Rozner: Still lessons to learn for Blackhawks

  • Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton watches a game against the Predators on Monday, April 19, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. Last fall, Colliton told Daily Herald sports writer Barry Rozner that he would ask of the players only what he believed they should be able to deliver.

    Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton watches a game against the Predators on Monday, April 19, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. Last fall, Colliton told Daily Herald sports writer Barry Rozner that he would ask of the players only what he believed they should be able to deliver. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/2/2021 5:47 PM

It's going to be a tough final week for the Blackhawks as they play out the string, but it isn't unimportant as they finish the season.

How they play matters, as the younger guys watch how the veterans perform, whether they play for the team -- or merely themselves.

 

You can learn much about a player's character from how they finish a season when structure can be difficult to maintain, but abandoning the plan because the playoffs are no longer possible only teaches the more impressionable that winning is optional.

This does not advance the program.

It brings back a conversation I had with Jeremy Colliton last fall, when the young head coach was insistent that he would ask of the players only what he believed they ought to be able to deliver.

"The commitment to play the right way was the highest it was all year, in the playoffs, but still not where we need it to be to compete against those top teams," Colliton said last October. "We showed that we could do it for long stretches of the (Vegas) series and we played them evenly for those stretches, but every game there was a 10- or 15-minute window where their depth or compete level or their skating ran us over.

"We need to develop more depth so that it's easier to hold everyone accountable, where we have guys at every position for every role and for every situation that can do the job."

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Colliton has preached for more than two years that forwards must be a part of the defensive answer, that if there is a question on a 50-50 play, think defense and being on the right side of the puck, instead of cheating the other way.

"If Player A is not willing to play the way we need him to play, then Player B will do it," Colliton said. "We're not there yet, so we need to develop young players. Part of that is opportunity and then once they get the opportunity, it's accountability, which can come in different ways.

"It can come through verbal feedback, video in one-on-one meetings, and it can come through ice time, but that needs to be for everybody, not just for young players.

"With more depth, you can spread minutes out and you're comfortable they can get the job done. It's easier for everybody. It's going to help everybody. Everybody plays better when they're held accountable."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Colliton has spoken many times about proper changes and shorter shifts, not leaving the next line in an impossible spot where they're chasing for an entire shift.

Staying too long when unreasonable is both selfish and a loser's mentality.

"It's an easy sell. That's what leads to winning, but we have to build those habits," Colliton said. "As young players come in, we have to make sure they have the habits. That takes time. I believe we've made progress there. It's not where we need to be, but I don't sense pushback on that."

It's not easy to be relentless on the puck, especially when a game or season is out of reach, but habits are formed not only in games you win. They are formed in difficult times, as well.

Desperation is necessary if you want to win. Connor Murphy, who sounds like a captain every time he speaks and could someday find himself in that role, talks about it all the time.

"We want to hunt the puck when we don't have it," Colliton said. "We want to have numbers back to defend so we can get it back as quickly as possible. We want to attack as quickly as we can once we get it back. We want that up and down the lineup.

"That will help our defensemen. It's easier to hold the gap when you have back pressure. Well, you gotta have guys who are willing to work and push the puck from underneath so that the defense can hold the gap and force turnovers there.

"Every part of our team has to work together."

It has not been an easy year with so many new players introduced to the lineup, some big names absent and the constant changing of the roster while young players have been given an opportunity.

But there are games left on the schedule and while meaningless in the standings, they are not meaningless as an evaluation tool.

In that sense, the games absolutely matter -- and how players choose to approach these games could be crucial down the road.

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