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Saturday, September 25, 2010
Kids try to make impression in Chicago

By Scott Burnside

CHICAGO -- The future of the Chicago Blackhawks are pressed cheek to jowl in the dressing room normally occupied by visiting NBA teams.

The young men, some in their late teens, others 20-somethings, slump into folding chairs, still sweaty after a morning workout.

By the end of the afternoon, the room will be less crowded as GM Stan Bowman pared down his training camp roster by 10 Saturday, sending seven to the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate in Rockford and releasing three other players.

For those that remain in the dressing room, the dream of making the short walk down the hallway at the United Center to the Blackhawks’ dressing room -- the dressing room of the Stanley Cup champions -- lives.

“It’s right there,” said Kyle Beach, the Chicago Blackhawks’ first pick (11th overall) in the 2008 draft. “I think about it. I think you have to motivate yourself.”

Beach’s prickly style of play and nose for the net – he scored 52 goals in the Western Hockey League last season and added seven more in seven postseason games – has kept him in the mix for a roster spot.

We first met Beach at the 2008 draft in Ottawa. He spoke candidly then about a series of incidents -- some true, some not, some on ice, some off -- that he was alleged to have been involved in. The one about attacking a garbage collector with a bat, for instance, is not true, nor the one about stalking an opposing player to his home.

“I think I’ve grown up a lot,” Beach said Saturday.

The 20-year-old spent most of the summer in Chicago working out and preparing for this training camp. He has worked on his skating. He remains an agitating force -- he was criticized in some quarters for fighting a teammate during a scrimmage earlier this summer -- and is mindful of trying to stay close to the edge without slipping over it.

“It is a different level, it is a different game,” he said of NHL play.

It is an unusual camp for a defending champion; the Blackhawks underwent a significant roster turnover in the offseason to get under the salary cap. Forwards Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, John Madden, Colin Fraser and Adam Burish are all gone. Bowman added Fernando Pisani and Ryan Potulny, who have NHL experience, but there will be spaces for homegrown Chicago talent on this lineup, especially up front.

Beach is in the mix, although his cap hit ($1.17 million) may tip the scales against him. Igor Makarov has raised eyebrows, while Jeremy Morin, who came from Atlanta in the Byfuglien trade, has received rave reviews.

Hawks coach Quenneville said there is more assessment to be done before the final roster is named.

“Organizationally, I think we’re comfortable knowing it’s not going to be just the older guy that’s been around who is going to get the job,” Quenneville said. “But at the same time, you don’t want to get in the way of guys that earn the opportunity to start here.”

For Beach and the rest of the folding chair crew, they prepare for another day and another chance to get the invitation down the hallway.