Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
To say Thomas Hickey has a knack for the dramatic could be the understatement of the 27-year-old Calgary native's New York Islanders career. Once again, New York was up against the odds, down a defenseman due to a late second period injury to Adam Pelech and forced to play the remainder of the game rotating the five still standing.
Having tied the most minutes he has played over the past six games, 19:48, the diminutive yet tough and rugged Hickey found himself as the lone defenseman in the three on three extra session, on the ice with captain John Tavares and Shane Prince.
However, defense was hardly on his mind as he set up shop to the right of Calgary goaltender Brian Elliott and deflected Tavares' floater from the high slot between the netminder's arm and watched it roll into the cage, giving his team a much needed, if slightly unearned, two points.
After a very successful WHL career with the Seattle Thunderbirds, where he picked up 177 points in 262 games, Hickey was drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2007 NHL entry draft. He would go on to play 212 games for their AHL club, the Manchester Monarchs, before general manager Garth Snow plucked the youngster off waivers in January of 2013.
What hurt Hickey in Los Angeles was his transition from an offensive minded blueliner to a more defensive minded one, and the fact the Kings had such names as Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and others ahead of him on the depth chart. Their loss has turned out to be the Islanders gain.
He has been steady and reliable in his role under head coach Jack Capuano, also proving very durable for his size, missing only 21 games since his debut in 2012-13 out of a possible 306 contests (93.1%). 20 of those missed games came early last season when he went down with consecutive maladies, one a fractured thumb and the other a leg injury. Everyone remembers the massive hit Hickey laid on Tampa's Jonathan Drouin in last year's second-round playoff series and, while not overly physical, he uses his body effectively and precisely at the right moments.
Showing a flair for overtime, Hickey has scored five extra time goals out of his career total of 16. He won game three of the opening round of that same playoffs against the Florida Panthers with a dramatic overtime winner that created the loudest atmosphere Barclays Center has ever experienced since welcoming the Islanders as a tenant.
"In the end, we got the win against a team out of our conference. It was tough, there was a lull in that game during the middle half but we stuck with it. We play well with five D, but we've done it too much this year, it really sucks. Tough to see those guys get hurt and especially Adam, with how well he was playing. You try to have quick changes and stay in your groove," Hickey told the media postgame.
The Islanders hardly dominated in this one, although they were up against a tired team at the end of a six-game road trip and also coming off back to back games. They showed the same cracks that have widened into game 21 of the regular season. Had it not been for some strong saves by Thomas Greiss when Calgary pushed from the middle of the second period on, things could have, if you can believe it, gotten even worse for a season that is in major jeopardy before we even hit December.
Possession was fairly equal 5v5 until about 15 minutes was left in the third period when Calgary pulled away in that department. But, scoring chance wise, New York was defeated yet again at even strength, 20-13. And that was with the Flames missing their talisman, Johnny Gaudreau, who is out with a broken finger.
"If we lost, it might be (morale) a different story, but we found a way to win. It's tough to give up these leads, but we have to try and build on anything we can. This is a game we had to win and that is no disrespect to Calgary, they're a good hockey team but that game was right there the entire time. If you let that one slip away, you're really kicking yourself. Two of the best teams in the league the next two games, we need some confidence going in." Hickey mentioned.
Hickey, who is signed for one more year at a more than reasonable cap hit of $2.200 million dollars, will likely be exposed in this summer's expansion draft that is going to stock the roster of the Vegas Golden Knights, with perhaps Calvin de Haan as well. While one or both could be traded as that day draws closer, he is more than happy at present playing an integral role as a very capable defenseman that everyone, from coaches to fans, have come to rely on and appreciate for what he brings to the rink every day.
As for those overtime heroics, I asked the intelligent, well-spoken Hickey if he would want to play all five minutes, given the magic he has produced in the past. "I don't have the conditioning for that, although I'd like to think I do. I find myself just getting lots of good passes. I won't ask questions or analyze it, that's your job." [Laughing]