Jeremy Colliton’s steady messaging has given Blackhawks equally steady work ethic

Colliton deserves plenty of credit for the coaching job he’s done with this talent-lacking 2021 Blackhawks team. It’s that simple.

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Oft-criticized Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton deserves credit for the Blackhawks’ competitive run.

Oft-criticized Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton deserves credit for the Blackhawks’ competitive run.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Jeremy Colliton is doing a great job this season as Blackhawks coach.

For all of the criticism and skepticism Colliton has faced — some fair, some not — over the last three years, he deserves the same bluntness when praised.

Colliton’s mellow personality and steady messaging, emphasizing the values of a strong work ethic, responsible decisions and a team-first mentality over and over, might not be exciting. This Hawks team, having lost just once in regulation over their last nine games but four times in overtime or a shootout, isn’t particularly exciting, either.

But Colliton’s steadiness has given the team equal steadiness. And considering how easily they could be a mess instead, that’s a commendable accomplishment.

“Jeremy and the coaching staff are really harping on building a culture here where we’re skating hard, we’re winning battles,” Patrick Kane said Thursday. “No matter who’s in the lineup, anyone can do that and be effective at it.

“The culture is being built, and it’s nice to see that we’re hanging in games, especially with a team with a lot of injuries.”

The 6-4 win over the Hurricanes on Thursday serves as a perfect example of a positive impact Colliton’s coaching strategy can have.

The Hurricanes thoroughly outplayed the Hawks in the second period, creating 13 scoring chances to the Hawks’ six and rallying from a 3-1 deficit with two goals eight seconds apart.

Periods like that inevitably will happen — to any team, but especially to one like the Hawks. Yet, Colliton’s words at the second intermission restored the confidence that has underlined the teams of his tenure.

“Jeremy did a good job of calming us down,” Kane said. “[It] could’ve easily went the other way. He told us we played well the last 10 minutes [of the period] and, all of a sudden, you don’t feel as bad as maybe you did.”

The Hawks bounced back with a stronger third period, tallying just as many scoring chances as the Canes did (13-13), and received the bounces needed for a win.

That win gave the Hawks three points out of four in their series against one of the NHL’s most talented rosters. The improvement since the Hawks’ first matchup against a top contender — the first two games of the season against the Lightning — has been remarkable.

“We’ve done a good job of battling each night, giving ourselves a chance to win,” Alex DeBrincat said. “We took those first few games and threw them out. We knew we had better than that. I don’t think we’re a team that’s going to beat other teams by skill, but we’ve been playing the right way, working hard, buying into the system, and it’s been working out well.”

Colliton’s postgame comments, meanwhile, mirrored the comments he has given almost every night.

“We talked about being relentless and being determined and being unselfish and making team decisions,” he said. “I really have to give them a ton of credit for how they’ve done that. That’s allowed us to be in games. When you have that mentality, you can compete and hang around, even when you’re not at your best.”

Is that quote boring? Yes, most of Colliton quotes are.

But does it accurately describe the traits Colliton has successfully embedded in this team?

Does that clear, consistent messaging help the embedding process?

And have Colliton’s other actions as coach — be it practice drills, lineup and ice-time management or feedback with players — also lined up with his stated goals?

Yes, yes and yes again.

The Hawks still aren’t going anywhere this season. They won’t win much with skill, as DeBrincat admitted, and skill does a lot of winning in this league. Their 4-1-4 stretch isn’t even traditionally impressive, and it will end sometime.

But Colliton is doing a great job as coach nonetheless. It’s that simple.

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