It could have been better. It has to get better. Otherwise, what in the world is Jeremy Colliton doing here?
Two days after the Blackhawks’ stunning announcement that icon Joel Quenneville had been fired and a 33-year-old coaching greenhorn brought in to replace him, Colliton’s debut spiraled into a 4-0 deficit before ending in a 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes at the United Center.
Let the record show that the first goal of the Colliton era was scored by Andrei Svechnikov on a rebound 4:46 into the first period. And that three more were scored by the visitors before Patrick Kane finally got the Hawks on the board with the first goal on Colliton’s watch — just as he had been the one to break the seal in Quenneville’s first game with the team in October 2008.
“Obviously, we would’ve liked to have a better start,” Colliton said. “But the issues that we were having are not new to any hockey team. If you kick the puck around in your own end, you’re going to get hurt.”
Welcome back to the NHL, kid. Colliton looked on from behind the bench at an early going that must’ve been as one-sided as any he saw in 57 games as a player in the league — a notion backed up by the boos in the building when the Hurricanes made it 3-0 in the first period.
Boos in Game 1? Man, that’s cold.
The Hawks may have been trying to shield Colliton from the crowd by not announcing his name over the public-address system after the starting lineup was introduced. Not only couldn’t Hawks fans yell the customary “Q!” in that moment. They couldn’t boo are even plaintively wail, “Who!?”
No doubt, Quenneville — winner of more NHL games than any coach not named Scotty Bowman — will be missed. No doubt, bitterness within the fan base over the firing of a man who led the Hawks to three Stanley Cups will fester, and maybe for a long time to come.
No doubt, skepticism about Colliton, promoted from the Hawks’ AHL affiliate in Rockford to become the youngest coach in the NHL, will last a while.
“We’ve played [for] the same guy for 10 years,” Kane said. “Obviously, any type of change is going to be different. I thought for [Colliton’s] first game he was very calm and seemed like he had a powerful message there in the first and second, just to clean up some things and have a better response.”
The first period-plus smacked of holdover problems for the Hawks, who were in an 0-4-1 slump when Quenneville was pink-slipped. Two of the three goals allowed came as a result of an inability to clear the puck. The other came on the penalty kill after there was no discernible effort to clear Justin Williams out of the crease and Slavin cleaned up an easy rebound. Meanwhile, the Hawks’ fruitless power play persisted.
That goalie Scott Darling, forward Teuvo Teravainen and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk were on the ice for the visitors only served as another reminder of how drastically things have changed. All three were part of the Hawks’ last title run four seasons ago.
But a Hawks rally brought the crowd into the game on a night when any support would count for something, and familiar chants of “Let’s go Hawks!” chants erupted after Nick Schmaltz made it 4-3 in the third.
“I wish we were still playing, because I think we could’ve come back,” Colliton said. “If the game would be five minutes [longer], maybe we could get that last one.”
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