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NHL Winter Classic

Different game for younger Blackhawks alumni

30-somethings at Winter Classic still trying to figure out next step in life

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- Daniel Carcillo endured the boos, slyly grinning, and waved to the crowd at Busch Stadium during the Chicago Blackhawks introductions Saturday.

He was just as sly a short time later when he made one of the plays of the 2017 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game. Trying his best not to play defense on Wayne Gretzky, Carcillo ended up with the puck on a 2-on-0 and scored in an 8-7 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Asked if he felt like he was going at double the speed of the rest of his teammates, Carcillo said, "I hope not. You don't want to be known as a try-hard. Especially with the Hall of Famers."

Such is life for the younger members of the Blackhawks alumni team, figuring out a way to play with and against much older players -- some in their 60s -- after recently leaving the NHL. Carcillo, 31, last played in 2014-15. Adam Burish, 33, last played the same season, and Ben Eager, 32, played his final NHL game in 2013-14.

Each would look at home on an NHL roster. Less so for 60-year-old Grant Mulvey, 59-year-old Murray Bannerman, 59-year-old Reggie Kerr, or 59-year-old Jack O'Callahan, among their teammates on the Blackhawks alumni.

Video: Blues defeat Blackhawks in close WC Alumni battle

Though some of those players have been enjoying retirement for years, Carcillo, Burish and Eager are working out their post-playing plans. They're not quite as comfortable with their alumni status. They're still determining a way forward, just as they figured out how to play as 30-something member of the alumni team.

"Obviously the transition after retiring is tough, so to see St. Louis's alumni and Chicago's alumni, how strong they are, how tight of a community they are, to be able to tap into that as a 31-year-old leaving the game I think is very important," Carcillo said.

"Just really encouraging, just a whole lot of fun to be back in the locker room, around like-minded people, comfortable, just having fun and playing hockey and doing what we know."

For Carcillo and Eager, part of their transition has been done together, in Chicago, where they own Jet Hockey Training Arena in Glenview, Illinois, and where they're coaching an AAA youth hockey team.

They are also working with Carcillo's Chapter 5 Foundation, which aims to help players with the steps following their NHL career.

"It's just different when you go from doing the same thing for your whole life and all of a sudden it's over," Eager said. "You're at home, and if you don't get into something or at least have a plan, it turns into a long summer."

But the two have managed to stay busy, even when they're not on the ice.

"We're around each other a lot. We have a little mini-dressing room feel that we go to most days," Eager said. "There's a lot of guys in the Chicago area, so we're trying to let them know that we can still get together, hang out. Hockey players like to hang out with hockey players."

But even as those most recently in the NHL are working on what comes next, they were more than glad to slip back into their old uniforms, to get back on the ice, to return to the game, to hang out with hockey players as hockey players again, even if it was just for one afternoon in an exhibition game at a baseball stadium.

"You're probably never going to get the same feeling as playing in front of 20,000 people, but there's still a lot of similar feelings you can get," Eager said.

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