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Fringe Players Making Hawks Decisions Tough

Tuesday, 09.29.2009 / 4:29 AM / News
By Shawn P. Roarke  - NHL.com Editorial Director
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Fringe Players Making Hawks Decisions Tough
Joel Quenneville has said he would use Monday night's exhibition against HC Davos and Tuesday night's Victoria Cup game against ZSC Zurich as final auditions for a number of players who are on the bubble.

Well, things aren't any clearer after the game against Davos, a 9-2 victory for the Blackhawks before 7,252 fans at the Hallenstadion.

Chicago's bottom two lines were full of players hoping to survive the final cut of six players, which will likely come Wednesday or Thursday. Each can make a case that they deserve to stay after Monday night.

"Certainly, we like the depth of our organization," Quenneville told NHL.com. "We like the overall competitiveness as the games have progressed. We'll be sorting out things for the next day or two. We're going to have to make some very tough decisions."

Radek Smolenak, picked up on waivers from Tampa Bay right before Chicago's departure to Europe, had two goals in his debut with the Hawks. Evan Brophey, probably a year away, had a pretty goal as well. Bryan Bickell, sent to AHL Rockford before a spate of injuries necessitated his return to the lineup, had an assist on Brophey's goal and was strong on the puck all night.

Then there were the goalies. Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi are in a dead heat for the job as backup to Cristobal Huet. Monday night, they both played half the game and each allowed one goal. Each also made a few really nice saves in limited work.

Chicago star Patrick Kane has enjoyed the battles for position brewing all around him. He is happy to see everyone fighting for a job, refusing to give up their dream. It makes the team, as a whole, that much better.

"You definitely want to see who is playing good at a time like this," Kane said. "There's going to be some tough decisions to be made. It seems like everyone is playing pretty good right now. I'm glad I'm not in the decision-making process."

No, Kane is not paid to make decisions. He is paid to score goals and create offense. Monday night, against Davos, he did not disappoint, scoring a pair of goals -- including one sure to make the highlight reels -- and putting the Davos defense on its feet almost everyone time he had the puck on his stick.

"We have some guys that love the extra space (of the Olympic-sized rink), including myself," Kane said. "There were a lot of nice plays tonight and it was good to get some confidence for some players.

Kane showed how much he loved all the room on his highlight-reel goal, a third-period tally that gave Chicago an 8-1 lead. Kane beat defenseman Robin Grossman to the corner and got position inside the defenseman, allowing him to bull to the net and beat the Davos goalie to the far post, which allowed Kane to easily wrap the puck into the half-empty net. Kane was all smiles as he pulled himself up off the ice and the Davos supporters were on their feet.

"It was kind of around the world there. I fought off that guy and at the last second cut in and got it to my forehand and banged it in," Kane said. "It's nice to get one like that."

And while it was goals like Kane's second one that the fans came to see, it was the contributions from the lesser lights that had the Chicago coaching staff riveted.

Smolenak knows he is under the microscope and has a limited window to impress. Two goals will help in that endeavor, especially when they came from right in front of the net, showing that he is willing to use his body to make space and has the soft hands to capitalize on the room once it is obtained.

"It's nice to score two goals in my first game with Chicago, but, on the other hand, it was just an exhibition," Smolenak said. "I hope that management saw what I can do. That's my game -- and up and down guy that plays physical and goes to the net."

That job description also defines Troy Brouwer, a player who will make the Blackhawks, but is looking for a bigger role this season. Monday night, Brouwer was placed with Kane and captain Jonathon Toews, filling in for the injured Kris Versteeg.

All Brouwer did with that opportunity is score the game-opening goal on a shorthanded, give-and-go with Toews and then add the primary assist on defenseman Brian Campbell's goal four minutes later.

Just another player stating his case for the role he believes he deserves. And, when it was over, Davos had seen enough Chicago auditions to last a lifetime.

Arno del Curto, the Davos coach, looked a little shell-shocked in the postgame press conference. Speaking through a translator, del Curto had some high praise for the Hawks and some cutting words for his own team, which he feels failed their own audition against the best the NHL has to offer.

"It was our worst game of the season," del Curto said. "We seemed to be paralyzed out there. But the Chicago Blackhawks showed that they are excellent skaters. I'm sure that we will see them in the Stanley Cup Final for years to come."

Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor