The following feature is excerpted from 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.