Blackhawks notebook: Seth Jones, Henrik Borgstrom relish returns to Denver

Jones, who fell in love with hockey as a kid in Denver, and Borgstrom, who blossomed at the University of Denver, both fittingly played their first Hawks games Wednesday against the Avalanche.

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Seth Jones will make his official Blackhawks debut Wednesday against the Avalanche.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

DENVER — Seth Jones just missed crossing paths Tuesday with his dad, Popeye Jones.

The Blackhawks’ bumpy flight from Chicago to Denver landed not long after the Nuggets’ flight — with Popeye, an assistant coach, on board — departed for an NBA preseason game in Oklahoma City.

But Jones still had a number of family and friends in attendance for the Hawks’ regular-season opener Wednesday, a 4-2 loss against the Avalanche.

“[It’s] definitely special, seeing family and having people that you grew up with come to the games,” he said. “Here and Dallas, [with] my mom and grandma there . . . will always be special places for me.”

After all, Ball Arena — formerly the Pepsi Center — is “kind of where it all started” for Seth Jones.

He was 5 years old during the 1999-2000 season when Popeye, then a player for the Nuggets, approached then-Avs star Joe Sakic for advice on getting his kids into hockey. And he was 6 years old when he watched in-person as the Avs won Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Final.

“It’s coming full-circle, which is pretty cool,” he said.

University of Denver alumni Henrik Borgstrom and Ian Mitchell also experienced full-circle moments Wednesday, and in even rarer fashion: Borgstrom made just his second NHL appearance in Denver and Mitchell made his very first. (For Jones, it was his 10th.)

Borgstrom and Mitchell wanted to make the six-mile trip south from downtown to visit campus together Tuesday, but the Hawks’ flight didn’t arrive early enough for that, either.

Still, perhaps the fact Borgstrom’s first Hawks game took place in Colorado is fitting, considering how the organization hopes he can rediscover his collegiate dominance and creativity this season after flopping two years ago with the Panthers.

“It’s nice to come back here, and kind of crazy to start the season here in Denver,” Borgstrom said. “But it’s a different type of hockey [in the NHL versus NCAA]. Players are better here. I can’t do all the things on the ice that I was able to do in college.”

Borgstrom will have an immediate opportunity to prove himself on the Hawks’ new, ultra-young third line. The Hawks moved him from center, his natural position, to wing to fit him into that top-nine spot alongside Kirby Dach and Brandon Hagel.

“I love his skating,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “He’s really trying to do the right thing, and he’s been rewarded for it — [not only] with production but also he’s created a lot of chances.

“Playing him on the wing allows . . . [him to] give Kirby some support both down low and on faceoffs.”

Defensive strategy

After experimenting throughout the preseason, Colliton settled on Calvin de Haan with Seth Jones and Jake McCabe with Connor Murphy as his top two defensive pairs for Wednesday’s opener.

The idea is that McCabe and Murphy can tackle the toughest assignments against opposing team’s first lines, which will “free up Seth to be a little more active” offensively against slightly less dangerous competition.

“The way it is now, that’s how they complement each other the best,” Colliton said. 

Newly signed Erik Gustafsson was the healthy-scratched defenseman Wednesday because the Hawks are still waiting for his immigration paperwork to process. Dylan Strome, for whom the trade rumors are quickly picking up, and Adam Gaudette were the scratched forwards.

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