By Brad Gardner
The Blackhawks kicked off camp with the fourth annual Training Camp Festival on Saturday, September 17th. The sold-out event featured the camp invitees broken up into three teams for practices and a pair of scrimmages at the United Center.
Each game included two 25-minute periods and a shoot out to follow, regardless of the score. The red team, led by Dave Bolland and Brent Seabrook, played in both scrimmages and was the first team to score in each contest. Simon Danis-Pepin opened scoring in the first scrimmage with a long-distance slapper that found its way past Corey Crawford. In game two, the red team took the early lead when Peter Leblanc picked up a rebound and buried his chance in front of the net.
Neither lead would last long, however. The white team controlled most of the first scrimmage, winning by a score of 3-1 behind goals from Jonathan Toews, Brandon Pirri, and Shawn Lalonde.
The black team got a tying goal in the second scrimmage from Nick Leddy, whose wrister from near the faceoff circle got through goaltender Johann Mattsson. The black team also earned a 3-1 victory in regulation after a pair of quick goals beat Mattsson high blocker side, the first a breakaway score from Rob Klinkhammer and the final tally from Jamaal Mayers’ snap shot that found twine shortly after.
The first day’s scrimmages are just a small glimpse of the Blackhawks’ two week training camp, but here are some first impressions of the summer’s new additions as well as a few notes on returning players:
– Patrick Kane, recovering from offseason wrist surgery, skated with the white team in the first practice of the day, but he is still avoiding contact drills and did not play in the scrimmage. He returned for a shoot out attempt after the second game, predictably going backhand but still beating Mattsson over the shoulder.
– Of the Blackhawks’ first and second round picks over the summer, Phillip Danault seems to be the one who has had the most pressure to justify his draft position. He did so early in camp with his aggressiveness and skill with the puck. The winger plays fearless, even going up against the NHL regulars, and can make things happen with the puck on his stick.
– Mark McNeill, the team’s 18th overall pick, is more physically mature than any of the rookies. That point was made obvious to 2009 pick Brandon Pirri, who practically bounced off McNeill when he tried to check him in the open ice.
– Brandon Saad, after a couple very strong showings at the rookie tournament in Oshawa last weekend, was less noticeable in his first taste of an NHL camp. Consistency is the key for both Saad and McNeill, so each should find themselves back in the CHL for the year.
– It looked like some of the guys who could see some fourth line minutes during the year might bring a little more speed to the table than what was there last season. Dan Carcillo had some giddyup and was certain to finish his first few checks. Brandon Bollig stepped in to have a few words with the new addition, but Carcillo declined his invitation to drop the gloves.
– Brandon Segal, recently signed free agent from the Dallas organization, also skated well. He was in the right place at the right time for a couple chances but was unable to convert. Likely headed to Rockford to start the year, he could be asked to bring some energy to that bottom line at some point during the season.
– Rob Klinkhammer showed his breakaway speed throughout last season in Rockford but couldn’t convert a single opportunity. Great to see him finally finish one, even if it was against a goaltender headed to the OHL for the upcoming season.
– Elsewhere on the bubble, don’t think Ben Smith or Marcus Kruger did a lot to help or hurt their chances of making the roster in their first day of camp. Both will be players to watch when the preseason games kick off on Tuesday.
– An inauspicious start for Sami Lepisto in a Blackhawks sweater, as he turned over the puck in the slot one of the first times he touched the puck. From below the goal line, he passed up the middle of the ice but missed his forward skating across the defensive zone, resulting in a prime scoring chance for the other team. Lepisto settled down after the miscue, skating well and still moving the puck with confidence.
– Sean O’Donnell, another new addition to the blue line, has never been billed as a mobile defenseman, but at 39-year-old, he just didn’t have the wheels that Blackhawks fans have come to expect on the blue line.
– That said, he played a safe, reliable game in his own zone, which allowed Nick Leddy to take more chances. Looking much more assertive with the puck than he did as a rookie, he pushed the pace up the ice on a couple occasions and passed with confidence on the breakout. Although Mattsson would like to have that goal back, Leddy did a nice job of finding room to pinch in and get a quick shot on net.
– Goaltending was solid, considering the setting, but there didn’t seem to be too many great chances for the offenses either. Ray Emery and Johan Mattsson each played an entire scrimmage for the red team, giving up three goals apiece. Emery still made some strong saves and showed he can still move well laterally in the crease as he was challenged throughout the scrimmage by Toews and the white team. As long as he is healthy, Emery could be a great fit in the back-up role behind Crawford and bolster the ‘Hawks depth in net.