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Blackhawks' Ethan Del Mastro ‘caught off guard' by NHL call-up: ‘You dream of this moment'

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With the Chicago Blackhawks entering the final week of the 2023-24 season and the AHL's Rockford IceHogs gearing up for the Calder Cup Playoffs, Ethan Del Mastro figured his chances at a potential NHL call-up were slim at this point.

"I wasn't really thinking about it too much," Del Mastro said. "I think we were kind of focusing on Rockford, trying to get up a spot for playoffs, so I wasn't really too focused on that. I knew they had a small amount of games left so it was more-so just focusing on Rockford."

But on Wednesday night, Del Mastro got the call that he's being brought up by the Blackhawks. It typically happens when you least expect it.

"It kind of caught me off guard, but it's pretty awesome," Del Mastro said. "You always dream of this moment, so it's obviously a huge step in your career. Obviously I'm just super excited."

Del Mastro, 21, has been terrific in his first professional season with the IceHogs, racking up 37 points (seven goals, 30 assists) in 66 games. His 37 points rank fourth on the team and his 30 assists are tied for 10th among all AHL defensemen.

Del Mastro, who's listed at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, was named to the AHL All-Star Game earlier in the season, and deservedly so. The Blackhawks are looking forward to seeing what their fourth-round pick in 2021 can do at the highest level.

"Just a solid year down there and give him a bit of a cookie as an appreciation for the work that he did," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "Give him a chance to see and evaluate where he is at this level and when he’s playing at his best hockey. He seemed excited to be here today and we’re excited to see what he can do."

The Blackhawks drafted Del Mastro because of his size and defensive prowess, but he's really rounded out his offensive game and has become a dependable two-way blue liner. He's been playing in all situations in Rockford, both on the power play and penalty kill.

"I'd say a two-way defenseman," Del Mastro responded when asked to describe his game. "Someone that likes to shut guys down, shut their top end guys down and play hard defensively and then transition pucks and jump up into the rush and make plays."

Del Mastro reunites in the NHL with Connor Bedard and Kevin Korchinski, both of whom he won a gold medal with for Team Canada in the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship. Blackhawks prospect Colton Dach was part of that team as well.

"Obviously nice seeing them," Del Mastro said. "They've been up here the whole time, you keep track of how they're doing and whatnot but it's nice to actually see them face to face."

The hope is Del Mastro will make his NHL debut on Friday vs. Nashville at the United Center, but if not, for sure on Sunday vs. Carolina, which would be the Blackhawks' home finale. His parents and brother are expected to be in attendance for it.

"That should be pretty special," Del Mastro said. "They've done everything for me and have been there every step of the way supporting me, so it's going to be pretty awesome to see them."

As for his nerves going into the weekend, Del Mastro said he didn't have many. Well, except for one part.

"I'm more-so nervous for the rookie lap more than anything," Del Mastro said. "Usually they post it so you don't want to be looking dumb in that one. Once you're in the game, you're just playing."

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