ANAHEIM – When Ben Smith got traded just at the deadline in March, there seemed to be an air of angst among fans of the Blackhawks. After all, he was – and still is – young, industrious and popular.
Then the other skate dropped. Andrew Desjardins was the return package from the San Jose Sharks. While their supporters felt similarly attached to him, Desjardins was a virtual unknown around Chicago.
Now, as the Blackhawks prepare for Game 7 of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks Saturday night, the man who made it happen is not suffering one iota of dealer’s remorse.
“Ben was a good player for us, absolutely,” said Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman. “But in Andrew, we thought we’d be acquiring someone with a little edge. As it’s turned out, he’s given us that and more. Beyond our expectations. He handles the details that not everybody notices. Watch when he goes into the corner. Andrew almost always comes away with the puck.”
Desjardins saved the Blackhawks money. In tight times, that helps Bowman. But now, as you watch how Head Coach Joel Quenneville deploys personnel, it is apparent he trusts implicitly the threesome of Desjardins on the left side for Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw. It isn’t every team that will put out a so-called fourth line against the opposition’s first, but those guys have developed an enviable Q rating.
“We all like to feel like we’re contributing, like we’re important in some way,” Desjardins said. “But with a group like this, so many great players, you never know.
“Funny, I got the word at the last minute. I was half dressed at the rink. Never been traded before. I went home and my wife, Mandy, and I just stared for about six hours. At the walls, at each other. What do we do now? We have a baby, Ames, two months old then. San Jose has been our home.
“I had to leave the next day. But by then, I was excited. The Blackhawks! There’s always uncertainty. On the first road trip, Jonathan Toews and I are eating dinner near each other and he starts asking me questions about my family. Small stuff, but it makes you feel like you belong. It’s the captain, and he wants to get to know you. Now the way things have gone lately, this whole experience has been unbelievable.”
Desjardins was never a hot prospect. He did not get drafted. Nor did he enjoy a blissful childhood. When he was 8, his father died. But driven to improve, if not always confident in his ability, Andrew made himself an NHL regular with the annually successful Sharks. He was rarely pretty, but usually effective. Not unlike linemate Shaw, who notched the last two goals in Wednesday’s 5-2 victory.
“He’s the guy you don’t like on the other team but love as a teammate,” said Desjardins, who assisted on both of the aforementioned scores. “Shawzie has a lot of offensive skills, besides all the other things he does. Krugs, he’s just so smart. What game was it? Ryan Getzlaf has a wide open path, and Krugs just has that instinct to poke the puck away.
“Me, I played center and left wing in San Jose. I just want to fit in here, to help. I was a late bloomer. Didn’t have the numbers in juniors. Now, to have this feeling, which is the best I’ve ever had, being this close to the Stanley Cup Final. The fact that the coaches seem to believe in us, and me, that means so much for your confidence. I don’t feel like a robot, just chip the puck in. Still, you have to be on the right side of the puck.”
You think the Blackhawks have scars from Game 7 last year against the Los Angeles Kings? Literally, that was sudden death. Desjardins endured slow torture in a previous series with the Sharks. They won three straight against the Kings, then lost four in a row, scoring twice in the last three.
“Oh, that thing,” Desjardins groans. “You keep thinking, ‘OK, we have to stop their momentum.’ But we couldn’t. Or didn’t. I see a lot of calm on this team. Poise. The stars don’t get too high or too low. I’m no star. I’m an energy guy. Like Shawzie. He’d be tough to play against. I try to be the same. If I played against myself, would I annoy me? Probably. ”