DALLAS -- The stage is set for the 2011-12 season opening contest between the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars. Both teams had a final practice Friday morning and the Hawks are excited to play after a longer-than-wanted summer.
“We’re focused and ready,” coach Joel Quenneville said after practice. “Everyone is excited to get started.”
The lineup remains the same as it’s been over the last few days of practice. Brandon Pirri will take Dave Bolland's place on the third line and the Hawks will dress seven defensemen but only 11 forwards. Quenneville says he’ll mix and match his fourth line using a defenseman to play wing sometimes. John Scott is the only healthy scratch, which means seven players will make their Hawks debut not counting Ray Emery.
“Every year the season opener gets the juices flowing,” winger Andrew Brunette said. “On a new team it probably heightens it a little bit.”
Brunette will line up next to Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane on a second line that has the ability to put up big numbers, but only if they jell quickly. The trio has played just a short time together in training camp.
“Each time we’re on the ice we feel more comfortable,” Brunette said.
And then there is the NHL debut for 18-year-old Brandon Saad. He’ll be the youngest Hawk to skate in a game since Kane in 2007.
“There will be some nerves closer to game time but once you get on the ice you just play your game,” Saad said.
Saad’s parents are making the trip in from Pittsburgh and he says he has an uncle who lives in Texas so he’ll have plenty of support.
“It was nice to get out with the guys [Thursday night in Dallas] and have a nice team dinner and the travel and all the expenses,” Saad said. “It was pretty cool.”
Former Hawks: Former Blackhawks Adam Burish and Jake Dowell are now with the Stars, however only Dowell will play Friday night. Burish has a groin injury but vows to play Saturday in Chicago. And as usual he wasn’t at a loss for words with the media.
“I could take on Kane with one groin no problem,” Burish joked Friday morning. “I’m planning on playing Saturday. I’m going to rest up and embarrass them in their own building Saturday.”
As for Kane playing center, Burish endorsed the idea -- after taking another dig at his good friend.
“He better practice his faceoffs because I remember beating him up in practice a little bit,” Burish quipped. “On the wing you have to start and stop a little bit where now he’ll be able to do those big loops and circles and go back and take it off Duncan Keith’s stick and skate all the way up the ice again. He’ll be good that way. He’ll be fun to watch.”
As for Dowell, he was a “little surprised” the Hawks talked about needing more toughness and then let him go. He led the Hawks with nine fighting majors last season. But he also understands that moving on is part of the game and not only is he thrilled to be in the lineup on opening night, it’s against his former team.
“It’s exciting to get out there and play against guys I have a good, strong bond and friendship with,” Dowell said. “It will be exciting. Too bad Burish and I aren’t both in the lineup, we could both be jabbering at Sharp some.”
Burish and Dowell were roommates of Sharp’s when they were with the Hawks.
Dowell is also looking forward to being on other side of the ice against Kane and Jonathan Toews.
“It’s a good challenge,” he said. “I know how they play a little bit. It’s fun to be out there against them and try to be successful against them.”
Quenneville said he’s still hopeful Bolland will play Saturday night in the Hawks home opener.
The Hawks were ranked 25th in penalty killing last season. The Stars were 4-for-13 against the Hawks with the man advantage. That was their best percentage against any opponent in the Western Conference.
“We’ve done a few things system-wise that are different,” Sharp said. “At the end of the day, it’s about taking pride in it.”
Quennville said he’ll keep an eye on the 18-year-old Saad.
“We’ll watch how he’s playing. He’s got a couple nice guys to play with and they’ll help him as well.”
Stars forward Mike Ribeiro led the NHL in scoring in the preseason with 10 points.