I was looking at my son Archie the other day, thinking about the day he was born this past May. He doesn’t know what happened this summer, of course. He just knows he’s sleeping in a new bed now, in a new home, and that Mum and Dad are just as happy as he is. But I was also thinking about how I’d tell him about Chicago one day. He was born there, right at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. And even though he won’t grow up in the city, it’s not a stretch to say that, in a way, his dad did.
Five years might not seem like much to everyone. But to me, to my wife Lyndsey … they were some of the most important, transformative years of our lives. And we have a lot of people to thank for that, we really do. But at the top of the list?
The people of Chicago.
So if you’ll let me, I just want to say thank you to you all.
Because of my size I’ve been overlooked my whole career.- Alex DeBrincat
It’s funny because, growing up, if you could have seen me and my brother’s room … you could have guessed pretty easily who our absolute favorite team was. It was basically a shrine to the Red Wings. We had a red carpet and posters all over the walls. Downstairs in the basement our dad had put up newspaper clippings of the ’97, ’98 and ’02 Cup-winning teams. We’d play endless games of mini sticks until one of us started crying (usually me). And yeah, we didn’t really like the Blackhawks too much.
But all that went away the second I heard my name called in the draft in 2016.
I think back on that week a lot because I was pretty stressed about the predraft rankings and all that. And not going in the first round stung a little bit. I felt like I had good numbers in juniors, and I understood some of the critiques of my game but, I don’t know … I felt like I had a lot to offer. So when the whole league passed on me and then Chicago took me — it was kind of like, O.K., time to prove everybody wrong then.
Because of my size I’ve been overlooked my whole career. It didn’t bother me that much back then, and it doesn’t bother me now. I’ve heard the background noise occasionally, but it just motivates me. There are a lot of people with opinions about my game who don’t matter, and I just don’t listen to them.
The people who do matter — my teammates, my coaches — I think they see me for the player I am, not just my measurements. And so when I came to camp in 2017, I felt like I was in a place to succeed.
But I had a bit of a hard time at that camp. I wasn’t nervous, I just wasn’t me. I remember we were practicing in South Bend, Indiana, on the Notre Dame campus — Kaner actually told me this story a few years ago from his perspective — and basically my game wasn’t in a good spot. I’d been a scorer my whole life, but now that I was trying to make the NHL, I felt like I needed a different dimension in my game. So I wasn’t doing the things that had gotten me to that point. And it got in my head. I basically couldn’t shoot the puck. Couldn’t one-time it. Couldn’t do anything. Some of the guys were noticing and Kaner told me that the coaches had pulled him aside and said, “Man … why don’t you go teach this kid to shoot the puck?”
So after practice, Kaner and I stayed on the ice and just sent one-timers back-and-forth for a bit and he helped me feel comfortable pretty quick. And we basically did that nearly every practice for the next five years. I think he wanted me to just be me.
Even if I went through a little slump here or there, or missed a few good chances, it was always just, Keep going, it’ll come. Nobody in Chicago ever asked me to be someone else. That really meant a lot to me. And I felt that from the fans, too. I always had the sense that they understood me — the person I was, the player I wanted to be.
I think back to the fan conventions we’d have in the summers and seeing the passion up close. I realized then how special a place I was in. Talking to everyone about their favorite Hawks memories, the Cup runs, how excited they’d been when they drafted me … I’ll really cherish those conversations. Those chats motivated me, too. It’s easier to work hard when you know the fans have your back, that they’ll hold up their end of the bargain and make our building hard to play in.
I felt like I had a really strong connection with the city.
It’s not the first time a team hasn’t seen me the way I see me.- Alex DeBrincat
And that made this past summer pretty tough. I know I’m not that young of a player any more — I’ve been around for a bit. And I know hockey is a business. But I guess I didn’t really know until I got a call from the GM and he said the organization was moving in a different direction and I wasn’t going to be part of it. And I understood. I did. But one minute Lyndsey and I are planning out our lives in Chicago with Archie, and then the next we’re folding boxes and trying to move to a different country.
That’s just the reality. I’m not asking for sympathy or anything. It’s just an emotional thing. I was ready to be a Blackhawk for a long time and be part of turning the ship around. I felt like I could have offered a lot in the future, but they didn’t see it like that and that’s all right. It’s not the first time a team hasn’t seen me the way I see me.
I really am thankful for everything the Blackhawks have given me. And the guys in the room taught me so much. When you’re around players like Toews and Kaner and the great winners we had, you see the work ethic — the extra mile they go — and you just get it. You understand why they’ve won everything that they have. There’s hard work, and then there’s what those guys do. And I’m going to do my best to bring that with me to Ottawa.
You know, when I heard where I was going … I honestly felt like there weren’t many places that were a better fit for me. I look at the roster, the young talent, the skill and speed they play with — that’s where I feel like I thrive. And since I’ve been here, I’ve felt the vibe of the city and the team. I know Sens fans have a bit of a chip on their shoulder. I know they’ve been overlooked a lot for other Canadian teams, especially the other team in our province. I think even this year people aren’t respecting the talent we have. I’ve played with that same chip my whole life. I get it. And I love proving people wrong.
So that’s what we’re going to do.
Camp has been good, the room is good, we’re good. I can’t wait for the season to start.
I know we don’t go to Chicago until March but I’m really looking forward to that game. The city and the people in it will always — always — hold a special place in my family’s heart.
Thank you Hawks fans, for everything.