The Chicago Blackhawks‘ 2011 season ended after a hard-fought seven-game series against the Vancouver Canucks. Blackhawks’ blueliner Chris Campoli committed an unfortunate turnover to Canucks’ forward Alex Burrows who proceeded to bury a knuckling slap-shot past rookie netminder Corey Crawford. And that was the last memory fans had of Chris Campoli’s short season with the Blackhawks. But for Campoli, as well as Ben Smith and Michael Frolik, next year cannot come soon enough.
Chris Campoli was traded to the Hawks from the Ottawa Senators prior to the NHL’s trade deadline. Campoli was a solid defender for Ottawa, however, his play was overshadowed by the production from Senators’ Jason Spezza and Sergei Gonchar. Campoli may not have found his name on the stat sheet for the Hawks as often as some fans may have liked, but he did the little things that are not measured by numbers.
Campoli’s ability to take the puck coast-to-coast reminded me of his teammate, Brian Campbell. There were many games these two blueliners were paired together, and that provided the Hawks with speed and play-making ability on the defensive end. Like I said before, Campoli was not on the stat sheet often, but his ability to back-check and generate the offense showed as soon as he put on a Hawks sweater. It’s unfortunate his season ended the way it did, but next year cannot come soon enough for him and the rest of the fans. He will prevail.
Michael Frolik was another player traded to the Hawks from the Florida Panthers. At one point, Frolik was looked at as part of the Panthers’ future, but he didn’t produce this season nearly as much as he did in his first two years for the Panthers. As soon as Frolik stepped on the ice for the Hawks I knew the kid was going to be a difference maker.
It wasn’t until Frolik’s tenth game with the Blackhawks when he finally put the biscuit in the basket. He tallied two assists to go along with his first career goal as a Blackhawk against the Flames. But even before then I knew he could play hockey. He’s got moves that are as good as anyone on the team and his ability to stickhandle is unbelievable. From day one with the Hawks he was firing pucks on net and doing all he could to score, but he came up short for nine games. He did all he could do to help his team. Winning was the only thing on Mikey Fro’s mind.
Frolik’s shining moment for the Blackhawks came in the playoffs against Vancouver. The Hawks were trailing 3-2 in the third period of Game 6; Frolik skated hard to the net and drew a penalty shot. Frolik proceeded to deke Canucks’ goalie Cory Schneider out of his jock strap and tie the game at 3-3. If it weren’t for that goal who knows if Ben Smith would have had the opportunity to bury a rebound in OT to send the series back to Vancouver for Game 7.
Ben Smith, the 22-year-old rookie, played more postseason games (7) than regular season games (6) for the Blackhawks this season. I cannot praise this kid enough. The fight he has is irreplaceable. In certain ways he reminds me of Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews. His ability to get to the loose puck, fight for the loose puck and win the loose puck battle is invaluable. He showed nothing but a high level of potential for the years to come as a Blackhawk. As a 22-year-old there are going to be plenty of instances when he fails, but the drive he has on the ice will set him up for success.
Head coach Joel Quenneville had the confidence in Smith to play give him significant minutes throughout the playoffs and even during OT. I trust every decision Coach Q makes because he knows the game and knows his players, and Ben Smith didn’t let Q down when he went top-shelf over Canucks’ goalie Roberto Luongo‘s glove in OT in Game 6 to force a Game 7.