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How Blackhawks manage the chaos of broken sticks

"It's almost like a semi-power play," Blackhawks' Marcus Kruger said.

On the Blackhawks bench, equipment manager Troy Parchman has the extra sticks lined up in a precise order.

First are the centers sticks, then Parchman has the sticks lined up in numerical order going away from him.

Each stick has its own distinctive knob, which Parchman can recognize quickly. One might have smooth black tape, another might have rougher white gauze tape, one might have a big round hunk of tape while another might have almost none.

It's at once an intuitive and scientific process that allows Parchman to grab a stick at a moment's notice, a skill that can be essential to the action on the ice. Parchman can't waste time fiddling around looking for the right one. He has to get it in his hands and onto the ice as quickly as possible.

"You see it or you hear it," Parchman said of the sticks breaking on the ice. "That's why you have to pay attention. … There's no real system" to getting the sticks on the ice.

But there are some procedures.

Parchman, or "Parchie" as the Hawks call him, is an important part of the chain reaction that ensues on and off the ice when a player breaks his stick, which happens at least a few times per game. Sometimes those sequences last only a few moments, sometimes they can extend for an entire shift, but teams must react quickly to broken sticks at the risk of giving the other team an advantage.

"It's almost like a semi-power play," Hawks center Marcus Kruger said. "If you can do that, it's hard to defend without a stick. And you can't really wrestle with a guy or you're going to get a penalty."

Take a look at what happened in Game 1 of the Hawks series against the Predators.

Down 3-0 in the second period, the Hawks were looking for a spark on offense. During four-on-four play, Predators defenseman James Neal broke his stick. Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson recognized that and darted toward the net from the point knowing there was little Neal could do to defend him. The other three Predators on the ice failed to account for the streaking Hjalmarsson, who took a feed from Teuvo Teravainen in front of the net and scored to ignite the Hawks' comeback in a 4-3 double-overtime victory.

"That was a perfect play," Kruger said.

Said Hjalmarsson: "It's common sense. If you see someone without a stick you just have to try to take advantage of it."

If someone on the Hawks breaks a stick, the player will yell out to his teammates on the ice. Then everyone on the ice will yell the player's number. If players on the bench see it, they will yell the player's number. Parchman is watching, too, but he can't see all angles on the ice, or sometimes, he admitted, he isn't paying attention or he's on the lookout for equipment malfunctions other than broken sticks.

"Sometimes our mind wanders, but usually you're watching," Parchman said. "We don't necessarily follow the puck. Sometimes you have to watch behind the play. In Minnesota, there was an example where (Jonathan) Toews broke his stick along the boards in the far corner. So the players would yell or the coach beside me will yell the number."

On the bench Parchman, then looks for the distinctive knob of the player's stick. He keeps the centers' sticks closer to him since they're more likely to break sticks because of all the faceoffs they handle.

"Some guys have crazy knobs and other guys just wrap a little bit of tape around the top," Parchman said. "Everyone is different because they're personal trademark is their knob. There's no knob that's any better or anything. It has to do with how big their hands are and the feel."

Parchman said the team budgets for about six dozen sticks per player per season, give or take a few depending on the player. For instance, Toews likes to use a new stick every game, whereas winger Andrew Shaw hates re-taping new sticks and will use his as long as possible.

Hawks players said it seems as if sticks are breaking more often, and Parchman said the Hawks break at least two to three sticks per games. Part of that is because of the graphite sticks, which replaced wooden sticks. Parchman said it was easier to tell when a wooden stick was cracked and about to break. It's not as easy to tell with graphite.

"The graphite sticks, you can't tap them and know they're going to break," Parchman said. "The old wood sticks, you could tap them and you knew there was a crack somewhere. You'd get rid of it. But these sticks are so unpredictable when they're going to break."

When that does happen and it's a defenseman who breaks or loses a stick and the Hawks are in their zone, a forward will give up his stick and try to get back to the bench for a new one or to change. If the Hawks are in the offensive zone, the player will skate to the bench for a new stick.

"If it's a defenseman or a center, you either switch with a center and make him go high, but if it's a D-man, you want to give a D-man a stick. D is kind of useless without a stick."

That can result in a little confusion for Parchman, who might have to adjust which stick he is getting if players are swapping on the ice.

But if a player can't get back to the bench, he is left to try and defend without one. That can feel awkward.

"It sucks," winger Andrew Desjardins said. "Your stick is your biggest tool to defend. You just have to stay compact, stay tight and try to stay in shooting lanes.

Said Kruger: "I don't want to say it's panic mode, but if the puck is in your end, get it out and you can change. It's just surviving that shift. Get it out. Do whatever it takes to get it out — kick it, maybe use your body."

On offense, however, teams look to attack, just like Hjalmarsson did against the Predators. Often, attacking a player whose stick has broken means getting the puck in his area.

"All five guys, they become tighter together because they have a guy without a stick," Desjardins said. "They have to back each other up a little bit more."

For the Hawks, Parchman has their back in trying to react as quickly as possible so they aren't at a disadvantage and the broken sticks don't cause the Hawks to reach a breaking point.

"It doesn't always work out perfectly," Parchman said. "But sometimes it does."

All he can do is be ready and get his sticks in a row.

chine@tribpub.com

Twitter @ChristopherHine

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