The Canadian | Luke Richardson believed in Arber Xhekaj from the start

(Chicago) It’s probably for games like Friday’s game between the Blackhawks and the Canadiens that the Peaches & Herb duo wrote reunited.

From Kirby Dach to Max Domi, via Jarred Tinordi, many of them will reconnect with former teammates.

But for obvious reasons, eyes will mostly be on Luke Richardson. The man who coached the Canadiens’ defensemen until last summer now finds himself at the helm of the Blackhawks.

“I wish them success, except tomorrow,” joked Richardson, during an intimate meeting with the media at the Blackhawks training center, on this holiday Thursday in the United States.

The colossus of Ottawa obviously remains marked by his four seasons in Montreal. It was there that he came closest to winning the Stanley Cup; the 2021 final was the first of his career, whether as a player or as coach. He had developed a close relationship with his proteges, a relationship that was revealed when Ben Chiarot, during these same 2021 series, said that the defenders were ready to “cross a wall” for him.

The affection seems mutual. Without being asked about Suzuki specifically, Richardson spoke about him in a response, calling him a “star” in the NHL. “I was worried for him when he became captain, knowing that Montreal is a big market. But he’s a humble guy, and his personality reflects his game. I’m happy to see him succeed. »

But it is to Arber Xhekaj that he reserved his best compliments. “I wish we were the ones to get him out of the mothballs!” “, he answers spontaneously, to the evocation of the name of Xhekaj.

This modern-day Louis Cyr arrived at the Canadian camp in September 2021 without a contract in his pocket.

I had suggested to the organization to give him a contract to play in Laval from last season, he was so dominant. He would have had experience in the pros. But it turned out well, and he went back to junior and he made it to the Memorial Cup.

Chicago Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson

“He’s the kind of defender everyone is looking for. He’s big, he skates and he’s tough. He grew up in a working family, his family didn’t have it easy. He had two jobs. They are down to earth people. You want that kind of person. »

Center or winger?

Kirby Dach will face the Blackhawks for the very first time since the trade that made the Bell Center whisper during the last draft.


Kirby Dash

In the Hawks’ locker room, Patrick Kane is probably the best person to talk about the great number 77. After Alex DeBrincat (traded to Ottawa since), Kane is the attacker who has played the most with Dach during his three seasons in Illinois.

Oddly, however, Kane seemed unaware that his former team-mate had mostly been employed on the wing this season. “I don’t know, I think he’s a pretty good center too! argued Kane, in the spacious Blackhawks locker room. A big guy who can skate, it’s always good to have that in the middle. Sometimes you see players moving from one position to another, like Trevor Zegras. For a youngster, it’s hard to play center when you’re playing guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron every night. »

As his teammate Toews did, Kane too claimed that Dach didn’t necessarily have the best platform to show off in Chicago. A comment that goes against what the numbers say, since Dach played 18 minutes a game in his last two seasons in Chicago, and since DeBrincat and Kane, his most loyal line partners, are considered relatively forwards. competent.

“As players, we are not in a position to make these decisions. But we saw its potential, says Kane. He can beat guys one on one. He can be very good over 200 feet and we saw him in the playoffs in the bubble. He was incredible in those series, he was effective in keeping the puck. He may not have had the best role here.

“He was showing signs that he could become a concession player. Every time I’ve played with him, we’ve had success. He pushed defenders back and gave me space,” the number 88 added.

Soderblom in goal

Arvid Soderblom will defend the Blackhawks net on Friday afternoon. This will be just the ninth NHL start for the 23-year-old, undrafted Swede, who joined the Hawks for the 2021-22 season. He will try to help his teammates recover from a fifth straight loss, suffered Wednesday in Dallas. Chicago has allowed 25 goals in those five games… “But like I told the guys, the sun came up this morning, it’s Thanksgiving and we’re playing in the best league in the world” , put the always optimistic Richardson into perspective.

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