Blackhawks notebook: Brett Connolly, Tanner Kero on good terms after ‘unfortunate’ hit

LAS VEGAS — Blackhawks forward Brett Connolly looks at the calendar and can’t believe it’s already January.

”Personally, it’s been a wild year for me,” he said Saturday. ”It’s something I never would’ve expected to start the year — that [I’d go to the American Hockey League], that I’d come back and [that I’d] get suspended for four games when I’ve never been suspended in my life.”

Connolly made it only two games into his long-awaited return to the Hawks’ lineup when his illegal hit to the head of Stars forward Tanner Kero on Dec. 18 landed him on the suspended list through the loss Thursday to the Coyotes.

Even now, weeks later, Connolly seems disturbed by — and sincerely apologetic for — that ugly moment in Dallas.

”Anybody that’s played with me or knows me personally knows that was never the intention,” he said. ”It’s a fast game. A lot’s going on mentally and physically, and [it was] just an unfortunate incident. I was happy when I reached out to him that he was doing OK. It was nice to have fluid conversations with him just to tell him I honestly did not mean to do that. The only thing that matters is he’s OK.”

Connolly said he was able to shoot ”a ton of pucks” and work on using his body effectively in the offensive zone during his suspension — which, thanks to the five postponed games since it went into effect, ”seemed like it never was going to end.”

And the Hawks can use him now, not only as a body — his return Saturday against the Golden Knights gave them 12 forwards after they played with only 11 on Thursday — but also as a proven goal-scorer (in previous seasons, anyway).

But there’s no question Connolly feels antsy to find a rhythm.

”I’m looking forward to getting my chance . . . to come in and help get some offense going,” he said. ”Obviously, the goal [is] just to work as hard as I can.”

COVID list status quo

No players have been added to the Hawks’ COVID-19 protocol list in the two days since three guys went on it right before warmups Thursday. That’s good news.

But the Hawks had hoped goalie Kevin Lankinen, who has been on the list since Dec. 31, would be removed from the list and be able to join them during the Las Vegas or Columbus legs of this road trip. That now appears unlikely to happen.

”I don’t think he will,” interim coach Derek King said. ”He hasn’t played; he hasn’t done anything, really. He needs to get some practice time and some shots. So [it’s] pretty doubtful for him showing up in Columbus.”

Lankinen and the three COVID additions Thursday — forwards Brandon Hagel and Sam Lafferty and defenseman Erik Gustafsson — are all back in Chicago, isolating. Arvid Soderblom will remain the Hawks’ second goalie for at least a few more days.

Dach unruffled by Makar

Avalanche star Cale Makar’s highlight-of-the-week goal that beat the Hawks in overtime Tuesday came at the expense of center Kirby Dach, whom Makar blew past.

Dach — normally one of the Hawks’ better defensive forwards — hasn’t let that one embarrassing moment get into his head, however.

”It happens to everybody,” he said. ”[You] turn the page, move on. A good player makes good plays. [There’s] not much else you can do.”

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