Blackhawks ready to open training camp, defend Cup
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Brandon Pirri (37), led the AHL in scoring last season at Rockford and is expected to compete for the second-line center spot when the Blackhawks and veteran Patrick Sharp (10) open training camp on Thursday in South Bend, Ind.
When we last saw the Blackhawks, they were shocking the hockey world.
By scoring 2 goals 17 seconds apart inside the last two minutes in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden, the Hawks stunned the Boston Bruins 3-2 to win their second championship in four years.
That was a mere two and a half months ago.
Now they're back and ready to open training camp on Thursday in South Bend, Ind.
"I don't think we've even had enough time to get out of shape," winger Patrick Sharp said.
Unlike in 2010 after the Hawks won their first Stanley Cup and more than half the team had to be moved out for salary cap reasons, 19 players return from the team that pulled off that miracle in Boston.
"We have pretty much the same team so you can't really complain," defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "We're going to be focused on having a better start than we had last time after we won. It took us at least 20-25 games to start playing good hockey. That's something we have to be focused on."
Center Dave Bolland, who scored the winner in Boston with 59 seconds to play, has been traded to Toronto, and penalty-killing specialist Michael Frolik was dealt to Winnipeg with Daniel Carcillo going to Los Angeles.
Backup goalie Ray Emery left for Philadelphia as a free agent, replaced by 40-year-old veteran Nikolai Khabibulin. Left winger Viktor Stalberg signed with Nashville as a free agent. Defenseman Steve Montador and forward Rostislav Olesz were bought out.
Everyone else is back, including all seven defensemen, which means there aren't many jobs available.
"We've got probably six guys going for a couple spots, and may the best men get it," Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said.
"We have a pretty consistent roster from last year, although there are some spots at forward that are open. We've talked a lot about having confidence in our young players and know that some of them will emerge over the next month and tell us they're ready for the job."
That group includes Brandon Pirri, the American Hockey League scoring champion at Rockford who will be given first crack at the second-line center job.
Others coming to camp with high expectations to make the team as third or fourth liners are forwards Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin, Jimmy Hayes, Phillip Danault, Mark McNeill and Drew LeBlanc.
Defensemen Adam Clendening, Ryan Stanton, Theo Peckham and Mike Kostka face longer odds because of the depth on the blue line.
Clendening is a power-play specialist, which helps his cause, and Peckham and Kostka have NHL experience with Edmonton and Toronto, respectively.
"We're not going to ask these young players to carry the team," Bowman said. "We're asking them to fit in and do what they can, and it's going to make for an interesting camp for that reason."
All the young guys need to do is look at last season when Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad emerged to play key roles for the Hawks.
"There comes a time when you have to give somebody an opportunity," Bowman said. "Some of our young players have been working hard over the past couple seasons at Rockford, and they deserve that opportunity. The nice part is we don't have to hand jobs to them.
"I've told all these young guys none of you are promised jobs, but you come here and the best players are going to earn it. I'm very optimistic about a few young players we have, but we don't need to rush them. Some of these young guys will push the veterans to be better and I think that's good."
The Hawks will open camp without any distractions after Bowman extended the contracts of goalie Corey Crawford and Hjalmarsson.
The Hawks can focus all their energy on trying to be the first team to repeat as Cup champions since Detroit in 1997 and 1998.
They insist they've learned a lot from the experience following the 2010 win.
"When you've been through something before in any walk of life you know what to expect," Bowman said. "I think we see the challenges we faced last time and we have the advantage this time of having more chemistry out of the gate.
"We've got a similar team to what we had a few months ago. On top of that, players are aware of what we went through the last time and they're going to be committed to making sure we start the season better and put ourselves in a better spot. Nothing is easy in the NHL. Nobody is going to be handing us victories."
Sharp said repeating should serve as ample motivation.
"The key for us is to stay mentally fresh and motivated to go back and do it again, but with a coach like Joel (Quenneville), he's great at managing days off and keeping guys motivated his own way so I don't think that will be a problem," Sharp said.
"I like our team. Our team is right up there in the Western Conference and hopefully we can prove it."
• Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.
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