Cat trick: DeBrincat scores three goals as Blackhawks destroy Ducks
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Alex DeBrincat was too small. He wasn’t strong enough to handle the physical rigors of the NHL. He wasn’t fast enough to get any separation. NHL defenses were far too good for him to find that open ice he always found in the Ontario Hockey League.
He needed time to adapt to pro hockey. Needed defensive seasoning in the minors. Needed work in the weight room. He simply wasn’t ready.
So much for all of that.
DeBrincat became the second-youngest Blackhawks player to get a hat trick Monday night, four days shy of Jeremy Roenick’s team record, in a 7-3 trouncing of the Anaheim Ducks. The 5-7, 165-pound DeBrincat, passed over 38 times by 26 teams in the 2016 NHL Draft, now has 10 goals in 23 games, second on the team. He even added an assist for his first four-point game.
After the game, Joel Quenneville called him a “special player,” his highest form of praise.
“I said earlier that he was playing like he’s in junior hockey still, and that’s a compliment,” said linemate and mentor Patrick Sharp. “He’s not intimidated at all by the speed or the pace of the game, and you can see the results.”
It took Patrick Kane nine years to get his first regular-season hat trick. He made sure DeBrincat didn’t have to wait nearly as long, looking for the pass all the way on a 2-on-1 during a second-period power play for DeBrincat’s third goal.
Over the summer, even DeBrincat seemed resigned to starting his career in Rockford, though he felt he was NHL-ready. Asked if he felt validated by his remarkable start — he’s one goal off the rookie lead — DeBrincat shrugged.
“I feel good, but I feel like I can do better,” he said. “Never be satisfied with where I’m at, and always try to improve.”
DeBrincat’s “Cat trick” was the highlight of a laugher for the Hawks against the banged-up Ducks, who were without four of their best players in Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Patrick Eaves and Rickard Rakell. Kane had three assists, Nick Schmaltz had a goal and two assists, Ryan Hartman had two assists, and Sharp broke a 16-game point drought with a goal and an assist. Brandon Saad scored for the second straight game, and Artem Anisimov had a power-play goal for his team-leading 11th tally of the season.
They’re now 5-1-1 in their last seven games, and playing their best hockey of the season. Good thing, too, because the marathon that is the NHL season turns into a sprint for the next few weeks. After playing 10 games in the previous 29 days, the Hawks opened a stretch of 10 games in 18 days — including five in seven to start — Monday night.
They haven’t played five in seven since December 2013, when they went 3-1-1. It didn’t even happen during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, when they played 48 games in 99 days. And with all five of the games coming against Western Conference foes, including a road game at Nashville on Tuesday, the Hawks are well aware of the importance of this next week.
The way they see it, the timing couldn’t be better.
“It seems like we’ve been paying a little bit better as of late, but at the same time, we’re not playing as many games so we’re still in the same spot in the standings,” Kane said. “Hopefully, we can keep playing the same way, make up some ground here, and see us move up a little bit.”
With a lineup that’s finally set in stone, and with Kane red hot (four goals and seven assists during a seven-game point streak), Saad heating up, and the third line of Sharp, Hartman and DeBrincat finally breaking out, the Hawks feel they’re poised to keep on rolling.
Certainly, DeBrincat is.
“It was awesome,” Sharp said of the rookie’s big night. “Only problem is he had that mustache for it. So he’s going to be on TV a lot with that ugly mustache.”
Already being chirped by Sharp? Well, now there’s truly no doubt the kid’s an NHL player.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus