It’s a seven-hour bus ride from Rockford to Cleveland — the jet-setting Blackhawks can make it from their homes to their Los Angeles hotel rooms in less time — so Brandon Pirri has had plenty of quiet time to ponder what had gone wrong during training camp. Pirri entered camp brimming with confidence that he’d make the Hawks opening-night roster, only to suffer an injury, then an indignity.
It’s a humbling thing to be cut. But Pirri tried not to dwell on it, and clung to Joel Quenneville’s parting order to “be ready,” that he’d get his chance sooner or later.
“Absolutely, for anyone to get sent down, it’s probably disappointing,” Pirri, 22, said. “But you’ve got to take it and you’ve got to make the best of it. Become a better player because of it. You get a lot more minutes down there, so work on your game, come back here and be ready.”
“Here” was the United Center on Saturday night, as Pirri was called up after three games in Rockford. Jimmy Hayes was sent down because Quenneville needed a center with Michal Handzus sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set. Quenneville hinted that there could be a lot of shuttling between Rockford and Chicago, as Hayes, Pirri and Jeremy Morin were all “comparable.” A lot of it, like Saturday night, will be on a need basis. But Quenneville would love nothing more than to have some of the players step up and make the decisions for him based on their play.
That’s what Pirri, with his surprisingly quick second chance, hopes to do.
“Just like in camp, you’ve got to stay within yourself, but at the same time, you’ve got to do what’s brought you here,” he said. “It’s my fourth year here, I know what I have to do to stick around.”
Saturday night was only Pirri’s eighth NHL game, in his fourth stint with the Hawks. He opened some eyes last year by leading the AHL in scoring with 22 goals and 53 assists, and general manager Stan Bowman mentioned him frequently as a likely replacement for the traded Dave Bolland. Pirri’s offensive talents never have been in question. It’s his 200-foot game that hasn’t been up to NHL standards yet.
But Pirri said he’s a much more complete player than he was earlier in his pro career.
“As a 19-year-old, it’s sexy to put up a lot of points,” he said. “As an older guy, you kind of realize that offense comes from good defense. That’s something that I focused on and it’s shown in my numbers.”
Now he gets his chance — finally — to show if those numbers will translate to the NHL level.
“You can’t control that stuff,” Pirri said of being demoted. “You’ve just got to do your job and hopefully get rewarded for playing well. And it happened.”