When the Chicago Blackhawks stunned the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final with two goals in 17 seconds to win their second Stanley Cup in four years, those goals were not scored by superstars.
Hard-edged Bryan Bickell stationed himself in front of the net and took a sweet pass from Jonathan Toews to score the tying goal with 1:16 left in the third period. Dave Bolland scored the winner 17 seconds later when he collected a Johnny Oduya shot off the post and slammed it into the net.
The Blackhawks have an array of superstars who are often in the headlines. But they also have role players who are capable of making game-changing plays.
That played out again Jan. 19 in the Blackhawks' 3-2 shootout victory over the Bruins. With the Blackhawks trailing 2-1 in the second period, Brandon Bollig fired a bad-angle shot on Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. The shot crawled over Rask's leg pad and banked into the net in an instant as the Blackhawks tied the score.
Bollig may be the most unappreciated player on the Blackhawks. Going into the 2013-14 season, Bollig had played 43 regular-season games for the Blackhawks in the 2011-12 and 2013 seasons. He had not scored a goal or an assist in any of those games.
Bollig managed one postseason goal in 2012 in a series the Blackhawks lost to the Phoenix Coyotes, but he had been unable to contribute to the Chicago offensive thrust other than that lone goal.
The 6'3", 226-pound Bollig was on the roster for one reason. He was big, strong, burly and tough in the corners. Oh, yes, Bollig could also handle himself with his fists.
He had eight fights in 2011-12, according to hockeyfights.com, five fights in last year's lockout-shortened season and has had three fights thus far this year.
However, there has been a big change in Bollig's game this season. Change as in improvement. Instead of just playing the role of the hard-hitting enforcer, Bollig has increased his skill level. He has scored five goals and five assists in 51 games and has become a better skater, and that has helped him contribute more on the offensive end.
In the past, Bollig's job was primarily to stand up for teammates like Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa who were not likely to get into scraps and stand up for themselves in that way. Now he has much more to offer for the Blackhawks.
He is a physical player and a hard hitter. Bollig has been credited with 114 hits, which is third on the team behind Andrew Shaw (118) and Brent Seabrook (115). However, Bollig really is the team's designated hitter. He is playing about 10 minutes per game while Shaw plays more than 15 minutes per game and Seabrook plays better than 21 minutes per game.
Bollig goes out onto the ice to help establish the Blackhawks' physical presence, but the improvement on the offensive end makes him a multidimensional player.
|Brandon Bollig, Chicago Blackhawks|
While many of the Blackhawks' players were celebrating last year's Stanley Cup title in the offseason, Bollig was working on his game. While Bollig was participating in the Blackhawks' offseason weight-lifting and conditioning program, he was also working on his skating and skill development.
Bollig told Dan McNeil and Matt Spiegel about his offseason practice during his appearance on their WSCR-AM program. Bollig understood that if he wanted to play a bigger role with the team, he had to become more skilled because the Blackhawks were not interested in one-dimensional players. If he wanted to increase his minutes, he had to get better (starting at 2:00 mark).
Bollig knew he was an improved player during training camp and has gotten to play more this year than he has in the past. His average time on the ice has gone up 20 percent from last year.
The burly left winger is not an All-Star. He is a hard-nosed, tough-minded player who can separate opponents from the puck and take control of it. He's not afraid to get into a fight when he needs to drop the gloves.
But he has developed his game and has some offensive skills. The more he improves, the more ice time he will get.
He knows what the Blackhawks wanted from him and is showing the requisite improvement to play a role on this highly skilled team for the foreseeable future.