10 games to circle on next season's Blackhawks schedule

Put a big red circle around Oct. 7 on your calendars, Blackhawks fans.

Because that's the date the defending Stanley Cup champions not only open defense of their title, but they'll do it on home ice against the New York Rangers.

The NHL released its schedule for all 30 NHL teams Tuesday morning, and the Hawks get to open at the United Center in front of 22,000-plus as they raise yet another Stanley Cup banner to the rafters. They will also get another opportunity to play outdoors next season when they visit the Minnesota Wild.

Unlike last season when the Hawks enjoyed an eight-game homestand, the longest stretch at the UC in 2015-16 is just four games (it happens four times). The longest road trip is the six-game Circus Trip from Nov. 18-28, which begins in Edmonton and ends in Los Angeles.

Here's a look at 10 dates Hawks fans should be looking forward to once the puck drops on a new campaign:

1. Oct. 7 vs. N.Y. Rangers, 7 p.m. Not only will fans be treated to a third banner-raising ceremony in six years, but the Hawks will also take on one of the Eastern Conference's best teams. The Rangers went an NHL-best 53-22-7 last season.

2. Oct. 24 vs. Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m. Rematch of the Stanley Cup Final. A much different looking Blackhawks team will take on a Lightning squad that hasn't seen many changes in the off-season.

3. Oct. 26 vs. Anaheim, 7:30 p.m. Two days after the Lightning are in town, the gritty, hard-hitting Ducks invade the United Center. Ryan Kesler said Anaheim had "unfinished business" after falling to the Hawks in the Western Conference finals. That will be one motivated team on this night.

4. Nov. 4 vs. St. Louis, 7 p.m. The Central Division champs, led by the young, dynamic Vladimir Tarasenko, will be a tough team to beat again next season. The Hawks lost three of five to the Blues in 2014-15, although 2 of those losses came at the end of the year when Joel Quenneville's squad had taken its foot off the gas.

5. Nov. 8 vs. Edmonton, 7 p.m. Assuming he's not injured or starting the season elsewhere, this will be the first chance for Hawks fans to see rookie phenom Connor McDavid. The Hawks also host the Oilers on Dec. 17.

6. Dec. 10 or Jan. 19 at Nashville, 7 p.m. Weather permitting, die-hard Hawks fans should make a long weekend out of either of these games (both on Thursdays) and travel to Nashville. Great city, great atmosphere, great arena. And you'll be surrounded by plenty of friendly faces.

7. Feb. 21 at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. The Hawks and Wild participate in one of three scheduled outdoor games. It will be played at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota. This is the third straight season the Hawks are playing in an outdoor game.

8. March 6 vs. Detroit, 4 p.m. The Hawks' biggest rival now only makes one trip to the UC each season. The "Detroit sucks" chant figures to reach epic levels.

9. April 3 vs. Boston, 11:30 a.m. What's better than an Original Six matchup with possible playoff berths on the line? The Bruins finished ninth in the East last season, and who knows where the retooled Hawks will stand at this point. After this game, the Hawks have just three left on the schedule.

10. The Patrick Sharp / Brandon Saad Homecoming Games Patrick Sharp, who was traded to Dallas on July 10, will return to the United Center as the Hawks wrap up the preseason on Saturday, Oct. 3. He will play his first regular-season game in Chicago as a member of the Stars on Thursday, Feb. 11.

Brandon Saad, who was traded to Columbus on June 30, will play at the United Center on Saturday, Oct. 17.

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