CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville feels strongly about having at least one player on his roster who has enough strength and aggressiveness to be a physical presence and enough skill to be a reliable forward on the fourth line.
Quenneville’s guy for that role last season was Brandon Bollig. Bollig played in all 82 regular-season games before his ice time was cut in the playoffs.
With Bollig traded to the Calgary Flames in the offseason to free cap space, Quenneville is now searching for a replacement. Cody Bass, Brandon Mashinter and Pierre-Cedric Labrie are the likely candidates.
Bass and Mashinter will get their first chance to showcase their abilities against opponents Tuesday when the Blackhawks play their first preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings. Bass and Mashinter will be alongside center Phillip Danault on the fourth line. Labrie is expected to play in a future preseason game.
All three players have some NHL experience. Bass, 27, has played in 49 NHL games for the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets. Mashinter, 26, has played 23 NHL games for the San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers. Labrie, 28, has played 46 NHL games for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Bass and Mashinter, whose lockers were placed next to each other in the team’s dressing room Tuesday, understood they were competing for the same roster spot, but viewed it as a friendly competition.
“At the same time, we’re teammates,” Bass said after the team’s morning skate at the United Center on Tuesday. “This is a close group of guys in this locker room. That’s something I learned this past weekend. I think Mashy and I have kind of the same mindset going into tonight. Being the same mind, we’re going to feed off each other. Hopefully, we can push the pace, and Danault in the middle, who is a young kid, is trying to prove something too. Tonight is going to be good. I think for us we have to keep it clean, keep it safe and be physical.”
Bass and Mashinter have tried to play consistent since training camp opened Friday, but both admitted they haven’t been exactly going full tilt on the physical side. Injuring Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane isn’t likely a résumé builder.
“Some guys out there are star players you don’t really want to hit and hurt,” Mashinter said. “It’s kind of, you don’t want to say friendly, but guys know each other out there. You just don’t want to injure anyone.”
Quenneville has a checklist for that role. He will be looking for someone who can be responsible defensively, will use his body and isn’t afraid to step up for teammates when the time calls.
“I think you just want to make sure they’re playing their game,” Quenneville said. “Sometimes guys like that … We don’t want to be that one-dimensional guy that just sits there and looks for that altercation. If it happens, it happens. We don’t encourage it, but if it’s part of it, it’s part of it. Premeditated stuff, not a big fan of [it]. Sometimes it can happen.”
Bollig’s role last season was in mostly a defensive capacity. He, Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger played together on the fourth line most of the season and started in the defensive zone more than any of their teammates.
Bass understood what was expected of him on the fourth line.
“I think for someone on the fourth line, it’s simple hockey,” Bass said. “I think if you don’t get scored on, it’s a bonus. You play physical. You bring your piece of the puzzle every night. I think you got to be consistent with that. That’s something I’ve kind of learned over the years is the guy who stick on the fourth line are guys that are consistent, play hard every night and show up every night. That’s something I got to do. That’s something I’m still learning. Hopefully I can do it and make it hard for them.”
Neither Bass nor Mashinter expressed enthusiasm in having to be an enforcer on the ice, but they both said they were willing to do it. Mashinter was involved in 12 regular-season fights in the AHL and NHL last season, according to hockeyfights.com. Bass fought 17 times in the AHL and NHL last season.
The Blackhawks had players fight 16 times last season. Bollig and Sheldon Brookbank, who is also gone from last year’s team, each accounted for six fights.
“It’s part of my job,” Bass said. “It’s part of Mash’s job. That’s what we bring to a team. We’re a small piece of the puzzle. That’s what we bring. If that time comes, I’m sure we’ll be the first ones in line to stick up a teammate and take care of it.”
“I have to be that role,” he said. “Sure, no one likes being the, you know … You never know what’s going to happen. Whatever it takes to be that guy, I’ll be that guy.”