Hawks prep for opener with best practice

CHICAGO -- The final full practice for the Chicago Blackhawks before they open defense of their title in Denver was as high paced as they come. An hour of drills that included everything from 5-on-3 work to penalty-killing instructions kept players on their toes, and in Joel Quenneville’s estimation, ready for the season.

“It was probably the best [practice] we had,” he said Wednesday before flying to Colorado. “I liked the approach going into it. Not just on the ice, I thought the guys seemed focus and ready to start.”

Ready they are, and man for man, the returning veterans have repeated the same idea since the beginning of camp: no complacency for the Cup winner here.

“It’s always exciting to start the season,” Patrick Sharp said. “I think the Stanley Cup was a great experience but that’s over. We don’t need to be talking about that any more. We can draw on some experiences from the playoffs and have confidence going into certain situations but as far as being satisfied, that’s out of the question. It’s a new season, and I want to win a Stanley Cup as bad as anyone in the league.”

New line: Sharp will start the season centering Patrick Kane and Fernando Pisani. He ended last year playing with Marian Hossa. So what’s it like being the man in the middle for two of the better wingers in the game?

“They both want the puck a lot,” Sharp said. “Hossa relies on his speed and strength. Kane likes to hang on to that puck and draw guys to him. As a centerman, when the coach tells you you’re playing with Kane or Hossa, who’s going to complain with that?

So does one yell for the puck more than the other?

“Kaner [Kane] doesn’t yell at me because he knows not to talk to me like that,” Sharp joked, “but I know inside he wants the puck, so I’ll say Kaner but Hossa likes to talk about each shift and have line meetings.”

Hotel hi-jinks: Sharp is known for practical jokes, especially on the road. There’s a new group of players so that means “fresh meat.”

“[Jack] Skille is my No. 1 target,” Sharp said within earshot of Skille. “I’m going to find his room right when we get into Colorado. Seabrook is my new roommate so I’ll throw him around the room for a couple of minutes there and make sure he’s in line and grab the remote control.”

And what about jokes on a 19-year old rookie? Off limits?

“He’s always a target but it’s like it’s almost too easy because he doesn’t understand what’s going on,” Sharp said of Nick Leddy. “Maybe I’ll bring him along slowly and yell at him later on.”

Finally, the wrestling belt the Hawks gave out starting mid-year last season is back, at least Sharp thinks it is.

“I think it’s making the trip. I think we located it. It was in the hands of Kaner [Kane] during the Stanley Cup parade so god only knows where it is but I think we have it back.”

Number change: Nick Leddy switched numbers from 37 to 8. “They just changed it for me,” Leddy said. “I don’t know why.”

Leddy had worn 3 and 5 in high school and college but was wearing 37 since the fan convention. The Hawks said since he didn’t request a high number, defenseman are usually given a lower one now that he has made the roster.

Lineup: Quenneville said Fernano Pisani earned the second-line winger spot with Kane and Sharp. Troy Brouwer was considered as a possibility there and Quenneville stressed, as he always does, that things could change with the line combinations at any time.