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Collin Delia is focused on mental approach with IceHogs, AHL playoff push

The goaltender talks about his biggest takeaway from his NHL stint and learning from veterans.

Brad Repplinger/Second City Hockey

Collin Delia’s workload Tuesday night with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL was drastically different from what he had experienced while up with the Blackhawks.

He only saw one shot in the first period. And by the end, he had seen just 16 shots overall in a 1-0 road loss to the Chicago Wolves at Allstate Arena in his first game back with the IceHogs since mid-December. In 15 appearances with the Blackhawks this season, he faced at least 30 shots in all but two outings.

“He just looked like he was fighting it a little bit, but then he settled in and was back to where he was which was pretty steady and solid, square to the puck and seeing things, swallowing pucks up,” IceHogs interim head coach Derek King said. “I thought he did a great job.”

Delia agreed that he had to adjust to the AHL level and the speed of the game compared to his last two months in the NHL.

“In the NHL, decisions are made faster and it’s a little bit cleaner (game),” Delia said. “(In the AHL), it unfolds a little bit slower, and you can make the play. There isn’t any huge or drastic difference other than just the speed of the game and decision-making. Up there, it’s probably in the back of your net within like 2 or 3 seconds. Here, it’d be like 4 or 5 seconds.”

Delia’s time in the NHL couldn’t have started off much better boasting three straight wins by saving at least 32 shots. Then, he put up a career-high 50-save outing in an overtime loss to the Islanders on Jan. 3 on Long Island. He continued to keep the Blackhawks in games, and re-signed with them on a three-year contract extension worth $3 million earlier this month. After starting off so well, Delia eventually hit a rough patch and allowed 13 goals in his last three games before being re-assigned to the AHL as Corey Crawford was activated from injured reserve two months after a concussion.

‘‘(Delia’s) had some ups and downs, but he’s had a lot more ups than downs,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said Monday at MB Ice Arena. “The thing we like about Collin is he’s a competitive guy, and he’s shown the ability to grow his game even in the short time he’s been a pro. . . . The future’s bright for him, so we’re excited he’s part of it.’’

Delia said his time working with Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite helped reinforce what he was learning in the AHL with IceHogs goaltending coach Pete Aubry. The 24-year-old Delia is focused on his mental approach and remaining true to what helped him get to the NHL.

“You’ve got to be sharp at all times. You’ve got to be in every day the moment you step out on the ice,” Delia said. “Physically you maybe tired, but mentally you’ve got to figure out a way to dial it in. That’s the biggest takeaway (from being in the NHL).

“The consistency in which I prepare for the game, you know, whether it’s in the American League level or the NHL level, it’s the same through and through and not reinventing the wheel,” Delia said. “It’s what’s allowed me to make the jump there and come back pretty seamless.

Delia also relied on Cam Ward and Crawford for advice while he was up with the Blackhawks.

“You look at those guys with three Stanley Cups between the two of them, so it’s pretty amazing to be sitting between them or next to them. You kind of just shut up and listen to what they’re saying and be a sponge to soak up everything you can, ask them questions,” Delia said. “I’m sure they’re probably annoyed sometimes with the amount of questions I asked, but I want to learn.

“I want to get better, and I think they see that. They’ve been in the same situation as mine as well so they kinda can relate. They’ve been nothing but great mentors and really good friends, too.”

Delia will get his opportunities to develop, but so will Anton Forsberg and Kevin Lankinen as King plans to carry all three goaltenders. Forsberg and Lankinen shared the starting duties when Delia was up in the NHL, and guided Rockford to a 13-12-3 mark during that span that’s brought them into a Calder Cup playoff spot in fourth place in the Central Division.

“I have full confidence with whoever is in net whether it’s Lankinen, Forsberg or Delia,” King said. “At some time that’ll be a rotation. They understand the situation and they’re pros and they’re going to have to deal with it.

“Games are spaced pretty good right now, so we can carry three and just help each other out and get on the ice extra and get some more practice time in and more one-on-one with Pete.”

Delia isn’t worried about his playing time as his mindset is more so on a deep playoff run.

“We were so close last year, you know, with the playoffs and the championship,” Delia said of the IceHogs’ run to the Western Conference Final a year ago. “It’s pretty bitter. It leaves an empty feeling in your stomach. We want to get back there.

“We want to do that same thing, but do it all the way.”