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Amid turnover, turmoil, Blackhawks' six-player core remains a constant

How Blackhawks core has stayed successful, even as change envelops team, their lives.

When the Blackhawks are done with a game at the United Center, they hang up the skates, shower and get changed. You would think their time in a combative and frenetic confined space would be over. That's just a part of the battle.

After the game, the Hawks must go into the family room, which isn't all that different from the chaos that consumes the rink.

"There's like a war zone when you go in there after the game," defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "There's toys everywhere."

To see how much has changed since 2009-10, when the Hawks won the first of three Stanley Cup titles in six seasons, all you need to do is look at that room.

"When I came here from Detroit (in 2009), I came to the dressing room and there was just girlfriends," winger Marian Hossa said. "It was such a young family room. I don't think I ever experienced it. In six years, it's all of a sudden kids running around everywhere."

For the Hawks' so-called core players whose names are engraved on the Cup for all three titles — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Hossa and Hjalmarsson — a lot has changed since that first Cup run. Personal lives have changed, locker-room dynamics have changed, players have come and gone, including one member of the core in Patrick Sharp.

But a lot is still the same. That same competitiveness is present, as is the ability to deal with adversity on and off the ice — and, in the case of the enigmatic Kane, trouble away from the ice, this time legal issues that could affect his playing status for the season.

As the Hawks prepare to defend their title and fight for a fourth Stanley Cup title in seven seasons, they want to rely on what got them the first three titles, even as change envelops the team.

"It's that competitive nature that we all have inside of us," Keith said. "We're all here to do a job, and that's to win. We've played hockey our whole life and we all love it. That competitive nature takes over when you're here.

"There's no better feeling than winning the Stanley Cup once you've won one. You want to keep doing it again and again."

And each time they do it, there are more people — specifically little people — in the Hawks family to share in the celebration.

For some members of the core, all of whom are signed until at least 2019, fatherhood has affected the way they approach life on and off the ice since 2010. Hossa, Keith, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson have become fathers since the first Cup victory.

For Hjalmarsson, who has a son, and Hossa, who has two daughters, fatherhood has helped them cope with the rigors of the season. When they need to unwind after a rough game or a long trip, they come home and hockey fades from their minds — at least for a little while.

"It's almost like therapy," said Hossa, who played in all 82 games last season for the first time since 2006-07. "Hockey's not the only thing in the world. ... I still give 100 percent to hockey, but when something doesn't go right or you have a bad game, you come home and two little kids jump on you and you forget."

Seabrook, who has a son and a daughter, said fatherhood hasn't changed him much.

"I feel like I'm the same guy, to be honest," said Seabrook, recently named an alternate captain after Sharp was traded to the Stars. "I was always excited to have kids. Off the ice the only thing that's changed is there's not as many nights at the bar or restaurants, movie nights with my wife or anything like that."

Fatherhood has made an impact on the ice as well for some of the Hawks. Keith and Seabrook said they get a boost from seeing their children before each game. Typically, they can spot them along the boards during warm-ups.

"There's some added motivation to try to get a Stanley Cup to plop him in the Cup again," Keith said. "That's one of the fun things about it."

It's natural to assume there might not be as much motivation after such a period of sustained success. But that's not the case, according to Toews, who said the Hawks treasure the chance to play hockey in Chicago.

"These are the best years for us," Toews said. "We have to enjoy them while they last. You don't get to play this game forever, so when you look at the big picture, you appreciate every opportunity you have."

Hidden behind Toews' calm demeanor lies an insatiable urge to compete. Just ask winger Bryan Bickell, who said Toews will take almost anything to a hyper-competitive level.

"Toews has that competitive edge," Bickell said. "(Even) rock-paper-scissors, he wants to win it."

It's that competitive edge that helps the Hawks stay focused on hockey, even when off-ice issues might be drawing away their attention. Such is the case with Kane, who finds himself in legal trouble stemming from alleged off-ice behavior.

Despite claims he had matured after previous incidents, Kane is facing a sexual-assault allegation stemming from an incident at his home in western New York following a night he spent at a bar. While Kane hasn't been charged and has said he is innocent, if he is charged, he would likely receive an immediate and indefinite suspension from the NHL pending the outcome of the case.

From an on-ice perspective, that puts the Hawks' chances of winning a fourth Stanley Cup title in jeopardy. The possibility also exists that the Hawks, who sources said have grown tired of Kane's behavior, could trade Kane, who has an eight-year extension kicking in this season, if the investigation resolves in Kane's favor.

Kane's teammates have pledged their support for him.

"He came to training camp and everybody was happy and anxious to see him," Hossa said.

While the six-player core is intact for now, it won't be forever, whether change comes now or later.

But one of the Hawks' enduring qualities throughout this run has been their ability to stay focused on hockey.

"You can see how this team is run by the captains and the coaching staff," said winger Ryan Garbutt, who came to the Hawks in the Sharp trade. "They seem to handle everything that's thrown at them, and all that really matters is what happens on the ice."

That's the way it has been the last several years for the Hawks' core. Even if change is inevitable, that has stayed the same.

Just look at the names on the Stanley Cup for proof.

chine@tribpub.com

Twitter @ChristopherHine

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