Vinnie Hinostroza refuses to sulk. Refuses to hang his head. Refuses to doubt his abilities.
And absolutely believes that he belongs in the NHL.
But by the end of Chicago Blackhawks training camp, Hinostroza was ensnared in an ugly numbers game that happens to dozens of players across the league every season.
That meant Hinostroza was ticketed for Rockford — the Hawks’ AHL affiliate — where he has played the first quarter of the season. And while plenty of on-the-bubble players let their games slip when they’re demoted, Hinostroza has done nothing but excel for the IceHogs.
“It just made me hungrier,” Hinostroza said after Rockford lost 4-3 to the Chicago Wolves on Saturday at the Allstate Arena. “Nothing good is going to come out of coming down here and pouting. If I believe that I should be in the NHL, I should be playing pretty well at this level.
“So that’s all I’ve been trying to do.”
Unfortunately for Hinostroza, the roster math started working against him late last season when the Hawks traded for Tomas Jurco and they signed John Hayden to a two-year deal. The addition of those two forwards squeezed out Hinostroza, who played in 46 of the first 57 games, then was sent to Rockford for most of the rest of the season.
Summer brought new hopes and new dreams.
Hinostroza trained with Patrick Kane, Ryan Hartman, the Chicago Wolves’ Brandon Pirri and others, fine-tuning his skills and working on the little things that could help him crack the Hawks’ roster.
Hinostroza truly relished skating with Kane, and he talked about it early in camp.
“Being able to skate with him and learn from him every day — not only on the ice but in the gym — has been really special,” Hinostroza said. “It’s nice to get closer with him this summer because last year coming into the season … I didn’t really know the guys too well.
“Coming into this year I think that helps, knowing all these guys. They’re friends now, not just teammates.”
Despite a strong preseason, Hinostroza was behind the 8-ball from the start because of free-agent signings Patrick Sharp, Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma. With those three near roster locks, Hayden continuing to show improvement and Tanner Kero needing to clear waivers if the Hawks were going to send him to Rockford, Hinostroza was the odd man out.
“I felt like I played well enough to make the team and that’s all you can do,” Hinostroza said. “But not everything goes your way.”
No, it doesn’t.
So Hinostroza is doing everything he can to make sure he’s the first player called up if injuries strike the Hawks. He’s tied for eighth in the AHL with 8 goals. He also has 10 assists and is creating plenty of scoring chances with linemates Tomas Jurco and David Kampf.
“He’s been good the whole time. He’s been working hard,” said Rockford coach Jeremy Colliton, in his first season with the IceHogs. “But the last 2-3 weeks, he’s really raised his game.
Hinostroza, a sixth-round pick in 2012 who will be a restricted free agent after the season, is just 23 and has plenty of time to make a name for himself. Count Colliton among those who believe the Bartlett native will return to the NHL one day — whether that’s in Chicago or elsewhere.
“I mean he’s an NHL player,” Colliton said. “When you’re in this position, you never know when that opportunity’s going to come. …
“So what you can decide is how you play every day, how you compete every day so that your game is in the best possible place to make an impact when you get a chance.
“That’s what he’s got to do, and that’s what he’s been doing.”