CHICAGO – It was four months and two days since they last took the ice in a competitive environment at the United Center.
That was March 11th when they beat the Sharks 6-2 at the United Center for their 32nd win of the season. Little did they know this would be an infamous day in sports, with the NBA’s suspending of their season earlier that night leading to an unprecedented shutdown of sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, the players have taken part mostly in workouts of their own, including those at Fifth Third Arena the past month in Phase 2 of the NHL’s return plan. Now for the first time since that night four months ago, the Blackhawks can meet as a team to start towards a finish to the 2019-2020 season.
Monday begins the Blackhawks’ summer training camp at their practice facility as they prepare for the NHL’s Return to Play Tournament that begins on August 1st. While they probably wouldn’t have been a playoff team had the season finished normally, the team’s 72 points were enough for the 12th and final seed in the Western Conference tournament.
That squeezed them into the last spot, and now they’ll face the Oilers in Edmonton for a five-game preliminary round series for the right to enter the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Before that happens, head coach Jeremy Colliton has around two weeks to get the Blackhawks back up to speed where they left off. That should be an interesting task since it was that Wednesday night in March when the group was last together.
So far no members of the Blackhawks have decided to opt out of the NHL Tournament due to concerns of COVID-19, and a few players may actually return to the lineup. Brent Seabrook was on the ice working out for the first time since December after extensive surgery on his hips and right shoulder.
He could be ready to play in this “postseason” and so may fellow defenseman Calvin de Haan, who was sidelined most of this campaign with a shoulder injury. Both players wouldn’t have come back in the original window of the 2019-2020 season.
Either way, this camp will be the last time the Blackhawks will be back in Chicago for a while, no matter what they do in the tournament. Whether they’re eliminated in three games by the Oilers or win the Stanley Cup, the team will be in Edmonton to practice and compete from late July till the end of their season.
But at least the team is back on the ice at Fifth Third Arena on Monday as a group as they begin what’s been a long process to finish the 2019-2020 season