It would be hard to argue that the Chicago Blackhawks' depth down the middle isn’t as strong as they come in the NHL. Names like Toews, Sharp, and Bolland bring images of dynamic play on both ends of the ice.
But that’s only three centers. The Hawks need a fourth.
Dowell was a fifth-round selection in 2004 so he has paid his dues. He was part of that Wisconsin connection that won an NCAA title with Adam Burish as captain. He’s had a couple of cups of coffee with the Hawks and they included him, and a few other prospects, in their Stanley Cup winning festivities, but now he wants to be part of the real thing.
“We were part of the team, but we didn’t play in any of the playoff games,” Dowell said recently. “I want to be a part of that.”
Dowell is a gritty type who excels in the small things. Faceoffs, penalty killing, defense--and fighting. As player after player moved on this past offseason, both Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman spoke of Dowell as an immediate replacement. Sounds like they still believe it, but aren’t handing him anything.
“It’s an important position [fourth-line center],” Quenneville said Thursday after practice. “Jake brings you some intensity. He brings you the approach that you want where he has some energy on that line. He can take faceoffs, and he can kill penalties and be reliable. That’s what we are striving for to fill that role. We’ll see how he plays it out and competes throughout camp.”
Dowell has heard some of the praise and wants to live up to it.
“Yeah, I want to hear that stuff,” Dowell said. “I want to be a guy that can replace some of the guys that had to go to other teams. But I can’t take anything for granted.”
Until now you may know Dowell as the guy who fought just about everything that moved last year in training camp. This time around he has another objective.
“I want to prove I can play some hockey,” Dowell said. “Last camp I fought quite a bit to kind of prove a point that I can do it, and this time I want to do the same thing but also show that I can play some hockey, too.”
Dowell has one training camp fight and fought Wednesday night in the Hawks' preseason game against Tampa Bay. It wasn’t much of a bout because Dowell’s jersey quickly ended up over his head. He and his teammates laughed it off.
“Yeah, [Duncan] Keith said I looked funny,” Dowell said.
Dowell says he’s learning by watching his teammates, especially the other centers. He has a Conn Smythe winner (captain Toews), a former 36-goal scorer (assistant Sharp), and a defensive guru (Bolland) to tutor him.
“He’s got that fire, and he’s not afraid to do that dirty work,” Toews aid of Dowell. “He’s one of those guys that if you are playing against him you want to know where he is at [on the ice] because he is very physical and his competitiveness is very high as well.”
Dowell says he’s learning from everyone and realizes how competitive things are from the stars to the role players.
“Guys get ticked off if they lose a faceoff,” Dowell said. “If Toews loses one to me [in practice], I can tell he’s mad or he gives me a shove. There is that inner fire that everybody has. Johnny is one of the best players around, and he still cares about that stuff so it rubs off on me, too.”
Quenneville wouldn’t go as far as to say the fourth-line center spot was his to lose, but all indications are it is. It sounds like he has the backing of his teammates.
“It doesn’t matter who he’s talking to whether it’s the coaches or other players, he wants to learn and better himself, everyday,” Toews said. “He’s doing that.”