CHICAGO | Even though their first post-lockout practice Sunday drew a packed house at Johnny’s Ice House, Blackhawks management is following Rocky Wirtz’s admonition to never underestimate paying customers.
“The message to our fans is simple,” team president John McDonough said Sunday. “We are going to have to earn their loyalty back. We don’t take any of this for granted...We’re going to do everything we can to earn their allegiance back.”
McDonough did not go into specifics, saving those announcements for later this week when the team announces “fan initiatives."
Apparently, the fans don’t have to be sold as hard as many believe.
The overflow crowd at practice was one indication. McDonough revealed among the franchise’s first public comments since the lockout officially ended late Saturday that the team’s season-ticket waiting list actually increased by 250 during the four-month NHL shutdown.
The list will grow even more if the Hawks can return to Stanley Cup glory after the truncated 48-game season that begins Saturday in Los Angeles. One possible step toward that goal was the revelation longtime third-line center Dave Bolland will get first crack at moving up to fill the gaping center hole in the second line.
Bolland long has had the talent to play on the second line, but the Hawks loved him as the glue of the defensive and checking-oriented third line. Kris Versteed and Andrew Ladd flanking Bolland was a key to playoff success in the 2010 Stanley Cup run.
Now, if Bolland can make the transition, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville won’t have to play wingers Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp out of position at center.
“Everybody kind of puts him in…as a third-line center, in that checking role,” Quenneville said. “But ‘Bolly” offensively has some skill, and you could argue that on every team in the league Bolly could be a a second-line center.”
Between seven recalled younger Hawks who played through the lockout at minor-league Rockford and others who played in European pro leagues, many team members should be in game shape. The question will be if they can become near ironmen with the compressed schedule. As an example, the first six Hawks games will be played in nine days, with back-to-back games on consecutive weekends.
“Every team is going to be dealing with stretches where you’re going to be taxed,” Quenneville said. “It’s an amazing pace. I think one thing is depth in the organization is going to be important. We like the depth in all areas.”
“Tough” is the one word Bolland used for the schedule crunch.
“You’re going to be playing every second night,” he said. “There’s going to be no breaks. You’re going to be ready for what’s coming at us.”
Making matters worse is the Hawks play 10 of their first 12 games on the road. The rescheduled home opener is Jan. 22 against St. Louis.
“You can look at it this way: we’re going to spend a lot of time together as a team on the road right off the bat," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “It’s an opportunity for us to really come together early in the season.”