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The only time the Chicago Blackhawks played in Edmonton this season, there was a curious sight to behold after the game.
There were dozens and dozens of fans who stayed around to visit with their man of the match when it was over.
And, no, they weren’t there to visit with Leon Draisaitl, who had four points playing in the first game of seven without Connor McDavid in the lineup on the way to a 5-3 win for his Edmonton Oilers’ on Feb. 11.
They were there for Kirby Dach, the six-foot-four rookie centre out of Fort Saskatchewan who was drafted third overall by the Blackhawks.
“With family, a lot of guys he played with in minor hockey, a lot of parents, aunts, uncles and neighbours, Kirby easily had more than 150 people there for him,” said his dad, Dale. “We went down below to go see him at the dressing room after the game and they let in 50 of us and the rest weren’t able to get in to see him.”
It was supposed to be the only visit of the season by the struggling Blackhawks and you can’t blame the fans in Fort Saskatchewan, who hope they finally have a talent like St. Albert’s Mark Messier or Jarome Iginla on the way.
Saturday afternoon, of course, there won’t be any fans there at all waiting around to see the Chicago future star after Game 1 of the best-of-five 2020 Stanley Cup play-in series game between the two teams.
Dach says not having any of those folks around may be a benefit.
“It kind of eliminates the distraction of having a lot of people around. But otherwise, it will suck,” he said.
The kid also makes the point that not having all those Oilers fans who historically dial up the decibel level with the playoff atmosphere here beyond belief.
Dach experienced it here three years ago.
“I was able to go to all of the games when they made that playoff run. And I still remember the 2006 run. I went to all of those games, too, back then.”
Now, hold it right there, young fella.
Dach just turned 19 in January.
“I was five years old. And I very much remember it,” Kirby insisted.
Dad Dale and mom Hilary testified it to be the truth.
“He went to most of those games when he was five. He was very passionate about going to watch. Kirby was also very adamant about getting there early so he could get a program. He went through all the stats and everything.
“His younger brother, Colton, was just like him that way in the years that followed. My father-in-law also had season seats so I’d take one and my father-in-law would take the other one,” said the former NAIT player.
Similar-sized Colton, who is going into his draft year, thought he might be playing with his brother this past year in Saskatoon, but Chicago general manager Stan Bowman didn’t send him back to junior.
“He became a pretty important player for us right when we paused the season,” said Bowman. “I’ve seen a noticeable progression in him since the pause. He’s been one of the most noticeable players for us over the last two weeks.”
Coach Jeremy Colliton even suggested he might find himself assigned to Draisaitl in the best-of-five play-in series against the Oilers beginning Saturday.
“As the year went on, we felt very comfortable playing him against anyone at any time. As the year went on, we gave him more and more of that responsibility. The last time we played them, he ended up against Draisaitl.”
Ah, Draisaitl had four points.
Do I hear a ‘double dog dare you’?
“Kirby away from the puck is far ahead of where most NHL players are, especially at his age. It’s a huge, huge weapon for us that we can play him against anyone. These playoffs are an opportunity for him to measure himself and I’m sure he’ll show very well.”
TSN analyst Craig Button thinks the rookie might get an occasional look against Draisaitl or Connor McDavid.
“Dylan Strome seems to be the natural guy to match up, along with Jonathan Toews, but Kirby could be an option and a different look because of his length,” said Button. “Kirby has size and reach. You can try and use that to keep McDavid and Draisaitl a little further away.
“When Kirby digs in and competes, he can be a real tough player to handle. When he goes about trying to finesse his way through the game he isn’t nearly as effective, in my opinion.”
For sure, Dach is going to be a future star, says captain Johnathan Toews, who was eloquent on the development he’s witnessed as the Blackhawks settled in to Hub City.
“Any young player with his level of talent, I think they’re going to improve. If you saw his first couple games at the start of the season, he was like an entirely different player by the end of it. He was getting more and more confidence. As the season wore on, he was getting more and more physical and holding onto pucks. He’s so big and strong and fast and skilled, I think he’s realizing now as a centre he can play a lot of heavy minutes and carry a lot of responsibility for his team.”
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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