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Blackhawks arrive at Notre Dame eager for season

– The questions started a long time ago, and then resurfaced when the Chicago Blackhawks arrived at Notre Dame on Wednesday for the start of training camp.

Everyone wants to know if the Blackhawks can become the first team to win consecutive Stanley Cups since Detroit in 1997 and 1998. While those repeat questions are certain to come up again, Jonathan Toews and company are focused on the process that leads to championship-level teams.

“Once we start building ourselves up as a team the way we did last year and preparing ourselves for the playoffs, we want to put ourselves come playoff time to be that team that can compete for it again,” the captain said. “But we know with what happened last year, there’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of things that play into that. That’s our goal for now.”

The Blackhawks start working toward that goal when they hold their first practice today at the alma mater of general manager Stan Bowman. It should be a much different atmosphere than the last time they returned after a title.

Chicago beat Philadelphia in six games to win the Stanley Cup in 2010, ending a 49-year drought. What followed was an offseason salary-cap purge that cost the team several key players, including goalie Antti Niemi and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

The Blackhawks lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of the next two seasons, then beat Boston in six games to win it all in June. For this title defense, the team that hits the ice for the first practice will look a lot like the one that defeated the Bruins.

“It’s a much different situation,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We felt last time we lost half our team, the guys lost their buddies and we weren’t quite familiar with the team we had when we began that season.”

Bryan Bickell, who had nine goals and eight assists in the playoffs, re-signed with Chicago during free agency. Same for forward Michal Handzus and Michal Rozsival. Goaltender Corey Crawford, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, Quenneville and Bowman each received a contract extension.

While the returning cast is similar to last year’s squad, team president John McDonough said he wants the players to forget about last season.

“That chapter is closed,” he said. “I’m very, very proud of our organization. But we’re not satisfied with where we are. We’re not close to being satisfied. We need to get a lot better. I know that sounds absurd in the face of two Stanley Cup championships in four years. But this is an organization with lofty expectations.”