching staffs doing a great job addressing what we have to do. We just have to do it on the ice.

Theres no doubt about Joel in our locker room, Sharp stated. Id tell you if that happened (Quenneville getting fired), thered be a lot of guys in this room upset with themselves. We know as players were the ones who put the puck in the net and need to keep it out of our net. Theres no question Joels our leader.

News and notes

Keith was given a maintenance day and was not practicing, but will face Nashville Tuesday night. Defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador (upper body injuries) were not on the ice and did not travel with the team to begin this portion of the road trip. Ray Emery will get his second-straight start in goal.

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

The Blackhawks strengthened their organizational depth Thursday, announcing the signing of forward Nathan Noel to a three-year entry-level contract that kicks in next season and runs through the 2019-20 campaign. 

Noel, a fourth-round draft pick (No. 113 overall) in 2016, tied a career high with 24 goals — including six game winners — and added 26 assists for 50 points in 52 games during his fourth regular season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was sidelined for a little more than a month in December and January due to an upper-body injury.

The 19-year-old center has raised his game in the postseason, racking up eight goals and 18 assists in 33 games from 2015-17, including six assists in 12 contests so far during the 2017 QMJHL playoffs. Across four years at Saint John, he amassed 208 points (85 goals, 123 assists) in 242 career regular-season games.

Noel is teammates with forward Matthew Highmore, who leads the Sea Dogs in scoring and was signed by the Blackhawks in March to a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent.

Noel is an undersized forward at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but he's a fast skater with offensive upside. He'll likely start the 2017-18 season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, who desperately needed scoring last year. 

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Nick Schmaltz will be joining Blackhawks teammate Trevor van Riemsdyk on Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, the club announced Thursday.

It will be his first career appearance on the U.S. men's national team and third time representing his country in world-championship play, most recently winning a bronze medal at the 2016 World Juniors. He scored two goals and added six assists in seven games during that tournament.

Schmaltz just completed his first professional season with the Blackhawks, where he tallied six goals and 22 assists in 61 games. 

After the year ended, he spoke about the possibility of playing for USA in this tournament and what it would mean to him.

"I think it's a great tournament," Schmaltz said. "You get to play with a lot of great players. Look like a lot of great players are going to the tournament, so it's definitely a big stage. It would be a fun tournament."

The roster now includes 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. Among the other NHLers going for the Americans: Danny DeKeyser, Noah Hanifin, Jimmy Howard, Dylan Larkin, Anders Lee, Charlie McAvoy, Connor Murphy, Brock Nelson and Jacob Trouba.

Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger (Sweden) and Artemi Panarin (Russia) will also compete in the tournament, which begins May 5 and runs until May 21 in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.