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Quenneville understands challenge Hawks will face

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER -- Joel Quenneville has been here before, been a member of a Stanley Cup championship team that is about to begin the defense of its title.

The Chicago Blackhawks coach was an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche, Thursday night's season-opening opponent at the Pepsi Center, when they won their first Cup in 1996.

So Quenneville, who last season guided the Hawks to their first championship since 1961, knows exactly what to expect from opponents in 2010-11.

"Certainly you're going to be challenged," he said Thursday. "You're going to be more targeted than you were in the past. So we have to be ready ourselves. Coming out of training camp, the last couple days it was a point of emphasis for us, knowing that teams are going to be ready from the outset. We have to welcome that challenge and be at our best."

Quenneville's message -- or was it a warning? -- has been well-received by his players.

"For sure," right wing Patrick Kane said. "We're the defending champs and everyone is going to be out to beat us and say, 'We beat the defending champs.' We know what to expect from every team. We're going to have a tough game every night. We're going to have to bring our best every night because we know every other team is going to bring their best.

"For us, we have something to prove this year. What we did last year doesn't really matter. It'd be nice to get off to a hot start and prove ourselves throughout the whole season."

For a Stanley Cup champion, the Hawks made an unusually high number of personnel changes in the offseason, losing Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Adam Burish and even goalie Antti Niemi.

Marty Turco was signed to a one-year, free-agent deal to replace Niemi, and other newcomers include 19-year-old rookie defenseman Nick Leddy, Fernando Pisani, John Scott and Viktor Stalberg.

Defenseman Brian Campbell is recovering from a knee injury and opens the season on injured reserve.

"It's not too much different, to be honest with you," Kane said. "Yeah, you miss some of the guys you had last year, but guys have filled in right away. It's not really something we're worried about. We're worried about how we play on the ice."

Even so, with returning core players like Kane, Jonathan Toews, Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, the Hawks remain among the NHL's elite.

"I focus more on who's still there," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "They still have some dangerous players. They lost some good hockey players, no question, but I look at their current lineup. They skate well, they push the pace, and their transition game is very strong. If you want to play a good game against the Hawks, you better be good with the puck through the neutral zone. You don't want to be turning the puck over against them.

"I see a little change in their roster, but I see a quality team that pushes the pace, skates well and has some dangerous players that can make some plays. They're the defending Stanley Cup champions and there will be a lot of teams trying to measure themselves against them, and rightfully so. They're the best team in the League right now."

Being used as a measuring stick by opponents is a compliment, Sharp said.

"It's always nice," he said. "We've done that with other teams in the past, and we got better and improved. I think that's how it is across the board."

The Hawks are attempting to become the first team to capture back-to-back Cups since the Detroit Red Wings did it in 1997 and 1998.

"I know there hasn't been a repeat champion for a while," Kane said. "It'd be nice to do it again and have the same kind of summer we had this summer, because it was such a blast."

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