Vermette, Timonen, Desjardins finding a home with Blackhawks
Andrew Desjardins was lost.
Standing in the bowels of the United Center, the newly acquired Blackhawks winger proceeded to ask this reporter: "How do you get out of here?"
After giving directions, I trust Desjardins found his way to the UC parking lot after the team's morning skate last Friday.
That scene illustrates what it's like for a player to get accustomed to a new city, new teammates, a new team philosophy … and a new stadium.
Desjardins is one of three new players to the Blackhawks' locker room, having joined the team in the final days before the trade deadline. All three -- Desjardins (San Jose), Antoine Vermette (Arizona) and Kimmo Timonen (Philadelphia) -- came from teams struggling to qualify for (or already out of) the playoff picture.
As Vermette said, it's nice to start paying attention to the standings again.
And while that's all well and good, switching teams can leave a player out of sorts.
"I remember when I was traded the first time, my head was spinning that first game there," said Patrick Sharp, who was sent from the Flyers to the Hawks in 2006. "People are telling you their team systems, you've got a new jersey on, new teammates -- everything's new."
Away from the rink
As Desjardins illustrated, off-ice stuff can make the transition especially challenging.
Hawks radio color man Troy Murray says a young, single player without family doesn't have all the extra stuff to worry about that these three do. While each situation is different, the common denominator is they're all dealing with family issues on top of learning the Blackhawks' way.
• In Vermette's case, he has 20-month-old daughter Léonna and his wife, Karen, is pregnant with their second. She was at Friday's victory over Edmonton, although she missed her husband scoring the shootout winner because Léonna wasn't feeling well.
• Desjardins and his wife just had their first baby, an 8-week-old son. His wife was going to take some time moving, but Desjardins' mom flew from Ottawa to San Jose, helped get the family packed, and they flew to Chicago on Saturday. They were living in a hotel Monday and looking for more permanent housing.
Desjardins is thrilled to have them here so soon.
"Especially with a newborn changing all the time," he said. "It's good to see them; it's good to have them here."
• Timonen, who turns 40 on March 18, has older kids in the Philadelphia area, and it's expected they will finish the school year there.
"Your whole world is kind of flipped upside down," Sharp said. "Your living arrangements -- you want to take care of that and make sure everybody's comfortable."
Said Desjardins: "It's been a pretty good transition in the dressing room and with the guys. There's certain things with the on-ice stuff that you're still picking up. But I feel pretty comfortable here.
"I think the off-ice stuff has been difficult to find the right spot. I'm trying not to concentrate on that too much. … I'm trying to concentrate on the hockey first right now."
Then there's the on-ice transition. Coach Joel Quenneville tells the new guys to just play their game and it all will work out.
Still, Eddie Olczyk said last week on the air that he believes it can take 7-10 games before a player is truly comfortable with his teammates and a new system. Murray also pointed out that switching linemates -- as has happened to Vermette -- can negatively affect a new player.
"There is definitely an adjustment period whether it's your linemates, the system, the pace, surroundings," Quenneville said. "And some people put a little bit more pressure on themselves before they get comfortable."
In Timonen's case, he has played just three games after missing much of the season due to blood clots. His minutes have gone down from 17:29 in his first game to 10:35 in his third.
After practice Wednesday, the veteran admitted his conditioning is an issue.
Quenneville, an NHL defenseman for 14 seasons, was asked if he could have come back and played after taking nearly a year off.
"No chance," he deadpanned last week as reporters roared. "I give him credit. I mean, that's tough -- no training camp, not too many days of practicing (after) going through what he went through."
Winning just five of 17 faceoffs and committing a bad turnover that led to a one-timer, Vermette had a rough first game. But things picked up Friday as he beat Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens for the only goal of the shootout and also nearly scored after a perfect feed from Niklas Hjalmarsson.
"That was a great play. I had the best seat in the house," said Vermette, who won 11 of 19 faceoffs that night. "When he passed to me, I tried to out-wait the goalie a little bit to make him move and spread his leg a little bit. He made a great save."
It should be interesting to watch the trio as the games tick off the schedule and the playoffs approach. Six of the next seven games are on the road, starting Thursday in Arizona.
Will Timonen impress, or will Johnny Oduya, David Rundblad and/or Trevor van Riemsdyk send him into healthy-scratch land? Can Vermette (just 3 goals in last 30 games) become a scoring force again on a team that sorely needs its top lines to produce? And will Desjardins be a regular as the season winds down, or was he just added so the Hawks could shed Ben Smith's contract?
Sharp believes their experience will help them adapt quicker than others might.
"You're playing on adrenaline in the beginning and then things kind of slow down," Sharp said. "But our coaching staff, our leadership -- our team -- in general has done a good job of welcoming these guys.
"Look at the guys they're bringing in. Kimmo's almost 40 years old -- he's been around a long time. He's got 1,100 games in the league. Antoine's been on a couple teams and is a respected veteran in the league. Desi's fitting in right away, cracking jokes and making everybody laugh."
"I like to say a hockey locker room is the same all across Canada, all across North America. You walk into any NHL locker room and you're going to get the same types of guys, that same good feeling.
"That's the great thing about our sport."
Another motivation for Desjardins, Timonen and Vermette is getting their hands on Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time. Vermette, after ending his postgame interview Friday, was asked when his wife is due with their second baby.
"Mid-June," he said before adding with a smile, "Perfect timing for the Stanley Cup."
Perfect motivation, indeed.
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