The Chicago Blackhawks passion was running high after missing the playoffs last season. From top to bottom the team swore that missing the playoffs was unacceptable. After two straight first-round playoff exits the two seasons before, the pressure was on general manager Stan Bowman to right the ship. Unfortunately, the 2018 summer draft and free agent signings left many wondering exactly what direction the team was heading. The hope was that the vaunted Blackhawks core would regain their form and lead the team back to the playoffs. Then the season started.
The Blackhawks passion and pride helped open the season 3-0-2 in their first five games, all overtime thrillers. Things were looking good for the Blackhawks despite the number of goals being given up. The attitude was, they could score often no matter what deficit they faced. They went 3-2-0 the next five games and were looking good at 6-2-2.
It’s at this point in the season that things went off the rails. The Blackhawks went five straight games without a win and had only one overtime loss to show for their efforts. Their ability to score goals at will had disappeared as they scored only nine goals in the five straight losses. They were also losing by wide margins, giving up 22 goals in five games.
It was at this point that the Chicago Blackhawks brass chose to fire Joel Quenneville on November 6th. They then promoted Jeremy Colliton, their head coach in Rockford, to lead the Blackhawks going forward. The Blackhawks also fired assistant coaches, Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson, replacing them with longtime Scotty Bowman lackey Barry Smith. These moves did not go over well with the Blackhawk faithful who expected Quenneville to lead the youth movement.
Jeremy Colliton took over the Chicago Blackhawks in an almost impossible situation. He inherited a roster that was struggling, especially on defence. Their self-confidence was at a new low and they appeared to not respond to their longtime coach Joel Quenneville getting fired. Colliton’s job was to bring a new culture to the team. He also needed to help focus the Blackhawks passion and pride into victories.
Although it’s early, Colliton’s results have been very disappointing, to say the least. His record is currently 3-12-2 as head coach, including losses in the last eight straight games. The Blackhawks team play has also not improved since Colliton took over. The team is still struggling to defend and has been plagued by terrible starts. They are often down by two or more goals before the game is ten minutes old. The Blackhawks passion struggles enough without having to chase the lead every night.
The reality is that this roster is going struggle to compete for a while. The decline in the team is squarely on general manager Stan Bowman. His moves the last three seasons leave a lot to be desired. Bowman did not plan well for a Blackhawks core that was aging. He also did he draft well to replace a fragile defence corps. His latest promising defence draft picks are a season or two away from contributing which does not help the present squad.
Esprit De Corps
Former Blackhawks coach Mike Keenan would use the term “esprit de corps” to describe what his Blackhawk teams needed to be successful. Webster’s Dictionary defines the term Esprit De Corps as: “the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group”
Keenan believed his team would bond during the November “Circus Trip” when they would hit the road for almost two weeks while the Ringling Bros. circus would be in Chicago. Keenan felt that spending time together on the road would bring the team close and they would develop the cohesiveness needed to compete. He would even schedule a short stay at a ski resort in Baanf in Alberta, Canada to help bring the team together. The current Blackhawks passion being shown on the ice does not reflect an Esprit De Corps. On the contrary, the team has been severely lacking in “enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group” all year. That is to say with one exception.
DeBrincat – More Lion Than Cat
There have been several incidents this season where other teams have taken liberties or runs at some of the Blackhawks players. Time and time again one of the few players to step up in defence of his teammates was Alex DeBrincat. “The Cat” weighs in at a generous 165 pounds. He stands all of 5’7″, but DeBrincat has the heart of a lion. There’s an expression that goes “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”. DeBrincat has shown over and over that he gets what Esprit De Corps means on the ice.
The Cat Steps Up
DeBrincat has challenged some of the NHL’s biggest players this season. An incident against the Anaheim Ducks in October was described this way by John Dietz of the Daily Herald: “With 11:20 left in the second period, DeBrincat decided enough was enough and — despite giving up eight inches and a whopping 51 pounds — he went after the 6-foot-3, 216-pound Josh Manson.”
“DeBrincat went toe-to-toe with the 6-1, 207-pound Matt Irwin — getting in three haymakers before being flung to the ice — and Keith then jumped Salomaki.
Keith earned an ejection and racked up a whopping 29 penalty minutes, DeBrincat was given his second fighting penalty of the season, and Nashville ended up with a seven-minute power play.”
DeBrincat plays the game the way it is supposed to be played. Players do not just play with their teammates, they play for their teammates. Eventually, the rest of the team may hopefully realize that they’re all in it together too.
The Blackhawks are not built as they once were back in the old “Chuck Norris Division” days. Their team has been built for speed and puck possession. That’s how they won the first of three Stanley Cups in 2010, the franchise’s best season of all. What this team needs is a defining moment, an event that grabs their attention and focuses it back on themselves. It may be a big hit, great goal, amazing comeback, or simply standing up for a teammate the way DeBrincat does. Every good team can look at one point during a season and say “that’s when we realized we were in this together”. Let’s hope this defining moment arrives soon for the Chicago Blackhawks.
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