CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks' core players have grown accustomed to saying goodbye to teammates who won Stanley Cups with them.
The number of Blackhawks who went elsewhere in the league after last season’s Stanley Cup was shorter than those who departed following the 2010 championship, but that didn’t make it any easier. Whether those players had small or large roles in the Stanley Cup victories, they are forever remembered as a part of a special team.
“That’s something we’ve kind of gotten used to over the last couple years when you lose some of our good friends on the team,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said recently. “It’s always sad to see someone go like that.”
Dave Bolland was one of the players the Blackhawks had to bid farewell to after last season. Bolland was dealt in July to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs to free up cap space. He had been with the Blackhawks organization since being drafted in 2004 and won two Stanley Cups with them. He was often seen as a vital role player, especially in the physical playoffs, and left his mark on Blackhawks history by scoring the Stanley Cup-clinching goal against the Boston Bruins last season.
On Saturday, Bolland will make his first return trip to the United Center as an opponent. He and his former Blackhawks teammates expect an emotional night.
“Going back to Chicago is always a big one, being with them for so long and being with them for two championships,” Bolland said on a video on the Maple Leafs’ website. “To go back there and to go back to the old stadium will be nice.
“It will be a bit of novelty to go up against [Jonathan] Toews and Kane and Duncs [Duncan Keith] and Sharpie [Patrick Sharp] and Seabs [Brent Seabrook,] some of the guys that I was really close with over there. To be with all those guys over eight years, it’ll be pretty funny lining against them and going into the corner with them.”
Sharp had similar feelings.
“It’s exciting to have him come back and play,” Sharp said. “It’s going to be a physical game with him. I know the Hawks crowd is going to give him a nice applause that he deserves. It’ll be exciting to see him in a different uniform.”
Toews, the Blackhawks' captain, fondly remembered his time with Bolland on and off the ice.
“He’s a good guy, a great guy,” Toews said. “One of those guys sat next to in the locker room and definitely feels like you’re missing something there when he’s been around five or six years and all of a sudden he’s on a different team.
“To win two Stanley Cups with him and be a close friend and teammate for a long time, you want to see him do well. And he’s one of those guys you always keep in touch with and look forward to playing against too.”
Not many opponents were excited about playing Bolland when he was with the Blackhawks. He was one of the team’s biggest agitators and was nicknamed “The Rat.”
Sharp and Toews weren’t worried about Bolland getting to the Blackhawks in that manner.
“We’ll see about that,” Toews said. “They don’t call him ‘The Rat’ for nothing. I know all his tricks, too. It goes both ways.”
Sharp said, “Nope, not at all. His tricks are not going to work against us. We’ve seen him far too many times.”
Bolland’s approach was to treat the Blackhawks the same way as he did every team on the ice, just differently when off it.
“We’re going to play a hard game,” said Bolland, who has six points through eight games this season. “It’s going to be a hard-fought game. When we leave it on the ice, we leave it on the ice. You’re enemies when you’re on ice. When you’re off the ice, you’re best friends.
"It’ll be a hard-fought game. It’ll be a battle. It won’t be an easy game again them. I think we all know how they play. It’s going to fun.”