Young Blackhawks feel fortunate to be learning from veterans
Think about some of the things you never forget.
Your first kiss. Your first date with your husband or wife. The birth of your first child.
They all leave an indelible mark in your mind.
For pro hockey with long, storied postseason careers -- like the Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson -- it's safe to say we can add "first playoff game" to that list.
"I remember just winning that first game and feeling like there's no reason why you can't go all the way to the Cup," said Toews, recalling a 3-2 overtime victory over Calgary on April 16, 2009. "You get that excitement, especially the first time around in the playoffs.
"It's not that you get too high or too low, but you're definitely full of confidence after the wins. And the losses, they really don't feel good. That's the biggest that I've learned is that -- especially after losses -- you find ways to turn it around and come back even better the next game."
This is the kind of wisdom that Toews, Kane and the rest of the veteran Hawks can pass on to a slew of teammates who are about to get their first taste of postseason hockey against Nashville on Thursday (7 p.m., NBCSN).
Rookies Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Vinnie Hinostroza, Gustav Forsling and Michal Kempny, and guys like Dennis Rasmussen and Trevor van Riemsdyk all count themselves extremely fortunate to be able to learn from some of the best minds and players in the entire world.
"I don't think you progress as much as (when) you're sharing a locker room with some of the best defensemen in the league," van Riemsdyk said. "I know I'm extremely lucky to be a younger guy to come into this team with all those guys.
"They're so great. They're willing to talk to you. ... You don't feel uncomfortable asking them anything. That's what makes this team so good is those guys are such great leaders."
When it comes to forwards, Hossa's name comes up a lot when the subject of learning from veterans is broached. Hartman, who has skated on Hossa's line for much of the past month, said he finds himself going back to the bench after certain shifts asking, "Should I have passed there?" or "What should I have done differently?"
"Three of those (veterans) are in the top 100 of all time," Hartman said, referring to Toews, Kane and Keith. "To be able to lean on guys like that and other guys like Seabs, it definitely enhances our game and is great for us young guys."
Said Rasmussen: "You want to get better every day, so you want to be as good as they are. You're trying to get to that level even if it's going to be obviously really hard because they're the top players in the world.
"But that's what you're aiming for. … I want to be as good as Hossa when I'm back checking. I've got to look at him and study a lot of video."
Of course, now comes the tough part -- dealing with the scrutiny and pressure that go along with the Stanley Cup playoffs. Coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday he's not worried about Schmaltz, Hartman, Kero, John Hayden or any other rookie who is about to jump on the sport's ultimate roller coaster.
"Growing up and (playing) in different leagues, they know there's a different level each and every year when you get to playoffs," Quenneville said.
That's not to say there won't be some serious butterflies fluttering around in their stomachs come Thursday night, but in the end they figure to step up and contribute to what the team hopes will be a long postseason run.
"I think you've just got to pay attention to the details (and) make sure you're not turning pucks over and (that you're) making smart plays," Schmaltz said. "It'll be intense, but I think it'll be a lot of fun."
Said Hartman: "There's definitely another notch that other teams bring and that we bring also. It's playoff hockey. A lot of games are do or die, and you're fighting to extend your season and get as far as June. …
"Everyone's fighting for the same glory at the end."