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Snuggerud's five-point night sends Blackhawks to championship game

by Emerald Gao / Digital Content Coordinator

Traverse City, Mich. -- The Blackhawks started the scoring on the first shift of the game, and then they seemingly couldn't stop, finding twine even on the very last shift of the game.

The two tallies bookended a 9-2 demolition of Carolina on Monday night, which also included two power-play goals and two shorthanded goals, some heroic penalty killing and an overall team performance the Blackhawks could be proud of. Eleven players found the scoresheet, and five enjoyed multi-point nights, chief among them defenseman Luc Snuggerud, who strung together an even-strength goal, a power-play goal and three assists; he's now one of four players with six points in the tournament.

"Things were just kind of going in the net for me, so it's just one of those days where the whole team's playing well and I'm just a product of that success," Snuggerud said after the game. "Can't give enough credit to the guys in the locker room. Everyone was clicking and on the same page."

His defensive partner, 2013 seventh-round pick Robin Press, collected three helpers of his own. He too gave a lot of credit to the full team effort, saying, "It's hard to not play good because our forwards and centers are everywhere helping us out, so we can just return the puck. We were in the offensive zone -- I don't know how many minutes today, but it was really good."

It started, as it has all tournament, with the top line clicking immediately, as 2016 second-round pick Alex DeBrincat continued his productive streak, burying a cross-crease pass from center David Kampf just 36 seconds into the game for his third goal in as many games. 

Two consecutive power-play opportunities for Carolina could have spelled a quick turnaround, but Chicago not only held on admirably, they doubled their lead on Matthew Highmore's shorthanded tally after DeBrincat interrupted a play in the neutral zone.

The lead stretched to three goals just 90 seconds later, courtesy of Will Pelletier, a free-agent minor-league signing out of Division III Norwich University. Chicago limited the Hurricanes to six shots on goal in the first 20 minutes despite spending 8 minutes shorthanded.

As the score ballooned in Chicago's favor, so too did the penalty tally. Colliton admitted that these things tend to happen if a team is aggressively pursuing turnovers, but commended his team for executing while shorthanded.

"The penalty kill, you can use it to your advantage if you play like we did today," Press added. "We blocked shots, our goalie was incredible, and we killed them off just like we wanted to. It builds momentum, gives us energy."

After a back-and-forth second period, the Blackhawks built up a 5-1 lead, getting goals from free-agent invitee Michael Cramarossa and Snuggerud. The third period turned out to be more of a victory lap, as Graham Knott, Snuggerud again, Radovan Bondra into an empty net and Matheson Iacopelli capped off a scoreline that was more than enough to set up a championship matchup against Columbus on Tuesday (6 p.m. CT).

While Snuggerud and Press unquestionably had an exceptional game, the spread of goals was an indication that the entire team was able to execute the simple but high-pressure style of hockey that Colliton wants to instill in his Rockford charges.

"The whole coaching staff this whole week has been preaching quick transition game," Snuggerud said. "Get the puck up, and every time they turn the puck over in the neutral zone, bring it right back in and try to prevent them from changing. Obviously we finally figured out how to execute that today."

"It's a fun way to play hockey," Press added. "You can see it out there today. We had the puck, and when we didn't have the puck, we were tracking back, winning it pretty quickly almost every time, so it's fun."

Traverse City is a short but intense tournament, with four games spread out over five days, but the team is coming together at the right time, a function of a group of hockey players getting to know each other off the ice at the same time that they're learning how to play with each other on the ice. If Snuggerud and Press can click on the back end, and DeBrincat and Kampf establish chemistry quickly, it's not only good for the team this week, but could spell success for the IceHogs a month from now.

"The first two games, everyone's getting to know each other and everyone's tendencies. Today it all came together and everyone was on the same page," Snuggerud said. "That was our goal coming in here -- to win some hockey games, and thankfully we've done that so far and [given] ourselves a chance to win it all tomorrow."

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