With the NHL still locked out, players truck on

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With the NHL still locked out, players truck on

The NHL remains mired in a lockout, Day 60 coming on Wednesday. But for the AHL, the hockey world keeps on spinning. And for those Rockford players who wouldve been with the Blackhawks at some point this season, hockey and their lives are going on just fine.

Talks have gone quiet once again in the big league. And after things looked so promising early last week, when the league and NHLPA were talking nonstop, the outlook for NHL hockey is looking grim again. But for the IceHogs, as with the rest of the minor-league hockey organizations, games continue. Practices continue. Regular-season routine continues.

Hockey continues. And for them, its not so much about listening to lockout rhetoric and speculation as much as it is focusing on their jobs.

It has to be (the focus), IceHogs forward Brandon Bollig said. You cant take anything away from this league. Its very talented, especially right now. And if you dont have your mind on the game youll be behind the 8-ball. Its unfortunate (about the lockout). But theres no room to focus on whats going on there. Im lucky, along with a few other guys, to be playing right now instead of sitting around and doing nothing.

Guys like Bollig, Andrew Shaw, Ben Smith and Brandon Saad lost the chance to compete for a Blackhawks roster spot this season at least for now. But in the hockey world, theres always a competition for something.

In this lifestyle, youre always fighting, always competing for something. Even here in Rockford youre competing for power play, penalty kill and ice time, Smith said. Being a hockey player, no matter where you are you have to bring your best. If not, someones trying to pass you. We want to be (in the NHL), thats the goal. But have to bring compete and passion every day here.

Not only are guys enjoying their usual hockey routine, but theyre getting that welcome distraction from lockout talk which theyre starting to avoid.

Well have a group chat going, and me and a few guys will read about it and stay informed. But thats mainly it for me, said defenseman Nick Leddy. Its good to focus on a season down here and develop.

And, when the NHL season does resume, some of the potential Blackhawks can hit the training-camp ground running.

Thats the good thing. We can stay sharp and fine tune some things that got you to the NHL, Bollig said. Were fortunate to be so close. If it starts up, and were lucky enough to be called up, were there and ready.

So while the NHL stays quiet, the AHL keeps playing. For these guys, the welcome routine of practices and games continues.

Were hoping something gets done and its something fair, Smith said of a potential collective bargaining agreement. At the same time were working on our games and hoping when the time comes, were all playing good hockey.

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."

Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson out Sunday vs. Blues

Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson out Sunday vs. Blues

Niklas Hjalmarsson is day-to-day with an upper-body injury but he will not play on Sunday when the Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues, coach Joel Quenneville said.

Hjalmarsson left with a little over eight minutes remaining in Thursday night's 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. He missed morning skate that day and, prior to the game, was seen wearing a wrap around his back. Whether or not that is the injury, however, is unknown. Quenneville said the Blackhawks will give Hjalmarsson time to regain full health, especially at this point of the season.

"I think he knows his body and he knows when he can fight through certain things. Giving him enough time to get back to where he's basically 100 percent is what we want," Quenneville said. "That's why he left the game last game. We want to make sure that when he comes back – you know, there's certain things you can fight through, and with him he can go through anything. Let's make sure at this time of the year that he recovers from this."

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks]

Quenneville said the Blackhawks will go with the six defensemen they currently have. The last time Hjalmarsson missed a game due to injury was late February/early March of 2012 (six games with an upper-body injury).

"He's a warrior, he gives you everything you want in a big game like tomorrow's. Certainly missed him in the last game," Quenneville said. "We haven't exposed too much not having Hammer out there in important shifts, but it's a good chance for other guys to get critical and important shifts, and hopefully that helps them in their games as well."

Briefly

- Jordin Tootoo also missed practice (illness).

- Corey Crawford will start vs. the Blues.