The Blackhawks acquired forward Spencer Abbott from Toronto at the end of February in exchange for defenseman T.J. Brennan, and the 26-year-old has been on a hot streak ever since, tallying 20 points (11G, 9A) in just 16 games with the IceHogs. A late bloomer, Abbott played AAA hockey until he was 16 years-old before going on to have a successful career at the University of Maine, leading the nation in scoring with 62 points his senior year and earning a Hobey Baker Award nod. The Hamilton, Ontario, native spent parts of four seasons with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL, helping the team make a run for the Calder Cup in each of the last three campaigns. After being traded for the first time in his career, Abbott said that the transition was easier than he expected. As the IceHogs enter the AHL playoffs next week, chicagoblackhawks.com caught up with Abbott to talk about adjusting to his new team, line chemistry and more.
What was your first reaction when you were traded to a new organization for the first time in your career?
It was exciting. I thank Toronto for everything they did, but I think it was time to move on. Things were getting a little stale for me there, and I don’t know if my game was top-notch earlier this year. This is a good team we’ve got here and there are a lot of good players to play with, so that helps, too.
Was it a bit of a unique situation, knowing you were swapped for a former teammate, T.J. Brennan?
I lived with T.J. a little bit last summer, so I got to know him pretty well. Once I found out I got traded, he called me within the next minute to talk about what the organizations were like, how they were different and what the challenges would be. I actually moved into his apartment here.
Did he move into your apartment?
No, I told him he could, but he ended up moving into a place his first day there.
What were your expectations when you joined the team? Was it easy to settle in with the group in Rockford?
It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. This was the first time I had seen a new organization and I didn’t know what to expect because I was so comfortable in Toronto. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but within the first couple of days I was feeling pretty comfortable. It’s a good group of guys and a good staff, and they made me feel right at home as soon as I got here. Ever since then, it has been pretty good.
Was there any difference in how the Marlies and how the IceHogs play? Did you need to change your approach to the game at all?
I think there is a little bit of a difference, but a lot of that comes with what kind personnel you have on the team. We played a pretty conservative game in Toronto and I think Rockford has a pretty aggressive style. I think that’s just our game. With the core players we have here, the defense is very good and it’s easy to play my game.
With 20 points in your first 16 games, did you expect this sort of success immediately after joining the team? What has been working for you so far?
As soon as I came out of Toronto I was really excited to get here and play. Like I said, things weren’t going great for me over there, and I had been struggling. In the first game with Rockford, I think I had a goal and an assist, so that helped for sure. I just built off of that. Playing with Peter Regin and Brandon Mashinter, I think we’ve been clicking and found some chemistry, and they make the game easy. They’re fun guys to play with.
You, Regin and Mashinter have been lighting up the scoresheet. How do their games compliment yours?
I think Regin is a really skilled player. He is not afraid to get in the dirty areas and get the puck back. Mashinter is the same way. He thinks the game well, he’s pretty physical and he gets a lot of pucks back. I don’t think anyone wants to go in the corners with him. As a line we share the puck pretty well, and I think that’s how we have success.
Are there any areas of your game that you’re still trying to improve at this point in the season?
There’s always room for improvement. I think I need to shoot the puck more. I’ve had quite a few goals since I have been here, but a lot of those were around the net, which is great, but I’ve always been criticized for not shooting the puck and looking for the perfect play. I think if I would pick anything, it would be to get the puck to the net and not always look for the perfect play.
You’re one of a few players on the team with AHL playoff experience. Have you given the other guys any advice on what to expect in the postseason?
I have talked to a few guys. There are so many people on our team now that have had playoff experience in this league – and some in the NHL – so I’m not sure I’m at the top of the list to give advice. We made a couple of good runs in Toronto, so if I can help one of the younger guys get through the playoffs and help them learn what to expect, then of course I will.
What’s the atmosphere like in the dressing room as the playoffs approach? Are players trying to stay loose or has it gotten more intense?
I think since we clinched [a playoff berth], there has been a gasp for air and we’ve relaxed a little bit. Now with three games left we all know it’s time to ramp it up again. I still think the feel around the room is pretty good; we have a tight group and a real confident group, too. It doesn’t hurt to have Michael Leighton in net. You can make mistakes, and he’s usually going to have your back.
Earlier in the season we talked to some players about different team bonding activities. Is anything planned going into the playoffs or is everyone focused on the games ahead?
I think the ship has sailed for bonding. If you aren’t a tight group now, it’s not going to matter anymore. I don’t think this team has to worry. We have a great group of guys here. There are no side groups of people hanging out on their own, and everyone gets along. It’s probably one of the tightest teams I have ever played on.