It’s a small development that has virtually no impact on the ice, but its symbolism is significant.
The Chicago Blackhawks opened the locker room Tuesday for media to interview players at Fifth Third Arena.
As any fan who’s been watching videos or news footage of interviews probably knows, the locker rooms at the Hawks’ practice facility and the United Center have generally been closed to outsiders since the pandemic.
And it was as if the floodgates opened, a combination of voice recorders and television cameras rushing toward some of the team’s top prospects sitting in their seats.
Unsurprisingly, someone stepped on the logo before a staff member drew attention to it. You probably can’t blame “outsiders” for forgetting that old taboo – that’s how long it’s been.
Here are three things we learned in development camp.
The Hawks made it official: Anders Sörensen is the permanent coach of the Rockford IceHogs, dropping the interim tag.
“Excited, right?” Sorensen said. “Proud to be part of what is happening in our organization here, looking forward to everything.”
It’s a critical role in the Hawks’ rebuilding, and the team was impressed by the way Sörensen, 47, stepped up last season when the former IceHogs coach derek king he was promoted to replace Jeremy Colliton, who was fired on November 6.
Sörensen, 47, led the IceHogs to a 35-26-4-1 record and his first playoff appearance since 2018.
Getting to the playoffs is valuable experience, but at the minor league level it’s about how players get there and beyond.
“The most important thing for us is habits,” Sörensen said. “What habits do they have that will lead them to be able to play in the NHL. Once they leave us and play for (new Hawks coach) Luke (Richardson), it’s going to be the habits that they have to be able to stay there and stay in the lineup.”
The main “habit”, playing fast, sounds more like an attribute: you either have it or you don’t.
The Hawks took speed into account during the draft and declined to make qualifying offers to several prospects from the former front office regime.
Said Sörensen: “We want to play with rhythm, we want to play fast, we want to be fast through the middle, we want to be competitive. A lot of things that I’m sure you’ve heard us talk about here in the last three or four months are the most important things that we’re talking about.
“I haven’t had time yet to sit down with Luke and discuss how he wants to play. He is going to dictate how we play there, so the most important thing for us is his habits.”
As King often lamented, and Sörensen agrees, just because you teach certain habits doesn’t mean players always listen, some of them are still teenagers.
“We are here to serve you,” Sörensen said. “Sometimes I joke with those guys, ‘We’re your caddies. We’re telling you to hit the 7-iron. If you want to hit the 8-iron, it’s up to you.’
“We’re just helping them out here, and that’s really what it’s all about for me.”
Kirby Dach, a restricted free agent, was traded to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday for first and third round picks which were used to draft forwards Frank Nazar and Gavin Hayes.
For Hawks fans still reeling from the Alex DeBrincat trade, was another draft day surprise. That included one particular Dach fan.
“It’s kind of annoying,” said Kirby’s brother, Colton, another center and a second-round pick for the Hawks in 2021. “You think you’re going to play your career with your brother. But it’s a new path for me, so I’m excited.”
Colton said the Dach family was “a little shaken” at first before the news caught on.
Colton said his brother advised him to focus on camp and do his best, and the youngest Dach said he’s been growing up: “My neck has gotten a little thicker.”
Sörensen has noted physical changes in Dach and defensive prospect Nolan Allan.
“They are starting to look like men now,” Sörensen said. “I remember seeing them early last year at the rookie tournament and I think they’ve both filled out a little bit. They look a little more mature, they act a little more mature, and I think their habits have improved.”
Even with the Hawks’ prospects divided among four teams, a height advantage isn’t easy to come by.
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Case in point: Team Savard defenseman Louis Crevier is 6-foot-8, but so is Team Murray forward Riku Tohila, though they haven’t met each other yet.
“I saw him yesterday at dinner,” Crevier said with a big smile. “It was one of the first times I’d seen someone the same height, so it was really fun.”
It’s not as much fun for 6-6 defenseman Alex Vlasic, who is used to standing out from the crowd.
“When I got here I felt small,” he said. “(There are) some guys that are taller than me, which is weird.
“Our team, we had some challenges today. We have a pretty big crew on our team and we had to do some ladders and sprints and push-ups, so our team struggled with that.”
Not everything was bad for Vlasic. He had the goal of the day during four-on-four exercises, crossing in front of the goalkeeper for a backhand.
“That was pretty sweet,” he said.