“This is great. This is what we all live for as players [and] coaches. This is a thrill of a lifetime.” –Joel Quenneville, after practice on Tuesday.
The first day of practice for the biggest series of their collective lives was a lot like any other day -- except for the horde of media members awaiting the Hawks as they entered their dressing room.
The Blackhawks are the talk of the hockey world and what they can accomplish is starting to sink in.
“Everything that has been going on has happened pretty quick,” Dave Bolland stated. “It’s great, though. We can’t wait.”
The last 48 hours has been a whirlwind of text messages and phone calls from near and far.
“I’ve heard from long-lost cousins and friends I didn’t know I had from many years ago but it’s exciting,” Kris Versteeg said. “I’d rather have it that way than not.”
And what are these people calling for?
“You get a ticket request or two every hour it seems like,” Versteeg explained. “It’s not everyday anymore, its every hour.”
“I keep the phone on but I only answer a few messages. I have some people that aren’t too happy with me but they can deal with it.”
Meanwhile the Hawks have to deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. No one is selling that team short.
“They’re good,” Bolland said. “They work hard. They have some depth. They’ve been on a great run.”
Quenneville is just beginning the process of breaking down the Flyers. He’ll talk to Hawk scouts that have been watching Philadelphia all postseason then come up with a game plan.
“There’s a lot of weapons there offensively you have to be concerned with,” Quenneville said. “There are a lot of guys that can score and make plays on their team. That’s something we have to be worried about.”
“I don’t think they are going to focus on me when they have [Jonathan] Toews and [Patrick] Kane out there,” he said.
Quenneville liked what he saw leading up to the conference final opener, so he intends on leaning on that experience as the Hawks work towards Saturday.
“Going into Game 1s against Nashville and Vancouver, we were off for the whole week and we were a little bit flat or stale going into that first game,” Quenneville explained. “I thought our preparation and focus going into San Jose was in the right areas. We wanted to play like it [Game 1] was the most important game of the series and I think that’s what we are going to talk about here over the next couple of days.”
In the week leading up to Game 1 against the Sharks, the Hawks took a day off in between practices and went to Alcatraz Island. Expect a similarly relaxed routine -- probably on Thursday -- without the side trip.
Either way, Quenneville thinks his team can play even better than it has in winning its last five games.
“I still think we can get better,” he said. “I still think there is another level we can get to.”
And of course the hotel question came up again. Will they stay together in advance of Saturday’s opener?
“Something we are considering,” Quenneville said. “It’s a possibility we could be looking at.”
Why wouldn't the Hawks at least consider staying outside their homes? The road mentality worked in Games 3 and 4 against San Jose. Nothing says it can’t work again.
Philadelphia might have something to say about it. The Sharks were the perfect matchup for Chicago while the Flyers have more of what San Jose lacked --speed and quickness.
“They’re a little bit like us,” Versteeg said. “They have depth and can move the puck. This is going to be a great series.”
Quenneville joked about the loss to the Flyers in the regular season. The Hawks gave up the winning goal with two seconds remaining in regulation and then lost the conference title by a point.
“We might have been thinking, jeez, we could have used that point for home-ice advantage in the last series,” Quenneville said. “It turned out ok. I’m glad we didn’t have it in hindsight.”