Friday, June 7, 2013

Yes, it's Bryan Bickell of the Blackhawks

By Larry Wigge

He's 6-4 and weighs in at 233 pounds. Yet, Bryan Bickell was turning shades of an embarrassing red.

Bill Bickell, Bryan's dad, told a columnist that he started in Orono, Ontario, figure  skating at five ... and he has a picture of you in a tutu somewhere.

Can you confirm that that picture exists?
"Yes, yes," explained Bickell. "I did start figure skating. It was more can  skating,  we call it. I think my parents, they wanted to teach me how to skate first, then learn hockey ..."

Still, gathering himself, after that embarrassing moment. Bickell continued, "But, yeah, there's a picture floating around somewhere. My dad says it's on the wall.
It's not on the wall. He's making that up. It was all in good fun. You know, it is what it is."

You can poke fun at a hulking-looking man, when things are going well -- and for Bickell things could not be going any better. He's already netted eight goals and three assists in 16 playoffs games for the Chicago Blackhawks, who are just one win away from going the Stanley Cup finals. That's one less goal than in 48 regular-season games.

Bickell scored a goal on a rising slap shot against Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick in Game 4, a long shot which kind of caught Quick off guard to open the scoring. 

His single season-high was 17 goals and 20 assists in 2010-11.

"I think he's one of those guys that you really appreciate all year long," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. "He's one of those guys that maybe flies under the radar.
"He's got all the assets that could make him a top forward power-wise. He can hit, skate, shoot. He sees plays and is big at the net. He's physical. All the ingredients you want put together. Probably this playoff round, he's put all the pieces together."

Against the Kings, Bickell's totaled three goals and two assists. He's had a point in each of the four games.

When did Quenneville first realize that Bryan Bickell could be this good? He might surprise you ...

"Five years ago when he was first called up," the coach said. "We played him with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that year. There's ability there. You like his size, his speed. He can shoot and be physical.

"He's got all the elements that you look for in a power forward."

Well, that's five years sooner than most of the hockey world had Bickell into the Chicago scene.

The 27-year-old power forward had just been drafted in the second round, 41st overall, of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. It's taken time for Bickell to develop -- that big body and all.

Although, he had been a part of the Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup team -- he didn't get his name on the Cup, having played in only four games in the playoffs that year. And what did he learn? What was it he needed to absorb?

"You know, it kind of feels like we have it now," he said. "Last series, to be down 3-1, to Detroit and to come back the way we did, shows character. Just the will, what it takes to finish series off, games, late opportunities in periods. It's important.

"I think the confidence level, it goes a long way."

Bickell continued, "To experience what they went through in 2010 was unbelievable, just to be there, to see what it takes to win the ultimate goal."

Bickell not only is scoring, but he is setting them up. He's showing not merely a nice sense of timing, but a head for the game, decent hands and a bellicose nature that ought to make him one of the center pieces of the unrestricted free agent market this summer who is making $600,000.

Vancouver, Edmonton Montreal ... among Canadian teams alone, the lineup for a big power forward who can play alongside skilled players should be long, if he doesn't re-sign in Chicago.

It happened in 2010, when the Hawks lost a boatload of talent -- Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Adam Burish and Anti Niemi.

"I think we've got some plans in place, we got an idea where we're going to go with things," GM Stan Bowman said. "You don't have all the information yet. You can't have just one plan. You have a few different things that you're working on. We're all prepared. We understand what we want to do."

"Bicks has been good, game in, game out," Quenneville said. "You notice him."

Said Chicago captain Toews, "He's a big body and he knows where to go. He creates space. We kind of have the physical element with him running around and hitting guys.

"He thinks the game, he makes smart plays, he keeps things simple when he has to. He's got the confidence as a player to make some moves, make some nice passes. But more and more he's understanding, especially in these playoffs, there's some situations where less is more.

"And his work ethic is there every single night. You're seeing with the ability he has, the physical presence that he has, a lot of ways that he's noticeable as a player out there."

It's the player former-GM Dale Tallon, now the GM of the Florida Panthers, envisioned back in June 2004.

"Obviously his size and his shot, that's what jumped out right away," Tallon said. "We felt if he could put it all together he'd be a heck of a player one day. It's taken a bit of time for him to develop, but you have to be patient with players like that. I'm not surprised at all at the way he's playing now."

His father, Bill 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."

Bryan Bickell knows all that. He knows the numbers -- like only 900 NHL players. He's happy he one of them.

"You know I'm a big guy. I like to bang and have some fun on the boards and get the fans into it, which gets me into the game, too," he said. 

"You don't just run around hitting everything in sight. If the hit's there, the hit's there. But to bring my level or any big guy's level up, the body is a big part. Especially at this time of the season, wear on the D, get a hit on any forward, it slows them down."

That's what a premier power forward can do for you. 

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