Blackhawks geared up for Dave Bolland’s return to United Center
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter October 18, 2013 8:42PM
Carolina Hurricanes v Toronto Maple Leafs
Updated: November 20, 2013 6:12AM
The rib-cage nudges, the sneaky stick swats, the hard work and harsh words in the corners — there’s nothing Dave Bolland can throw at the Blackhawks that they haven’t seen, either as teammates during games or as competitors during practices.
‘‘His tricks are not going to work against us,’’ winger Patrick Sharp said. ‘‘We’ve seen them far too many times.’’
Heck, winger Bryan Bickell, who was drafted by the Hawks with Bolland in the second round in 2004, went so far as to suggest Bolland might tone down his act against his old buddies when he makes his return Saturday to the United Center with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Don’t count on it.
‘‘I’m not going to run them from behind, but we’re going to play a hard game,’’ Bolland said Friday in Toronto. ‘‘You leave it on the ice. You’re enemies on the ice. But when you’re off the ice, you’re best friends.’’
The Hawks have played former teammates before. It happened all the time in 2010-11, after half the roster was jettisoned. But after six years and two Stanley Cups, it’ll be different to see Bolland in blue. Bolland was the first member of the vaunted Hawks ‘‘core’’ to leave, traded during the NHL draft, just six days after he scored the Cup-winning goal against the Boston Bruins to cap the most dizzying 17 seconds in hockey history.
As a native of the Toronto area, Bolland said the home opener Oct. 5 was the game he had circled on his calendar. But his return to his second home of Chicago was next on the list.
‘‘It’ll be a little bit of a novelty to go against Toews and Kane and Duncs and Sharpie and Seabs — some of the guys I’ve gotten pretty close with when I was there,’’ Bolland said. ‘‘It’ll be pretty funny lining up against them and going in the corners.’’
Up until his playoff heroics, Bolland had a disappointing final season with the Hawks. He battled injuries and had only seven goals and seven assists in 35 games, struggling with the transition from checking-line center to second-line center and eventually losing that job to Michal Handzus. But Bolland has picked up with the Maple Leafs where he left off against the Bruins, scoring three goals — two of them game-winners — and notching three assists in eight games as the Leafs have gotten off to a 6-2-0 start.
Coach Joel Quenneville said Bolland’s offensive ability was always underrated, but Bolland made his living as a shutdown center, stifling, suffocating and often enraging opposing teams’ top lines. Through his perennially strong playoff performances, particularly his heated (and often insult-laden) battles with the Vancouver Canucks’ Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Bolland very much earned his nickname: the Rat.
‘‘He was always a guy that got underneath the other team’s best player’s skin, and he was pretty effective at it,’’ winger Patrick Kane said. ‘‘That’s always what you remember about him, him doing that on the ice — and kind of getting away with it, too.’’
The question remains: Will he be able to do it Saturday against those who know him best? It should be fun to find out.
‘‘They don’t call him the Rat for nothing, but I know all his tricks,’’ center Jonathan Toews said with a smile. ‘‘It goes both ways.’’