For all the usual, cliché reasons, the Blackhawks are looking forward to their annual circus trip — the team-bonding, the nightly Mario Kart battles in the hotels, the distraction-free lifestyle of 12 nights away from home. But after a middling start to the season, the Hawks also need some wins. And the circus trip always provides a bunch of them.
“A little camaraderie, a little togetherness — it’s all a fun part about being a team,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “There are always some good moments you remember over the course of the year, and hopefully winning’s going to be a part of this trip.”
It usually is.
In theory, the circus trip is a daunting task — an imposing gantlet of road games in hostile buildings and long late-night flights. The Hawks packed their bags and boarded a flight to Edmonton on Tuesday, and they won’t see Chicago again until the Sunday after Thanksgiving, as six games against Pacific Division opponents in 12 nights loom. Just ask the Bulls, who have historically struggled mightily on their own circus trip.
But in practice, the Hawks’ trip has been much more make than break.
They went 5-1 last year, with the revelation of the Kris Versteeg, Brad Richards and Patrick Kane line turning a mediocre start into a scorching 11-1 run. They went 6-1 the year before. In fact, the last time the Hawks had a losing record on the circus trip was way back in 2007-08 — the rookie season for both Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Given their history, and given the lousy start for basically the entire Pacific, the trip is less an arduous task and more a huge opportunity.
“We’ve always been excited to play on the road trip,” Duncan Keith said. “A lot of fun buildings to play in, good-skating hockey teams that will be excited to play us. We’re excited to do that.”
The timing couldn’t be better, either, as the Hawks are coming off two of their best games of the season — wins at St. Louis and at home against Calgary. They’re getting their act together at just the right time. The usual time, actually.
“We strung two games together,” Toews said. “It’s not a whole heck of a lot, but it’s a good start.”
The only difference on this particular trip is all the first-timers. A whopping 12 players will be making their first circus trip with the Hawks. That influx of new faces is a big reason for the Hawks’ inconsistent start, and a big reason why the long trip — which includes the annual trip to Las Vegas in between the Vancouver and San Jose games, thanks to a convenient three-day break — will be as crucial as ever. As Quenneville put it, the trip can be boiled down to two mini road trips: “Business, and then we get a little time to have some fun, then back to business.”
“The road is where you really get to bond with your teammates,” Brandon Mashinter said. “That’s kind of key for me, so I can get to know my teammates a little bit more. It’s just something that’s needed when you’re the new guy, because it helps you get more comfortable.”
The Hawks’ win in St. Louis on Saturday was just their second in seven road games this season. But Toews said the new guys shouldn’t have any trouble meeting the Hawks’ lofty standards on the trip.
“We’re very conscious as a team of what we’re capable of, and what we can do on this road trip,” Toews said. “You’ll be reminded of that whether you’ve been on this road trip before or not. I think that will be part of the talk in the locker room.”