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Friday, September 13, 2013
Hawks' Pirri out to prove himself

By Scott Powers

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Pirri had no time to be nervous when he was called to replace Jonathan Toews on the White Team's top line during a scrimmage on Friday.

Pirri only discovered Toews was sitting out the scrimmage moments before the puck was dropped.

"I was sitting on the bench, and the ref was sitting at the faceoff, and we only had four guys out there," the 22-year-old Pirri said. "Teddy [Dent] kicked me and said, ‘Get out there.'"

Pirri jumped out onto the ice and found himself centering a line with Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane as his wings. For a player like Pirri who is looking to prove in training camp he deserves a spot on this season's Blackhawks roster, the opportunity was priceless.

Pirri felt the chemistry wasn't exactly there with Kane and Bickell, but he believed it was a good start. He scored one of the White Team's three goals in a 4-3 loss to the Red Team.

"It was pretty cool," Pirri said. "Those are two talented guys. It was a fun opportunity. You just got to give a guy like Kaner the puck and get open and Bicks creates room for everyone, so it was a lot fun.

"It's just playing my game; have puck possession, being smart defensively and offensively with the puck, not taking too many risks, but also playing offensively and that comes with a little bit of risk, but high-percentage risk. It was fun, and it's Day 1, but my goal is just to build off this."

Pirri is coming off a 2012-13 season where he led the AHL with 75 points in 76 games for the Rockford IceHogs and appeared in one game for the Blackhawks.

Pirri practiced with the Black Aces, the players called up from the IceHogs, throughout the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup playoff run. After the Blackhawks won the Cup, Pirri returned home to Canada for 1 1/2 weeks and then went back to Chicago to train for the rest of the summer.

Pirri told himself he wasn't going to be outworked for a spot on the Blackhawks.

"This is my job, and I have to treat it like my priority," Pirri said. "I stayed in Chicago, worked with [Blackhawks strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman] and got in the best shape of my life. Hopefully, it pays off.

"It was just getting stronger, just foot speed. That's what this game is about now since the lockout ended. It's just being quick on pucks and getting away from guys and being stable on the puck. That's something I really worked on."

Pirri also put time into his faceoff ability, and that showed during Friday's scrimmage. There weren't any official stats, but Pirri appeared to win more faceoffs than he lost.

Kane could tell Pirri was exactly in sync with him and Bickell on Friday, but he noticed Pirri's skill.

"I don't think he was expecting to play with myself and Bicks before what happened to [Toews,]" Kane said. "It's just something you got to get chemistry. He's a great player. You can see it in his talent. He's got a great shot, great stick-handling and he scored a goal today. I'm sure he's happy about that."

Quenneville has been closely watching Pirri and expects to play him in most of the Blackhawks' preseason games. Pirri could get a chance at the team's second-line center or somewhere on the third or fourth line.

"Brandon's a guy we're going to give a good look here in training camp," Quenneville said. "Probably with him, the best measuring stick for him to get to that level is that consistency, game-in, game-out, predictability, both sides of the puck.

"I think his awareness offensively is in the right place. Commitment to get the puck back defensively is where he has to get consistent with and show us he's ready to play at that NHL level. We'll play him in a lot of exhibition game and get a good read for him at the end."