Blackhawks Hoping for a Healthy Start to the New Year

The National Hockey League officially began their holiday break early this year because of the rampant outbreak of COVID cases throughout the league. All contests after the conclusion of games on Tuesday, Dec. 21 will be rescheduled. The Chicago Blackhawks already had their Dec. 21 matchup against the Florida Panthers postponed, since the Panthers were one of the teams with numerous cases. But this new development means their Dec. 23 contest against the Dallas Stars was cancelled as well. Fortunately, the Blackhawks are one of the few teams that hasn’t been affected by this most recent outbreak. They are hopeful this will remain the case. That, and some players returning from recent ailments, are leaving the team optimistic for a healthy and productive start to the new year.

An Unexpected Practice

The announcement about an early break was made late Monday night, so it was a bit surprising when the Blackhawks hit the ice for a practice on Tuesday morning. After all, they aren’t scheduled to play again until Tuesday, Dec. 28, and can return as soon as Dec. 26.

Turns out the team decided to practice Tuesday and then have another day off after Christmas. They aren’t planning on returning to practice until Dec. 27, a day before they have back-to-back contests against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Winnipeg Jets.

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But this unexpected practice is a positive sign for this squad. They only have one player currently in COVID protocol. Obviously they all had to test before practice, and no one else was added to the list. This means they appear to have emerged unscathed from their game against the Nashville Predators on Dec. 17. At the time, the Predators had numerous players and coaches out with the virus.

While it can take a few days for symptoms to develop, the Blackhawks must have felt confident enough with their situation to get everyone together one more time before breaking for the holidays. With strict warnings to stay safe, of course. Let’s hope the Blackhawks have similar luck with their testing results when they return on the 27th.    

De Haan in COVID Protocol

Defenseman Calvin de Haan is the lone Blackhawk in COVID protocol, having been placed there on Monday, Dec. 20. He was actually held out of the Predators and Dallas Stars games due to what they thought at the time was a non-COVID related illness. Poor Calvin jinxed himself in an interview just a few days earlier.

Apparently he didn’t eat enough dirt to keep this one at bay.

But the good news is de Haan hasn’t been with the team since Dec. 16, and anyone else likely would have shown symptoms by now. The 30-year-old veteran has been missed on the ice. He makes a solid and dependable partner alongside Seth Jones on the top defensive pairing. The Blackhawks will be anxious to get him back after the Christmas break.  

Khaira Skating After Horrific Collision

Tuesday’s practice brought some more good news. Forward Jujhar Khaira skated with the team for the first time since was stretchered off the ice on Dec. 7. During the Blackhawks’ contest with the New York Rangers, Khaira had his head down as he was fishing for the puck in between his legs. He was hit hard by Rangers’ defenseman Jacob Trouba and was rendered unconscious before he even fell to the ice.

Jujhar Khaira, Chicago Blackhawks
Jujhar Khaira returned to practice for the Chicago Blackhawks after sustaining an injury on Dec. 11. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Many would argue Trouba’s hit was illegal, but he wasn’t penalized on the play, and there wasn’t any further action by the league in the following days. Regardless, it was a tough collision to witness. Obviously Khaira’s condition was of primary concern.

The gritty forward was taken to the hospital, but was reported alert and responding. He was released the next day, and all further updates were positive. It was great to see Khaira back with his teammates at practice, but head coach Derek King is obviously taking a cautious approach.

Hopefully Khaira will make a full recovery and be able to return to the lineup sooner rather than later.   

Borgstrom Back on the Ice

In addition to Khaira, Henrik Borgstrom was also at practice last Tuesday before the Christmas break. The Finnish forward was ruled out for practice and the Maple Leafs’ game on Dec. 11 due to a non-COVID related illness. He was then placed on injured reserve Dec. 15. There have been no updates on Borgstrom’s condition, so it was a welcome sight to see him on the ice.

Henrik Borgstrom, Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks’ Henrik Borgstrom has been out of the lineup with an illness. (a href=httpswww.instagram.comjmstarr_Jess StarraThe Hockey Writers)

Borgstrom has struggled this season, posting only two goals and three points in 17 games. He’s dealt with numerous healthy scratches and a few illnesses. When he has played, he’s been utilized mostly on the third line. I’m sure Borgstrom is happy to get back on the ice, and anxious to finally find his groove.

Toews Welcomes a Re-Set

Speaking of finding his groove, Jonathan Toews has scored three goals in the last five game after not scoring any in the first 25. Hockey players are a superstitious bunch, so one might think Toews just wants to keep going. But he admitted a break might be beneficial, especially for him.  

For me personally, it’s definitely a relief. It’s nice to get a few days here and there to maintain and take care of myself, and [to] get myself in better condition going forward for the rest of the season.

This year has been just a grind, physically and mentally, trying to get back to . . . the level I’m capable of playing at, where I feel like I’m contributing to our team. I’m moving in the right direction. Time like this definitely helps me personally.

(from ‘Fresh off 4-game point streak, Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews welcomes week of rest’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 12/22/21)

The Blackhawks are certainly going to need Toews down the stretch. Even when he’s not contributing offensively, the captain’s faceoff prowess and two-way play are extremely beneficial to the team. Let’s hope this time off will be just what Toews needs to recuperate accordingly.

The Blackhawks started the holiday break in a good position health-wise. They avoided a COVID outbreak and welcomed back some players who have missed time. Their captain has embraced this time off to give his body some much-needed rest. I’m sure the rest of the team is also happy to recover from the inevitable bumps and bruises that go along with playing hockey.

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Now it’s time to regroup with a positive and healthy mindset headed into the new year.

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