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Hawks still have roster spots up for grabs

by Shawn P. Roarke

"There's some importance (to these games). We have to evaluate a couple of jobs here internally. Guys are fighting for ice time and to see who is playing with who." -- Joel Quenneville

ZURICH -- After a good night's rest, the Chicago Blackhawks got down to business during a brisk practice Sunday at the Eisbarn Oerlikon.
"Today, it was a little early for us," Joel Quenneville told after Sunday's afternoon practice, which was 5 a.m. on the players' body clocks. "We're looking forward to playing. We're excited about being here and we are looking forward to playing tomorrow night."
Quenneville also made sure his team understands that work is the order of business on this European junket.
"We talked to them a bit about that today," Quenneville said. "There's some importance (to these games). We have to evaluate a couple of jobs here internally. Guys are fighting for ice time and to see who is playing with who.
"So, there is a lot of motivation. And when you play a hockey game, you play to win.
The Chicago coaching staff watched ZSC Zurich practice at the Eisbarn this morning and took a favorable scouting report back to Quenneville and the team, stressing the speed and technical proficiency inherent throughout the Lions' roster. Chicago plays Zurich in Tuesday night's Victoria Cup.
The Hawks tune up for the Lions game with a Monday night exhibition against HC Davos, which won the Swiss league last season and is undefeated after seven games this season. Davos beat HC Fribourg, 6-2, on Saturday night.
But, as Quenneville mentioned, Chicago also has to worry about its own team. There are more than a few decisions that must be made before the Hawks travel to Helsinki to open the regular season with a two-game series against Florida in the 2009 NHL Compuware Premiere Helsinki series.
The biggest decision of camp is who will back at No. 1 goalie Cristobal Huet? Corey Crawford was the front-runner when camp opened, but Antti Niemi has pushed hard for consideration with a strong showing.
Quenneville said the two goalies will split time Monday against HC Davos and their performances in that game action could go a long way to settling the race.
"It's a tough decision to make," Quenneville told "Both guys are on a level playing field and we're trying to assess their play over the course of camp and even in practice. Both guys look like they are ready to play at this level and they are looking for the opportunity. We'll talk about it, look at their play and do what we feel is best for the organization. But it's a tough call.
"Usually (game play) is the bottom line. This decision is a hockey decision. I think you always measure their play in games. I think that is the best way to evaluate, not just goaltenders, but anybody."
Backup goalie is not the only decision that must be made.
The Hawks have 29 players with them right now. They will be allowed to carry a third goalie for the Compuware Premiere games, but Quenneville will still have to get down to 24 after the Victoria Cup game. That likely means several cuts among the forwards, depending on the status of injured players like Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien and Jack Skille, and one on the blue line.
"We felt some of the guys, the way they played in the last game against Minnesota, earned the right to come on the trip and earned the right to get further evaluated because they want to show they can make the team," Quenneville told "We have a lot of depth up front, so we'll have to watch."
Two candidates looking to survive the cut among the forwards are Bryan Bickell and Rob Klinkhammer. Both players were sent down to Rockford of the American Hockey League earlier in camp, but were called up after the spate of injuries, which also includes the long-term knee injury suffered by Adam Burish.

Klinkhammer scored the winning goal in Friday's exhibition against Minnesota to improve his chances. But Quenneville says Bickell also played well Friday night.
Both those kids played well in the last game," Quenneville said. "When we sent them down, as an organization, we felt these guys had to be challenged and be pushing to be the call-up guy to get a chance to play this year. We had four lines at the time. I'm sure they are excited by the opportunity and want to take advantage of it."
The fate of both Klinkhammer and Bickell is intrinsically tied to the injury status of the aforementioned players, all of whom skated in Sunday's practice. Versteeg, who has been sidelined eight days with an unspecified upper-body injury suffered in an exhibition loss against Washington, appears to be the biggest question mark.
Versteeg, a rookie of the year candidate last season after scoring 22 goals and finishing with 53 points in 78 games, has been skating since the injury occurred. He has been kept away from contact drills, however. Until, he is able to test himself in that manner, he can't pronounce himself ready for battle.
"It all depends on when I can get ready," Versteeg told after Sunday's practice. "Opening night, that's definitely my goal. If not, I guess not. But opening night is what we are shooting for.
"It all depends on how the injury comes along and how I am feeling with contact. I've been skating with the injury since it happened and I felt great in camp. It's kind of unlucky the way (the injury happened), but that's the way the game goes. I guess you could just say I am raring and champing at the bit to get this thing started."

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