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Blackhawks hope bonding experiences will make opening loss and jet lag worthwhile

Without a mark in the win column, the Hawks must hope the team chemistry developed will ultimately give their European excursion a beneficial gloss.

For Dominik Kubalik (and David Kampf), the Blackhawks’ European journey was a trip home. For everyone else, it was a logistical challenge.
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Upon arrival in Berlin last weekend, Calvin de Haan and Drake Caggiula went for a city tour, Brendan Perlini went to the local Bundesliga team’s practice facility and Robin Lehner went to bed.

“I’m not a huge routine guy,” Lehner said. “But you have to sleep, and it’s been tough to sleep.”

The seven-hour time-zone change from Chicago to Berlin and Prague, where the Blackhawks spent the last eight days, was a drain on many of the players — even on those, such as Lehner, who hail from Europe. No amount of charter-plane couches and five-star catering could have staved off that jet lag.

On Saturday, the Hawks had to deal with it again, flying back to the United States at last.

Although they won’t practice until Monday and won’t play until the home opener Thursday against the Sharks, the lingering fatigue from the last two weeks of heavy travel — not to mention a sluggish season-opening loss — won’t be overcome easily.

Since the NHL began its Global Series in 2007, participating teams have a dismal 9-17 record in their first games back in North America, and that stat is hardly a fluke. Hockey players (apparently minus Lehner) are dedicated creatures of habit; 10-hour travel days and scrambled body clocks don’t go over well.

At least the Hawks will enjoy a seven-game homestand, meaning no more trips outside of Chicago until late October. Most of their Global Tour predecessors weren’t so lucky.

“We’ll be excited to get home and take advantage of the home ice coming up here,” Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously got to deal with jet lag a little bit, but I think it’s going to come quicker [than the outbound trip].”

Without a mark in the victory column to show for their journey, the Hawks must hope the team chemistry and unity developed along the way eventually will make this European excursion worth their while.

David Kampf and Dominik Kubalik went off to visit their Czech hometowns, but the rest of the team found time for some tourism, including attending the Slavia Praha-Borussia Dortmund Champions League soccer game. At night, dinners of schnitzel and goulash accelerated the bonding.

“I believe in this stuff,” de Haan said. “I think we needed to get away from Chicago a little bit, and I’m not the only guy. There are a lot of new faces in here. . . . You’re almost forced to hang out with each other, so it’s good to get to know one another.”

The Hawks’ new-for-2019-20 top line of Toews, Patrick Kane and Alex Nylander was a bright spot in the loss to the Flyers.

Nylander scored his first goal for the team, and Kane had three points.

Toews attributed the productive showing to the trio’s strong chemistry. That’s to be expected between him and Kane, but Nylander getting integrated so quickly reflects well on the young winger and the European experience.

“When you’re not second-guessing what’s going on or where guys are for support, you’re going to keep plays alive, and you’re going to get more chances,” Toews said.

And that’s a mantra that applies for the Hawks’ veteran stars and bottom-pair grinders alike. Ideally, the last week — despite all of its complexities and eventual failure — accomplished at least that goal.

“You’ve got to care about your teammates,” de Haan said. “The more you care about them off the ice really translates onto the ice.”