Welcome to the New Year’s edition of Blackhawks Bytes, a series featuring quotes and comments from players, coaches, management, journalists and fans alike concerning everything Chicago Blackhawks. The purpose of this ongoing column is to capture a slice of the existing outlook, attitudes and culture surrounding the team. Please join me as we have some fun with the everyday, albeit fascinating aspect of human nature; the power of words.
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December has NOT been friendly to the Blackhawks. In said month, they only won two of their 13 contests. Then they started out 2023 with yet another loss. But the calendar did just recently flip to the new year, and its only human nature to look at this as a fresh start. With that in mind, let’s visit some of the positive thoughts and vibes that came in December, as the team continues the long grind of an 82-game season.
Stalock Overcomes Misfortune Yet Again
Netminder Alex Stalock returned to the lineup on Dec. 23 after being out since Nov. 1 with a concussion. The 35-year-old veteran has been in the league for 11 years, and dealt with his fair share of adversity, including being diagnosed with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) after a bout with COVID in 2020. But it turns out this was the first concussion of his career. He expounded on the fickle nature of the injury, which he didn’t expect to keep him out as long.
“It’s a challenge that I’ve had to go through. It’s the first time in my career. Thank God it’s held off this long, unfortunately I got bit by it.”— Phillip Thompson (@_phil_thompson) December 20, 2022
—Blackhawks goalie Alex Stalock on being cleared after more than a month and a half in concussion protocol pic.twitter.com/fN8PcD3WKv
It’s certainly nice to have Stalock back between the pipes. He’s suited up for three of the Blackhawks last five games, one of them being their only win during that span (5-2 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 23). He has a rather unorthodox, albeit entertaining, style of play. Instead of a measured and efficient approach like most goaltenders, Stalock isn’t afraid to leave his crease and handle the puck. He possesses a very aggressive game, with lots of movement.
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He somehow makes it work for him. He also brings plenty of energy and passion to the ice, and is a locker room favorite among his younger counterparts. Stalock is a feel-good story for the Blackhawks despite the teams’ losing ways. His continued success is something to cheer for.
Jack Johnson’s Impact on the Rebuild
Another veteran presence for the Blackhawks is Jack Johnson. Also 35 years old, this defenseman has seen it all in his 16 years in the NHL. He’s well-respected around the league, and not surprisingly, he’s endeared himself to the Blackhawks in his short tenure with the team.
Head coach Luke Richardson recently gave kudos to Johnson for his role as a positive influence and mentor on this rebuilding team.
That’s his reputation – being a good professional, and especially working well with young guys. He knows his role, whether it’s a big role playing with Seth (Jones) or maybe playing with a young guy and helping him along, like an Ian Mitchell or a Caleb (Jones), a less experienced guy. He’s positive, he blocks shots, he’s physical, and he plays the same way every night. It’s good for everybody to see.(From ‘For free-falling Blackhawks, Jack Johnson’s attitude matters as much as his aptitude’, The AthleticCHI – 12/27/22)
Sure, that’s Johnson’s job, but it still has to be tough to play for an organization that’s meant to lose, versus winning a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche last season. But unfortunately, that’s the plight he’s been dealt. He has no other choice but to put things in perspective. Says Johnson,
It’s the greatest job in the world and you get to go out and play hockey and have fun with your teammates. Nobody likes to lose, we’re all competitors. And this game can challenge you physically and mentally. But there’s no reason to get down or have negative energy creep into the room. You should be excited to come to the rink every day and it should be fun. I think it’s important, especially for the young guys, to keep that enthusiasm and positive frame of mind coming to the rink every day.
Kudos to Johnson for doing his part and setting the tone on and off the ice. A rebuilding team needs veteran players like him to lead by example. Because when the going gets tough, the Blackhawks need all the help they can get.
Blackhawks Fighting Adversity as Best they Can
But just how much is too much? At what point do the Blackhawks reach a breaking point where apathy and despair sets in? Well, I think we’ve already seen that happen to a certain extent.
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The Blackhawks lost their first game of the new year to the San Jose Sharks (another team low in the standings) by a score of 5-2. This was after the Hawks scored the first goal, and then the second goal to be up 2-0. Hey, maybe this could finally lead to a win?!
But then the wheels fell off once again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Patrick Kane gave a pretty honest assessment of the team’s mindset after the game.
It’s tough. Obviously we’ve been losing a lot of games and it wears on a lot of guys. Guys get frustrated. It’s understandable…I think we had the right attitude. Guys want to win. Guys are staying positive. Especially tonight, I think we had a new outlook on things after the last year and it being a new year and trying to start off the way we wanted to. It looked like it was going right there for a while and then it wasn’t.
It’s true, there are spurts when things go right. But then the lack of talent factors in. The inexperience of young players causes mistakes that can’t be overcome. Kane, as a veteran superstar, can only do so much.
So how do you continue to find ways to stay positive though all that? Forward Sam Lafferty assessed the situation.
It’s challenging. A night like tonight, we had momentum and then it’s gone out of nowhere. Tomorrow we just regroup. The good thing about hockey is you get to keep playing. We’ve got a game in two days, so it’s another opportunity for us.
One could look at the season as a grind. Which it is, especially when you’re losing. But these are hockey players. As Johnson said, “it’s the greatest job in the world and we get to go out and play hockey”. Like Lafferty said, “there’s another game in two days and it’s another opportunity”. At this stage in the game, this mindset is the only way.
It’s a tough season to endure, folks. There’s just no way around it. For the players, the coaches, the fans. This is why we need feel-good stories about veteran goaltenders making a resurgence. About journeymen defensemen being mentors. About young players, and old, that are happy just to be playing hockey.
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So we keep looking for the silver lining, and ways to accentuate the positive. There’s always hope on the horizon; sometimes it’s just harder to find than others. Here’s to that hope, and to a better 2023.