Henri Jokiharju was kicking around the United Center on Monday, his first time with the Blackhawks since leaving in mid-December to join Team Finland for the world junior championships in Canada.
The 19-year-old defenseman didn’t suit up for the game against the Flames, but he’ll be back in the swing of things soon.
“We’ll get him in ASAP here,” coach Jeremy Colliton said.
This is as good a time as any to mention that the Hawks were, entering Monday, 6-2-1 — their best stretch of the season — with Jokiharju gone. Hey, we’re sure it’s just a coincidence.
Jokiharju did his share of tearing it up, too, helping lead the Finnish team, for which he was an alternate captain, to a gold medal. Scoreless with the Hawks this season, he had two goals during the tournament and assisted on the game-winner in a 3-2 title match against Team USA in Vancouver.
“It’s exactly what we were hoping for when we sent him,” Colliton said. “Played huge minutes, went half the game, it’s a high-pressure situation, he’s playing for his country, and he came through. … You don’t forget that stuff. And for them to win, he can really use this as energy and a springboard and hopefully can have a great second half.”
The 2017 first-round draft pick has 11 assists in 32 games as a rookie. His uneven performance took the shine off the way he started the season — in the Hawks’ top defensive pairing with Duncan Keith — but the hope is the experience of playing for Finland in the role of veteran leader will help Jokiharju’s confidence.
“I’ve never been in that veteran role on a team, ever,” he said. “So it was big for me, and I think I took leadership steps as well in that tournament. So I’m happy for that, too.”
With the Hawks finally playing well, Jokiharju gets to return to an upbeat locker room, too. Did his teammates seem happier on the whole Monday afternoon?
“Seems like that, yeah,” he said.
It’s Gus’ bus
Exactly how Jokiharju will fit into the lineup going forward remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, emerging defenseman Erik Gustafsson probably has played too well alongside Keith for that pairing to be broken up any time soon.
“We do like Gus with Duncs,” Colliton said. “I think they’ve been really good for a while. So that’s a good option, but nothing is set in stone.”
AfterPatrick Kane scored his 24thgoal to pull the Hawks into a 1-1 first-period tie with the Flames, he shot a sly look to his parents and girlfriend, who were seated a few rows behind the net.
‘One More Shift’
The Hawks honored Dennis Hull before the game, sending him onto the ice for a skate, handshakes with players from both teams and the national anthem. Hull, 74, was a five-time All-Star with the Hawks and ranks seventh on the franchise list in goals, with 298.