Michael Latta finding his niche and game again in Rockford

Michael Latta finding his niche and game again in Rockford

ROCKFORD – When the Rockford IceHogs traded for Michael Latta in January, Twitter mentions went a little crazy for what was a minor-league deal. Latta earned some social-media darling status a few seasons ago with the Washington Capitals on "Road to the Winter Classic," when he and then teammate/roommate never had anything but ketchup in their fridge.

Good news is, when he was traded here for defenseman Cameron Schilling, Latta's lack of food wasn't an issue.

"Yeah, I took Schilling's place so he left me a bunch," Latta said with a laugh. "So thank God."

All kidding and Costco levels of condiments aside, Latta is in a good place these days. Coming from the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings affiliate), where things didn't go so well, Latta is now playing a lot of minutes, getting a lot of responsibility and recording a lot of assists. Coming off a three-point game on Saturday, Latta now has seven assists since making his Rockford debut on Jan. 25.

The change of scenery was a welcome one for the 25-year-old, who's been playing with Tyler Motte and Mark McNeill.

"It's been great," Latta said following the IceHogs' practice on Tuesday. "They've given me a lot of chances, a lot of opportunities. And this last weekend I started feeling really comfortable. I get along with the guys and [I'm learning] the system so it's been good. It's going well so far."

The IceHogs were happy to take Latta; Rockford coach Ted Dent said Latta was a thorn in the IceHogs' side when he played with the Milwaukee Admirals from 2010-13.

"He's the type of guy you hate to play against but you love to have him on your team. We lived through the not having him on our team for two years and he was very effective against us, scrappy and in your face and he shows up to play. All coaches respect that and want guys like that on your team," Dent said. "He has a little skill as well that some people may not know about, but if you give him an opportunity he's definitely showing he can play with some high-end players as well."

Latta started the season at the Los Angeles Kings' training camp but was assigned to the Reign in early October. Not much was happening there, so Latta was thrilled at the trade.

Sometimes players go and you think it's going to be a good fit but it doesn't work out," he said. "But I'm happy here, I think I'm a good fit here and I hope they think so, too."

Naturally, Latta would love an opportunity with the Blackhawks. He knows there's plenty of competition for whatever chance there would be but he keeps it in the back of his mind.

"They don't know me very well so it'd be nice to go up there and get a shot," he said. "Just get a chance to show the and see what they think."

If or when that happens, who knows. Right now, however, Latta is happy to get more playing time and more of a chance to get his game back.

"I know he wasn't playing a lot in Ontario, it wasn't going well," Dent said. "He wanted an opportunity. The fact we know him and have seen him play helps out. I've seen him, management's seen him, everyone liked him and [know] the intangibles he brought to the table. Right away he's playing with our top-nine forwards, between 14-17 minutes of ice time a night. I think he's like, 'wow this is fun,'" Dent said. "We just brought the fun back into the game for him at the beginning and now he's getting to know the guys and feels a lot more comfortable."

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

On April 22, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman vented his frustrations on the team’s all-too-abrupt exit from the postseason, adding that he and coach Joel Quenneville, “are going to work together to make sure that this never happens again.”

There will be plenty of decisions for the two to mull between now and September, when the Blackhawks convene for training camp. When it comes to the assistant head coach vacancy, however, that might need to be decided with a more one-sided approach. That choice ultimately should be made by Quenneville.

In a recent podcast, Pat Boyle and I discussed the Blackhawks’ need to work together on some upcoming decisions. But with the assistant coach, the head coach has to have the loudest voice. The head coach probably should even have the final vote. The relationship between coaches has to be there because they’re around each other constantly. They’ve got to be on the same page. There has to be trust from Day 1.

As for when the Blackhawks name that assistant, there appears to be nothing imminent. A source said Monday that the Blackhawks and Ulf Samuelsson have been in communication about the job — Chris Kuc of the Tribune first reported on Samuelsson on Sunday. On paper it looks like it would be a great fit. Samuelsson and Quenneville played several seasons together with the Hartford Whalers, along with current Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen. The relationship with Samuelsson has been there for a long time and it would make for a smoother transition. It might also provide somewhat of a panacea for Quenneville after former assistant Mike Kitchen, whose friendship with Quenneville also went back to their playing days, was fired last month.

Earlier this month Bowman told the Sun-Times that Quenneville will have a big role in the Blackhawks’ finding their next assistant coach, with the final choice being a “joint collaboration.” We get that there’s an order to these things and everyone has to be in agreement with the final decision. But in the end the head coach has to be 100-percent happy with his immediate staff. So whoever the next assistant coach is, the decision has to be 100 percent Quenneville’s.

Blackhawks share condolences after passing of six-time All Star Bill White

Blackhawks share condolences after passing of six-time All Star Bill White

The Blackhawks shared their condolences after the passing of former defenseman Bill White on Monday.

"The Chicago Blackhawks organization extends its thoughts and heartfelt condolences to Bill White's family as we mourn his loss," the team's statement read. "He will be remembered as a leader, generous teammate and tough player to play against. His energetic style helped the Blackhawks see great success during his tenure with the team."

White spent seven seasons with the Blackhawks — part of a nine-year NHL career — scoring 30 goals and tallying 149 assists.

He appeared in six consecutive All-Star Games from 1969 to 1974 and helped the Blackhawks to the playoffs in all seven of his seasons in Chicago.

White also had a brief stint as the Blackhawks' head coach, manning the bench for the final 46 games of the 1976-77 season.