Thursday, June 1 2023

How Hawks are staying mentally engaged with finish line in sight originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Blackhawks recently wrapped up an exhausting season-long five-game road trip in which they traveled 5,195 miles and finished with a not-so-great record of 1-4-0. They were outscored 18-6 in those five games for a goal differential of -12.

The Blackhawks were cruelly dealt a tough hand by having a home game on the schedule upon their return to Chicago, and they looked mentally fatigued during parts of Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center despite a third-period push.

With Sunday’s game in the books, the Blackhawks are now in the single digits with only nine games left in the regular season. It’d be easy for them to lose mental focus with the finish line so close and nothing tangible to play for. But they’re trying to block out that thought.

“What we have to do, especially with a newer group, seems like every week is to create small goals,” head coach Luke Richardson said before Sunday’s game. “The small goal right now is a four-game homestand. It’s attainable, right? It’s a small period of time, we’ve had some really good games here as of late and we want to make sure we build on that, make this a difficult place for teams to come and make them remember that.

“Also for us to remember that, remember what kind of feeling we have and how we can take the energy from the rink at the beginning of the game and the national anthem and put it into our game, which we’ve done a pretty good job as of late. We want to build on that right to the end of the year. So if we can concentrate on these next four games and we get on the road and reset, there’s another small little series of three games. Just take it step by step like that.

“We’re still getting new guys filtering in that we’re trying to spend time with and get them up to speed on things. The guys here are doing a great job helping with that, whether it’s on the bench or the dressing room. The atmosphere of the team has been a really good setting this year. We’ve put it in their hands to create that environment for them and they’ve done a really good job from start to finish, whether it’s guys who have left here or the guys that are still here. That’s a real tribute to the type of character and people who are in that room.”

Can it be tough to stay engaged at this time of year when you’re not playing meaningful games?

“82 games, for any team, is, whether you’re in the playoffs or not,” Richardson said. “You can have letdowns at this time of the year if you’re at the top of the league, like a Tampa for example. Is that going to affect you going into the playoffs? Maybe.

“And there’s a team out of the playoffs, like our situation; there are guys who have an opportunity here to show themselves, and that’s a real inspiration. You don’t always get that when you have a team that’s fighting for the playoffs, young guys coming in will be sitting and watching. Now we’re going to start trying to filter some guys in as we get to the end of the year and it’s going to be an opportunity to show.”

Richardson has done a terrific job of laying the foundation and building a strong culture, even if it doesn’t show in the wins and losses column. They’ve been competitive in way more games than not this season.

But with the Blackhawks in the middle of a full-scale rebuild, there are also roster spots to be had for next season. Most players are either fighting for jobs — whether that’s with the Blackhawks or potentially showcasing themselves for another team — or roles within the lineup, and that means something, too.

Most importantly, the Blackhawks don’t want to get away from the habits and let their guard down too early. There’s always something to play for.

“As a team, we‘ve got to set goals for ourselves, and we’ve talked about that,” Seth Jones said. “And each individual, we all have something to play for here. We’re all trying to get better as individuals and as a team moving forward and build something, so we’re not going to get better out of thin air, just come back next year and hope for the best. So it starts now and starts with the way we play the game every night, the way we approach it.

“I think we’re all on board with that and the coaches are on board as well. We’re going to be competitive, not only for ourselves and our team and pride, but for the fans as well as that come to support us every night.”

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Source: Yahoo Sports


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