Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks hire Jeremy Colliton as new Rockford IceHogs coach

Blackhawks hire Jeremy Colliton as new Rockford IceHogs coach

Jeremy Colliton would still love to be playing hockey. As he put it, “it’s the best game in the world to play.” But post-concussion symptoms cut his pro playing career short and led to a coaching opportunity in Sweden.

It was a successful transition. Now, Colliton will bring his coaching ability back to this side of the pond.

Colliton was hired as the Rockford IceHogs’ new head coach, the Blackhawks announced on Thursday morning. The 32-year-old Colliton has spent the past four seasons in Sweden, where he was head coach of the Mora IK. He played pro hockey for eight seasons; his final season came with Mora IK, with whom he retired in 2014 after dealing with post-concussion symptoms. This past season Colliton led Mora IK to a 35-4-13 record (105 points). But in April Colliton announced that he wouldn’t return with Mora IK, the Alberta native saying in a statement at the time that, “I feel it’s time to be closer to home.”

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement that, “Jeremy’s experience as a player and a coach will allow him to be a great leader and mentor for our young prospects in Rockford. He is coming off a great start to his coaching career with four successful seasons in Sweden and fits very well into our plan of continuing to develop our younger players.”

Colliton will inherit a Rockford team that finished eighth in the AHL Central with a 25-39-9-3 record. The IceHogs missed the playoffs for the first time in the past three seasons. Colliton said getting players ready for the NHL is the biggest task but finding team success also looms large.

“The first priority in Rockford is to help the young players develop so they can contribute and help the Blackhawks win on the NHL level. But that doesn’t prohibit you from having a winning team. That’s also important, teaching these guys how to win and what it takes to be a guy who’s trusted to be on the ice in important situations,” Colliton said. “That’s how they’ll become everyday NHLers and become players the Blackhawks can trust. The focus is on development. Winning is important but that’s the result if we’re doing the right things as far as getting better every day.”

Being in his early 30s, Colliton isn’t too much older than the players he’ll be coaching in Rockford. But he said it’s probably more about his experience in the minors more than the age gap.

“I think what is a positive for me is I’ve been in these guys’ shoes. I know what it’s like to play in the AHL and to try to break through and become an everyday NHLer. Hopefully I can use that experience as a way to help communicate the message for these guys to reach their dreams,” he said. “I’m sure there are some generational things that are easier. But as a coach, the way things are now, it’s important you can connect with these guys, build trust and it’s possible that helps because I’m closer in age.”

Colliton’s playing career was cut short due to concussions but he wanted to remain in hockey in some capacity. He found success as a coach overseas. He hopes to repeat it now in the Blackhawks’ organization.

“I’m a little bit surprised that I’ve been able to move along quickly and get into this opportunity,” Colliton said. “But I have confidence in myself and when I got [the coaching job] in Sweden, I felt like I had experience and knowledge to offer, similar to this, where I was trying to help young players become pros and pros become difference makers.”

Brandon Saad back in veteran-like form for Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Brandon Saad back in veteran-like form for Blackhawks

Brandon Saad seems like more of an NHL veteran than he is. From his size to his composed style of play to what he’s already accomplished at this level, Saad gives off that vibe that he’s been around much longer than he actually has. Even his teammates forget that.

“You think he may be 27, 28 years old. He’s only 24 years old. He’s still a young kid,” Patrick Kane said. “Guys like [Ryan] Hartman and [Vinnie] Hinostroza are only 23 so he’s not much older than them, even though he might seem it. He’s got a great future.”

Saad’s future is once again being played out in Chicago and he couldn’t feel better about returning. Back in a familiar city and a familiar spot on the ice – alongside Jonathan Toews – Saad is ready to reignite the top line with Toews and Richard Panik. Outside of some scrimmages the line hasn’t gotten much of a chance to see where things are yet – their first preseason game was against Columbus on Saturday. But Saad said things are coming together.

“It was still [Toews’] first game back and my first time with him but we’re pretty familiar with each other. I don’t think it’ll take long at all,” he said following the team’s first practice at Notre Dame on Sunday. “Any time you come from a five-month summer into the season your timing’s always a little off, and then with a new player going back to a familiar player, I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Toews recognized Saad’s desire to be a big part of this team when the left wing was a rookie. That drive hasn’t diminished.

“His rookie year I kept saying you could see that intangible quality in him, that he wanted to get better every single night,” Toews said. “You see players with raw, physical talent and ability but don’t take it upon themselves to be one of the guys every single night. Saader was showing that right away and you could tell he was just going to get better and better.”

The powerful part of Saad’s game the Blackhawks missed the most was evident in his first preseason contest back with him, against Detroit on Thursday. The Red Wings didn’t have their top squad but Saad was nevertheless dominant, recording a hat trick in which all three goals were within a few feet of the net. The top line has had that element here and there the past two seasons but no doubt felt Saad’s absence.

“He’s a high-end player or potential player that should develop into a regular scorer and who knows what he could do,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still think there’s room where maybe he could go to a better level as far as production goes, because he gets so many looks around the net with his quickness and the way he protects the puck and the way he can shoot it.”

Saad reaching another level. Again, you see what he’s done so far and you forget that he’s only 24. He still has a lot of time – and potential – ahead of him.

“He’s stepping in here knowing he’ll be one of those guys heavily keyed upon for us,” Toews said. “And he’s ready for that and excited for it.”

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”