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Michal Rozsival returned to Hawks to chase Stanley Cup again

WashingtCapitals v Chicago Blackhawks

Washington Capitals v Chicago Blackhawks

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Updated: November 8, 2013 6:22AM

There was a moment — after the grind, the giddi-
ness, the parade and the Stanley Cup coming to Prague and after he had re-signed with the Blackhawks — when defenseman
Michal Rozsival had a chance to reflect on what just had happened. And on what lay ahead.

‘‘It was a big, ‘Whoa,’ a big exhale,’’ Rozsival said. ‘‘Then . . . after everything is over and you have your day with the Cup, you have your ring and you have your banner in the rafters, it’s over. That’s it. Now you have to do it again.’’

For Rozsival, that daunting realization came with a reality check: After playing in all 23 of the Hawks’ playoff games last spring — at a high level, no less — he was headed back to the frustrating nightly uncertainty of a platoon. And while he’s OK with it and understands it, he doesn’t have to like it.

‘‘I bet you he’d like to play more,’’ coach Joel Quenne-
ville said.

Safe bet. After all, Roz-
sival played at least 80 games four times in a five-season span with the
New York Rangers before becoming a part-time player with the Phoenix Coyotes and the Hawks. (He played in 27 of 48 regular-season games last season.) And by playing every night in the playoffs, he proved to himself he still could do it.

‘‘If you want to play in this league, that’s how you see yourself doing it,’’ Roz-
sival said. ‘‘But we have good depth on the defense here, so it’s not going to be an 82-game season for me. I’m just going to try to be ready for every single game, every single day.’’

So Rozsival likely wasn’t thrilled to find himself scratched — already — for the second game of the season Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, bumped by newcomer
Michael Kostka. Last season, Rozsival battled with Sheldon Brookbank for playing time. Now, he’s got two guys gunning for his sixth-defenseman spot.

From Quenneville’s perspective, it’s not that Rozsi-
val isn’t good enough to play every night; it’s that he’s 35 and is in his 13th NHL season. He wears braces on both knees and missed much of training camp with a lower-body injury.

And while 35 is hardly ancient in the NHL, particularly for a defenseman, even Rozsival can acknowledge a little rest couldn’t hurt.

‘‘Eight hundred games in the NHL, it takes its toll,’’
he said.

Of course, Rozsival chose to come back to this, knowing exactly what he was getting into. An unrestricted free agent this past summer, Rozsival — a crafty, defensive-minded veteran who was a pleasant offensive surprise in the Hawks’ up-tempo, puck-moving style — could have signed elsewhere and had a chance to be an every-day player again.

Instead, he chose to stay with the Hawks, signing a two-year deal worth $2.2 million a season. And he said he never entertained the idea of leaving — not after finally lifting the Stanley Cup after all those years of chasing it. While nobody wants to sit, championships have a way of itching all the scratches.

‘‘Not really, to tell the truth,’’ he said of looking around. ‘‘It was just such a cool experience.’’

Then there’s this simple fact, one no proud pro athlete probably wants to
admit: The platoon? All the time off? It worked. And it could work again.

‘‘Being in and out of the lineup, it turned out to be good,’’ Rozsival said. ‘‘At the end, maybe I had a little extra fuel in my tank to go through the playoffs and be consistent in the playoffs because it’s a hard game. It’s all about how you approach it in your mind. I want to be practicing hard and stay sharp, so the coach knows when he points a finger at me, I’m ready.’’


Twitter: @marklazerus

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