Michal Handzus’ career seemed near its end when the Kings let him depart as a free agent after the 2010-11 season and he signed with San Jose.
But the Slovakian center is still going strong at age 37 and has become the second-line center for the Blackhawks during their march to the Western Conference finals, which will resume Wednesday at the United Center after a two-day break.
When the Blackhawks acquired Handzus from the Sharks in April 2013 for a fourth-round draft pick, Coach Joel Quenneville projected Handzus would be a faceoff specialist and role player. But Handzus played well enough to move up to a more prominent role, and he was the second-line center on Chicago’s Stanley Cup championship team last season.
This season, he has bounced around a bit but he centered Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad on the Blackhawks’ second line in their 3-1 victory over the Kings in Game 1. Handzus — long ago nicknamed “Zus”--won 12 of 20 faceoffs and played a team-high 2 minutes and 18 seconds while the Blackhawks were shorthanded.
Handzus signed with the Kings as a free agent in 2007 and became popular with Kings fans during his four seasons in Los Angeles because they appreciated his strong work ethic. He has fond memories of his time in L.A.
“It was fun. It was a lot of fun. The first year wasn’t as much, it was a tough year, but I thought we were getting better, and my last year we made the playoffs and it was starting to kind of turn around,” Handzus said Wednesday after the Blackhawks' morning skate at the United Center.
“When you lose in the first round you’re not happy about that but I had a lot of fun with those guys. I remember they were very good in the locker room and a very good group of guys and it shows now, that they have success because of it, because they’re very tight in the locker room and that goes a long way in the playoffs.”
He also said he saw the Kings’ organization progress toward its Stanley Cup title in 2012 and a strong run that has carried the team to its third straight West finals. The Kings’ drafting and development of players like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown were turning points.
“When I got there they said they were going to rebuild, and they were going to get through the draft, and they had very good pieces,” he said. “It was a matter of time when they get together and get more experience and started playing well. It happened, and it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Knowing the Kings as well as he does, Handzus said he expects a stronger performance from them in Game 2 — and a stronger performance from the Blackhawks.
“We always talk about it through the playoffs and through the series, to get better each game. Obviously we want to get better than the first game and keep going, and they want to do it, too,” he said. “I thought we played good at times but at times we were inconsistent. And they have a great team, and when they start pushing we have to push back right away. So it’s going to be a huge game for both sides and we want to get better each game.”