During a call-up to the Chicago Blackhawks in February, Lukas Reichel admitted struggling with acclimating to American culture in general and its cuisine in particular — copping to a bit of Chicago sacrilege when he said he disliked deep-dish pizza.
So has six months changed anything for Reichel?
“No. I like it Italian-style, thin,” he told the Tribune on Wednesday after the first of five days of prospect camp at Fifth Third Arena.
Reichel is not hurting for food or trying to slam the local fare — he really digs a lot of Chicago’s sushi restaurants — it just reflects a change in diet, which also meant sacrificing some of the Bavarian favorites his mom and grandmother cook.
He didn’t relish telling them, “So we have to change a little bit the food and the cooking,” he said.
Now it’s mostly salmon, chicken, steak, pasta and vegetables.
“They always say you’ve got to eat your veggies,” Reichel, 20, said.
But the change in menu had the desired effect: It helped the forward bulk up. When the Hawks drafted him in 2020, Reichel was listed at 6 feet, 170 pounds. Reichel said he weighed 185 entering camp.
“I feel better, stronger, like, strong on my skates. I feel like maybe I can win more battles, hit some people,” he said with a big grin.
He’ll get a chance to bang bodies — to the extent the team will let him — when Hawks prospects face off against Minnesota Wild prospects Friday and Sunday as part of the annual Tom Kurvers Showcase.
But for the first couple of days, it’s about drills — and the chance to see what “veterans” such as Reichel and Michal Teplý look like sharing the ice with recent draft picks such as defenseman Kevin Korchinski and forwards Paul Ludwinski and Samuel Savoie.
Savoie, 18, a third-round pick, also bulked up this offseason. He increased his calories and tips the scales at 197 pounds — a big jump from 184 at development camp in July.
But rookie camp is as much about the mental side as physicality, Savoie said.
“When I’m in my nerves and I’m intimidated, I think that’s when you start playing, not really good and stress and not patient,” he said. “So I’m trying to be confident to get my patience and my poise better.”
Six-foot-4 forward Ethan del Mastro had no qualms about checking skaters during development camp and was at it again Wednesday.
“I like to play a physical game,” del Mastro, 19, said. “It’s something I always grew up playing, something I bring to the table.”
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He stood out for his physical play during the World Junior Championship in August, when del Mastro’s Canadian team defeated Finland in the gold medal game.
He’s happy for the extra work.
“It was better than the COVID season when you’re just practicing, not able to do any of that physically,” he said.
He knows defense is his bread and butter, so during camp, he’s focused on “just making sure I’m shutting people down and making that first pass.”
Defenseman Jakub Galvas drew praise from coaches for the strides he made during six games with the Hawks and 59 with the Rockford IceHogs last season, but he’s not worried about where he’s playing this season.
Camp’s just about continuing to build on his skills.
“My only goal is to work hard every day, keep doing good stuff, what they want for me,” Galvas, 23, said. “I’m going to be prepared and show them it was a good choice to pick me.”