Tanner Kero’s consistency leads to longer stay with Blackhawks

Tanner Kero’s consistency leads to longer stay with Blackhawks

When you're an in-season call-up you know your stay is always up in the air. Maybe you were called up because someone else is hurt and once that player returns to the lineup, you'll probably return to the minors. Or you were called up to give the team a boost, offensively or defensively, and if you don't do it you'll be reassigned.

Tanner Kero is familiar with the scenarios and the uncertainties. When he was recalled for an injured Artem Anisimov just before Christmas, Kero approached it the same way he did when he joined the Blackhawks last season. That was a brief stay. This has become a long-term one.

Kero played in his 37th game on Sunday, his bank-shot pass to Marcus Kruger leading to the latter's empty-net goal in the Blackhawks' 6-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Kero has helped fill the bottom-six need at center, has been solid in faceoffs (he's just under 46 percent for the season) and has been part of the team's dependable youth movement this season. Kero said he's appreciated the long-term opportunity but he approaches every game as another audition.

"You're never too sure how long a call-up is going to be, for whatever the reason you're being called up is, but you want to take advantage of that opportunity and work hard every day and try to earn that spot," Kero said. "If you get that consistent ice time you just try to get better, not just be satisfied with that. You try to earn as much as you can, earn their trust and more opportunities."

Coach Joel Quenneville credits Kero with bringing a consistent game.

"He's reliable in a lot of ways," he said. "He puts himself in the right spot, down low in his own end, underneath coverage, and seems to be useful in killing penalties as well. There's more offense in his game that hopefully can come around and add to his reliability defensively. We feel he's done a good job of being a guy in the middle you can use and we like what he's brought to our team in a position where, [earlier in] the year, I don't know if he was forecast to be a regular like that. But he's become more and more reliable, or used more."

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Blackhawks tickets right here!]

Kero doesn't take anything for granted, even though he's had a stead role this late in the regular season. That pressure is part of what fuels him. 

"That pushes you a little extra every day," he said. "You want to make sure you're doing all the little things right. You never know when the opportunity will be taken away for whatever reason. You want to take advantage of it and make the most of it."

Kero's learned a lot in his time with the Blackhawks. He's more confident in his role, more confident with the puck and knowing when to demand it, hold it or give it up. He's also getting great experience in dealing with the more intense regular-season stretch run, something he'll need if he's part of the postseason (and as of now it looks like he will be). 

"You want to play against those good teams, to play on the road and in different atmospheres and get used to it, get the confidence to play your game in those environments," Kero said. "Heading into the playoffs that's a huge thing, especially playing against teams like Minnesota who are right in the race with you. You want to trust yourself and trust you can play in that situation."

Kero has earned trust this season. What looked like a short-term stay when he first arrived has become a lengthy one. But he'll keep playing like he has to prove himself every game.
 

Ed Belfour reflects on fulfilling 'childhood dream' of playing for Blackhawks

3-23_ed_belfour.jpg
AP

Ed Belfour reflects on fulfilling 'childhood dream' of playing for Blackhawks

While Troy Murray was attending summer school at the University of North Dakota he was also working out in offseason skates and practices there. Getting goaltenders for those skates wasn't easy. But a guy from Carman, Manitoba would drive down to Grand Forks, N.D., play in those games and then drive back home that night.

That guy was Eddie Belfour.

"He'd come in, put his gear on, and we thought this was just some kid that came from somewhere and, ‘Hey, thanks for coming, kid.' Little did we know, that's how he was making himself better," said Murray, who would later play with Belfour with the Blackhawks. "He walked onto UND, made there and the rest is history in how good he was at the collegiate level and as a pro."

The drive was there for Belfour then and it lasted throughout his career, which included eight seasons with the Blackhawks, a gold medal with Team Canada in the 2002 Olympics and a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999. On Thursday night the Blackhawks honored Belfour in their latest installment of "One More Shift."

For Belfour, it was a chance to be back where it all started – "it's always emotional coming back to Chicago. I had a lot of great times here," he said – with his favorite childhood team.

"The fans are always fantastic for me here in Chicago. I'll never forget the "Eddie, Eddie" chant. They're the ones who started it," Belfour said prior to taking his shift. "For me, getting a chance to play in Chicago stadium in front of the fans and how close they were and how loud the building was and the anthem was amazing. It was boyhood dream come true."

Ask Belfour's former teammates how best to describe the goaltender and the answer was pretty unanimous: intense.

"Intense is a good word. I think competitive is a really good word, too, because he was one of the few guys, few goalies who took working out very seriously [then]," Steve Konroyd said. "He used to train for triathlons, and this was in the late 80s, early 90s. For NHL players that was probably odd, but for NHL goaltenders that was crazy. He was ultra-competitive, different in ways but in a good way. He was a real character."

Denis Savard said Belfour's preparation for games was, "second to none."

"He always came prepared for a game, from focusing on that night and sharpening his own skates. He'd work on his own skates after practices sometimes for two hours. He was very meticulous about everything," Savard said. "We already know goaltenders are on their own program with how they prepare, but he was a special one. He was a battler, he was a winner and he was a great goalie for a long time."

Murray would face Belfour in 1996, when Murray was with the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche and Belfour was still with the Blackhawks. Patrick Roy got the best of that postseason series (Belfour led the Stars past the Avalanche in 1999 and 2000 playoff matchups). But Murray remembers Roy's confidence no matter who was in the other net, and Belfour had that same mentality.

"You need that as a goaltender. You want that challenge," Murray said. "You have to have that mindset because if you think you're second best, you're not going to succeed. That's what drives all these great players and Eddie had that mindset."

[Buy Blackhawks tickets]

For Belfour, those Chicago days were bittersweet. His first trip to the Stanley Cup final came with the Blackhawks. There were a lot of great times. There were a lot of tough times. But it was all worth it.

"Going to the Stanley Cup final was awesome to do in my first couple of years. Unfortunately, we didn't win and that's probably my biggest regret is that we didn't play well. It still haunts me some days," Belfour said. "But that happens sometimes when you're a younger player and you learn from it and get better. That's what I tried to do."

Belfour's body of work speaks for itself. The kid who first started honing his craft in pickup games at North Dakota had a tremendous NHL career. As for that competitiveness, he's still got it – even in jest.

"I was joking, ‘If I'm doing this [One More Shift], I gotta play at least five minutes,'" he said.

Blackhawks, Tanner Kero agree to two-year contract extension

Blackhawks, Tanner Kero agree to two-year contract extension

The Blackhawks have agreed to terms with Tanner Kero on a two-year contract extension that runs through the 2018-19 campaign, the team announced Thursday.

Kero, 24, has five goals and seven assists in 38 games with the Blackhawks this season, along with six goals and nine assists in 55 games across two seasons.

[BLACKHAWKS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

He has become a reliable, versatile forward on the bottom six for Joel Quenneville and has also played a role in the team's penalty-kill unit that has been terrific in March after a rough start to the year.

Kero signed a two-year deal that carries a $667,500 cap hit with the Blackhawks on April 2, 2015, as an undrafted free agent.