Traverse City, Mich.-They may not have won the game, but there were plenty of positives to take away from the Blackhawks rookies' 3-2 loss to St. Louis on Friday night at Centre Ice Arena.
First, there was the 34-19 shot differential, partially established after a blistering first period that saw Chicago outshoot St. Louis 12-4. The pace was set on the very first shift of the night, when defenseman Gustav Forsling sent a quick shot in from the blue line that was tipped neatly on goal by Alex DeBrincat, the Blackhawks' top draft pick this summer.
DeBrincat was joined on the top line by Tyler Motte, who was named team captain for the tournament, and alternate Nick Schmaltz; Forsling is the other alternate.
The Blackhawks took the lead at 17:14 of the first period, when 2015 sixth-round pick Roy Radke-one of just three returning players from last year's roster-forced a turnover just inside the St. Louis zone and fired a quick wrister home from the right circle.
"It was a good pace in the first period," Motte said. "I think we slowed down as a team in the second and third, so we've got to find a way to push the pace, especially our line with Schmaltz and DeBrincat. We've got to keep the pace; that's when we're going to be at our best, and that's when our team's going to be at our best."
Indeed, the shot margins were less exaggerated in the last 40 minutes of the game, and the Blues were able to capitalize on some defensive miscues, tying the score midway through the second and then taking advantage of two partial turnovers late in the third to pull away. A late goal by Motte with goaltender Jake Hildebrand pulled was small consolation.
Although Rockford Head Coach Ted Dent said he liked his team's overall performance, he's hoping to make a couple of simple adjustments with an afternoon start against host team Detroit on Saturday.
"One thing you're always harping on with these young guys when they do turn professional is shift length," Dent said after the game. "We want to see short shifts; if you go shorter you can go harder. At 5-on-5 and even on the penalty kill, shifts got a little long at times, but we'll talk about that and hopefully be better in that area tomorrow.... As coaches, we don't want to throw too much at them and overwhelm them with strategy and stuff."
Not only is the jam-packed schedule a challenge, with four games in five days, but the players only skated together twice before being thrown into a highly competitive atmosphere.
"They planned on everyone coming in after having a good summer, and just stepping on the ice in the best shape they could be in," Motte said. "The chemistry might not always be there, but that's what you've got to find out pretty quickly, and I think we've done a pretty good job with that so far. You've got to have fun. You've got to enjoy being here. We've got a quick turnaround for tomorrow, but you've got to be excited to put on a sweater and just go out and play."