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Steady center Michal Handzus finds himself back on second line

2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two

2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two

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Updated: October 30, 2013 6:55AM

When Michal Handzus signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Blackhawks this summer, he harbored no illusions that he was going to continue to play every day, let alone in a top-six role.

Handzus had a memorable and surprising run as the Hawks’ second-line center in the Stanley Cup playoffs in the spring, but it was made clear to him that his role this season would be a modest one, with limited minutes and plenty of healthy scratches likely in his future.

So Handzus knew what he was getting into. At least, he thought he did.

It turns out he’ll be picking up right where he left off, skating between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa in the season opener Tuesday against the Washington Capitals at the United Center. Brandon Saad didn’t work out as a center and Brandon Pirri failed to seize the open spot in camp, so coach Joel Quenneville is going back to the reliable Handzus.

And now that he has his old role back, Handzus doesn’t want to give it up.

‘‘If I get that chance the first game, I have to grab it and go with it,’’ Handzus, 36, said as he enters his 15th NHL season. ‘‘It’s all about the performance on the ice. If you play well, they’re going to keep you there.’’

Handzus was a trade-deadline acquisition last season, one that was met with shrugs from some fans and with outrage from those who thought the Hawks needed to make a bigger splash to plug the hole in the middle on the second line. Handzus had fallen out of the lineup with the San Jose Sharks and had only one goal and one
assist all season to that point. But he soon took Dave Bolland’s
second-line role and ran with it, posting three goals and eight
assists during the Hawks’ run to the Cup. He proved to be a reliable presence who made up for his lack of speed with his playmaking ability and sound defense.

While Hossa joked that his and Handzus’ primary role playing with Sharp is to ‘‘try not to slow him down,’’ they developed a nice chemistry together during the playoffs.

‘‘I really like playing with those guys,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘When [Hand-
zus] came in for the playoffs, I thought we played well together. He does so many little things away from the puck that allow me to
focus on putting the puck in the net, and we kind of like it that way.’’

The Cup run meant as much to Handzus, who had been chasing the trophy for 14 years, as anyone. The image of the normally stoic Handzus tightly hugging the Cup in the locker room after Game 6 in Boston with a look of delirious joy on his face is one of the iconic
images of the postgame celebration. But Handzus thinks he has plenty left in the tank and returned to the Hawks to go after another title, no matter what role he plays.

‘‘It was awesome last year,’’ he said. ‘‘It was a lot of fun. It was what you always wanted to do. But it’s a new year. When you taste it once, you want to get it one more time.’’


Twitter: @MarkLazerus

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