SUNRISE, Fla. — For a few days after Joel Quenneville was fired, several young members of the Blackhawks skated on eggshells.
As jarring as the sudden departure of an iconic coach was for them, they knew emotions ran much deeper within the team’s veteran core. Each player would get a similar chance to get to know new coach Jeremy Colliton. But Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook had been Quenneville’s guys for more than a decade.
Those young players were watching the Hawks’ pillars closely and waiting for signs that it was OK to move enthusiastically into a new chapter.
It didn’t take long.
“We wanted to buy into the system,” said Alex DeBrincat, 20, who scored the tying goal Saturday with .8 seconds left in regulation in the Hawks’ 5-4 victory against the Panthers. “We want to have a good team. The core group, they got our attention and told us to really buy in. They were preaching: ‘Forget about the past and move on.’
“It was probably a lot tougher for them to move on from that after 10, 11 years, but we’re playing a team sport, and they obviously want to win, too. The past is the past.”
Kane describes the temperature-taking the vets did with one another at breakfasts or after practices in those first few days after Colliton was brought in about three weeks ago. They were looking for signs, too. What kept coming back was that they were impressed by Colliton and liked a lot of what he was saying.
“At first, I think it surprised a lot of us, and I don’t know if we were ready for it right off the bat,” Kane said. “But once you meet Jeremy and go through talking hockey and the way he wants us to play, there’s a lot of good things and a lot of good ideas he has that he can bring to us and help us win games.
“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment because he wants us to play different than we did the last 11, 12 years, but we’re all smart hockey players. You try to figure it out. But I think the things he’s brought have helped us out a lot.”
Colliton favors an aggressive, up-tempo style with possessing the puck at the top of the priority list. In effect, he’s putting the skill of every member of the team to the test. He’s also tinkering with the lineup perhaps even more than Quenneville ever did, with lines and defensive pairings seemingly changing by the game.
That’ll put veteran players’ patience to the test, too.
“They’re the ones who have been driving this bus for a while now, so it’s important they believe in what we’re doing, and they can help sell it to everyone else,” Colliton said. “I think they’ve been great so far. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Toews has spoken supportingly of Colliton from Day 1. But now he’s seeing results.
“Our effort is getting better and better, our consistency is getting better and better, power play and penalty kill [are] having their moments when it’s helping us find ways to be successful,” he said. “So, yeah, I think we’re confident, and we’re sticking with our process of getting our entire team where it needs to be. A lot of improvements.”
NOTE:The Hawks reassigned forwardLuke Johnsonto Rockford. Johnson had one assist in 13 games with the Hawks. The team didn’t announce a corresponding roster move.