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Eichel praises WJC hopeful Hickey for hockey intellect

by Tim Wharnsby

ETOBICOKE, Ontario -- Canada junior team hopeful and Calgary Flames prospect Brandon Hickey was appreciative of the kind words from Buffalo Sabres rookie Jack Eichel last week.

Eichel praised his former Boston University teammate and wished the best for the 19-year-old at the Canada junior team selection camp, but he wouldn't go as far as cheering for Canada.

"I can't blame him," Hickey said. "He's an American, for sure, and loyal to his country.

"Jack and I are good friends. It was pretty cool to have a player of his caliber to say those nice things about me."

Hickey was among the 26 Canadian players who will travel to Europe on Monday for a training camp to prepare for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship that begins in Helsinki, Finland, on Dec. 26.

Canada coach Dave Lowry has to trim the roster to 22 players. Hickey is among nine defensemen vying for one of seven spots on the Canadian team.

"He's a real smart defenseman," Eichel told the Calgary Sun last week when the Sabres visited the Flames. "I think another great thing about him, something I noticed, is he's got a great one-timer. It doesn't matter how hard you pass it, where it is, he can one-time anything. It's a skill not a lot of guys can do, and he's really good at it.

"He's a great player. He's smart. He understands the game. He skates well. He's really well-conditioned, so he can play a lot. I have a lot of great things to say about Brandon.

Canada opens its tournament with a game against the United States on Dec. 26. Eichel, of course, played for the U.S. side a year ago.

"I'm not going to cheer for him," Eichel said. "I'll cheer for him personally. Hopefully, he scores and plays a great game and they lose to the United States."

Hickey and Providence College defenseman Jake Walman were the only two U.S. college players invited to Canada's junior team selection camp. Walman, however, sustained a shoulder injury and was unable to attend.

There hasn't been a U.S. college player make Canada's roster since former University of Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Dylan Olsen (Florida Panthers) played for the silver-medal team in 2011.

Like Olsen, who was chosen out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League by the Chicago Blackhawks (No. 28) at the 2009 NHL draft, the Flames selected Hickey in the third round (No. 64) of the 2014 draft straight from Spruce Grove of the AJHL.

The Flames liked Hickey's competitiveness and skating. He also is a young player who has competed in plenty of big games. Besides his run to the Frozen Four in his freshman season with the Terriers last spring, Hickey has played in the Telus Cup (national AAA midget championship) with his hometown Leduc (Alberta) Oil Kings. He also helped Spruce Grove win the 2013-14 AJHL championship, and he has participated for Team Pacific and Team West, respectively, in the World Under-17 Challenge and the World Jr. A Challenge.

"I think playing in the Frozen Four and the Beanpot and the other stuff helps a lot," Hickey said. "It teaches it doesn't matter how big the game you need to relax and play your game."

Hickey credits his father, Darren, a firefighter, for his hockey smarts. Even though Darren ended his playing days as a teenager to help out with the family's moving company, his passion for the game remained strong.

"I would go from road hockey to practice back to play road hockey with my friends," Hickey said. "I'm sure that was a big help.

"There also weren't too many nights when there wasn't a game on television at home. We used to talk a lot about the game when we watched. You could tell he knew the game."

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