Traverse City, Mich.—In a short competition like the Rookie Tournament, lessons are best learned quickly, and the Blackhawks successfully turned the page on an inconsistent opening effort with a 5-0 win over the the Red Wings on Saturday.
Detroit actually manufactured the game’s first scoring opportunity, hitting the post almost immediately after puck drop, but Chicago recovered and played with much of the same pace they showed in Friday’s loss to St. Louis.
Early pressure paid off as free-agent invitee Alexandre Fortin lanced a wrist shot past the Red Wings netminder just 5 minutes into the tilt. Fortin was a standout at Prospect Camp in July, but struggled to stand out in Friday’s contest.
Saturday, he said, he just "kept it simple." That strategy included corralling a gift-wrapped puck in front of Detroit’s net late in the first period and calmly slotting it home for his second tally of the period.
“The first game, I was a little bit more nervous, for sure,” Fortin said after the game. “But I have no time to lose, and I want to improve myself every game. [Getting two goals was] good, but I know I can be better than that.”
Despite building a comfortable two-goal lead, the Blackhawks didn’t take their foot off the pedal like they did against the Blues. Just 31 seconds into the second frame, defenseman Gustav Forsling showed off some of the hockey sense that makes him such a highly touted prospect with an impressive individual effort. Anticipating a pass from an opposing defender, Forsling intercepted the puck in the neutral zone and carried it into the Detroit end, then faked a pass before going high glove with a wrist shot.
The 20-year-old wasn’t done, offensively; a few minutes later, with Chicago on the power play, his slap shot from the blue line found a clean lane through and was tipped past the goalie by Nathan Noel to give the Blackhawks a commanding 4-0 lead.
“It felt good,” Forsling said after his second solid performance of the weekend. “I think I got into it pretty good [today], had some easy shifts and I adapted to the small rink pretty fast, but it feels better every shift.”
Although Forsling stood out for his contributions at both ends of the ice, Rockford Head Coach Ted Dent praised the defensive corps for improving their transition game throughout the contest.
“In the first period, our defense in general tried to hold onto it instead of get it to the forwards right away,” Dent said. “We talked about that after the first period, and I thought the defense was much better after that.”
“This time we got some more goals and got comfortable, kept moving forward, and that’s very important in these kinds of situations,” Forsling added.
Although Detroit tried to crowd the crease, swarming Chicago netminder Brent Moran often in the second and third periods, the Blackhawks held firm in their own end, and Alex DeBrincat sealed the deal at 12:41 of the third period with a close-range goal off a feed from Ivan Nikolishin.
The result was made more impressive given the absence of top-line center Nick Schmaltz, who was replaced by North Dakota teammate Luke Johnson. The two play different styles, but Johnson clicked well with DeBrincat and Tyler Motte.
“[Johnson] had an opportunity to play with two really good players, and I like his awareness defensively a lot, his faceoffs,” Dent said. “He’s on the defensive side of the puck; he doesn’t cheat.”
The tournament will resume on Monday after a scheduled one-day break for all eight teams. After two games in less than 24 hours, the Blackhawks are looking forward to resting before an important clash against the Columbus Blue Jackets, which will determine seeding for the tournament finale on Tuesday.
“The day off tomorrow is going to be good for everybody,” Fortin said. “[We just had] two games in a row, and everyone out there wants to improve themselves, but we’re going to take the day off and take it easy.”