Blackhawks will forge on despite missing 5 players on COVID-19 list: ‘That can make our team stronger’
The Hawks’ schedule remains unchanged despite the growing outbreak, and coach Jeremy Colliton has told his team to view this as an opportunity to push through adversity.
After the Blackhawks received more bad news in COVID-19 testing, hastily ushered all of their players out of Fifth Third Arena and realized their already bumpy season had taken another unfortunate turn, Saturday afternoon’s scheduled team Zoom meeting took on great importance.
Coach Jeremy Colliton tried to keep his team from growing discouraged.
“One of the main messages was: We’re facing some adversity; it’s been hard at times; we know we’re missing guys,” Colliton said. “Finding a way through and continuing to push forward and do the right things, we have to do it again and again and again.
“The circumstances, [they] really don’t matter. The most important thing is that we push through and we find a way to persevere anyway. That’ll be great for us in the end. That can make our team stronger.”
The Hawks, already missing Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander long-term and with Brent Seabrook and Zack Smith on injured reserve, have seen their lineup depleted even further in the last week by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Alex DeBrincat, a top-line staple, is out. Lucas Wallmark and Ryan Carpenter, two reliable bottom-six, penalty-killing centers, are out. Defensemen Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin, the Hawks’ 2018 first-round picks, are out.
With 10 players unavailable, the Hawks’ roster has become as patchwork as an old quilt.
And yet there will be no break. With no new positive tests returned Sunday morning, the Hawks’ season hasn’t been paused, not yet at least.
The morning skate and the game against the Blue Jackets went on as scheduled.
“It’s a serious thing, no question,” Colliton said. “Hence all the precautions and the work the league has done to try to play and do it safely.
‘‘Everyone’s aware of the implications, but at the same time, from my perspective, I have to focus on what I need to do, and that’s the message to the team, as well: Prepare to play, prepare to compete as hard as we can.”
Connor Murphy and Andrew Shaw, who spoke with the media Sunday morning, said the last-minute practice cancellation Saturday was a strange and unprecedented — but not entirely unexpected — experience.
“Guys got out and did what they needed to do at the rink early, and when they sent us home, we just relaxed, rested and got ready,” Shaw said. “You’re going to see probably a couple of days like that this year, so we’ve just got to get used to it.”
NHL protocols require constant mask-wearing off the ice, as much social-distancing in the locker room as possible and most meetings to be held on Zoom. Rules like that have allowed the team to keep playing despite the small outbreak.
The Hawks also have prepared hockey-wise for scenarios like this --— key personnel in all units unavailable and in need of replacements — by having all players sit in on the specialty meetings (power play, penalty kill, etc.) this season.
That readiness probably won’t make up for the missing talent and experience.
The depth problems are so severe that Reese Johnson, an undrafted forward who had eight points in 52 AHL games last season, made his NHL debut Sunday in place of Carpenter.
The team, however, has no choice but to forge on.
“That’s the only way we can play,” Shaw said. “It’s the new norm for now. We’ve just got to get through this year. We have to be prepared for going through adversity like this.”