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Eager Blackhawks are in a hurry to come together

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Updated: February 9, 2013 6:22AM



Duncan Keith was in the midst of a 33-hour drive from British Columbia to Chicago through snow-covered provinces and states. Believe it or not, though, it was something he was looking forward to.

“Everybody has a similar story about waking up [to the end of the NHL lockout],” the Norris Trophy-winning Blackhawks defenseman told the Sun-Times on Monday during the drive with his wife,
Kelly-Rae. “I know I woke up to feed the dog, and my wife was the one jumping out of bed, chasing me down, screaming to tell me, ‘The lockout’s over. The lockout’s over.’

“I was excited. We started to make plans for packing things up … and getting on the road.”

Keith can’t wait to be back working with his teammates with a start date — which still is expected to be Jan. 19 — finally in sight after a lengthy work stoppage.

Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Jamal Mayers,
Corey Crawford, Daniel Carcillo and Sheldon Brookbank took part in an informal practice Monday at Johnny’s IceHouse West, while other Hawks, including Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, were in the process of getting back to Chicago.

The new collective-bargaining agreement needs to be ratified, and it’s possible training camps won’t begin until Monday. But that’s why Keith, one of the NHL’s best blueliners, said it’s important for the Hawks to get in as many skates together as possible before coach Joel Quenneville officially can join them.

Why?

“The one thing that sticks out in my mind about having success in a 48-game season is getting off to a good start,” Keith said. “That goes back to making sure we’re ready to play that first game. That’s
going to start in practice and training camp right away. It’s looking for perfection at practice and bringing it over to a game.”

The Hawks have their issues, but expectations remain very high. Keith said it should help that they haven’t undergone many changes this offseason.

The Hawks were the first team to reach 50 points last season
before a nine-game losing streak set them back and raised questions about the makeup of Stan Bowman’s roster and Quenne-ville’s future.

But that’s behind them.

Toews and Hossa say they’re fully recovered from their concussions. More will be expected from youngsters Andrew Shaw, Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger. The hope is that Crawford can rebound in goal.

“It’s going to take some time to get the timing back, but we don’t have much time to wait around and have excuses about a lockout,” Keith said. “We have to be ready to go right away, and that’s up to us as players.’’

Bolland and Keith said staying healthy is crucial, but the depth of all teams will be tested by the shortened schedule.

“The biggest concern would be injuries,” Bolland said. “It’s not like we’re just skating around like this. When we get out there, guys are going to be hitting each other, sticking each other. … I know when everybody comes off for games, you’re coming out with bumps and bruises and icebags are everywhere.”

Is there any added pressure to perform with a condensed season?

“Pressure? You’re talking about that already,” Crawford said. “No, man, this is fun. This is fun what we do. I’m excited. We’ve got a great team, so I’m looking forward to what’s coming up.”



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