There must be something in the water (ice?) at the United Center.

As the Blackhawks race toward the Olympic break—including a monthlong stretch with no games in Chicago—it's clear they have a successful formula. Entering Tuesday, the defending Stanley Cup champs (30-8-10, 70 points) lead the Central Division and again find themselves among the NHL's elite. That can't be coincidence, right?

"Every championship team, every winning team has one thing in common: All the players like each other and get along on and off the ice," said Patrick Sharp, a 2014 Olympian and two-time Cup champion. "Our team being together now, for I think this is the third season, with the exception of a handful of players, really helps our team chemistry. We all are friends, our wives and our girlfriends are friends. It seems like one big family."

RedEye asked three players to break down why the Hawks seem to have the chemistry all figured out.

THE VETERAN JOKESTER: PATRICK SHARP

Patrick Sharp, 32 and in his ninth year on the team, has a reputation in the locker room for pulling pranks. It seems well-deserved.

Is getting laughs important for team chemistry?

"I think so. It's a long season. Things can get old in a hurry. I think it's important to get loose and have fun. Maybe that's one of my unofficial titles to keep guys loose in the locker room, but we have a lot of funny guys in here that pull pranks and keep guys on their toes.

"I've actually toned things down quite a bit. In my earlier years, I was doing anything and everything to get under guys' skin and to get guys laughing. But now that I have all this attention of being a prankster, I can't do anything. Whenever something happens in the locker room, whether I did it or not, I'm taking heat for it."

There is a rumor going around that you moved someone's bed on a road trip.

"That was Pat Foley, our [TV] announcer. I got into his room, kind of rearranged his hotel room and moved things all over the place."

 

THE NEW OLD GUY: KRIS VERSTEEG

If the Blackhawks need an impromptu rap, they know Kris Versteeg's their guy. After the forward helped the team win the Cup in 2010, the Hawks traded him to Toronto. Now Versteeg's back, after they re-acquired him in a deal with Florida.

"This team does a good job of helping guys come in comfortably, first off, before on the ice," the 27-year-old said. "I think when you're off ice [and] you feel comfortable and welcomed, it really helps the transition on the ice happen a lot quicker. So I felt the chemistry was there, it was more so, for myself, the nerves.

"They just made me feel welcome as a human being I guess more than anything. You come in, you know guys obviously right away, but here, guys go out of their way to make you feel a little more comfortable."

Does going out to dinner with the guys increase that comfort level?

"Maybe a little bit of that too, but I already knew guys before so going out to dinner wasn't really a big thing. It's everything at the rink really. Every time we come to the rink, guys are talking to you and making you feel a little bit more at home every day, which helps a lot."

Did you get stuck with any bills at dinner coming back?

"No, no. I generally make [Jonathan] Toews pay for my bills. He enjoys paying for my dinners."

Do the guys on the team have the same roles as the first time around?

"The guys have all gotten a little bit older, so there's a little more maturity there I guess. Everyone's still themselves and you don't expect anyone to change, and hope they don't."

 

THE ROOKIE: ANTTI RAANTA

When starting goaltender Corey Crawford went down with an injury earlier this season, the Hawks needed someone to stabilize the last line of defense. They turned to Antti Raanta, who's responded with a 12-1-3 record since being recalled from the Rockford Icehogs.

"It's pretty nice to come to a team that's been winning and everybody has a good feeling all the time," the 24-year-old Finn said. "The first couple of days, it's always a bit hard to be a new guy. I think it was only the first day where I was feeling a little bit weird. After that it's almost like being at home again.

"There's so many good guys who are easy to just go and start talking [with]. That's the biggest thing and how you get to know the guys.

"That's the thing in North America. Everybody's always asking, 'How are you doing?' 'How is it going?' It always makes you feel comfortable, makes you feel like a part of the team."

Scott King is a RedEye special contributor.

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