Sept. 22, 2015
When the Chicago Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2010, celebrating the end of a 49-year championship drought, Vinnie Hinostroza was watching from home on the couch as a high school sophomore.
“Seeing that celebration . . . it made me hungry,” Hinostroza said. “It made me want to be there one day.”
In 2013, when the Blackhawks captured the National Hockey League’s iconic championship trophy again, Hinostroza was on the University of Notre Dame campus as a hockey player for the Fighting Irish, a step closer to his NHL dream.
“I was here at summer school,” Hinostroza said. “I was watching the final game in the dorm with some of the guys. I had been drafted by the Blackhawks at that time. It was cool seeing them win, because it was always my goal to play for the Blackhawks.”
In 2015, Hinostroza was back home in Bartlett, Illinois, again watching the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup with his family, again another step closer to his NHL dream after signing a contract with Chicago.
“It was different than the past two Stanley Cups won by the Blackhawks, because while I wasn’t part of the team, I was part of the organization,” said Hinostroza, who signed with the Blackhawks after playing the 2014-2015 season for Notre Dame.
“So you look at it, not as a fan but as a player in the organization. It was definitely cool seeing that. You feel you’re that much closer, and you want so bad to get there.”
When the Blackhawks raise the Stanley Cup above their heads in celebration again, Hinostroza wants to be on the ice and he wants his hands to be on the trophy.
“I can only dream of that,” Hinostroza said.
Hinostroza played for two seasons at Notre Dame. He signed a three-year entry-level deal with Chicago following the 2014-2015 season. A center, Hinostroza led the Fighting Irish with 44 points (11 goals and 33 assists) last season. He peppered the opposition with 116 shots on goal in 2014-2015.
Hinostroza returned to Notre Dame this past weekend battling to make the Blackhawks’ roster during the Stanley Cup champions’ training camp at Notre Dame’s cutting-edge Compton Family Ice Arena.
During the training camp, Hinostroza said his experience in coach Jeff Jackson’s Notre Dame hockey program was exceptional preparation for the transition to the NHL.
Carving out a reputation as a speedster in earning first-team all-Hockey East honors, Hinostroza said Notre Dame’s resources allowed him to emerge NHL-ready.
“I think Notre Dame really helped me strength-wise, and that may be the biggest thing,” Hinostroza said. “I probably put on 15 to 20 pounds over those two years. I think that’s really helped my body mature and get ready to be a pro athlete.
“The strength and conditioning program at Notre Dame was really important for me. This is the strongest I’ve ever felt on the ice. The time I spent with (Notre Dame director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports Tony Rolinski) was so important.”
Notre Dame’s understanding of the balance of cardio and strength training, which takes place in the University’s state-of-the-art facilities, enabled Hinostroza to maintain his blazing speed while allowing him to build up strength for the physical nature of the NHL.
“I wanted to increase my strength and keep my speed, and I was able to do that at Notre Dame,” Hinostroza said. “It was really great for me to get ready for the pros.”
Hinostroza said the Irish coaching and the players he faced in practice prepared him for the NHL.
“All of the players at Notre Dame are great,” Hinostroza said. “I feel that all of them can be pro players, too. Working against those players in practice, working with them has really prepared me to take the next step. The coaching staff does a great job of getting players ready to play not only at Notre Dame, but at the next level.
“I was here for the first two years in Hockey East, and that was good, too. I think we did well those first two years, and I think we’ll just keep getting better. They are faster teams. They move the puck faster. I think Notre Dame is a program on the rise, and it’s going to be great to see them win a national championship in the next couple of years.”
Hinostroza enjoyed a strong camp, bringing Irish and Blackhawks fans to their feet with flashy play and assists.
“Since it’s my first training camp, I really didn’t know what to expect,” Hinostroza said. “I’m just trying to go out there and work my hardest, and it’s been good so far.
“It was definitely special hearing my name out here on this rink again. That was a good moment for me.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Hinostroza has caught the eyes of the Blackhawks’ staff.
“I thought (Hinostroza) had good speed out there,” Quenneville said. “The finish wasn’t quite there, but he was certainly very noticeable in the middle. He had a couple of spots where he hit holes with his quickness and his speed. You really notice Vinnie with his speed.”
Hinostroza said adjusting to the speed of the NHL game is a challenge.
“The biggest difference from the college game is the amount of time it takes for players to make plays,” Hinostroza said. “People are making plays so fast. When you get the puck, you already have to know where you’re going with it. You don’t have a lot of time. It’s definitely give-and-go hockey. You don’t get as many scoring chances, so you want to be better in the defensive zone and neutral zone, so you can create more chances.
“Obviously, I want to skate as fast as I can, with and without the puck, and try to not get out of position. I’ve been working on that a lot. I believe I can contribute my speed to this organization. I want to contribute as much energy as I can. There are a lot of amazing players on this team. I’m not looking to be one of the top scorers. I’m looking to create energy for those guys and work hard.”
For Hinostroza, a shot at an NHL career with the Blackhawks is a special opportunity.
“I’ve been a Blackhawks fan my whole life, born and raised in Chicago,” Hinostroza said. “I started skating at age three or four.
“My dream was not only to play in the NHL, but to play for the Blackhawks. Getting a taste of this is really cool. Hopefully, I can make it up to the big team.”
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent