Blackhawks Magazine: The Life of Bryan
The following feature appeared in the October 2013 issue of Blackhawks Magazine. Pick up the newest issue of the magazine at the next Blackhawks home game, or by calling the Blackhawks Store at (800) GO-HAWKS.
As the Blackhawks surged to their 2013 Stanley Cup championship, Bryan Bickell solidified his position as a core player on a deep roster. A rugged forward, Bickell gathered 17 points in 23 playoff games, including the tying goal late in a memorable Game 6 of the Final at Boston. He has become a fan favorite and a physical presence on the ice, but as you’ll learn during this interview with Team Historian Bob Verdi, Bickell is an easygoing guy.
You’ve got a Stanley Cup ring and a new four-year contract. So we’re guessing that your father, Bill, is glad you couldn’t hit a curveball, after all.
Probably. He did a radio show in Chicago and mentioned that I was a pretty good baseball player as a kid, but I couldn’t hit a curve. That story got around a little bit.
Were you serious about baseball?
Growing up in Orono, about 45 minutes east of Toronto, it was always hockey, hockey, hockey. But baseball was my second sport. I pitched, played center field and could hit with some power. A scout for the Yankees looked at me when I was 16. But when I went to junior hockey with the Ottawa 67’s, that was pretty much it for baseball.
And now you’re the king of Cat World.
Yeah, that’s our big tourist attraction in Orono. Jungle Cat World, with all sorts of animals. Small zoo, small town. Population: about 800. No traffic lights.
When you brought the Stanley Cup back home to Orono in August, the zoo was pretty quiet for a day, wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was awesome. It was a Tuesday, so people took off from work and showed up to see the Cup. There’s also a sign now as you come into town. ‘Home of Bryan Bickell, 2013 Stanley Cup Champion.’ Really appreciate it. We took the Cup to our community center and to Lakeridge Hospital in Oshawa. For those people who have been struggling and fighting through things, to put a smile on their face for the next half-hour, or for the day, or for the week, to do that is special for us. I was around the Blackhawks in 2010, but this time is different. Now I get my name on the Cup.
As a 2004 draft choice who paid your dues, you had to appreciate last season as much as anybody.
I certainly wasn’t an overnight success, was I? I spent three-plus years in the minors, through good times and bad times. Being in the American Hockey League was a privilege, because it’s a good league. But you dream of the NHL. You think you’re playing well, and somebody else gets called up. Or you’re in Chicago, but a healthy scratch. And you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’ But you stick with it because you love it, because it’s your living, and you hope it works out.
When the 2013 season started belatedly, you were ready from the first whistle of training camp, correct?
Well, it was a big year for me. I was going to be an unrestricted free agent. During the lockout, I played in the Austrian League with a team based in the Czech Republic. Good experience. I wanted to keep getting better and be in shape for the season, if there was a season. We wound up having an amazing one.
Your summer was sort of amazing too, wasn’t it?
Yep. Got married to Amanda, who I met way back when I was playing in Ottawa. That came a week after the Convention in Chicago, which was unbelievable. It’s cool to be around so many people who love hockey and the Blackhawks. I don’t think of myself as famous, but if someone wants a picture or an autograph, great. If it weren’t for the fans, we wouldn’t be where we are now.
Did you ever contemplate leaving Chicago?
I sure didn’t want to. We gave the Blackhawks a number we thought was fair, we negotiated after the season, and it happened. Where could you go that would be better than this? Great city, great fans, great organization. Could I have made more money elsewhere? Maybe. But I’m not here to milk the last drop out of a cow. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Maple Leaf. Not now. Blackhawks forever, I hope.
You were injured during the playoffs, to such an extent that Head Coach Joel Quenneville said he didn’t know whether you could even play in the Final. What happened?
I was in front of the net late in Game 5 of the Los Angeles series. Second overtime. Somebody must have fallen on my right leg. I don’t really remember, except I knew something was wrong. Not much pain, but very loose. Turns out I had torn my MCL, on the inside of the knee. They gave me one of Marian Hossa’s old braces. It took awhile to get used to it, and I was hobbling around for a while. I’d push off on the leg, and there wasn’t much traction. During Game 3 against Boston, I started to feel a little better.
Like coach did for Game 5 against Detroit. Playing with those two guys, you know you will have some scoring chances because they’re so good. My job is to open up a little more ice for them. Against the Bruins, whenever No. 19 was on, so was (Zdeno) Chara. He’s a great player, but he doesn’t like being hit… Nobody does. I think, after trying to stay away from him, we decided to just play our game, challenge him. He’s big and strong, but he got beat up a little in that series. We all did.
Yeah, we did well. Stally has great speed, and Shaw, he’s a beauty. Talk about a guy who paid his dues. A couple years ago, he was thinking about packing it in for a 9-to-5 job. He got passed over twice in the draft. Then he came up to Chicago in the middle of the season and ran with it. Good for him. The city took him in, that’s for sure. Here’s a kid who’s half the size of guys like Chara, and he’s standing in front of the net. Got to admire that.
Which brings up another issue. Experts often claim the Blackhawks aren’t tough enough.
We definitely hear it. But we never get run out of the building. If a game gets chippy, we stick together. Also, we have speed. If you can’t catch us, you can’t hit us. And games where we get outhit, it’s because we have the puck so much. Deep and mobile defense, rolling four lines. You have to be tough to take a hit too. And blocking shots, that’s a form of toughness, isn’t it? Look at all the shots our guys block. Shaw took one off his face in the clinching game at Boston. He wasn’t such a beauty then.
You two are friendly and chatty, even on the bus before a game.
Yeah, I like to be relaxed and have fun. I think I play better when I’m that way. And Andrew, the guys in the locker room feed off him. He’s got lots of energy.
OK, if you and Shaw are laughing it up in the room, does that interfere with Captain Serious?
Tazer? Nah. Actually, he’s really calm during games. Otherwise, he’s mellowing, aging like a fine wine. He’s a great captain, but every once in a while he might take something the wrong way and get mad. You can just see it by looking at his face that he didn’t like a joke or whatever.
And then, of course, you back off?
Oh, no. Absolutely not. Then we just beat him up and pile on harder until he loosens up and realizes he shouldn’t be worrying about whatever is bothering him. No. No sympathy for him.
You suffered another injury after the season and famously remarked that it, along with your impending marriage, was getting in the way of your fishing.
Well, of course, I was excited about getting married. Plenty of time to fish. But I did need surgery on my left hand right after the season. I got slashed during the playoffs, developed a cyst, and then I picked up an equipment bag and my tendon popped. I had to wear a splint and a cast on my left hand, which is the hand I reel with. I cast with my right hand when I’m fishing and reel with my left. You don’t realize how much you use your thumb when you’re fishing until you can’t really use it.
Now that you’ve become rich, you probably bought a yacht.
Not quite. I have a good-sized boat for sport fishing, mostly bass. We took the Cup out on the water when it came to Orono. Put a red life jacket on the Cup just to make sure it was safe, and off we went. But if I got a big yacht in my small town, I would never hear the end of it, not that I would even think of doing that. Not my style. I appreciate being able to sign a nice contract, but I’m pretty conservative with my money. I’ll be smart. Nothing crazy.
Back to your father, Bill. He became a TV star during the playoffs, didn’t he?
I guess so. When I scored to make it 2-2 late in Game 6 at Boston, the cameras flashed to the seats behind the net. The Shaws were there, and so was Corey Crawford’s family. Then there was Bill, my mother, Anne, my sister, Ashley, and Amanda. Bill was right in the middle. Well, 17 seconds later, Dave Bolland scores the winning goal. It was such a crazy ending and it happened so fast that the TV cameras went right back to the same picture. There’s Bill again. He got lots of TV time. He’s big. He’s real big now, especially in Orono.