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Antoine Vermette’s short stay made a lasting impact

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Antoine Vermette was the ultimate rental player — a veteran on an expiring contract chasing that elusive championship. A hockey mercenary. Heck, he even went right back to Arizona after he was done in Chicago.

But those 10 weeks Vermette spent with the Blackhawks were more than just a business trip. They’re an indelible memory, a defining moment in an excellent career.

“It was a short period of time, obviously, but it was [such an] intense and important moment,” Vermette said Tuesday evening before facing his old teammates for the first time since he re-signed with the Coyotes. “It’s tough to win. Chicago’s fans are pretty lucky the last couple years. It’s a very competitive league and it’s tough. You see guys — great players, great careers — and they never had a chance, never even came close to winning one. It’s tough, and that’s what makes it even more special to put your hand on it and accomplish it.”

Vermette was the latest stop on the Hawks’ reunion tour. Former Hawks are seemingly everywhere these days, most of them post-Cup cap casualties, grateful for their time with the Hawks and the championship legacy it left them. In the game before the Christmas break, the Hawks headed to Dallas to see Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, who won five Cups between them. After the break, Kris Versteeg made his return to Chicago (again).

Then it was on to Arizona to see Vermette. He certainly didn’t have the tenure that the others had, but his impact was lasting — on the ice as a much-needed depth scorer who scored three game-winning goals in the last two rounds of the playoffs, and off the ice as one of the friendliest and most sincere guys in hockey.

“It was huge, in such a short time,” Jonathan Toews said of Vermette’s impact. “He’s such a great teammate, a great guy. The guys loved him. It’s kind of crazy to think that it all went by really fast. He became a special part of the team so quickly.”

The Hawks tend to leave their mark on former players, too. Even for Viktor Tikhonov, who was a healthy scratch for most of his brief stint in Chicago and whom the Coyotes claimed off waivers on Dec. 6, feels like he got a lot out of his time with the Hawks. What stood out the most for Tikhonov was how the battle-tested Hawks never get too high after wins and never get too low after losses. There’s a confidence that comes with championships, and even players who haven’t hoisted the Cup in Chicago get a sense of it.

“It would be tough on anyone,” Tikhonov said about not playing. “I’d definitely be lying if I said I enjoyed it, but if there’s one team to do it on, that team was probably the most fun to do it. I’m still really thankful for the experience, and definitely learned a lot from those guys.”

For Vermette, it couldn’t have worked out any better — he got his Cup, and he got to go home to Arizona afterward. He was intrigued by the idea of staying in Chicago, but it was impossible with the Hawks’ salary-cap issues. But he’ll always have the memories, and that heavy, gaudy ring he keeps in a “very safe place.”

NOTE: David Rundblad cleared waivers on Tuesday, and did not travel with the team. Joel Quenneville wouldn’t say if Rundblad could be headed for Rockford, and when asked if he has any long-term future with the Hawks, Quenneville simply said, “Tough to say.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus