In the Wake of the News
8:54 PM CDT, June 5, 2013
LOS ANGELES — No audience enjoyed "Hockey Night in Canada" on Saturday on CBC more than the Bickell family and every other resident of Orono, Ontario, an hour northeast of Toronto — all 1,547 of them.
All season, popular host Don Cherry had been identifying Bryan Bickell, the Blackhawks' breakout player of the postseason, as a native of nearby Bowmanville. The more Bickell made the highlights lately, the more Cherry referred to the hometown listed on his Blackhawks bio.
So after friends and neighbors noted it for the umpteenth time, Bill Bickell — Bryan's dad — called Cherry recently to set the record straight.
"Sure enough, last Saturday Don says on the show, 'Bryan Bickell. Big boy. Love him. But he's from Orono, Ontario,' '' Bill Bickell said in a phone interview. "It was good to finally hear our small town recognized.''
Likewise, Orono's favorite son has begun getting the respect he deserves.
Only two players this postseason have scored more often than Bickell, whose seven playoff goals match the total of the Penguins' Sidney Crosby. The Hawks no longer show surprise when the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Bickell makes skillful moves like the Game 3 wraparound goal past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
They not only expect those kind of plays from Bickell, this year's playoff version of Dustin Byfuglien. They need them from the left winger on the Hawks' top line. Whether Bickell camps out in front of the net or craftily picks his spots, he steadily improved all season by playing as smart as he is strong.
"Bicks has been good, game in, game out,'' coach Joel Quenneville said. "You notice him.''
When Bickell was asked if the Kings have started noticing him enough to adjust to his hot streak, he flashed the front-toothless smile only a hockey mom could love. And laughed.
"I'm playing with two of the best players playing in (Marian) Hossa and (Jonathan) Toews,'' said Bickell, 27. "I think teams need to worry about them more than me. I've been fortunate to get the goals when I have. I just need to keep this going.''
This represents what Bickell always dreamed of while shooting pucks at empty pop cans in the backyard of his family's home. But before Bickell learned how to handle a stick as a boy, he had to prove he could skate. Back then the only way to do that in Orono was sign up for the figure skating club.
"I still have a picture on the wall of Bryan wearing a tutu,'' said Bill Bickell, who traces his son's good footwork to his figure skating days. "He was in a pair of skates at 5 years old.''
By the time Bickell was 16, the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League saw enough potential to draft the prospect who had begun to grow into an ideal hockey body. Ottawa scout Joe Rowley filed this in his report of the teenage Bickell: "He's a project. Could be great.'' Now-retired Ottawa coach Brian Kilrea made the Bickells only one promise.
"I don't know if I'll make a hockey player out of him,'' Kilrea recalled telling the family. "But I'll make a man out of him.''
Gradually, Bickell's maturity off the ice enhanced his consistency on it. Two seasons later, the Blackhawks regime run by Bob Pulford and Dale Tallon selected Bickell in the second round (41st overall) of the 2004 NHL draft.
It took nine years of patience and persistence, and enough miles logged between Rockford and Chicago to know the exits by heart, but Bickell finally justified the time invested in his development.
"It's like winning the lottery when you think of how many kids from all over try to do what he's doing,'' Bill Bickell said.
Speaking of the lottery, you can barely hear two straight mentions of Bickell this postseason without someone adding he will hit it big in free agency July 5. Many assume the Hawks' salary-cap issues and Bickell's market value will combine to force his exit. But Bill Bickell stressed that Bryan enjoys the Hawks coaching staff and players and scoffed at the idea of money driving his decision.
"Last summer I rebuilt Bryan's cottage and borrowed $20 from him,'' Bill Bickell said. "A week later, he asked for $20 back. He's always been frugal with money. Right now he's concentrating only on getting his name on the (Stanley) Cup because he didn't get it last time.''
When the Hawks won it all in 2010, Bickell played in 16 regular-season and four postseason games but wasn't among the 52 names engraved on the silver chalice.
This time, the kid from the small town of Orono — not Bowmanville — looks committed to leaving a much bigger imprint on the playoffs than anybody imagined.
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