Arguably, the most important part of the any Winter Classic has now been squared away.
The Chicago Blackhawks unveiled their slick new threads to the hockey world on Thursday night, completing the 1930s inspired look that will take center stage on Jan. 1 when they meet the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium (1 p.m. ET, NBC).
When it became clear that Jeremy Colliton would become the new head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks – and, at 33, easily the youngest bench boss in the NHL – the most common reaction was probably, “Who?”
The fresh-faced coach is jumping right into the fray, as Colliton will debut against the Carolina Hurricanes – and similarly new head coach, Rod Brind’Amour – on Thursday.
Blackhawks fans and many people around the hockey world may find an introduction useful, so let’s get to it.
It was ultimately irresistible to use a photo from Colliton’s New York Islanders days, as that head of lettuce was really on-point:
The Islanders selected Colliton in the second round (58th overall) back in 2003. He began bouncing between the Islanders and the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2005-06, ultimately finishing with three goals and three assists for six points in 57 NHL games. He last played for the Islanders in 2010-11, eventually making his way to Sweden to play for Mora IK, where his coaching career commenced.
That work helped him land a job in the Blackhawks’ organization as the head coach of the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs in 2017-18. Colliton managed a 40-28-4-4 record during his lone season as an AHL head coach, while Rockford swept its way through the first two rounds of the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs before falling in the third round.
“I just remember the locker room having the right vibes all the time,” Hayden said. “The most recent memory for me was our success in the playoffs, how he managed our team, players individually and the team overall. And he’s not that far removed from playing pro hockey himself, so I think he can use that to his advantage.”
“Jeremy and I played together when we were 11,” Seabrook said. “We played summer hockey together, we played against each other and our team invited him to a tournament. I can’t even remember when it was, I’ll have to ask my Dad, but it was a long time ago …”
/needs to sit down for a minute.
What kind of coach might he be?
(As you can see, Colliton looks far more clean-cut and sharp now, although his hockey hair was absolutely first-rate back in his playing days.)
When a new coach takes over – particularly one without any previous NHL experience – it can be difficult to get a handle on what makes them tick.
That’s especially true since there are so many catch-all buzzwords that just about any head coach will roll out. Everyone wants to keep the puck in the attacking zone as much as possible. Virtually anyone wants to be aggressive.
With that in mind, you’re searching for needles in a haystack, especially since Colliton is being thrown right into the thick of things as the season’s underway.
From reading through various accounts from players and colleagues, it sure seems like Colliton may be broadly defined as a “players’ coach.” Quenneville seemed willing to change in certain areas, yet he also came across as gruff, so there could at least be a nice “honeymoon period.” Multiple people mention that he rarely yells, and that approach may very well speak to players in refreshing ways.
Considering that he’s 33, could Colliton be more innovative? We’ll gradually find out in how he deploys the team, yet the initial rumblings indicate that he’s open-minded about analytics.
Asked my best Hawks source about Colliton: “He likes analytics & is open to all information, good communicator and motivator. His teams play with energy, that will be the biggest, most noticeable difference. Really smart hockey guy, good guy. I think he will be great.”
It’s my opinion that, broadly speaking, Quenneville got as much as one could expect out of a Blackhawks roster that – while still boasting some premium, if aging talent – has some major flaws, particularly on defense and from a depth standpoint.
Still, just about any coach has strengths and weaknesses, and the Blackhawks consistently struggled to produce on the power play in recent years under Coach Q. Since 2016-17, the Blackhawks have converted on just 16.7-percent of their power-play opportunities, second only to the Arizona Coyotes.
That’s a pretty glaring weakness for a team that employs Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, so if Colliton can find a way to maintain Chicago’s previous strengths while boosting that power play to become an advantage (or even just upgrade it to league average), then this coaching change could look a lot better than critics might expect.
Overall, it doesn’t sound like Colliton is aiming for enormous changes, which makes sense since he lacks a training camp to institute major tweaks.
“Yeah, there’ll be some things that we adjust,” Colliton said, via ESPN’s Emily Kaplan. “I don’t think we’re going to have a huge amount of change. It’s, ‘Can we push on a few things, detail-wise, that can give us a little jump start?’ And then once we get our hands dirty here and we know [one another] a little better and play some games, then, yeah, things are going to come up and we’ll feel more comfortable and have a better feel for what we have to do.”
The Blackhawks and their new coach remain in a tough spot. For all we know, Chicago essentially handed Colliton hockey’s version of a live hand grenade, as he’s being asked to right the ship as the team is currently suffering from a five-game losing streak.
And it’s true that I’m on record of saying that the Blackhawks would actually be better off being lousy anyway, as it would help trigger a soft-rebuild. There’s absolutely a scenario where the Blackhawks crater under a wet-behind-the-ears head coach.
Yet, there’s also a chance that Colliton could be the breath of fresh air that Chicago needs to turn things around, even if turning things around merely means barely making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs before bowing out early.
It should be fascinating to see how this proud team full of winners handles a new voice in the locker room. Things likely won’t be easy for Colliton, but there’s also an interesting opportunity for by-far the youngest coach in the NHL.
If nothing else, we’ll figure out who Jeremy Colliton is.
If you’re counting down the days until outdoor hockey season, we have 54 to go until the 2019 Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks (Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, NBC) at Notre Dame Stadium.
Thursday is the start of the hype for the game as jerseys that will be worn in that game will be unveiled.
While the Blackhawks will show off their later on Thursday, the Bruins got things started with their vintage looks.
The jerseys are a throwback to what the team wore during the 1930s and similar to what we saw a few times during the 1991-92 NHL season. The ‘B’ logo on the front is made from “a two-layer felt application,” giving it a bit of that varsity jacket feeling.
In a nod to Notre Dame, the inside collar features six shamrocks with the years of each of the Bruins’ six Stanley Cup titles.
Duncan Keith suited up for just 2:14 of the first period on Saturday night against the Calgary Flames.
By 2:15, the veteran Chicago Blackhawks defenseman was in the showers after an ugly boarding major on Flames forward Dillion Dube.
The hit, which you can see below, is sure to be the first thing on the docket for the NHL Department of Player Safety department come Sunday morning.
Keith followed Dube down behind the net, committed to the hit and couldn’t do much about it once Dube tried to turn back toward him.
Here’s the tape:
Dube’s face appeared to be in shambles after he got up. Dube held a towel over his nose, while blood had made its way onto his visor.
To Keith’s credit, he immediately checked on Dube but the damage was already done. The hit didn’t appear to be predatory, but it’s the type of hit that the NHL wants to be eliminated from the game. On top of that, Dube was injured in some fashion on the play and didn’t return to the game due to precautionary reasons.
Luke Fanella is a 14-year-old Chicago Blackhawks fan who deals with a muscle disorder that makes it difficult to walk. But that hasn’t allowed him to stop enjoying Halloween every year.
As millions of kids trick-or-treat on Wednesday, Luke will be out there with one of the more creative costumes you’ll ever see. This year, the Woodridge, Il. teen is dressing up as the Blackhawks’ bench.
“That’s where the players have to hop the boards to get to their shift,” he told ABC7 Chicago’s Jesse Kirsch. “Just to see where they go and what they’re doing back there is pretty cool. I wanted to be that kid that got to sit on the bench during their warmups and give them all knuckles and high-fives.”
Using Luke’s scooter, his uncle built the costume that includes boards, glass, advertisements, and depending on who’s following behind him, fans. His spot on the bench is right between Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Luke and his Uncle Jim are pretty good at this Halloween thing. Last year he dressed up his wheechair as a Blackhawks Zamboni.
The team caught wind of the costume and invited him to United Center to ride the real thing a few days later. This year’s idea should certainly earn Luke a spot on the real Blackhawks bench for some pre-game knuckles and high fives when the team returns from their Western Canada road trip.