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Blackhawks hit European soil skating

by Shawn P. Roarke
ZURICH -- Talk about hitting the ground running.

Less than two hours after the Blackhawks completed an eight-hour post-game flight from Chicago to this picturesque European capital, the team was on the ice, going through a spirited practice that featured a lively scrimmage and some drills.

"It was just getting the bus legs out a little bit, so to speak," Hawks captain Jonathon Toews said.

Despite the rigors of flying overnight to Europe and arriving in Zurich in the late afternoon Saturday, the Blackhawks welcomed the opportunity to hit the ice for an hour -- even if many of them were slipping on equipment that was still slightly damp from Friday night's 4-3 win against Minnesota at the United Center.

"I definitely felt a little tired," said Patrick Kane, who had two goals Friday night. "It was a good practice, though, to get the kinks out."

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was on the ice for practice, but he spent most of the time watching the team compete in a high-tempo, 12-on-12 scrimmage before running through a set of drills that kept the players' feet moving throughout the second half of the practice.

"It was great getting in a fun practice today," Quenneville said. "We'll get a little more intense tomorrow and get ready for some games.

The Blackhawks have a traditional practice day Sunday before playing HC Davos, the first-place team in the Swiss league, in a Monday night exhibition at the Hallenstadion. Tuesday, the Hawks play ZSC Zurich in the Victoria Cup at the Hallenstadion. Then, it is a Wednesday departure for Helsinki and a two-game 2009 NHL Compuware Premiere matchup against the Florida Panthers that will open the 2009-10 NHL regular season.

With the regular season looming just six days away, Quenneville needs all the practice time he can get for his team. The Hawks still have a few roster decisions to make -- including who will be the backup goalie to Cristobal Huet -- and are nursing several players back to health. Needless to say, Quenneville was exceptionally pleased to see most of his walking wounded -- Jack Skille, Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien -- on the ice at the Eisbarn Oerlikon.

"It's nice to see everyone practice," Quenville said. "Skille practiced today and he looked fine and 'Steegs' was out there. It was great to see to see Byfuglien out there, too."

Byfuglien is recovering from a groin injury, while Skille is dealing with an unspecified lower-body injury picked up in Wednesday's exhibition game. Versteeg is on his way back from an upper-body injury picked up in the team's first exhibition game.

Huet, Chicago's undisputed No. 1 entering the season, spent four seasons in Switzerland, playing for Lugano, before he made the move to North America in 2002 to play for the Los Angeles Kings' minor-league affiliate in Manchester, N.H. So, he was excited to be back in the country that really kick-started his career. Yet, even he understood that this was a business trip and he would have to wait before he could visit with friends and family.

"It was a good to have practice," Huet said. "We had a good sweat and got used to the time (difference) and saw a little bit of (day) light. Now, we'll have a good night's sleep tonight. You want to be tired when you get to bed tonight."

It's a safe bet that most of the Hawks will be tired Saturday night, hitting the pillow hard before waking up to begin intense preparations for the season with a Sunday afternoon practice.

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