Vince Hinostroza in action, March 15, 2016 vs Charlotte
Photo courtesy of Rockford IceHogs, by Greg Hamil
“The last month, he’s probably been our best player.”
-Ted Dent, speaking about 1st year pro Vince Hinostroza, after a tough 4-1 loss Friday night to the Chicago Wolves in Rosemont.
It is a compliment Dent has reserved for a select few players this season – Mark McNeill and Tanner Kero have also been bestowed that praise.
This is a season in which the Rockford IceHogs spent most of the initial two-thirds of the season atop the AHL Central Division. Lately, the Blackhawks top minor league affiliate has slumped and fallen back to third place, four points behind now division leading Grand Rapids, who have won 13 consecutive games coming into Sunday’s action.
While the IceHogs as a group may have recently lost some steam, Hinostroza is playing his best hockey yet.
The speedy, Bartlett raised rookie posted another 2 points last night to raise his AHL season total to 38, which is second to Mark McNeill’s 39 on the IceHogs. Hinostroza notched his 14 goal of the season and added a helper on McNeill’s power play marker later in the game, an eventual 4-3 overtime loss, again the Wolves in the second game of a back-to-back between division rivals.
“I think [Hinostroza]’s learning in the pro game that you have to get pucks to the net,” said Dent.
“You shoot for rebounds on purpose (too) – all pro players do that.”
Hinostroza’s game has come a long way since leaving Notre Dame a year ago this weekend. After completing his sophomore season with the Irish, he inked a 3-year entry level contract with the Hawks on March 21, 2015. He didn’t make his debut until a couple weeks later, on his 21st birthday, April 3rd in Rockford against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Though he posted 2 assists in the 5 games (all on Rockford’s home ice) he played with the IceHogs last season, Hinostroza often was hesitant to shoot the puck and never appeared comfortable playing in his new pro surroundings. Another reason for that may have been that Hinostroza was commuting back and forth from South Bend so he could attend classes during the week and rejoin the IceHogs if they were playing at home on the weekends.
Vinnie, as he is known to his teammates, said going back and forth was a challenge, but was rewarding in the long run.
“I think I accomplished what I needed to,” he said. “Just seeing what the pro game is about and I think that helped me coming into this year.
“I think they really just wanted me to get a taste before this year, and before going in to summer – to see what I needed to work on over the summer.”
What he worked on primarily, he said, was his strength. And says he feels a lot stronger on the ice this season. At 5’9” and 160 pounds, Hinostroza’s speed is what separates him in the pro game, but if he can’t hold onto the puck when challenged, or doesn’t have the explosive speed bursts, he’ll struggle to find his way into the NHL game. Hinostroza admitted size and strength will again be his focus this upcoming off season.
Two weeks into this season, Hinostroza got a surprise call from the Blackhawks and made his NHL debut against the Blue Jackets on October 17. That call up lasted four games and another in February garnered three additional skates with the defending Cup champs.
If he was in awe or intimidated by the experience, he either does good to hide it or its worn off by now.
“As a first year pro, you don’t really think about it too much,” he explained. “Getting the call, it’s really cool. You just keep working hard, so hopefully you get another call.”
Ted Dent has seen that effort in Hinostroza returning from his two brief stints with the Blackhawks.
“He’s working really hard on his details away from the puck,” Dent said. “Shooting lanes, faceoffs, positionally in our end – all the stuff that it’s going to take to play in the NHL.”
Seeing how the Blackhawks players operated, from the top to bottom, rubbed off on Hinostroza. He realized quickly that the details are what make you a good player at the next level, especially under Joel Quenneville.
“I think consistency and play away from the puck is really important,” Hinostroza says. “I think working on that down here will benefit me if I ever get the call again or get another chance up there.”
Hinostroza hesitated to single out Blackhawks who helped him out the most on his recalls, instead choosing compliment the group.
“You learn from them on and off the ice every day. Learn how to be a pro, how to be a better player. A lot about the defensive part of the game.
“From Toews all the way down to the young guys, like Teravainen, I think every guy – you learn from every day. Every guy up there, I feel, is a leader in some way. They definitely bring it to the plate and I feel like I’ve definitely learned from all those guys.”
While he hasn’t been able to mark the scoresheet yet in the NHL, Hinostroza has built his confidence off those seven NHL appearances this season.
“I think so. As the year has gone on, I feel like every game I get a little more confidence with the puck. I’m definitely getting more comfortable with the pro game.”
And getting comfortable, for Hinostroza, means letting the puck fly more often too. His shot has always been one of his best attributes and he’s getting pucks to the net more consistently than ever recently.
“Sometimes it’s good to be selfish, and [your teammates] can also score off the rebounds,” he said.
“I’m trying to shoot more, and be more dangerous – because that will open up the passing.”
Until that next opportunity to stick with the Blackhawks comes, all of Hinostroza’s focus is set on the IceHogs.
Drab and soft-spoken after Friday night’s loss in Rosemont, the nearly 22-year old rookie reflected on a night in which the IceHogs posted just 1 goal over 37 shots and looked forward to the task at hand – clinching an AHL playoff spot.
“We’ve had a great year so far. The past few weeks we’ve struggled a bit. If we get back to how we were playing, a couple months ago, a couple weeks ago, we’ll go into the playoffs with a lot of momentum.”
[The preceding piece was published in The Committed Indian game program on Sun March 20, 2016. Due to a printing issue, the issue was sold online only.]