On Wednesday, Thomas Hickey
gets to return to where his hockey career began.
Hickey grew up in Calgary, Alberta, the city at the foot the Canadian Rockies where the winters are cold but the local team is called the Flames. Like all of Canada, hockey thrives here and Hickey had a bevy of indoor and outdoor rinks at his disposal, but growing up, the Islanders’ defenseman preferred his private practice rink – his parent’s basement.
“We had a good setup,” Hickey said. “It was an unfinished basement with drywall everywhere, a hockey net and a concrete floor. We’d always put the roller blades on down there, it was a lot of fun. Buddies come over and you just head down to the basement from after school until dinner time and down again and then come up for bed time. I spent a ton of time down there.”
Hickey figures his basement is roughly the same size as the locker room at Islanders Iceworks in Syosset, providing enough room to roller blade, so he could work on his skating indoors.
“That much room at least, or maybe it just seemed a lot bigger back then,” Hickey said. “But when you’re not that big, you don’t need too much space, just a net.”
Hickey figures he started like most hockey players, watching his dad and brother play in the basement, getting involved in the action as soon as physically possible. They’d take turns shooting on each other, though if his older brother had friends over, he’d pull rank and make Hickey play goalie, which may partly explain why he didn’t mind blocking 136 shots last season.
Eventually Hickey started shooting pucks in his basement, much to the chagrin of his parents and the drywall.
“We had to put up plywood to make sure there were no more holes,” Hickey said. “It was actually pretty bad. I’m sure my mom appreciates it now, but she hated it at the time. It would have been tough being upstairs hearing thump, thump, thump. We had to fix it up real nice, we almost tore out a couple walls completely.”
He’s still better with a hockey stick than he is with spackle, as fixing the holes was a job usually reserved for his older brother.
Eventually Hickey’s parents put an end to the constant thumping and drywall repair, renovating the basement, but by then he was already on his path to the NHL playing for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds – current team of the Isles’ 2015 first-rounder Mathew Barzal.
“It’s a shame my parents had to renovate it when my brother and I got a little bit older, but it got a lot of use,” Hickey said. I spent a lot of time down there. I can’t put a number on it, it wasn’t a time consuming thing for me, I loved doing it. It wasn’t practice for me, it was just the time that gets away from you when you’re growing up.”
Hickey’s parents still live in his childhood home, so he’ll get a chance to go downstairs when he’s home on Wednesday night. The drywall is gone, but the memories remain.