Thanks to Bryan Bickell, there is a chance that the Stanley Cup will come to Orono.
Bickell, an Orono native, is doing what nearly every Canadian kid dreams about: playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He’s played for the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League quite a lot over the past four years, but the last few games he’s played have been like a dream come true. The last four games he’s played for Chicago have been during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Speaking by phone Monday evening from San Jose, Bickell said he has always dreamed of getting a chance to be in the playoffs. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be here, with this great team, in the playoffs. It’s a great learning experience for me. Whatever happens now, I can bring the experience with me through the rest of my career.”
Standing six-foot-four, and weighing 223-pounds, Bickell is a left-shooting forward, who just turned 24-years old this past March.
Bickell played in three of the Blackhawks’ games against the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs, earning one point for an assist in game four of that series. Then in the second series, he played one game against the Vancouver Canucks. The Blackhawks — third overall in the NHL standings going into the playoffs — now face the second-place San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals.
“Hopefully, I’ll get back in the line-up,” he said. “It’s looking good for our team, which is the important thing.” At press time, Chicago was leading the series 1-0, with game two slated for yesterday evening.
Bickell said he is unsure of when he’ll get his next chance to play. “With the roll we’ve got going on right now, I don’t think anything will change in the line-up, but if there are any injuries or anything, I’m ready to go.”
A second-round draft pick (41st overall) for Chicago in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Bickell had previously made his mark playing for the Ottawa 67’s and the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. He scored his first NHL goal in April 2007, in his NHL debut.
Since 2007, Bickell has spent most of his time playing for Chicago’s top farm team, the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. This season he totalled 16 goals and 15 assists in 65 games with Rockford, while being recalled to Chicago nearly a dozen times. He played 16 regular-season games for the Blackhawks, finishing with three goals and one assist.
“It’s always exciting to be called to Chicago,” he said, acknowledging there was a lot of back-and-forth between the two teams. “It was a rollercoaster this year, but I made the most of it. And now I’ve made it here and in the playoffs, which is quite fun.”
Upping the excitement level for Bickell, he was put on the first line with Chicago’s top-scorers, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. “That was kind of funny,” noted Bickell. “I was just kind of thrown into the fire in the top line. It was a great opportunity for me to show the NHL and to show my team that I can play at that level, which was quite cool.”
He admitted he has had his share of nerves going into the playoffs. “I usually take a pre-game nap, but not for the playoffs, I can’t sleep. And the first shift of the first period gives me goose bumps. Then I settle in, but every game it seems like it comes back.”
The noise of the fans during the playoffs has also added to the excitement. “The fans in Chicago have been outstanding this year,” he said. “I think it’s one of the loudest buildings to play in, in front of home fans. It’s pretty amazing.”
Bickell said he thinks his team has a good chance of beating San Jose, and going on to play the winner of the Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing us play Montreal, in an original six series,” he said, when asked if he preferred Chicago to face Montreal or Philadelphia. “I’ve never played in Montreal. I heard their fans are crazy. And also for my parents travelling to see the game, it would be closer for them.”
His father, Bill Bickell of Orono, said he and his wife Ann are proud that Bryan has earned the chance to play.
“To get where Bryan is now, is pretty astronomical — when you realize there are only around 900 players in the NHL — and especially to be with Chicago at this particular time. But you have to wait your turn. To crack the line-up in a team like Chicago, you have to be quite a player.”
Bill Bickell is also excited his son has had a chance to enjoy his off-ice time with his team mates while they’re in San Jose.
“They went to Alcatraz Prison, and Bryan thought that was just fantastic,” he said. “And in San Francisco, they rented some scooters; it was a whole team thing. They bonded really well.”
“Being where he is, it’s a thrill,” he said of his son. “It’s a thrill for any kid, anywhere in the world, but especially from a little town called Orono.”
Bryan Bickell said he had some advice for the kids in Orono dreaming about the NHL, “Never give up. And practice makes perfect, but nothing is ever perfect, so practice, practice, practice. And have fun, because if you’re not having fun, you’ll lose interest when you’re older.”
The Orono native is having no shortage of fun himself.
“It’s been really good travelling around to cities I’ve never been to before,” he noted. “And it’s great to have a chance to go for what I’ve always wanted to do.”
And if Chicago should happen to win the Stanley Cup, Bickell promised he’ll bring it to Orono for everyone to enjoy.