Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
The Chicago Blackhawks return to game action on Wednesday after their 10-day break, and perhaps nobody needed the reset more than Lukas Reichel.
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It's been a difficult first half of the season for Chicago's 2020 first-round pick, who has only nine points (three goals, six assists) in 47 games. He's been a healthy scratch three times, too.
Needless to say, Reichel is looking to put the first half behind him and start with a clean slate as the second half begins.
"It wasn't the first half that I was expecting," Reichel said. "But I knew I’ve got to play better, and I learned a lot from it mentally, what it takes to play every game consistently. It takes time, but I'm still young, so you’ve got to keep learning and just learn from it and play better."
Just about every Blackhawk went to a warm location for the break. Reichel decided to stay in Chicago, where he unplugged with his parents, who flew in from Germany.
"It felt good to go away from hockey a little bit," Reichel said. "My parents came so I spent some time with them. It was fun."
Reichel tried to take his mind off the game as much as possible. But hockey runs in his family, and he had some heartfelt conversations with his father Martin, who's a former player that got into coaching after his playing career ended.
"In the break, you just try to get away from it a little bit," Reichel said. "But we talked a little bit about the season and there are always ups and downs. He said, ‘It's normal.’ So as long as I work hard, I should be good.
"I feel like I'm always hard on myself. Like after a game, I call him and I'm, like, mad and like, ‘I played like s--t!’ And he always tries to motivate me and say, like, ‘Yeah, next game.’ And he's not like, ‘You gotta do this or that.’ It's more like he hypes me up and pumps me up for the next game."
In his final game before the bye week, Reichel turned in one of his best performances of the season. He was skating with confidence and created multiple chances. He wants to build off that, and so do the Blackhawks.
"I talked to him this morning, I said that’s his best game I’ve seen in a long time," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said after practice on Monday. "He really looked to take charge and break free when there were openings and I think he could’ve done it even more in that game. But I think that’ll come with some confidence.
"I think he felt good about his game or better about his game. Everybody's disappointed we lost but when you look at it individually, that’s the type of game he has to play and grow off of. He can’t be just satisfied playing like that. I think it’s just a good starting point for him to kind of restart."
Reichel acknowledged he felt more like himself that game, too.
"I was just skating," he said. "I wasn't waiting for the puck. I was skating back and trying to get it. And hopefully I can play the same way after the break."
In the long term, Reichel hopes going through this kind of adversity will benefit him, even if it's difficult to see at the moment.
"I feel like maybe in a couple of years, if I’m down again I remember that [time] and then you know what you have to do," Reichel said. "And that definitely helps."
A refreshed Reichel, both mentally and physically, has a bad taste in his mouth from the first half. He can get rid of that taste with a strong start to the second half, which begins on Wednesday against Minnesota.
"We talked about, you go away from hockey and then you build from it and you go with a different motivation," Reichel said. "And hopefully that helped me. We'll see."