Welcome to the January 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.
In my last edition of Blackhawks Bytes, I focused on the team handling the adversity of their brutal record in the month of December. So far in January the Blackhawks have enjoyed a little bit more success. It’s nice to see the team winning some games, even if the overall organizational goal is to lose for a high draft pick. But the players and the coaches don’t really care about management’s big picture; their goal is always to win.
That’s why I’d like to start with some thoughts from head coach Luke Richardson about both victory and defeat.
Richardson & the Juxtaposition Between Winning & Losing
Let’s go back to the beginning of January. The Blackhawks were mired in a five-game losing stretch. But then they managed a 2-0 shutout over the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 6. They took that momentum into a 4-3 overtime win over the Calgary Flames. We all know now that they also beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Jan. 12 to enjoy a three-game winning streak. But even before the Avalanche game, Coach Richardson described the winning vibes he felt from the players.
You can feel it. Walking into the video room the other day after a day off and two wins, (there was) that rumble where they’re all talking and all together. I didn’t even want to interrupt that and start the meeting. I just wanted to listen to them enjoy it. This time of year is a hard time of the year when you’re losing. But it’s a great time of the year when you’re winning.(from ‘Blackhawks fans: Don’t sweat the tank, just take the wins’, The AthleticCHI – 1/12/23)
Kudos to Richardson for sharing this personal tidbit from behind the scenes. It shows that the players really do care. We as fans all complain about watching this team lose all the time. But can you imagine what it would be like as a player?! Nobody makes it to the NHL level without a deep level of competitiveness. This is their livelihood, and they want to be good. Better than good; they want to be the best. So of course they’re going to feel it when they find some success. But it works the other way as well.
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A mere two days later, the Blackhawks suffered one of their worst losses of the season to date, falling 8-5 to the Seattle Kraken on Jan. 14. The score didn’t really impart how bad of a loss it was. The Blackhawks were down 6-1 after the first period alone. Four of their ensuing goals were really just garbage goals at the tail end of a game that was already in the bag for the Kraken. Richardson gave his assessment on losing after that contest.
We have to learn that you have to be prepared in the morning of a game, or even the day before, whatever your routine is. You’re a professional. This is your job every day. Sure, rest is good sometimes on a day off, but even on the other days, what are you doing the rest of your day? You come to work and you’re on the ice for an hour. The rest of your life is still whatever you need to get ready for that next day and that next game. And if you can’t do it, whatever you’re doing, you better change it…
I haven’t been surprised all year with these guys. They’re resilient, they come back, whether it be within a game or after a bad game. They’re resilient and they push and they seem to enjoy being together as a team and playing hard together. I assume this is unacceptable for them as well and they’ll be ready to work Monday.
Richardson is a pretty even keel guy, but on this occasion he felt the need to call his players out a little bit. Sure enough, the team answered back accordingly.
The very next game (on Jan. 17) the Blackhawks showed exactly that character and resiliency Richardson was referring to. They fought back from a two-goal deficit to beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in overtime. Wouldn’t you know it; that led to another three-game winning streak.
Stauber’s the Star
Speaking of more winning, the Blackhawks defeated the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 21 by a score of 5-3. They did this with 23-year-old rookie Jaxson Stauber in net for his first NHL start. Stauber isn’t exactly NHL ready, but he was called up from the Rockford IceHogs due to Alex Stalock entering concussion protocol for the second time. Because of back-to-back games, the Blackhawks had little choice but to play him. He ended up impressing everyone with a very solid outing, but I get ahead of myself.
Before the game, Stauber screwed up the whole tradition of the rookie skating the first lap on his own during warmups. Sure, he was the first on the ice and the rest of the team predictably held back. But Stauber never skated that solo lap like he was supposed to. “I kind of forgot about the lap. I didn’t really take a lap, just went straight across like I normally do. That was pretty funny.” (from ‘As Blackhawks keep winning, what does it mean for the tank?’, The AthleticCHI – 1/21/23)
Jaxson Stauber takes the ice alone for his first NHL start. pic.twitter.com/u4Yhqc6pmk— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) January 22, 2023
I’m sure nerves had something to do with it. Stauber was focused on getting himself prepared for the matchup, not skating some silly solo lap. I guess being a goaltender might have some advantages after all.
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Fast forward to the end of the game, with the team celebrating. Stauber was gifted the Blackhawks’ game belt, which is awarded to a player after every win.
a no-brainer for the Belt tonight 👀 pic.twitter.com/TxujGyT510— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) January 22, 2023
I don’t think I really need to expound on this much further. Depth forward Reese Johnson received the belt from the previous win, so he got to choose who received it this time around. He was obviously fired up, and he did a great job of channeling the energy and excitement that comes from the team collectively doing well. Which leads us full circle once again.
Blackhawks Learning to Win
On Jan. 19, legendary goaltender Ryan Miller was honored by the Buffalo Sabres for his outstanding career, and his No. 30 jersey was retired to the rafters. In preparation for this momentous occasion, Miller wrote a thank you letter to the fans in The Players’ Tribune. He spent some time reminiscing about the beginning of his career, when the Sabres weren’t very good.
… just a couple of young guys trying to soak it all in and not have (coach) Lindy Ruff yell at us… but I also think he understood how to get to that point. He knew that difficult seasons — like the ones we went through in my first few years there — were necessary. He knew that young players had to learn to win.
And to learn to win, man … you have to lose some.
Yeah well, I’d say that’s where the Blackhawks are at right now. But everyone has to pay their dues. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. They all endured a lot of losing before they started winning. But then in their glory years, the years of three Stanley Cups, they arguably knew how to win like no others.
We all have to keep in mind that it’s a process, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. So let’s remember where the Blackhawks are at right now. Losing is okay in the name of the rebuild. But winning is fun too. Growth and development, and learning to win by losing, is the name of the game right now.
In the meantime, like Richardson, Stauber, Johnson and the rest of them, let’s enjoy the ride as best we can.
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Quote to live by, “Follow your dreams, and good things will happen.” Wait, maybe it’s “Good things happen when you shoot the puck!” You get the idea.
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.