Hawk Talk: Sweet pre-holiday treats

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Hawk Talk: Sweet pre-holiday treats

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
4:48 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Go up and down the Blackhawks' lineup, Friday and Sunday. Every player played better than they had over the previous week. The proof is now out there, on tape, for how good this team is capable of being, and that's without Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, and Viktor Stalberg. Now, it's all about doing that for every game, and not just talking about doing it. If they do, this team will be just fine.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook came into the weekend against the Wings and Kings a combined minus-14. They were a combined plus-6 in the two victories. Jonathan Toews had three more points to give him 13 over his last nine games. Bryan Bickell has been answering the call with eight points over his last seven. Troy Brouwer - who had one goal in his first 21 games came into WingsKings with eight over his previous dozen. He may not have collected a point, but was a plus-3, dished out 11 hits and was a disrupting influence in front of Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick. Matter of fact, the Hawks as a whole played with a chip on their shoulder - 34 hits Friday and another 35 Sunday. They sacrificed - 24 blocked shots Friday, and 22 Sunday. They were smart - facing one short-handed situation all weekend. When you're penalty-kill is struggling, that helps. That PK should get an assist with the return of Fernando Pisani, the arrival of Ryan Johnson, and the level-raising play of Dave Bolland lately, offensively too.

Encouraging signs, but Joel Quenneville wasn't ready to declare anything after the win over L.A. He's seen signs before, only to see lapses follow. It's about high-level consistency, which has eluded just about every team around the league heading into the holidays. The competition and balance is stiff, as any day-by-day glance at the conference standings will show you. A couple of flat efforts has teams scrambling to recover, and no matter how they play from this point on - some earlier missed opportunities will already force the Hawks to scramble once the games-played numbers even out. We asked the head coach before Sunday's game whether Friday was the team's best 60-minute effort of the season, and said it probably came down to that one and the 7-1 victory in Vancouver. He's been preaching during his three years it's all about defensive effort, responsibility and execution. That's what we saw this weekend, along with some wonderful goaltending from Corey Crawford.

Maybe the Hawks started this thing a little earlier, and just can't beat Colorado. They played a good road game in the overtime loss in San Jose before the loose, off-to-the-races defeat in Denver and the third period double minor in the rematch last Wednesday. Prior to those three, they'd won five of six.

Between the roster turnover, the short summer, wearing the "target," and the health challenges, we knew this wasn't going to be easy. But now, even without a couple of marquee names, they've shown what they're capable of doing. That level now needs to be sustained, especially before Baby New Year crawls in. They're 4-4-1 against the Central, with Nashville, Columbus and St. Louis up next. They're 0-1-1 against Antti Niemi and the Sharks, then reach the season's halfway point at Anaheim and Los Angeles right after the New Year.

As Quenneville said at the team's annual holiday family skate Monday morning at the United Center, Santa was very good and came through with his request a year ago. Is it greedy to ask for the same, expensive gift this year? At this rate, he'll probably accept efforts and execution like he saw this weekend on a game-by-game basis. That, and a healthy New Year, is probably enough for him to take his chances on whether it's a gift they're given again.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks' bottom six steps up in Colorado

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AP

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks' bottom six steps up in Colorado

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Jamal Mayers discuss the bottom six carrying the Blackhawks to a come-from-behind win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.

Later, Mayers weighs in on possible targets with the NHL trade deadline just six weeks away.

Listen to the latest episode of the Hawks Talk Podcast below:

Playing close to home a special experience for Hartman, Hinostroza families

Playing close to home a special experience for Hartman, Hinostroza families

DENVER — When Ryan Hartman went to Michigan at age 16 to play with the U.S. National Development Team, his father Craig moved the whole family there, too. Craig wanted Ryan to stay close with his brother, who's several years younger.

The move was worthwhile but not easy. Craig traveled back and forth to Chicago for his work, and the stay in Michigan, originally expected to be two years, turned into four when Ryan played for the Plymouth Whalers.

Now when the Hartmans want to see Ryan, whether it was in Rockford last season or in Chicago this season, it's less than an hour away from their West Dundee home.

"Either transition's been great because I've been seeing him a lot, taking care of his dog when he's on the road," Craig said. "It's pretty cool when he comes and sees his little brother play hockey. It's pretty amazing to have him home. If he's in any other city, he'd be gone. It's special to have him here."

For many of the fathers currently on the Blackhawks' dads trip, this excursion is one of maybe a handful of times they'll get to see their sons play in a season. But for Craig Hartman and Rick Hinostroza, Vinnie Hinostroza's dad, their sons play for the hometown team. They get to see them at least half of the season. And for both of them, it's an incredible feeling.

"It's pretty unbelievable to be able to just drive, depending on how traffic is, it could take us a little over an hour to get there. But just to be able to be home in 35 minutes and we get to sit and talk to him after a game or go out to dinner, things like that," Rick Hinostroza said. "It's really nice, and we'll take it as long as we can."

Craig and Rick are also enjoying their first dads trip, which began in Denver and now goes to Boston. Ryan Hartman said it's been a great experience for him and his father.

"It's my first year here and (it's a chance) for him to be able to see what we go through on the road, so he has a better idea of what I'm doing when I'm gone all the time. I'm sure it's good for him to be here and see that," Hartman said. "And just being on the road with him, it's a cool experience. I'm glad to have him here."

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Vinnie Hinostroza said this was the first hockey trip he'd been on with his dad since his midget hockey days.

"It's so special to bring him along, where he used to bring me and pay for the hotels and everything. It's nice he gets to enjoy this," Hinostroza said. "It's special for us to have them here. They sacrifice so much for us growing up, taking us on hockey trips."

Rick Hinostroza got his first taste of how his son travels on this trip. The elder Hinostroza was impressed, from the charter jet to the hospitality that wasn't the usual commercial-flight can of soda and bag of pretzels.

"The attendants going back and forth, asking if I wanted something to eat and here you have this list, a choice of all this stuff. I'm used to the attendant coming around with the cart and you get what you get when you get it," he said. "To be exposed to that and see just how the organization treats the families and players, it's pretty neat. It's really surreal."

But as important as playing in hometown Chicago is for Hartman and Hinostroza's parents, it means so much to the players as well.

"It's a blessing, really, having them so close," said Ryan, who sees his younger brother play hockey whenever he can. "It's nice. You don't have to plan a trip for them to come, and you don't have to be waiting for the next time you're going to see them. Sometimes there are off days when I go home and relax with them. It's definitely nice to have."

The latest Blackhawks' dads trip will end this weekend. Most of the fathers will head back to their respective homes, most of which are a good distance from Chicago. For the Hartmans and Hinostrozas, the return to Chicago means being back home and continuing to live the dream of watching their sons play here.

"I've gotten to meet a lot of fathers and having a nice time," Craig Hartman said. "It's fantastic. Growing up in the city — I was born probably about 15 blocks from the UC — being part of this and having my kid play with the Blackhawks, it's crazy."