By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — There isn’t a goaltender in the Chicago Blackhawks organization who banked on injuries so he could get his chance at the next level.
But with Corey Crawford likely out for the season, that’s how it has played out for four netminders in the system. Two ‘Hogs have been recalled by Chicago this season and two have made their way from the ECHL to the American Hockey League.
A knee injury to J.F. Berube allowed minor-league journeyman Jeff Glass to see NHL action after 12 years. That move sent Matt Tomkins to Rockford for seven games, poising Collin Delia to eventually come into his own as an IceHogs standout.
Delia’s first AHL shutout is now in the books–a 33-save, 3-0 decision March 3 at home against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The showing earned him the league’s Player of the Week honor.
“It’s just another stat,” the undrafted rookie out of Merrimack College said. “You wake up the next morning and it starts all over again. Having that mindset moving forward has really helped my development.”
Like Tomkins, Berube and Glass, Delia has developmental goaltending coach Peter Aubry at his disposal. That helped early on, as he was initially called up as a reserve. Coaches would give him reps in Rockford’s practices and send him down for games. That meant a lot of traveling between Rockford and Indianapolis. But when Crawford went down without a return date, the back-and-forth subsided and Delia was able to settle in.
“We started (the season) with quite a lot of depth,” IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton said. “And sometimes when a goaltender in his first year looks at the depth chart, it can be a little discouraging. So, all they can do is just work hard, focus on their habits and try to prepare every day so that when they get their chance they’re ready.”
Glass played his first NHL game as a 32-year-old rookie Feb. 3. He finished 3-6-3 in 14 games before Berube was recalled.
And even as the Blackhawks will likely miss the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade, Berbue has been coming into his own as an NHL goaltender, sharing duties with Anton Forsberg. Currently 2-3 in seven appearances with Chicago, Berube’s road to the NHL started to mirror how Glass finally landed on a big-club roster. After five years in the minors, he signed with the New York Islanders. He played in 21 NHL games but spent the better part of two seasons on a three-goalie roster and stumped for a demotion.
“I wanted to play,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It didn’t matter where. At the end of the day, I’m a hockey player, and I play. I’m not there to observe from the stands. It’s hard to improve your game from that position.”
Berube signed a two-year deal with Chicago last July when Scott Darling’s departure put Crawford’s backup spot up for grabs. Forsberg got the job out of training camp but has struggled as a starter. He’s 9-14-3 on the season.
The IceHogs are currently in fifth place but are knocking on the door to grab the fourth playoff spot in the AHL Central Division. R.