A ‘Groundhog Day’ redux? Blackhawks’ Jeremy Colliton keeps seeing same things

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Jeremy Colliton behind the Blackhawks bench during his NHL coaching debut. (AP/David Banks)

Jeremy Colliton won the first game he coached. The celebration didn’t last long.

Colliton — now the Blackhawks’ coach — was 29, a just-retired player surprisingly handed the reins of the Swedish hockey club Mora IK’s top team, which competed in the top league in the country. Games 2 through 4? All three were shutout defeats. It wasn’t his last rough patch with Mora.

‘‘Small town, you can’t get away from it,’’ Colliton said last week. ‘‘And, obviously, I was not the easiest pick to go in there as a head coach. I had never coached before.

‘‘I think my second-to-last year, we lost eight in a row in November. In that situation, we’re a small club. We were, like, on the edge financially. That’s pressure. That was 100 years of history.’’

It only seems like 100 years since the Hawks started the season 6-2-2. An alarming downhill run since — with 15 losses in 18 games — has left longtime coach Joel Quenneville without a job and introduced fans to Colliton, 33, whose early

impact can’t yet be measured in any sort of positive way.

The Hawks (9-14-5) are 3-8-2 on Colliton’s watch. They’ve been disastrous early in games, repeatedly digging themselves into near-hopeless holes.

Colliton already has questioned the players’ energy level, their focus, their ‘‘pulse.’’ After a 3-2 loss Sunday to the Flames, he sounded almost surprised the team had competed as hard as it had.

‘‘Yeah, they had some life,’’ he told reporters. ‘‘I thought we showed a little response. So let’s build on that now.’’


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In the infant stages of a deal that runs through the 2020-21 season, Colliton isn’t in danger of being fired, such as United Center co-tenant Fred Hoiberg, who was let go Monday by the Bulls. But things have gotten more difficult for him. When he brought up the Mora stories, his point was that he had been in stickier situations than the one with the Hawks.

Several frustrating nights later, though, this Hawks mess has moved up the list. Is this the toughest stretch of his career?

‘‘I don’t know,’’ he said. ‘‘Hard to say.’’

After a 5-2 loss Saturday to the Predators, Colliton was asked if he felt a little like Bill Murray’s character in the film ‘‘Groundhog Day’’ — watching the same problems show up and describing them in the same terms to the media, game after game, as if on a loop. Perhaps it isn’t fair to ask a man about a movie that came out eight years after he was born, but Colliton seemed to appreciate the analogy.

He didn’t really bite on the question, though. His style — not unlike Hoiberg’s — seems to be more focused and measured and less warm, fuzzy and loquacious. And that’s OK — for now.

It’s probably more important that Colliton continues to get to know his players — especially the veterans who never played for him with the Hawks’ American Hockey League affiliate in Rockford — than it is that we get to know him.

Does he have a read on the Hawks’ mental state? Because they sure seem to be in less-than-ideal shape on that front.

‘‘I’m not sure,’’ he said after the loss to the Flames. “It’s hard for me to know that. I don’t know these guys that well that I can look into their psyches. But I do think tonight they were trying to do the right things, and that’s a step. We can win that way.’’

They’re going to have to. Or else a bad of couple of weeks in Sweden will seem like nothing.

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