Second-year Rockford IceHogs head coach Derek King thought he everything settled for Saturday night’s home opener versus the Grand Rapids Griffins. He had a week of practice after his team lost at the Iowa Wild last Friday night. He had his lines set to make sure those who didn’t play last week would get their first action of the 2019-20 season. Then his phone rang.
“I got the call,” King disclosed after the game to a rather large press scrum. “As you know, in the AHL, it’s shuffle your lines again and get ready for the game.”
Dach Gets His First Taste of the Pro Game
On Saturday afternoon, the Chicago Blackhawks announced that they were sending Kirby Dach, the third overall pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, down to the AHL on a conditioning stint. He made his professional debut in a 4-2 loss to the Griffins.
Dach had not seen any game action since Sept. 10 when he suffered a concussion during the seventh-place game in the Traverse City prospect tournament. He had been practicing with the Blackhawks for the last couple of weeks and even made the trip to Prague, Czech Republic. After he took part in Saturday’s morning skate at the United Center, he was activated from the injured reserve list and made the short 85-mile trip west.
The 19-year-old was deployed on a line in between Nick Moutrey and Brandon Hagel. The AHL does not track time on ice, but as the game went on, he was on the ice more and more. He was trusted to take key late-game faceoffs, got plenty of time on the power play and was on the ice when the IceHogs pulled goaltender Collin Delia in efforts to mount a late comeback.
“First shift, shift-and-a-half, I felt nervous for my first pro game” he admitted. “So just tried to step back and see what it’s about. I was able to feel comfortable and make plays, but there are things in my game I need to clean up to be better and play at the next level.”
Although he did not find the score sheet, Dach was very noticeable on the ice. He is a very good skater for a player of his size. He does not shy away from contact. He is willing to get right to the front of the net and take the abuse in order to use his 6-foot-4 frame to take away the eyes of the goaltender. His exceptional reach is a weapon on the ice as he was able to use his stick to force mistakes.
One of the biggest negatives taken away from his first game was that he struggled at the faceoff dot. Faceoffs are another stat the AHL does not track, but Dach lost the overwhelming majority of the draws he took.
“For me, it’s just strength,” Dach said. “They’re a little bigger and stronger than they are in junior, but I knew that coming in and it’s something that I kind of worked on this summer. Getting bigger and stronger and working on technique around the dot. I know if I want to be a centerman in this league I can’t be losing faceoffs all the time.”
The Future is Bright for Dach, Blackhawks
King was impressed by what he saw out of the youngster. He selfishly admitted that he wants Dach in Rockford for the entire season.
“He controls it,” King said of Dach’s game. “He’s a big body. He’s got great hands. He’s a smart hockey player. When he gets the puck, he seems to control the play. So, if you’re playing with him, give him the open or find a lane or something because he’ll find you.”
By league rule, the Blackhawks can keep Dach down in the AHL for 14 consecutive days. The IceHogs will play five games between now and Oct. 26; a Monday afternoon game against the Laval Rocket before a weekend sets with the Chicago Wolves and then the Cleveland Monsters. It is unsure how many of those games Dach will play in before he heads back to Chicago.
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He knows that he has a long career ahead of him, so focusing on the details of getting better is best for him.
“For me personally, it was just about getting back out there and feeling good and getting back to my game,” Dach said. “There’s a long road ahead of me still and I got to take this journey one step at a time. It’s been a blast so far, spending time in Chicago and then coming out here and seeing a bunch of the younger guys I got to know at prospect camp. I’m just looking forward to the future.”
That future is very bright and the Blackhawks are hoping to benefit from it.