CHICAGO – By the look of his newly assigned dressing room stall at the United Center Friday morning, Ryan Hartman hadn’t had much time to move in.
With the exception of a pair of tennis shoes, a weathered Blackhawks cap a couple pint-sized bottles of Vitamin Water and liquid protein and three rolls of stick tape, the 20-year-old West Dundee native’s space remained mostly uninhabited.
Hartman – the Chicago Blackhawks first-round draft pick in 2013 – hadn’t yet fully digested that he was here after being called up Thursday afternoon. A quick trip from Rockford to a Chicago hotel later, Hartman began preparing himself for his NHL debut Friday night against the New Jersey Devils.
By Friday morning, Hartman, who has scored eight goals and registered 10 assists in 47 games in his first full professional season with the Rockford IceHogs, was still a bit stunned that the phone call from Hawks General Manager Stan Bowman had actually taken place.
“I thought I was in trouble,” said Hartman, who first talked to Rockford GM Mark Bernard mid-afternoon Thursday.
After speaking with Bowman, Hartman scrambled to assemble his gear, but not until after he placed a call to his parents, who still live in West Dundee. Like Hartman was when Bowman called, Kim and Craig Hartman believed their son was kidding about being promoted to the NHL franchise that the star forward had grown up watching.
Craig Hartman was speechless in a conversation Ryan Hartman characterized as being surreal. But after skating with the Hawks on Friday morning, likely taking the spot of Ben Smith in Chicago’s line-up, Hartman realizes his time has come.
“It’s just another hockey game – you have to kind of look at it that way,” Hartman said. “Obviously, it’s a little more than just another hockey game, but that’s the way you have to look at it.
“It’s near-impossible to look at it that way, but that’s what you’ve got to do to take away the nerves.”
Hartman’s media indoctrination took place a few locker stalls away from Hawks star Patrick Kane. At 26, Kane – the NHL’s point leader – remembers what it’s like to get the phone call Hartman received Thursday night. While the Hawks have plenty of veteran skill and leadership, Kane knows that Hartman – who was brought up along with journeyman defenseman Kyle Cumiskey – has what it takes to fit in right away.
“He’s a guy that can do it all,” Kane said. “He’s a physical forward, he can pretty much play on any line and he’s got a lot of skill. He’s a first-round pick for a reason.
“I’m sure he’s excited about finally getting a chance up here and playing for the Hawks.”
Kane is willing to offer Hartman any advice he can if he asks for it. But he also realizes that younger players like Hartman are looking to make a name for themselves.
So Kane will stay out of the rookie’s way, allowing Hartman to soak every bit of his new reality.
“If anything,” Kane said. “You tell them to do what they do best.”
That’s what Hawks coach Joel Quenneville is looking for as well. Given the freshness of the situation, Quenneville will keep his instruction to a minimum.
Play your game. Play the right away. Be smart.
“He’s got some good playmaking ability, and he’s good in tight areas and around the net,” Quenneville said. “(We want him to) bring that energy to our team.
“But it’s got to feel real good. I think everybody dreams about playing in the NHL, and I think the fact you get to play in your own hometown with the team you grew up watching and dreaming about playing on United Center ice … has to be a lot of fun.”
Hartman said he will do his best to keep all of those feelings at bay Friday night, focusing instead on the job he has been called up to do. But even for a moment, he will allow himself to soak in the environment – one he grew up with in the stands as a kid.
Yet, in his attempt to consider his NHL debut as just another game, Hartman – who played as a 10-year-old with the Crystal Lake Leafs – can appreciate what his first Blackhawks ice time means at this stage of his hockey career.
So as much as he wants to clump Friday night’s game against the Devils with all the others he has played, Hartman admits it won’t be easy.
“I’m just trying to take it all in,” he said. “You only get one first game.”