Chicago Blackhawks’ Prospects Proving Defense Wins Championships
By Aaron Goldschmidt
Interview with Blake Hillman
What was your experience like at Blackhawks prospect camp this summer?
BH: It was a little bit different this year in the sense that Mitchy (Ian Mitchell) was there, and I also had to be more of a leader. Last year was my first year there, so I was a bit nervous, tentative and I tried to follow other players to see what they did. But this year I stayed with (Mitchell), answered his questions and tried to be more of a leader.
Who were the players that impressed you the most at prospect camp?
BH: The forward I was most impressed with was Dylan Sikura. He was lights out in camp and everybody was talking about him. It was pretty obvious he was out there making plays, dangling and doing everything right.
Defensively, it was Luc Snuggerud. He played at Omaha and I’ve played against him all of my life growing up in Minnesota. I’ve known him for a while now and I’ve seen him progress over the years into a really good player. I’ve always looked up to him as a good player from Minnesota that I could watch and learn from what he does out there.
This year the Blackhawks prospect camp was more focused on player fundamentals. What were your thoughts on the new structure?
BH: Yeah, I really did enjoy it because there was a lot more teaching involved whereas in games you just got out there and played your own style. This year having practices every day, we got a lot more one-on-one time with the coaches and got a better idea of what they expect out of us as far as the ‘Hawks’ system. It was good in that sense and also how the coaches told us what we need to improve on going back to college.
Would you say the ‘Hawks play a similar system as the Pioneers at Denver University?
BH: Oh, yeah. They’re an up-pace team that likes to move the puck up to the forwards, and they have really active defensemen. We actually have a couple plays named after the ‘Hawks. There are definitely some connections there. I try to model my game to their style, and Monty (coach Jim Montgomery) has helped me a lot with that in my two and a half years here.
Were you surprised Montgomery came back to Denver to coach this season given he had a couple offers from NHL teams?
BH: I wasn’t surprised. I knew he was here for the long run. If we win another (championship), then maybe. I think he’s pretty content and happy here. I think he likes coaching our age group because of the development process, whereas in the NHL everyone’s basically where they’re going to be unless you get really young kids. I was a little nervous, but I wasn’t surprised that he stayed.
What are your goals for this season?
BH: My goals this year are to be a steady defenseman, take care of the defensive zone first and be able to worry about offense second. I think last year I kind of got ahead of myself thinking that I was going to have a 10-goal year, or a 30-point year, but I set my goals a little too high. I was let down by that throughout the first half of the season, and then I had a meeting with Coach Monty.
He really helped me understand that I need to play defense first. After that, I started to get more offensive chances. I’ve definitely worked on things this summer that will help me succeed in having a more offensive this year, but I’m more focused on keeping the puck out of our net.
This year the Frozen Four is being played in your home state of Minnesota. How special would it be to play in front of your friends and family?
BH: My parents are already telling me, “You guys have to make it! You made it to Tampa, Chicago, now Minnesota!” It would be amazing. When we made it to Tampa my freshman year, we played regionals at the Xcel Energy Center and I had a lot of family there.
I’m sure there would be two to three times the amount of family that would come support me, and I would have a lot of friends that would like to come so it would be really special. But you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself yet. We haven’t even played a game yet, but it would be really special.