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Blackhawks say long day a small price to pay for short break

DENVER — Ben Smith flew home to Connecticut on Wednesday to enjoy the NHL’s three-day Christmas break with his family. He then flew back to Chicago on Friday night before getting up early Saturday morning for a flight to Denver, a morning skate, a quick nap, a game, and a late-night flight home that should land in Chicago sometime around 3 a.m.

Some break.

“A little crazy, but worth it,” Smith said following Saturday’s morning skate in Denver. “You don’t get to see your family too much, or be home too much, during the season.”

Saturday was a highly unusual day for the Blackhawks, whose flight to Denver took off shortly after 8 a.m. Central time. Usually, the Hawks fly in the night before a game. But the three-day break meant that the 13 road teams playing on Saturday had to fly in the morning of the game. No team flew farther than the Hawks, who went straight from the airport to the Pepsi Center.

Last season, Colorado had to fly to Chicago on Dec. 27. Because of the time change, a morning skate wasn’t feasible. Not surprisingly, after three and a half days off the ice, they got blown out 7-2 by the Hawks. That’s why Joel Quenneville wanted a morning skate today, difficult as it was.

“I think it helps,” Quenneville said. “I think you just want to get the feel of it, the feel of the puck, [and] get a little bit of a sweat, feeling your stick and getting your legs under you. Then you get in the routine, the pregame meal and a nap and it’s back to normal.”

While it’s a taxing day for the players, they were glad to get a morning skate and work out the kinks a bit.

“I think it’s good to get on the ice and feel the puck again, instead of getting a little bit of a shock right before the game starts,” Kris Versteeg said.

It’s not an ideal situation, but the players voted the third day off into the most recent collective bargaining agreement (should Dec. 26 fall on a Saturday, the break would be Dec. 23-25, so as not to give up a slate of Saturday games). It’s a small price to pay, Versteeg said.

“We get the three days off that we wanted and that’s meant a lot to us,” he said. “That’s all you can ask for. It’s a job, and you realize that in a 185-day stretch, to get three days off is pretty special. So I think we’ll take that and not complain about it.”

NOTE: Neither Brad Richards (upper body) nor Michal Rozsival (lower body) made the trip. Quenneville said they’re both close to returning, and could be back as soon as Monday against Nashville. Corey Crawford will start in goal for the Hawks, while Calvin Pickard gets the nod for the Avalanche.


Twitter: @marklazerus