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Wings Encounter: Meet Joe Hicketts

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
He may be small, but 5-foot-8 Joe Hicketts plays with a spirit and determination that earned him an entry-level contract with the Red Wings last September. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Last summer was about gaining experience for Joe Hicketts. But it ended with the undrafted defenseman earning much, much more.

The 5-foot-8 British Columbia native signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Red Wings last September, though he knows this is just the beginning for of his pro career.

“To go from being undrafted to coming to development camp and working my way to earning a main camp invite and coming out of the main camp with a contract,” he said, “was something I never would have thought of after the (2014) draft.”

The Red Wings invited the 5-foot-8 Hicketts, along with 20-some other undrafted junior and college players to last year’s development camp. He returned to this month’s camp already knowing most of the players and coaches, but perhaps, most important, knowing what to expect the second time around.

“I want to be a leader for the guys who were drafted this year,” he said. “I’ve sat down with a couple of them and said, ‘Hey, have a little bit of fun and don’t be too hard.’ I think that’s really important.”

Hicketts is just the latest undrafted player that the Wings have eventually signed to a pro contract after initially seeing their skill set at the annual development camp.

It’s an evaluation process for the invited guys at the annual development camp. The next step is to earn a spot on the Wings’ rookie roster for the NHL Prospects Tournament in September, as well as the club’s main camp a week later.

“Very few guys earn a contract out of this camp,” said Jiri Fischer, the Red Wings director of player development. “Some of the guys, the juniors or the ones that are turning pro, are coming to a fall camp to be a part of the Prospects Tournament and that’s where Brian Lashoff and Willie Coetzee and Brent Raedeke and Joe Hicketts sign a contract out of that camp. So, there’s an opportunity.”

Now that he’s under the watchful eye of the Wings’ development program, Hicketts plans to continue working hard on improving his skating and building more overall physical strength.

He plans to return to northern Michigan in two months to compete in the rookie tournament. He’ll also attend the Wings’ main training camp before heading back to Victoria to prepare for the Western Hockey League season and the hopes of making Team Canada’s national team for the second straight run at gold in the World Junior Championship in Finland.

While he looks forward to perhaps finishing the upcoming season with stint in AHL Grand Rapids, he has other goals that are more important.

“Obviously (Grand Rapids) is in the back of my mind, but more important it’s about trying to win a Memorial Cup with my current club,” Hicketts said. “I always have the philosophy that if you’re not trying to win a championship, you’re wasting eight months.”

Now, let’s get to know more about this 19-year-old prospect:

Joe Hicketts

JOE HICKETTS

STATUS: Signed with the Red Wings as an undrafted free agent. Currently, he’s a defenseman for the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League. He won a gold medal with Canada in the last World Junior Championship.

DOB: May 4, 1996, in Kamloops, British Columbia.

FIRST HOCKEY MEMORY: “Probably living in Kamloops, we were next to an outdoor rink, so every winter I remember spending hours and hours, especially in school when we had the winter break and you’d be out there for 10 hours a day and my mom would bring us hot chocolate and soup down. I just lived down there for those two-week vacations. Played until your toes were frozen and holes in the ice. But it was a lot of fun out there.”

HOCKEY HEROES: “You know, growing up I’d say you had to watch Wayne Gretzky a little bit, but as you got older you watched Nick Lidstrom, who was unbelievable for me. To see him around the (development) camp was something special. I want to get a chance to meet him, talk to him.”

LAST BOOK READ: “It was probably ‘Lone Survivor’ (non-fiction book written by Marcus Luttrell). I watched the movie then read the book. It was a good read.”

CURRENT CAR: “A ’98 Pontiac Grand Prix. It’s gold, my first car. I love it.”

FIRST JOB: “I worked as a landscaper a couple of summers ago back home. That was my first job.”

GREATEST SPORTS MOMENT: “Watching: the 2010 Olympics. Playing: probably the World Juniors last year. It was great, especially being in Toronto and Montreal, the biggest hockey markets in the world. For me to be Canadian and end the drought of not having medaled in two years, no gold for like five in a row, it was something special. We cut it down close there in the end, but the group of guys we had was special. You grew up your whole life watching that tournament, I don’t know, there’s just this excitement. I’ll always remember looking up at the dressing room clock there ’12 minutes and 42 seconds’ before the game and it felt like four hours before it hit zero. To be able to compete in that game, it was special.”

MOST PAINFUL MOMENT: “Getting my teeth knocked out at the beginning of March this year. I lost three. It was a puck, so not good.”

FAVORITE UNIFORMS: “The Red Wings, obviously, and the Canadian national. You can’t beat putting that on.”

FAVORITE ARENA: “I’ve always loved watching the United Center growing up, but now you see Winnipeg and the energy that it’s created there. I love playing in Everett (Xfinity Arena) in the U.S. in the Western League. There’s a lot of energy there with a lot of fans. It’s really loud.”

CLOSEST HOCKEY FRIENDS: “Chad Butcher, Ryan Gropp, he was just drafted by the (New York) Rangers this past year, going 41st overall. They both played in the Western League, and obviously I made a lot of friends in the Canadian junior team as well.”

FUNNIEST HOCKEY PERSON KNOWN: “(Alex) Globke here is pretty funny. Just the stuff he says. We can joke around with each other, it’s good. A couple of guys on my team, Logan Fisher, he’s got a pretty good sense of humor. They’re been a couple guys.”

TOUGHEST COMPETITORS FACED: “I gotta say in main camp against (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk. They’re the best players in the world, so I’d have to say those guys.”

MOST MEMORABLE GOAL: “I always look back at the Prospects Tournament last year scoring against St. Louis in the first game in overtime. I’ll always remember that just being my first NHL camp as a free agent.”

FUNNY HOCKEY MEMORY: “Living in Kamloops we always made trips down to coast and looking back I forgot my helmet once, and I almost had a break down. But my dad saved me and bought a new one.. Looking back that was pretty funny that I forgot a helmet of all things.”

FAVORITE PLAYERS TO WATCH: “I love watching Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, just the way they play the game. Obviously, intense, physical and they know how to use their smarts as well as their strengths. Obviously, I try to model my game after a guy like Duncan Keith, a smaller guy who can use stick very well and skates really well and plays big minutes, so I love watching him.”

FAVORITE SPORT OUTSIDE HOCKEY: “Baseball. I’ve played that and love watching it. I liked playing third base and catching. You always seem to be in the play. I like fishing, too. I once went halibut fishing and caught a 52-pound halibut. I love halibut it’s the best fish, I think”

YOUR BEST PERSONALITY QUALITIES: “I think I’m an easy-going guy. I like to be considered a leader, both on or off the ice, with a team or in a (development) camp like this. I like taking care of everyone around me. I think it’s import for a team to come together or if you meet someone.”

FAVORITE MOVIE: “I really like ‘Bull Durham’ it’s pretty funny.”

IF NOT A HOCKEY PLAYER, WHAT: “I’d love to be a pilot, fly all over the world. It’s almost a vacation at the same time.”

HIDDEN TALENTS: “I’d like to say I’m a good singer, but that’s not true. I can believe that. But I’m a pretty good baseball player and people may not realize that.”

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE: “It’s not good for me, but I love ice cream, just vanilla, plain.”

PLANS FOR AFTER HOCKEY CAREER: “I think it would be real cool to become a coach after I’m done playing. You see the amount of fun that these guys have to be able to stay in hockey as a coach or a scout or something like that is something that I would like to be a part of.”

NICKNAME: “Hicks. Just a standard hockey thing, last name shorted up.”

PREFERRED JERSEY NUMBER: “I wear 2 in Victoria. I’ve always liked 5 growing up because of Nick Lidstrom. I was compared to Denis Potvin at one point when one of coaches told me I should wear because he was a good player. I switched between 5 and 2 and when I got to Victoria and have worn 2 ever since.”

OFF DAYS: “I like to just chill out and relax. Obviously the schedule can be a bit of a grind, so I make sure I get my rest and prepare myself to be the best competitor I can be.”

MOST FAMOUS PERSON IN PHONE: “Connor McDavid.”

GUILTY PLEASURES: “Ice cream.”

ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO/HAVE BEFORE EVERY GAME: “I have a set routine that’s sort of funny. I always like showing up at the rink three hours before, so on the road I’ll actually cab down with our trainers. Go through my little routine. I have my protein shakes, Gatorade, water. I go through about a half-hour warm up and I usually start getting dressed about 10 minutes before warm up. I get dressed the same way every time, first my right side, then my left side, except my elbow pads.”

MORNING PERSON OR NIGHT OWL: “Morning person.”

IF YOU COULD BE SOMEONE’S TEAMMATE FOR A DAY, WHO: “Duncan Keith, he’s a D-man. I like to see how he works. I’ve always heard that he’s the hardest-working player off the ice. I went to OHA my midget year and the skating instructor there raved about Duncan Keith, so I love to spend the day with him.”

GO BACK IN TIME MOMENT: “I’d go back to winning the World Juniors again. It was so special and something that as a kid you grow up dreaming about, and to make the dream come true is … You just can’t put words to it.”

WHAT SCARES YOU: “I hate spiders. I think they’re all deadly. I don’t go near them.”

MOST EMBARRASSING CHILDHOOD MOMENT: “That’s a tough one. Most embarrassing. I’m sure I did a lot of stupid things, but they’re not coming out.”

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