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FEATURE: Tyler Sikura flying under the radar as he eyes next level

The forward who scored 23 goals in the AHL last season hopes to one day play alongside his brother in the NHL

by Chris Wescott /

You don't have to tell Tyler Sikura he's flying under the radar. He's embracing that underdog role.

"I take pride in myself that nobody expected me to do what I did last season," he said. "This year, I don't know if anyone expects me to do what I'm going to do."

Despite hockey bloodlines and an NCAA career that saw him voted rookie of the year as a freshman and team MVP as a sophomore - ultimately leading to a captaincy in his final two seasons at Dartmouth - Sikura wasn't just going to be handed a shot.

Although he went undrafted by NHL clubs, the forward kept grinding.

After toiling in the ECHL to start his professional career, Sikura joined the Chicago Blackhawks organization ahead of the 2017-18 season. That's when Sikura seized an opportunity, culminating in a breakout campaign.

In 74 games for the American Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs, Sikura scored 23 goals, just one shy of Matthew Highmore for the team lead.

"I felt I improved a lot throughout the year and earned more opportunities as it went on," Sikura said. "Right from training camp, I had to make a team and then I had to find a spot on the roster and then move my way up the roster. I think I improved a lot and learned a lot from the coaching staff and the other guys we had on our roster. We pushed each other every day at practice. I ended up putting myself in the right position to make the next step."

The goal scoring is not something that came naturally.

"I think it was a result of a lot of lack of scoring at first," he laughed.

Sikura scored his first goal in the second game of the season, which was not a bad start. However, next came his first drought of seven scoreless, pointless games.

Then he scored a goal, following that up with nothing for a few games. Then he scored another goal, followed by 15 games without lighting the lamp. It was an up-and-down start with more down than up.

Locked into a role lower in the lineup, Sikura wasn't finding ways to earn more time. Then, something clicked.

"I found a niche where I was a net-front player, I could score goals on tips and rebounds and little plays in front of the net," he said. 

In late December, Sikura snapped his 15-game scoring drought with three straight games with goals. Shortly after, he hit a five-game scoring streak and he remained hot the rest of the way, recording 29 of his 39 points in the new year.

"When you get to the next level, it's not easy to get open looks and consistently have those types of chances. I found that the only way I could do that was go to the net and score those types of goals. From scoring goals, I earned those opportunities to play in more offensive situations and then you can use your skills even more. It was an upward progression all year."

Sikura had to adapt and evolve or watch his chance to make an impression on the Blackhawks slip away. He pulled through in the end, also chipping in five goals in 13 playoff games during the team's surprise run to the Western Conference Final.

The Blackhawks rewarded Sikura's season with a one-year contract, which he sees as just another opportunity to prove any doubters wrong.

"I want to make the jump to the NHL," he said. "That would be my goal, for sure. This is a unique opportunity I think being a player in hopefully the right place at the right time. There's going to be competition. There are a lot of players vying for only a few spots, but worst-case scenario I'll be back in a situation where last year I thrived. As long as I continue to improve and work hard, I feel my opportunity will come."

And if it does indeed come, Sikura hopes he'll have family there to share it with. More on the radar than his older brother is Blackhawks 2014 sixth-round pick Dylan Sikura.

Video: Signing Sikura

The highly skilled forward has put a successful college career at Northeastern, where he scored 43 goals in his final two seasons, behind him. The Sikura brothers are now both in the professional ranks.

They've gone from mini sticks and shooting drills in their family's basement to entering an NHL training camp together.

"It's been incredible," said Tyler. "I really can't wait for camp to be out there with him. It's a dream come true. It's something we've discussed and dreamed about throughout our lives, but it's something we didn't realize could come to fruition until this last year.

"The potential to play together at the highest level is amazing." 

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