Rozner: With Colliton settled in, Chicago Blackhawks need quick start

  • Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton speaks to the media during the NHL hockey team's convention in Chicago, Friday, July 26, 2019.

    Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton speaks to the media during the NHL hockey team's convention in Chicago, Friday, July 26, 2019.

 
 
Updated 7/28/2019 5:22 PM

New roster in place? Check.

New staff in place? Check.

 

New system in place? Check.

Now it's about buying in and the accountability that must follow.

When teams are bad, and games and seasons get away from a club, players have a tendency to freelance and pad their stats.

The Chicago Blackhawks have to remember that winning is the one goal, an idea that never strayed far from mind when they were annually near the top of the league.

Under Joel Quenneville from 2009 to 2017 the Hawks averaged 107 points (projecting the 2013 total in a full season), and their average finish was third in the West during those nine years.

He trusted the core and it delivered. Until it didn't.

So it wasn't easy for a new coach to come in and try to change style and attitude amid a miserable season, with significant alterations in the lineup at the same time.

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But Jeremy Colliton has earned the respect and trust of the players, so it will be easier for him this fall to make demands and insist on results, compared to walking in cold as he did last November.

"There's no question," Colliton said over the weekend at the Blackhawks Convention. "They didn't know who I was, but we made progress.

"It wasn't perfect and it didn't happen as quickly as we wanted it to, but the type of hockey our team was playing in March and April didn't resemble anything like how we were playing in November.

"While disappointed we missed (the playoffs), the core group and the whole team felt like we were moving in the right direction.

"Now, we can't waste any time. In the off-season we made a lot of progress. Come training camp, we have to be ready and have full commitment.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I think we will and then we can have a good start."

The captain, for one, understood the challenge.

"Not an easy spot to jump in," said Jonathan Toews. "But I think Jeremy did a good job early in his NHL career figuring out what the right balance was."

Practice time is essential in the NHL, but there's no great opportunity once the season begins, so implanting in the club what he wants will be a lot simpler with a full training camp.

"It's huge," said GM Stan Bowman. "It's really hard -- once you get a month or two into the year -- to practice much. The schedule is challenging from that perspective.

"You're probably gonna practice more the first month than you will the next three months. Instill those habits and let the players know what the coach wants."

What Colliton wants is defensive responsibility throughout the roster, from the top guys on offense through the defensemen who might not dress every night.

"For me, it's all about winning, and I know they feel the same way," Colliton said. "So we need to take care of our own end.

"We want to be dynamic offensively. We want to score goals, but in order to do that you have to get the puck back. To get the puck back, you need all five guys to work for it.

"We'll get it back quicker. We'll get it back farther up the ice and then transition. To me that's fun. It's hard work, but if you have the puck all night and you're scoring goals, it leads to wins, and that's what we're here for.

"I don't think it's a hard sell. I think they're buying into it. I'm looking forward to seeing it."

It helps that the Hawks have added some size and energy in a league that is starting to get bigger again after years of leaning toward the diminutive.

"All things being equal, if you have a player of equal ability, big is nice," Colliton said with a smile. "It doesn't hurt. You wear on people. You don't have to run people over. You lean on them.

"Makes them stop and lose momentum. It's tiring. You make a top guy go through you, maybe he can only play for 35 seconds instead of 45. That adds up over a game."

It also allows for a heavier forecheck, and the more pests you have the more irritating the pressure.

"Matchups are important, but it's more important to keep the pace of the game high so we can control the game," Colliton said. "But if we only have certain guys able to take the top matchups, it's super taxing on them and the other guys don't get on the ice.

"You're allowed to dress a full lineup. You're allowed 18 players and the teams that play everybody wear other teams down by rolling the lines and playing fast."

Not exactly radical, but different from what we've seen around here the last few years, as a small and soft team -- minus some of the skill that propelled them to three Cups -- wasn't getting it done anymore, and a new direction was appropriate.

A renewed focus on keeping the puck out of their net is a pretty good place to start.

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