Drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Chicago Blackhawks prospect Blake Hillman didn’t have to wait to don the Indian-head sweater to make an impact at the United Center, as he helped the University of Denver to a national championship victory on Saturday night.
The Pioneers, who came into the tournament as the number one overall seed in the country, romped through the tournament and finished things off with an impressive 3-2 victory over the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the Frozen Four finale in Chicago.
Hillman registered a blocked shot and one shot on goal in the game, but his biggest contribution came when he picked up an assist on Jarid Lukosevicius’ second period goal that opened the scoring for the Denver squad.
“It’s just so exciting. We knew coming into this year that we were going to be a powerhouse,” he said. They’re the greatest group of guys that I know, and this team is the best group I’ve ever played with. I’m so happy that we got to raise a national championship trophy.”
The significance of achieving that championship at the United Center, where he hopes to one day play games as a member of the Blackhawks, was not lost on Hillman, but he made sure to save his reflection time on the accomplishment and its significance until after the game.
“It was so nice to be able to do that,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but after the game I went to center ice, and I just kind of looked around at the banners and took it all in because you never know if you’re going to make it back here.”
The Blackhawks’ defensive depth is relatively strong, with players like Ville Pokka, Gustav Forsling, and Erik Gustafsson all waiting their turn in the minors to make an impact on the team’s blue line, but Hillman could potentially come in the wave after that. Just a sophomore, Hillman has already been part of a national championship team, and he’ll be hoping to move up the depth chart on the blue line next season as Matt VanVoorhis and Will Butcher will both graduate this summer.
With the path to the NHL slightly cluttered at the moment, Hillman is focused on returning to school next fall to begin his junior year, but he’s also looking forward to getting together with his fellow Blackhawks prospects when the team convenes for their annual prospect camp this summer.
When asked about what he wanted to work on specifically, Hillman said that he wanted to gain strength, as he currently stands at 6-foot-1 and weighs 188 pounds, and he wants to continue on the development path that the organization has laid out for him.
“I’m just going to keep getting stronger and doing what the Blackhawks tell me to do,” he said. “I’m looking forward to prospect camp this summer and looking forward to going back to Denver to have a good strong junior year.”
For now though, Hillman and his teammates are focused on celebrating their successful season. Less than two years after the Blackhawks got to hoist a Stanley Cup at the United Center for the first time since moving into the building in 1994, Hillman got to lift up the NCAA championship trophy, and he not only got to experience that championship feeling on Chicago ice, but got to experience it for the very first time at any level in his hockey career.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “I’ve never won a championship in hockey, and to do it in this rink and in this city has been a whirlwind. It’s awesome to do it here.”