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Sopel's poise big part of Hawks' early success
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Defenseman Brent Sopel has been a solid contributor during his brief time with the Hawks.


Associated Press

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Published: 10/17/2007 12:12 AM

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With 3 wins in their first five games, the Blackhawks are off to a promising start. And it hasn't been all Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Robert Lang.

Hawks goalies Nikolai Khabibulin and Patrick Lalime have a combined .934 save percentage, and the defense, a question mark before the season, has impressed at both ends of the ice.

The Hawks' 1.76 team goals-against average was second best in the NHL going into Tuesday's games.

A leader has emerged on defense who wasn't even with the team at the start of training camp, but free agent Brent Sopel is looking like a find by general manager Dale Tallon.

"He's been a big difference," Hawks coach Denis Savard said. "He goes to war. He does a lot of good things, like blocking shots and helping our young guys to be calm. He's got so much poise."

Sopel, a seven-year veteran, was a free agent without a team most of the summer. He was coming off a decent season with Los Angeles and Vancouver, only 30 years old but making $2.4 million, which most clubs felt was a bit pricey.

Sopel was invited to training camp with the Detroit Red Wings on a tryout basis and might have made the club as a seventh defenseman. But the Wings offered a one-year deal for only $500,000.

"They made us an offer and said it was their last offer and that I had 24 hours to go out there and see if there's anything else I wanted to take, and that they would understand," said Sopel, who got a one-year, $1.5 million contract from the Hawks.

"Chicago came in the mix very quickly. There were a few other teams, but at the end of the day it was about ice time. Detroit is pretty deep, and I probably wasn't going to get the 20-25 minutes that I'm going to get here."

Tallon searched for a veteran defenseman most of the summer but waited for the right guy to come along. The Hawks felt Sopel was the guy for them after assistant GM Rick Dudley watched him play several exhibition games with the Red Wings.

"We were going into camp seeing how the kids would do, and we felt that after the first couple weeks we needed somebody to settle things down," Tallon said. "We had been watching a lot of Detroit games and we liked his composure. That was the main thing. He was really composed with the puck."

Tallon and Savard see Sopel as a good influence on young defensemen Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and James Wisniewski.

"I like what he brings, and the other guys are starting to play more like him," Tallon said. "Seabrook is more composed. Just the composure he brings, and the experience … he's really good with the young guys."

Sopel had three very good seasons with Vancouver from 2001-04 when he averaged 34 points and was a combined plus-17.

"I'm only 30, but in this business it seems that I am old," Sopel said. "But I'm enjoying this role. They come to me asking questions and I go to them and try to help them out.

"I've played a lot of games in the league and I don't know it all, but I just come here every day and try to help out."