CHICAGO -- The hard wrist shot that Chicago Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell is terrorizing opposing goaltenders with lately was born in the backyard of his childhood home in Orono, Ont.
When he was 10 years old, Bickell started a shooting routine that he still credits for helping him develop the wrister that's so effective now as a rookie in his first full NHL season. Bickell had a stick, some pucks, a net and some empty pop cans hanging from the goal posts as targets.
"I remember being a kid and shooting hundreds and hundreds of pucks every night," said Bickell, who has 9 goals and 18 points in 32 games. "It was just an open net in the back yard. Mostly it was just a plastic sheet (to shoot at) and let ‘er rip. It was fun when I was a kid."
"He knew I was just trying to work on my skills," Bickell said, chuckling.
Turned out to be a great decision, along with putting up with the many missed shots his son blasted at that old net in the backyard. Bill Bickell's son is starting to make a name for himself in the NHL now, and doing so at a crucial time for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
In the past month, the Hawks have lost several forwards to injuries serious enough to keep them out of action for extended stretches. Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane are still out, while Fernando Pisani just returned to action last week and Viktor Stalberg could return for Wednesday night's big home game against the Nashville Predators.
In their absence, guys like Bickell, Troy Brouwer, Jack Skille and Jake Dowell have really helped bridge the scoring gap. Bickell has 5 goals and 8 points in his last seven games, which all were played without Hossa and Kane.
He's also scored three times in the past four games and has one of the hottest sticks on the team -- coming from the Hawks' third line, no less. He's currently skating with Pisani and two-way center Dave Bolland on a line that has checking as its foremost goal, but Bickell is also getting good looks at the net.
And he's burying the puck when those good looks come his way.
"They've just been finding the net (lately)," said Bickell, who played better after being a healthy scratch three times in late October and early November. "You just have to be confident in your game and that goes a long way."
Earlier this season that confidence wasn't quite as solid. His teammates and coaches noticed it, but instead of filling his head with complex ways to break his slump they just let him work it out.
"I think he made things a little too hard on himself," said Stalberg, who did the same thing himself in training camp after being one of the Hawks' top offseason acquisitions. "So he simplified his game and that's helping him right now. He's got a hot stick and he shoots a lot."
In fact, Bickell's development has to be one of the biggest bright spots during an often-turbulent start to the season for the Hawks. Bickell has come a long way in the past few weeks, and Hawks coach Joel Quenneville is rewarding him with more quality ice time.
One of the biggest reasons is that wrist shot, the same one that was honed in his backyard as a kid.
"He's got some nice hands, where he gets (shots) away and protects it pretty well in tight areas," Quenneville said. "He's scored some big goals for us."