Avalanche Blackhawks Hockey

Colorado Avalanche's Alex Newhook skates off the ice after being hit on the face by the puck during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

He grinned beneath a black eye, swollen nose and bloody stitches in the postgame Avalanche dressing room.

It turns out getting a puck to your face isn’t so bad.

Not when you're Alex Newhook.

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He forgot about the pain Saturday night with a career-topping performance — three points (two goals) — in a shutout victory over Ottawa. Coach Jared Bednar said it “might have been the best game I’ve ever seen him play.”

But what about his face?

“It feels OK, actually,” said Newhook, who confirmed a broken nose in Thursday’s road loss against Chicago, when a puck deflected off a stick and into his face. “Better than I thought it would."

There’s no questioning his toughness, physical or mental, after an especially challenging first half of the season.

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Newhook entered training camp the presumed No. 2 center, replacing Nazem Kadri, with a vote of confidence from Bednar. But that didn’t pan out. Newhook lacked consistency while teammates J.T. Compher and Evan Rodrigues thrived in the role. Newhook moved up and down the lineup through Colorado’s injury carousel.

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He also took another puck to the face back December in Philadelphia; giving him bloodshot eyes and a swollen cheek. Newhook, after a similar occurrence in Chicago, recalled: “I was shaking my head, like: ‘As if this is going to happen, just as my face is healing from the one before.’”

It made his Saturday night performance even sweeter.

Andrew Cogliano created a neutral zone turnover, battled for the puck along the boards, and squeezed it out to Newhook for a powerful one-timer into the net. Newhook later grabbed a rebound off a Cogliano broken-stick shot and scored again. He added one assist to Mikko Rantanen from a nifty give-and-go rush to the net; granting Newhook’s first career three-point night in the NHL.

“Skating, tenacious hunting down pucks, heavier in the battle,” Bednar said of Newhook. “Just way more involved. Less watching. More skating. I think that was the case for our whole team, but for him tonight, it was noticeable from what he’s been doing recently. Then to see him get rewarded out of that, it’s going to be good. I’ve got to cut up his video and show it to him tomorrow.”

Rantanen added: “(Newhook) was probably one of our best players today.”

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Newhook is still on the mend from his latest puck to the face. He told reporters his mom is worried: “She tried to call me today just to talk to me, to see how my face was, and if you could see my eyes. But I’m doing alright. It’s all good."

Now his focus is getting Colorado back into the playoff picture.

“We’ve been talking about how we need to play. It’s been a lot of talk and not a lot of execution,” Newhook said. “We found that execution. Just knowing that we could get to that, if everyone in our lineup brings their ‘A’ game, we’re going to be a tough team to play against.”

What’s next: The Avalanche (21-17-3) host the Detroit Red Wings (18-16-7), 1 p.m. Monday at Ball Arena.

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