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Blackhawks’ Brandon Bollig wants to show he’s more than just a fighter

BrandBollig wants shed his tough-guy image become more complete player. | Getty Images

Brandon Bollig wants to shed his tough-guy image and become a more complete player. | Getty Images

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Updated: October 23, 2013 6:55AM

DETROIT — It wasn’t too long ago that there would have been a role in the NHL for Brandon Bollig, Professional Guy Who Punches People. Just about every roster in the league used to have a spot for someone whose hands were solely for throwing haymakers, not for stickhandling, shooting and passing.

‘‘Enforcer’’ was the preferred nomenclature, but ‘‘goon’’ was more apt.

But while fighting seems destined always to have a place in hockey, there’s too much skill, too much talent and too much depth in the league to waste a roster spot on a clumsy oaf who’s there only to
extract vigilante justice on the ice or liven up a dull game.

‘‘That one-dimensional tough guy, that role is almost evaporating from our game,’’ Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘You’ve got to be able to play. And you’ve got to be able to play against good

Bollig knows this. He also knows the Hawks are loaded at forward, with elite players at the NHL level, well-regarded young guys ready to break through and highly touted prospects on the way up.

‘‘The fighting and the physical stuff got me into the league, but what’s going to make me stick and get me more ice time is expanding my role and expanding my responsibilities,’’ Bollig said. ‘‘What’s going
to get me there is the penalty kill and playing better defensively and popping a couple of goals in.’’

Based on Bollig’s history — he never has scored in 43 regular-
season games, with one playoff tally to his credit — ‘‘a couple of goals’’ would be asking a lot. But based on his training camp so far, it’s selling himself short.

Bollig first scored during scrimmaging at Notre Dame on Sept. 13, prompting him to go on Twitter and write, ‘‘Was highly confused as to why I scored in the scrimmage today. Then I realized [it’s] Friday the 13th.’’

But the joke quickly became a trend. In an intrasquad scrimmage Monday at the United Center, he tore into a one-timer from the high slot, scoring against Nikolai Khabi-
bulin. On Thursday, he scored the tying goal in the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins, sending the game to overtime. And Friday against the Washington Capitals, he kept up his torrid pace by scoring on another booming shot from the left circle.

At some point, it’s no longer a fluke.

‘‘I thought, obviously, that he’d have more production than he had last year,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘But he had a lot of decent looks around the net. He’s got a great shot, he’s got decent hands, he has decent awareness offen-
sively to see plays and make plays. The finish wasn’t there. Defensively, we’re comfortable with him. And offensively, that should come out a little bit more.’’

Of course, it’s unreasonable to expect Bollig to be a goal-a-game guy. But in the fight for ice time at the bottom of the lineup, it’s all about expanding your skill set and showing your versatility. As a rookie two seasons ago, Bollig was mainly a fighter, racking up 10 bouts in 23 games. Last season, he showed solid improvement in his defensive awareness, proving to be a reliable, physical, responsible fourth-line winger. This preseason, he’s showing he can kill penalties, too.

As for the goals? He surely will take them. But he can’t promise to keep up his stunning early pace.

‘‘I’m not here to do that, but it’s an added bonus if you score goals here and there,’’ Bollig said. “The game is changing. You definitely have to be able to play and get around the ice and bang bodies and stuff like that. I don’t think fighting will ever go away from the game completely, and I’m happy to do the fighting part of it. But I also want to work on everything else that helps you increase your ice time. I just want to be out there more.’’


Twitter: @MarkLazerus

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