Hawks' Kero doing best to battle way back to big club

The date was Nov. 12.

Blackhawks' 18th game of the season.

Late in the first period.

Tanner Kero takes a backhanded whack at a wobbling puck and watches it sail past New Jersey goaltender Keith Kinkaid to give the Hawks a 4-1 lead.

Bedlam ensues and a smiling Kero is mobbed by Patrick Sharp, Lance Bouma and Jan Rutta after scoring his first goal of the season.

The good feelings didn't last long, though, because 43 minutes later, the Devils were skating off with a stunning 7-5 victory in what turned out to be Kero's last NHL game this season.

Kero remained on the roster for the next 10 games, but he was placed on waivers then assigned to Rockford on Dec. 8 as the Hawks called up Vinnie Hinostroza.

Kero admitted the move surprised him.

"I know I can play at that level," Kero said before the IceHogs' 6-2 loss to the Chicago Wolves at the Allstate Arena on Saturday. "When I found out I was coming down here, obviously I wasn't too happy about it.

"But at the same time you never know when you're going to get that chance again. So I just had to try to be positive and come down here with the right attitude."

Last season, Kero was called up in late December and played in 47 straight games. He scored 6 goals and dished out 10 assists while mostly centering the third or fourth lines. Kero even centered the second line with Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin on the wings late in the season as Artem Anisimov recovered from a high ankle sprain.

The arrow seemed to be pointing up for the Southfield, Michigan native, but things change quickly in the NHL. The addition of Tommy Wingels meant for some stiff competition among the bottom-six forwards and when Wingels (6 goals, 4 assists) proved he could center the fourth line, the 25-year-old Kero was on the outside looking in.

"Obviously ending the season playing every game, you have a little more confidence going into this season," Kero said. "With new guys signing, it's still going to be a battle through training camp, and at the start of the season there's going to be guys battling for those spots. You just wanted to do everything you can to prove that you belong there and you deserve to play there."

The thing is, Kero felt like he was doing everything possible to get back in the lineup and isn't sure why he sat in 18 of 20 games before his demotion.

"It's hard not to get a little frustrated when it's been a few games and you're not really sure what you need to do to get back in the lineup," Kero said.

Since arriving in Rockford, Kero has 1 goal and 1 assist in nine games. He's centering the top line with Tomas Jurco and Anthony Louis on the wings and getting plenty of time on the power play.

The move hasn't been easy away from the rink either, with his wife and 13-month-old son still living in Chicago while Kero is at an extended stay in Rockford.

While he refines his skills with the IceHogs, Kero tries to remember that teammates like Cody Franson and Jordan Oesterle sat out long stretches and managed to carve out significant roles once they got their chance. Oesterle was scratched 25 of the first 29 games, but has now played in nine straight, has goals in two straight and is absorbing huge responsibilities while skating with Duncan Keith.

"He was not playing forever and now he's playing some of the top minutes," Kero said. "You never know what can happen and it can change in the blink of an eye.

"So you've just got to be ready."

Scouting report

Blackhawks vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, 7 p.m. Wednesday


Radio: WGN 720-AM

The skinny: Five of the Rangers' past seven games have gone to overtime or a shootout, including Sunday's Winter Classic in which they beat Buffalo 3-2. … The Rangers have struggled to score goals with just 7 in regulation in the past four games. … Michael Grabner leads the team with 18 goals, but he has just 3 assists. … The 6-foot-3, 224-pound Chris Kreider (11G, 11A) is out indefinitely with a blood clot in his right arm. … The Hawks beat the Rangers 6-3 on Nov. 15 behind Artem Anisimov's hat trick. Anismiov is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. … Vinnie Hinostroza will skate with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. Richard Panik will sit. … Jeff Glass gets a third straight start in net.

Next: Vegas Golden Knights at United Center, 7:30 p.m. Friday

- John Dietz

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