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Savard, kids leading rebirth in Chicago

by Dan Rosen /

The Chicago Blackhawks' Hall of Famer, now head coach, has been there to witness his franchise, fall off the proverbial radar in the hockey playing world.
Denis Savard has lived through the lean years.

The Chicago Blackhawks' Hall of Famer, now head coach, has been there to witness his franchise, one of the NHL’s Original Six, fall off the proverbial radar in the Windy City, and really the hockey playing world.

So, how does an organization go about picking itself up off the mat?

Fill up on youthful, exuberant, fresh-faced and supremely talented teenagers, that’s how.

The Blackhawks are only 5-6 this season and have lost three straight heading into Wednesday’s game at Dallas, but there is a palpable hockey buzz in Chicago again because of two players.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been the toast of the NHL this season.

“The feeling we’re getting in Chicago is they’re seeing young kids that are going to be fun to watch for a long time,” Savard, an assistant with the Blackhawks for 10 seasons before becoming head coach, said Monday.

Kane, 18, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound dynamo from Buffalo, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, leads all rookies with 14 points.

Toews, 19, a 6-foot-2, 203-pound grinder from Winnipeg who was the No. 3 pick of the 2006 Entry Draft, has scored at least one point in all nine games he’s played.

“A couple of months ago I’m graduating high school and you don’t think it’s going to happen this fast that you’re playing in the League,” Kane said. “We’re two young guys playing in the NHL, and it’s been the dream of our lives to do this.

“We’re living the dream right now.”

Savard has Kane and Toews playing on the same line with Tuomo Ruutu, who was selected ninth overall in the 2001 Entry Draft, and the trio is in the process of transforming the United Center into the place to be again.

“So far in (the) 11 games we’ve played, I can tell you they’ve been the best players, and more important, the most consistent,” Savard said in reference to Kane and Toews.

Savard, in fact, went as far as calling Kane the Blackhawks “best player,” which may seem like too high of praise for an 18-year-old with only one year of major junior hockey experience on his resume.

Not so, according to the Hall of Famer.

“He has been, simple as that,” Savard said. “He has been our best player every game. With Jonathan right with him, and Ruutu, that line has been tremendous. They’ve been the best players. It’s a great thing to have, trust me.”

The Blackhawks are finally ready to let everyone in the city see it for themselves.

Team Chairman Rocky Wirtz announced the Blackhawks will televise home games this season beginning on Nov. 11 against Detroit. Comcast SportsNet, the local television provider for Blackhawks games, will announce more dates later this week.

“It’s time to share the energy and excitement of the Blackhawks with all of our fans,” Wirtz said in a statement. “We are entering a new era, and putting home games back on TV is the first step to supporting our great players and fans.”

Savard may seem like the perfect coach to usher in that new era. He thinks of himself as a coach who communicates well and has people skills, and since he commands immediate respect due to his playing career – he had 1,338 points in 1,196 NHL games – the young players have gravitated toward his side.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been the toast of the NHL this season.

“We have to win, that’s No. 1, but No. 2 is I believe we can win,” Savard said. “Even though we’re young, I tell our guys everyday that we have to believe we’re a good team because we are. It’s just that we need everybody aboard. Night in, night. Shift in, shift out.

“If you give me 16 out of 25 shifts, or 18 out of 25 shifts that are good, that’s (close to) 80 percent. On the other hand, some nights’ you’re going to have some guys who are going to give you 10 out of 25 shifts, which is 40 percent. If I could get those guys to get to 50 or 60 percent, our chance to win is going to be tremendously more.”

It’s slowly happening, but that’s to be expected. No one really though the Blackhawks would go from a 31-win team to a Stanley Cup contender in one season. Chicago, in fact, hasn’t won more than 31 games since winning 41 and making the playoffs in the 2001-02 season. The Blackhawks haven’t won a playoff game since April 18, 2002, or a playoff series since they swept Calgary out of the Western Conference quarterfinals in 1996.

If they’re just contending for a playoff berth come early April than Savard’s young group will be on the right track.

“You could it see with Patrick, with his vision and the scoring ability he has, and with Jonathan in his determination,” Savard said. “You knew they had a big chance to be big time players in this League. We didn’t expect them to be as good as they are right now, but because of determination and will and how smart and mature they are, it’s been fun coaching them.

“They bring it every night, and that’s what’s so refreshing here.”


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