Blackhawks forward Matthew Highmore has agreed to give Second City Hockey readers an inside look into hub city life in Edmonton. The 24-year-old is playing in his first NHL postseason and will share his stories from inside the bubble. He scored his first two postseason points in a 4-3 win in Game 3 against the Oilers for Chicago to take a 2-1 series lead. The Blackhawks look to advance to the playoffs with a win in Game 4 at 5:45 p.m. Central time Friday.
SCH: You’ve played four games now, so what’s it been like to play in front of no fans?
MH: Honestly, once the game starts it’s very normal. The game hasn’t changed except for there’s no background noise and you recognize there’s no fans there when there’s a stoppage. But other than that, you know, during the anthem [Wednesday] night I definitely knew there was nobody there. It’s been a bit of an adjustment, but the game is definitely the same.
SCH: So you brought up the anthems there. Is it weird to have both anthems played and there’s no noise there from fans?
MH: It’s definitely not what we’re accustomed to especially at the United Center. It’s just kind of the new normal that we’re going to have to get use to for the next little while.
SCH: How have your practice days in between games differed from your normal situation?
MH: Practice days have been pretty normal. We have our time slot and we have a gym that we can use so everything like that is pretty much the same. You try to keep it as regiment as possible, but it is a little bit different. Obviously, kind of the whole situation is different. You’re walking around and seeing people that you’re playing against, but for the most part things are as business as usual.
SCH: On a normal gameday you probably go through practice then get to go home and unwind for a little bit, but up there you’re with your teammates pretty much all the time. What have you been doing between morning skates and puck drop?
MH: I think guys have gotten into a routine. They’re the same or a little bit different than when we’re playing at home in Chicago. It’s the same for all teams. We eat together, some guys like to take naps, watch a show on Netflix. That stuff is all the same. Guys are just walking to the rink instead of driving.
SCH: You brought up food there. What’s the food situation like for you guys?
MH: We have team meals that we can go eat at. Definitely on gamedays it’s the preferred choice. Now as of a couple of days ago we’re allowed to go to a couple restaurants in the bubble. Some guys have been using that as a way to just get out of their hotel rooms for dinner. I haven’t been out, but apparently the food is great.
SCH: With you guys spending so much time together, have you been able to watch games during the day at Rogers Place with teammates?
MH: Yeah, on an off day or practice day, guys have been just hanging out whether it be watching a period or playing a little ping-pong. It’s been kind of a mixture of stuff. I know I’ve been over and watched a couple games with some guys. I’ve probably watched, I’m going to say, maybe six periods throughout the last five or six days. I just kind of sit there and analyze hockey with the boys and that’s a lot of fun.
SCH: Does doing that at all help you on the ice in the game by seeing the game from a different perspective?
MH: No matter if you’re watching it on TV or you’re watching a game in person, you can always take something from it or find something in somebody’s game or another team game that’ll help you along. I think it’s just taking little things watching the best players play. You can always take something from their game and continue to evolve yourself.
SCH: Are you friends with or know anyone that’s playing that’s in the Toronto bubble? And have you guys compared notes on the bubbles?
MH: I do know a couple people, but I haven’t talked to them at all really regarding the bubble. It’s been just kind of business as usual here just focused on ourselves and the task at hand.
SCH: Alright, well Wednesday night you guys were the home team and you guys dressed in the Oilers’ room. How weird was that for you?
MH: Yeah, that was definitely different. Looking up at the Oilers emblem on their ceiling was certainly weird and something that we’re not use to, but we had to make it as home-y as possible and I’m just glad we could get the win.
SCH: As far as the game itself, it was a big night for you with two points. With your first point being in a pretty typical fashion of your game overall, did that make it mean more to you that it brought together your game?
MH: For myself, I just want to create energy and ultimately help the team win whether it be getting in on the forecheck, block shots, take a hit to make a play. Just do all those little things that add up over 60 minutes to help our team. It was a great pass by [Patrick Kane] and ultimately [Olli Maatta] put that thing in the back of the net and it was great showing for all of us.
SCH: What about that first goal for you? It’d had to feel good that the goal it meant something more in the game to get things tied and keep the momentum going for you guys.
MH: It was a big goal in the game. Our line [Ryan Carpenter, David Kampf and Highmore] did a great job of getting in on the forecheck. Kampfy had great pressure on the puck, Carpy was in the right spot to take the turnover and keep that in the zone. Olli and [Slater Koekkoek] can’t say enough about those guys. They’ve been getting a lot of pucks through and that time was no different. I was just trying to get a stick on it and it went in the back of the net.
SCH: Did you keep the puck from the goal?
MH: No, no, I didn’t keep the puck. Kind of business as usual but certainly a big goal and I was happy I could contribute that way and help the team win.
SCH: You guys have Game 4 on Friday [5:45 p.m.], what is the mood among the team and what are your feelings going into a game where you can win the series?
MH: I think we’re all excited and certainly coming off a high from [Wednesday] night. Today is the day to reset, refocus. We know that Edmonton is going to come with their best game on Friday and we look forward to that challenge. It should be a lot of fun.