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CHICAGO (AP) — For all the talk about Corey Crawford and the aging core of the Chicago Blackhawks Adidas Mikko Rantanen Jersey , coach Joel Quenneville delivered a simple message as the team got back together for the start of a season that could have a dramatic impact on the direction of the franchise.

Bring it, all the time.

“We want to be more competitive than we were last year,” Quenneville said. “I think we were a little disappointed across the board. As coaches, as players, I think we want to make sure that that consistency (is there) every single night, that we’re giving it our best shot. … Let’s make sure that there’s only one standard, and that’s all out, and off of that we should be able to find a way to get points on a regular basis.”

That used to be a given in Chicago, which has won the Stanley Cup three times since 2010. But the Blackhawks were swept in the first round of the postseason in 2017 and then missed the playoffs entirely last season for the first time in a decade, slipping all the way to the basement of the ultra-competitive Central Division.

A similar finish could mean the end of the highly successful pairing of Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman. There also could be major changes to the roster.

With that uncertain future in mind, or maybe just drawing motivation from the disappointment of last season, it sounded as if the Blackhawks worked out hard over the summer. Bowman said on the first day of training camp it was the best conditioned group he had ever seen.

“I think we all hit the reset button,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “I think we can’t forget what we went through last year. We’ve got to use that as motivation, but at the same time we can’t come into this season thinking that’s probably where we’re going to end up. We can’t come in with that as an expectation. We’ve got to kind of wipe the slate clean.”

A healthy year for Crawford could provide a big lift. The All-Star goaltender went 16-9-2 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in 28 games last season before he was sidelined by a concussion.

Quenneville and company are preaching slow and steady with the 33-year-old Crawford so far this year. If he is unable to go at the start of the season, Cam Ward will serve as the No. 1 goaltender after signing a $3 million, one-year contract in free agency.

The Blackhawks clearly missed the underappreciated Crawford while Anton Forsberg, Jean-Francois Berube and Jeff Glass faltered in net when he was out. Toews said the rest of the team has to pitch in as well.

“At the end of the day we’ve got to do a better job of playing in front of our goaltender, regardless of who is in there,” he said.


Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been fixtures on Chicago’s blue line for more than a decade. But each of the accomplished defensemen showed signs of age last season. The 35-year-old Keith, a two-time Norris Trophy winner and three-time All-Star, played in all 82 games, but finished with just two goals — matching his career low — and 30 assists. Seabrook, who turns 34 in April, also looked a step slow at times.


A year ago, Alex DeBrincat was an unknown commodity. Then the winger, a second-round pick in the 2016 draft, collected 28 goals and 24 assists during an impressive rookie season. DeBrincat has a knack for finding open areas on the ice and doesn’t turn 21 until December. The Blackhawks are hoping he can produce similar numbers this year.


The United Center has been one of the NHL’s toughest places to play for a long time. But the Blackhawks went just 18-18-5 at home last season, and there were pockets of empty seats for some of the final games.


Brandon Manning could take on a more prominent role at the start of the season with fellow defensemen Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling sidelined by injuries. The 28-year-old Manning set career highs with seven goals and 12 assists in 65 games last season with Philadelphia. He signed with Chicago during free agency Victor Hedman Jersey , and Quenneville praised his smooth transition to his new team during training camp.

Gerard Gallant took time out from preparing for the Stanley Cup finals to watch a Little League game this week, something that might be surprising to those who think there is little in Las Vegas besides showgirls, craps tables and nightclubs.

There is a real city beyond the Las Vegas Strip, though, and that isn’t a surprise to the Vegas Golden Knights coach or the rest of a team that has embraced a city that has eagerly embraced them back.

They play here, and they also live here. Turns out hockey works in the desert – even for real hockey guys.

”It’s been, for all of us, one of the neatest experiences of our lifetime,” general manager George McPhee said. ”Maybe the neatest, most unique experience. Las Vegas has been a wonderful place to live and work.”

The love affair between a city and its new team wasn’t totally unexpected. Las Vegas was, after all, a town starved for major league sports.

But no one could have expected a hockey team would also help a city deal with its grief after a gunman killed 58 people on the Las Vegas strip just days before the team’s home opener.

They’ve done that and more, thrilling a town that’s hard to impress on a remarkable run to the finals in their first year of existence.

”We knew we couldn’t heal everyone,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”But we wanted to give (the city) something to cheer for, to be proud of their team.”

They call themselves the ”Golden Misfits” because they all ended up in Las Vegas after being discarded by other teams. Even Gallant was unceremoniously dumped from his last job, kicked off the team bus after being fired by the Florida Panthers.

They came to this gambling city wanting to be wanted again. And a city that waited 112 years for a major sports franchise to call its own responded with open arms.

The games are all sellouts, of course. But the practices have also become events to see and be seen, with hundreds of fans crowding the team’s practice rink in the planned community of Summerlin where most players live.

And everywhere people wear Golden Knights hats and shirts and talk about strange things like icing and forechecking.

”I see it every day of practice when you got 800 people watching our practices,” Gallant said. ”It’s definitely not one on one with people, but you see the fan support that we get is unbelievable. They love our players, they love our team, and they love what’s going on, and I know our players appreciate the things they do for us.”

One of those players showed that Thursday night at another Little League game. Alex Tuch was watching the son of an assistant coach play, but a lot of other people at the ballpark were watching him.

As word spread that a Golden Knights player was in the stands, kids of all ages surrounded Tuch, who graciously obliged one picture request after another.

For some, the bond between city and team started developing when billionaire Bill Foley plunked down $500 million and Las Vegas was awarded an expansion franchise. For others, it began when Foley announced the team would be called the Golden Knights and started selling season tickets.

For many Colton Sissons Jersey , though, it came when Deryk Engelland – a Las Vegas resident for more than a decade – stood on the ice before the first home game with hardly a dry eye in the crowd. It was nine days after the massacre of fans at a country music concert just down the street from the T-Mobile Arena where the Knights play, and emotions were raw.

England’s speech was short, his message poignant.

”I know how special this city is,” he told the crowd. ”To the families and friends of the victims, know we will do everything we can to help you and our city heal.

”We are Vegas Strong.”

Engelland, a defenseman, had scored only 22 goals in eight years in the NHL prior to that game. But he scored one that night and, for a brief moment at least, gave a grieving city something to cheer about.

And it was Engelland who was chosen on a team with no captains to accept the trophy for winning the Western Conference finals from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

”After Oct. 1, those first games … you want to play for the city, the people that were affected by it,” Engelland said. ”To make this run, it’s awesome for us, but it all comes back to the city and the people affected by that.”

In a city that values winners, it helps that the team McPhee put together is a big winner. That was unexpected by most in hockey, who figured the Knights would finish last in their division like most expansion teams do, even though the NHL made sure they had a lot of good players to choose from.

Now they’re playing for one of the great trophies in sports: the Stanley Cup.

”It’s been fun to watch,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. ”Nobody could’ve anticipated it. Our goal was that they be playing meaningful games in March and April, and if they were lucky, they might make the playoffs. Whoever could have predicted that they’d be on this run?”

Not many, and that includes the bookies on the Las Vegas Strip. They made the Knights as much as a 500-1 underdog to win the Stanley Cup, and will likely lose several million dollars if it actually happens.

It just might, and they don’t seem to care.

The bookies live here, too. And they want to see the Stanley Cup paraded down the Las Vegas Strip.


AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and AP stringer W.G. Ramirez contributed to this report.


Tim Dahlberg is a n

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