CHICAGO – He wasn’t here when they suffered a defeat so unnerving that the Blackhawks not only vowed change but made a few major ones in the offseason.
Perhaps that’s why Patrick Sharp finds himself back in the home locker room at the United Center on Wednesday night. He’s one of the guys that led the way for three Stanley Cup titles since 2010 and was brought back for some veteran presence on a team that features nearly a dozen new players in 2017-2018.
Even without being on the ice against Nashville, Sharp finds just as much motivation as those who were in the Blackhawks locker room as the season begins. For the 14 year veteran, it’s being back in Chicago that brings the motivation.
“All you can ask for as a player is what the Hawks do for you. They do more than you could ask. They put us into a position to win. They provide everything on and off the ice for us to be the best athletes that we can and that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to come back here so badly because of the way you are treated by the organization.
“When you feel that, the love from the organization and the fans, you want to get right back on the ice and play your best hockey.”
Safe to say that Sharp will be motivated when the Blackhawks open up the season against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins on Thursday night at the United Center. While he’s had the team’s training camp festival and three preseason games to get reacquainted with the home, nothing will signal a homecoming like a game that counts in the standings.
“First game of the season is always special, you chalk it up to that baseball feeling of opening day, get things rolling,” said Sharp. “It’s not the most important game of the season but it feels like it is right now and that’s exciting.”
So is the prospect of getting a healthy Sharp back into the Blackhawks’ lineup. In his last two seasons in Chicago, when he had few health issues, Sharp scored 50 goals and had 77 assists in helping the team to the West Finals in 2014 and the Stanley Cup title in 2015.
Whether he can do that was a question to begin with when the Blackhawks signed him to a one-year deal this offseason. He’s recovering from hip surgery last spring that put him on IR to end his season.
“I feel awesome, ready to go,” said Sharp when asked how he felt physically.
From what he’s seen out of Sharp so far, Joel Quenneville would seem to concur.
“His excitement of being back in town has certainly added to our team with chemistry, what he’s accomplished and him returning has brought some life as well,” said Quenneville of Sharp. “Options up front, he can help our power play, we’ve used him in all different places with all centermen, whether it was Toews or Arte (Artem Anisimov) or it was Schmaltz, the versatility is going to be important with us.
“So it gives us a lot of options on playing him on either side.”
He, along with the Blackhawks, are happy he’s back on theirs once again.