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Blackhawks face challenging Olympic break

Jonathan Toews (right) is confident Hawks won’t be hurt by having 10 players Olympics. “We have maturity use this our

Jonathan Toews (right) is confident the Hawks won’t be hurt by having 10 players in the Olympics. “We have the maturity to use this to our advantage,” he said. | AP

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Updated: March 10, 2014 6:54AM



GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Blackhawks have 10 players heading to Sochi for the Olympic Games — tied with the Blues for the most in the NHL. But leave it to Jonathan Toews to argue that’s not a disadvantage to have so many players participating while so many others will rest for the next three weeks.

‘‘We have the maturity to use this to our advantage,’’ Toews said after the Blackhawks concluded their six-game road trip (3-1-2) with a 2-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday night. ‘‘Obviously guys are going to take advantage and do some things and take some time off that they wouldn’t do during the season. I think that’s good mentally.

‘‘Physically, there’s a way you can take advantage of it, where you come back in even better shape just ready to play your best hockey down the stretch. We’ll be excited to come back when we’re back together as a team, whether you’re playing or not, we’ll take advantage of it.

‘‘For myself, it was an advantage the last time around [in the 2010 Games in Vancouver]. I’ll see it the same way this time.’’

Toews never has met a challenge he couldn’t turn into a positive. But coach Joel Quenneville will keep a close eye on how his Olympians stand when they return from Sochi.

The Hawks faced a similar challenge in 2010, when they had six Olympians. For what it’s worth, they were 41-15-5 going into the break but 5-7-2 in the month after. And the five Olympians still with the team — Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa — scored 44 points in those 14 games but were a combined minus-22 after being plus-100 at the break.

‘‘It’s tough to measure whether it’s an advantage or a disadvantage [to have so many Olympians],’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘We’re happy for the guys. It’s a great accomplishment. We’ll be rootin’ for them.

‘‘The concern is how they’re ­going to feel when they get back to the team, so we’ll keep an eye on that going through this stretch here.’’

But at least the Olympians will be playing hockey for most of the next three weeks. On the flip side, the players who will get an opportunity to rest have a challenge as well — to stay sharp and in competitive shape mentally more than physically.

‘‘They should be refreshing,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘They should be excited about the return, We look for those guys to come out of the break and lead the charge — because those guys [in Sochi], it’ll be busy for them and they don’t get the rest. And it’ll be a great run going to the end of the year.’’

Players such as defenseman Brent Seabrook and goaltender Corey Crawford were disappointed to not make the Canadian Olympic team. Now it’s time to concentrate on the benefit of that disappointment. They don’t have a game until Feb. 27 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

‘‘We’re going to just try and get some rest and be ready for when we start up again,’’ Crawford said.

The core of this team has won two Stanley Cup titles in the last four seasons. Quenneville is counting on the experience of his team to carry it through the break. With 84 points, the Blackhawks are second in the Western Conference behind the Anaheim Ducks. But the Blues also have 84 points, but the Blues have three games in hand.

‘‘We trust the guys ... I’m sure these guys are pros,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘They want to make sure that they’re looking after themselves, because it’s not an on-and-off switch that you can just anticipate that you’re going to be flying coming out of it [after] doing nothing. I would expect them all to be doing the right things to keep themselves ready.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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