Blackhawks’ first-timers lean on veterans for poise under pressure

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Trevor van Riemsdyk’s locker stall is in the far corner of the Blackhawks’ dressing room. To his left, starting a few stalls down, sit Jonathan Toews, Marcus Kruger and Patrick Sharp. To his right, there’s Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

So in the tense moments before a game — particularly a game like Monday night’s Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, a game in which the Hawks can win it all — van Riemsdyk might want to be fidgety. Might want to pace around the room. Might want to find a paper bag to breathe into. But he won’t. Because nobody else will be.

“It can kind of rub off on you if you look over at the row of guys here that have been through it all,” van Riemsdyk said after Monday’s morning skate. “Obviously, there are some differences. Being in the Cup Final, the intensity’s there; you know what’s riding on it. But yeah, everyone’s pretty much doing the same exact stuff they were doing in training camp and in the beginning of the season — those same routines. You’ve got to stick to what got you here.”

For all the talk about how experienced the Hawks are, about their intangible mental edge, about how they’ve been here before and have won two Stanley Cups and are 15-4 in elimination games, well, not everyone in that room actually has. Van Riemsdyk and Teuvo Teravainen are rookies in their first postseason. Andrew Desjardins never made it out of the second round before this spring. Antoine Vermette reached the Final in 2007 with Ottawa, but lost in five games, never playing in a potential Cup-clincher. And Kimmo Timonen was on the ice when the Hawks won the Cup in 2010, but has never won it himself in his illustrious career.

Not everybody has Toews’ preternatural poise, nor his postseason experience. For some, it’s harder to keep an even-keel, to push away thoughts of what might happen later Monday night.

“It is a mental struggle,” said Timonen, 40, who is retiring after this season. “You have to do mental work and really say, ‘Stop it.’ You go for a walk, you watch a movie and that kind of stuff. You listen to music, whatever makes you get your mind off of it. It is a mental struggle, but every hour you have to say to yourself, ‘Stop it.’ There’s a game and it’s a big game and we haven’t won [expletive] yet.”

Timonen repeatedly has said that he’s “living the dream.” Fellow Finn Teuvo Teravainen is half his age, but it’s his dream, too. The 20-year-old is also trying to rein in his emotions.

“It’s an awesome chance, of course,” he said. “Not too many days like these, where you have a chance to win something huge. It was always my dream, so it’s a special day.”

Teravainen, like van Riemsdyk, said that the veteran presence in the room has a calming effect on the younger players. Joel Quenneville said the same thing, that he doesn’t say anything special to the first-timers, instead relying on his leadership group to handle that.

But it’s still a challenge for everyone — the extra pressure, the extra reporters, the extra well-wishers, the extra requests from friends and family looking for tickets. This isn’t just any game, even if the veterans make it seem like one.

“It’s definitely a lot easier to say it than do it, you’re right,” van Riemsdyk said. “But you’ve got to try your best. When you know it’s going to be pretty hectic like this, which is a little different than you’re used to, you’ve got to be prepared for it, ready for it. Try to go back and go through your usual routine. As hard as it may be, you’ve done it so many times. Once you start doing, it’s just like memory.”

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