Caggiula impresses while playing with his Blackhawks idols

 
 
Updated 1/21/2019 11:09 PM
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  • Chicago Blackhawks center Drake Caggiula (91) controls the puck in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Rangers won 4-3.

    Chicago Blackhawks center Drake Caggiula (91) controls the puck in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Rangers won 4-3. Associated Press

  • Washington Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny (6) is checked by Chicago Blackhawks center Drake Caggiula (91) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Chicago.

    Washington Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny (6) is checked by Chicago Blackhawks center Drake Caggiula (91) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Chicago. Associated Press

As a hockey-crazed kid growing up in Canada, Drake Caggiula loved watching the World Junior Championships on television.

One year, a fellow countryman by the name of Jonathan Toews caught his eye.

"Who is he and why isn't he playing in the Canadian Hockey League?" Caggiula wondered.

After some due diligence, the 12- or 13-year-old Caggiula found out Toews went to the University of North Dakota.

"I said, 'If I ever get the opportunity to go there, that's where I want to go,'" Caggiula said after the Blackhawks wrapped up practice Monday at MB Ice Arena.

And that's exactly what happened as Caggiula played for the Fighting Sioux from 2012-16.

He wore Toews' number 9. He scored 43 goals during his last two seasons -- 3 more than Toews in his two campaigns, by the way. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2016 Frozen Four.

And three years later, Caggiula found himself skating Sunday with Toews and Patrick Kane on the Blackhawks' top line in an action-packed 8-5 victory over the Washington Capitals at the United Center.

It must have been a dream, right? Because Toews wasn't the only Blackhawks superstar he grew up idolizing.

"The biggest reason why I went to North Dakota was because of Johnny Toews," Caggiula said. "And I used to watch Patty Kane's highlights on YouTube and then go in my basement and try to copy them. It's pretty special to come in the room and see your name is beside theirs."

The crazy thing is, Caggiula didn't let the moment faze him. He was completely at ease and made the most out of almost every shift and every second of his nearly 17 minutes on the ice.

"He was all over that performance as far as getting pucks back and going to the net and winning 50-50s and running people over," said coach Jeremy Colliton.

There are too many examples to list, but the most obvious had to be:

• Caggiula absolutely drilling Dmitry Orlov 75 seconds into the game.

• His perfect screen in front of goalie Braden Holtby allowing Kane to beat Holtby short side, giving the Hawks a 2-0 lead.

• Caggiula shoveling the puck ahead to Toews, driving the middle of the offensive zone with John Carlson and setting up behind Carlson for a possible tip or rebound attempt of a Kane shot.

Really, there was only one hiccup -- and that came late in the first period when he tried a fancy pass to Kane instead of firing a shot at Holtby.

"That was definitely one of those ones that I should have shot," Caggiula said, "and (Kane) was one of the first guys to tell me, 'Go ahead and shoot it.'"

Said Kane: "He played a perfect game. Won a lot of battles, did a lot of good things."

Caggiula, who carries a $1.5 million cap hit and is signed through next season, was acquired from Edmonton for defenseman Brandon Manning on Dec. 30.

The 24-year-old scored 13 goals in 67 games for the Oilers last season, but was always bouncing up and down the lineup. Some nights he'd be playing with Connor McDavid on the top line. Other nights he'd be on the third or fourth line. And still others, he was a healthy scratch.

In college, Caggiula wasn't punished for making errors and was trusted to fix them. But the NHL is a different animal, especially for an undrafted free agent. Coaches can dumb down a player's game and that can stifle his playmaking ability.

"Sometimes when you come into the league -- I don't want to say you get brainwashed -- (but) because you're not a superstar, you get limited in some of your abilities and you kind of forget your own game," he said. "Then I didn't have the confidence in myself to make the plays I knew I was capable of, just because I didn't want to be a healthy scratch again. …

"I just couldn't find a consistent line or a consistent home and that makes it very difficult."

Whether or not that happens in Chicago remains to be seen, but Caggiula will almost certainly be with Toews and Kane again when the Hawks host the Islanders on Tuesday.

And maybe this time, he'll even record a goal or an assist instead of just watching his idols pump in goal after goal.

"That's what I was saying! I was celebrating with them all the time, but no (points)," Caggiula said as Kane and Toews combined for 5 goals and 5 assists. "No, it was all good. … It's not really about points for me. It's about wins and playing well and finding ways to help the team win.

"I think points aside, I did a really good job yesterday and hopefully I can continue that going forward."

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