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How Jeremy Colliton has evolved as Blackhawks' head coach

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The Blackhawks gave Jeremy Colliton a vote of confidence on Tuesday by signing the 35-year-old head coach to a two-year contract extension, which will run through the 2022-23 season.

And his journey at the NHL level hasn't exactly been a walk around the park, to say the least.

First, Colliton was tasked with filling the shoes of a Chicago legend and future Hall of Famer in Joel Quenneville, who oversaw three Stanley Cup runs during his 10-plus-year tenure with the Blackhawks.

Then, Colliton had to implement a new system on the fly and get everybody on the same page with no training camp to set the foundation, which forced many Blackhawks to break old habits midseason. He also didn't fill out his hand-picked coaching staff until the summer, which added another wrinkle to the equation.

Now, Colliton is preparing for a 56-game compressed schedule and has yet to coach a full 82-game season going into Year 3 as the Blackhawks' head coach after the COVID-19 pandemic cut the 2019-20 and 2020-21 regular seasons short.

"It's not how you would've drawn it up," a smiling Colliton said on the Blackhawks Talk Podcast. "Jumping in midseason, the uncertainty, all the interesting times that we're living in; not how you would've expected it to transpire. Having said that, that's the business. Expect the unexpected. That's part of what challenges you to grow and forces you to get better."

Colliton has grown in many ways since taking the Blackhawks job on Nov. 6, 2018, and he's constantly trying to evolve. The NHL pause allowed him to finally take a step back and reflect as a coach and where the Blackhawks are at as a team. 

"It was really good," Colliton said. "It was a really important time — and everyone had more time to themselves and with their family and you think about things. I believe that the first year and a half with the team, we were able to lay a groundwork so that when we came back from the pause, we didn't have to implement a whole bunch of new things.

"We had already put a lot of things in, and so they were ready for it. They were ready for how we wanted to approach the playoffs, the things that we felt were important and that was a big step forward for our group."

President and GM Stan Bowman said the biggest thing he's noticed from Colliton's growth as a coach is his comfortability level from the day he was hired to now.

"When he first came onto the scene, this was new to him," Bowman said. "A lot of buildings he hadn’t been to before, he had never coached against these other coaches. You can try to simulate that in your mind, what it would be like to go up against another team and you watch that coach on television, you see how he runs his bench.

"But until you actually get on the bench and you're coaching against them and you see how they use their personnel, that's something that he’s gotten more reps there and he’s more comfortable with that. And as a result, he’s able to do things better than maybe in the first year."

The principles Colliton believes in and teaches have remained the same.

"I would say his knowledge of the league, just through his experience; he’s lived it, he's been around the league a couple of times over, so now he knows what to expect," Bowman said. "It sounds like it’s a small point — that how much would that really matter — but I think it’s actually an important thing. Now his comfort level is higher and it’s certainly going to help moving forward."

Colliton said his growth as a coach is "an ongoing process." The adversity he's faced in his early NHL coaching career has forced him to evolve under challenging circumstances.

"Ultimately, even since Day 1, I've always approached the challenge looking ahead," Colliton said. "How can we be a winning team? How can we be a Stanley Cup winner again? And what does that look like? Now that I have an extension, it doesn't change my approach. I was approaching it the same from the first minute that I got here.

"Every new situation that you go through, you gain confidence and belief in what you're trying to do and you adjust it, as well, as you go; you try new things. And I think that's been really good about my relationship with Stan and how we work together, that I feel his confidence to try new things. And he has new ideas, too, that he wants to try to implement and they may work or they may not, but that's how you get better.

"Probably the biggest thing for me is just the confidence, belief, experience of being at this level and going through a couple seasons. It just allows you to be more comfortable running the team and doing what you have to do."

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