Chicago Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell has become a prominent figure during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, taking on a key offensive role for a team seeking to win its second championship in four seasons.
Bickell, 27, scored eight goals over the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- one fewer than he had in 48 regular-season games. In the Western Conference Final, Bickell scored goals in three consecutive games, then added a pair of assists in the clinching Game 5 win against the Los Angeles Kings.
Bickell was shut out through the first three games in the Stanley Cup Final, but he came through with two assists in Game 4 on Wednesday as the Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins 6-5 to tie the best-of-7 series at 2-2.
He has been gracious enough to agree to keep a player blog that will appear on NHL.com throughout the series against Boston.
In his latest entry, Bickell writes about how he got his start in hockey:
CHICAGO -- With the extra day off in between Games 4 and 5, I figured it would be a good time to actually introduce myself to all the readers in the proper way by giving my backstory for how I got into hockey and how I got to the National Hockey League.
I grew up in Orono, Ontario, and like most kids I wanted to learn how to play hockey. But when I was 4 years old my parents said they wanted me to learn how to skate first. They got me into doing what we call CanSkate, which is a learn-to-skate program.
It was almost like a carnival. We'd dress up in costumes and they'd teach us how to do certain circles and stop in certain places. The older kids in it were figure skaters and they did their thing, but I did it for a few years so I could learn how to skate. My parents wanted me to learn before I played hockey. It's probably the smart way to go about it.
It was about two years later when I first started playing the game. I was six now and I suited up in a recreation league in Orono. I had a blast and I played there for a couple of years before my parents were like, 'Oh, he's actually pretty good.' That's when we went up to Lindsay, Ontario, so I could play at the Triple-A level and see how it would work out.
Well, it worked out. I was around 12 at this point and I played there for another couple of years before I decided I needed to go play at a higher level, play with some better players and have some better competition. The only way to do it was to go to Toronto, so that's what we did.
When I was 14 years old, I moved in with a family in Ajax, Ontario, which is about a 45-minute drive from Orono, my hometown. I would live in Orono with my parents on the weekends and with one of my teammate's families during the week so I could go to school there.
I ran into Dave Bolland when I was in Ajax. We played for the Toronto Red Wings starting at 14 years old. I remember we went up to play in a Pee-Wee Tournament in Quebec, and that's where we first got to play against Alex Ovechkin. He beat us in a shootout. He was good then and he's good now.
I went back to Lindsay the following year to play at the Bantam level. I needed to do it to build my skill, etc. But then I went back to Toronto and played with Bolland on the Red Wings again. It was a real roller-coaster. We were 15 years old at the time and just starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, we could make a career out of this.
When you're playing hockey as a kid you just want to play because it's fun and you enjoy it with your friends -- but right around this time is when I could tell hockey could be more than just a game for me. My parents were behind me 110 percent and did whatever they had to do to get me on my long road trips to the next game. They would get me there and leave it up to me how I wanted to carry on.
We ended up winning the Bantam Cup with the Toronto Red Wings, and soon after I got drafted by the Ottawa 67s in the second round of the Ontario Hockey League draft. I played for the legendary Brian Kilrea for 3 1/2 years before he traded me to Windsor for the second half of my final year in the OHL.
The funny thing is I would also play baseball in the summer because my parents wanted me to shift my focus away from hockey for at least a little while. They didn't want me to be thinking about hockey all the time. I got pretty good at baseball, so much so that when I was 15 the New York Yankees came to scout me.
I tried out for Team Ontario at 15 even though most of the players on the team were going to be 16. They liked me but told me they were going with the 16 year olds and that I should try again next year, when I was 16. Well, next year came, but I went to the OHL Finals with the 67s so during the prime baseball and scouting time I was still playing hockey.
That's when I realized I needed to choose, and it was not really a choice. Growing up Canadian, you dream of becoming a hockey player, not a baseball player. If I didn't play hockey, maybe if the 67s didn't go to the OHL Finals that year, I'm not sure if I would have had a chance to make it as a baseball player. I was a pretty good centerfielder, though.
Baseball will come back for me after the Cup Final is over because the Cubs have invited me to throw out the first pitch and take batting practice.
Anyway, back to hockey: The Blackhawks drafted me and Bolland in the second round of the 2004 NHL Draft. They had four picks in that round. They were not a very good team at the time, but we knew it was a good opportunity to get started.
I started my pro hockey career in Norfolk of the American Hockey League, but after a year there the Blackhawks wanted to have their minor-league team closer so we moved to Rockford, Ill. I was up and down for a while before I became a full-time player here three seasons ago -- and now I'm trying to fulfill the dream of winning the Stanley Cup.