Training camp opens in one week, and it’s still an open question whether Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford will be ready to take the ice next Friday.
“I hope he is,” Hawks president John McDonough said Thursday.
That’s hardly the firm “yes” nervous Hawks fans have been seeking.
“Well, I’m confident that he will be,” McDonough added.
So the wait continues. McDonough — holding court after a news conference touting the Winter Classic between the Hawks and Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium on New Year’s Day — said that Crawford has been working out regularly, but it’s believed he hasn’t been on the ice since an ill-fated trip to Arizona on Feb. 12.
The Hawks’ season likely hinges on Crawford’s health. Meanwhile, the fate of several young players could hinge on their performance this weekend at the eight-team Traverse City Prospect Tournament.
It was in Traverse City that Alex DeBrincat — thanks to a strong performance that included goals, assists and even a fight — went from a long shot to make the team out of camp to a top-six winger on the first day of camp. After dominating in Traverse City, he held his own in the preseason and went on to score a team-high 28 goals during his rookie season.
“It helped me a lot,” DeBrincat said. “It got me into game shape. You play there and your legs are under you, and you come to training camp, and all the returning guys and guys who didn’t go to that tournament are all a little bit slower. I felt like I was ready to play and ready to do whatever I could to make the team.”
It remains to be seen whether there’s another DeBrincat on the horizon. But there’s no shortage of possibilities. The Hawks, who won the tournament last September, are bringing a roster loaded with guys who have NHL experience or are knocking on the door, including defensemen Henri Jokiharju and Blake Hillman and forwards Dylan Sikura, Victor Ejdsell and Dominik Kahun. First-round picks Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin, both defensemen, will play, too.
The Hawks open play Friday afternoon against the Blue Jackets’ prospects. And as DeBrincat’s fight last year showed, these aren’t half-hearted scrimmages. Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City will be crawling with scouts, coaches and executives, so the players have all the motivation in the world.
“People say those games don’t matter, but you still want to win,” DeBrincat said.
As for the Winter Classic, it probably seems like old hat to veterans such as Jonathan Toews (this will be the Hawks’ sixth outdoor game) and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, both of whom were in attendance Thursday, shilling for the event. But for younger players such as DeBrincat and Boston’s Charlie McAvoy — both of whom said they grew up watching the 10-year-old event — it’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Well, until the next one, at least.
“I wouldn’t want it to snow too hard, but I wouldn’t mind a little drizzle,” DeBrincat said. “It’ll just be a great thing to be a part of.”