Blackhawks’ trip to Edmonton meaningful for many players — and for Oilers’ Duncan KeithBen Popeon November 20, 2021 at 11:33 pm

Kirby Dach, who grew up just outside Edmonton, has often played well in the city. | Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Visiting Edmonton is a homecoming for Brandon Hagel and Kirby Dach, a revenge opportunity for Caleb Jones and Jujhar Khaira and a strange intersection of Keith’s career.

EDMONTON, Alberta — Brandon Hagel entered Saturday ready for a normal game with his family in attendance.

The first game his parents attended, his NHL debut in Chicago in March 2020, was the night the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down the league. The second game his mom — along with his brother, sister and nephew — attended was two weeks ago in Chicago against the Predators, when Hagel scored but then left with a shoulder injury.

The injury healed quickly, though, allowing Hagel to be in the lineup for the Blackhawks’ game Saturday against the Oilers.

The timing worked out well, considering “quite a few family” members made the 40-minute drive down to Rogers Place from his exurban hometown of Morinville.

“When [the injury] first happened, I wanted to go back out there,” Hagel said pregame. “But I couldn’t put my shirt on, so they wouldn’t let me. It’s one of those things where it was a relief just hearing how [short] it was going to be. I was really worried. I’ve never been injured before.”

The trip to Edmonton carried special meaning for a number of Hawks players.

Kirby Dach, who grew up in the suburb of Fort Saskatchewan, also had a number of friends and family in the arena Saturday — although he joked he let them “dig into their own pockets” to afford all the tickets.

“I like coming out west,” he said. “I kind of miss the snow.”

Dach’s track record in his hometown is solid: He recorded four points in the four-game 2020 playoff series against the Oilers here, a plus-two rating in the Hawks’ February 2020 regular-season visit and three points in his second-to-last junior hockey game against the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2018-19.

But it was also in Edmonton where Dach broke his wrist — or, as he recounted Saturday, “realized my wrist wasn’t really there anymore” — during the 2020 world junior championships.

At least the city welcomed him back with the weather he wanted: A puck-drop temperature of 11 degrees outside, with snow falling on top of more snow leftover from a few days prior.

For ex-Oilers players Caleb Jones and Jujhar Khaira, meanwhile, the trip marked their first game against their former team.

Jones, like Hagel, recovered from his injury just in time for it, easing back into the lineup with 9:53 of ice time Wednesday against the Kraken before handling a full role versus the Oilers.

“I wouldn’t say it’s much warm and fuzzy,” he said. “[I have] some friendships, but when you get on the ice, you definitely have that competitive edge. You want to show them that they traded me and they shouldn’t have done that.”

And for one man on the Oilers whom the Hawks know very well — a defenseman by the name of Duncan Keith — Saturday’s matchup was particularly strange.

“I put that jersey on for a long time and I have a lot of friends on that team,” Keith told Oilers reporters Friday. “It’s going to be a fun game. I’m excited. It will be a new experience for me playing an old team.”

Keith said his now-8-year-old son Colton, whom he requested a trade to Western Canada to be able to see more often, has fully converted from a Hawks fan to Oilers fan — something Chicagoans will hate to hear.

“I’m sure he misses [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews, but he’s taken a liking to the guys here,” he said. “He wears his [Leon] Draisaitl jersey and [Connor] McDavid jersey around quite a bit. I don’t think he’s taken off his Oilers hoodie…since he left a couple weeks ago.”

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