The Blackhawks wrapped up their annual rookie summer trip to northern Michigan, last night, with an exciting overtime win in the championship game of the Traverse City tournament. There is certainly some over inflated interest in this, so called, tournament but hockey in early September is few and far between. Let us call this event what it really is, a prospect showcase. This is an excuse for teams to showcase their prospects and see them perform against actual opponents. Most of these players will be in juniors, college, or the minors for a majority of the season, but there are a few that will see NHL time this year. By “few” I mean 3-5 per team, or roughly 40 of the 200 plus players. Each team not only has their prospects, but a few free agent invitees, which can dilute the waters a little, as well. This parade was one step above the summer prospect camp that we saw in early July. At least a healthy portion of these players will be playing for Rockford this season, for new coach Jeremy Colliton, so this was a great opportunity for him to get to know his team.
The young Blackhawks started off really slow, against the Rangers on Friday, giving up 3 goals in the first half of the game. Goalie Collin Delia fell victim to some deflections and sloppy play. The Blackhawks came back furiously in the third period, but simply ran out of time to complete the comeback. The final score read 3-2, with Blackhawks goals from Alex Debrincat and defenseman Calle Dahlstrom. Despite the final score, the young Blackhawks team out shot the Rangers 30-26. This game also featured a rumored Blackhawks free college agent target, Neal Pionk.
On Saturday, the Blackhawks fared a little better. Goalie Matt Tomkins got the start in net and fared a little better than his netminding partner the day before. It still took a comeback by the Blackhawks squad to squeak out a 4-3 win, but it was a win nonetheless. The Hawks got goals from free agent invitee Mike Cramarossa, Darren Raddysh, Calle Dahlstrom and the game winner by Alex Debrincat, with under five minutes remaining in regulation. Tomkins stopped 23 of 26 shots en route to an important win, which set the Blackhawks up for a chance at the Championship game on Tuesday.
Taking Sunday off turned out to be a very good thing for this Blackhawks rookie squad, as they came out Monday evening and took a lead 37 seconds into the game, and never looked back. Head Coach Jeremy Colliton went back to Collin Delia in net, and it turned out to be the right move. The Blackhawks ran out to a 3-0 lead before the Hurricanes team was able to beat Delia, and up 7-1 before they were able to beat Delia again. Working with a huge lead had to be comforting to the California native, and the Hawks cruised to a decisive 9-2 thrashing. Defenseman Luc Snuggerud was the big point producer in this contest, scoring 2 goals and adding 3 assists. Alex Debrincat extended his goal scoring streak to 3 games with his tally 37 seconds into the first period. He was otherwise held under check. The Hurricanes had prime chances to stay in the game with eight powerplays, but were only able to capitalize on one in the second period. Delia finished with 26 saves, and the Blackhawks put themselves into the Championship game Tuesday night.
For the third time in four games, the Blackhawks rookies started out less than desirable. Just 5 minutes into the game, they were already chasing a 2-0 Blue Jackets lead, and weren’t showing any signs of life, either. In fact, the Hawks didn’t register their first shot on net until after the halfway point of the first period. Once the young Hawks finally broke the ice, they controlled the action. Radovan Bondra opened the Hawks scoring with a real nice shot from the slot, just over five minutes into the second period, which clearly had the CBJ rookies on their heels. In stepped Alex Debrincat, once again, with 31 seconds remaining in the second period. He caught a lackadaisical Jackets defenseman by surprise, stripped the puck and sniped the Columbus goaltender Kulbakov over the blocker, tying the game. The third period went scoreless and the Championship was headed to overtime. In overtime, Debrincat took advantage of a crazy bounce, off a Luc Snuggerud shot, that missed the net but hit the end boards, popped up in the air and right back out in front of the net. Debrincat was in the right place at the right time and swatted it out of mid air to clinch the championship. Impressive for this class of rookies, and for brand new Rockford head coach Jeremy Colliton.
A few notes on the weekend:
- Alex Debrincat, yes I know. He finally showed what everyone had been waiting for these last 14 months, the ability to produce outside of just the OHL. He amassed 5 goals in four games, including the game winner Tuesday night. Granted, 90 percent, or more, of these guys will not be in the NHL this season. This level of competition was certainly higher than the kids he was bum slaying for the last 2 seasons so, promising, yes. He still has a while to go, though. Lets see him produce in an actual NHL training camp before we raise number 12 into the United Center rafters. This is a positive step, for certain. The collective meatballs will drone on for the next week about a bunch of unreal expectations, so just sit back and listen to them waste their time and energy. He is still better off starting in the AHL, and I stand by this. None of that means anything negative, either. Let the damn kid develop. If you listen to his quotes after the game, he specifically mentions, “Rockford could be pretty good this year, but we’ll see what happens“. I believe that it has already been conveyed to him that unless he has an insane training camp, which is unlikely, he will start in Rockford, as he should. Let him settle in under the radar and re-evaluate what you have after he gets his feet wet in the professional pool. If this is me being a hater, then so be it. I don’t care.
- Since the meatballs are more than willing to crawl up and nest in Debrincat’s crotch, they should be cupping Luc Snuggerud’s manhood equally, as well. But he’s not the golden child, so there is no Snuggerwagon. He was just as successful this past weekend as Debrincat, he was just doing so from a different position. Does this mean he should be an early season favorite for the Norris Trophy? No. This means that the Blackhawks have yet another defensive prospect in the system that could add depth, and might develop into a nice NHL player. He is going to Rockford, as he should, where they can develop him further and let him log big minutes. Notice a pattern? DON’T RUSH KIDS FOR THE SAKE OF UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS! He could turn out to be a fine player, and I really hope he does.
- I brought this up the other night, but all this stupid Debrincat-mania is burying the lead on so many other stories, like the young goalies. Matt Tomkins and Collin Delia had great weekends. Tomkins went 2-0 with an .884 save percentage, while Delia went 1-1 with a .907 save percentage. They both showed that, with JF Berube and Jeff Glass, the Blackhawks organization actually addressed a huge need this summer acquiring some depth in net. Some of this might have just been dumb luck, since the Washington Capitals were reportedly eyeing Delia pretty seriously, and Tomkins was the last remaining feasible goaltending prospect that they still held the rights for. Wouter Peeters is still years away, and Ivan Nalimov is banished somewhere in Siberia.
- Two other stories that developed were that of David Kampf and Calle Dahlstrom. Both players I mentioned as “under the radar” players to watch, just a week ago. Kampf took hold of the center spot next to Debrincat, and never relinquished it. He looks like a good player that could turn into a Kruger type with some more offensive upside, even if only in the AHL. Dahlstrom has had a contentious Blackhawks career thus far, but showed improved foot speed and a knack for creating a little offense on the other end. I’m a big fan of his size, so I hope to see him in an expanded role this coming season for Rockford. I hope the change in Rockford’s staff and the addition of Ulf Samuelsson really bring him along, because this team needs size on defense and Brent Seabrook won’t be around forever.