The bus rides Bryan Bickell took with the Rockford IceHogs this season rekindled memories.
“I remember those old days, seven-hour trips on a bus. Maybe when I was 21 it was easier on the body, but just turned 30, so it was tough,” Bickell said with a grin. “It’s nice to get back and hopefully I won’t have to do that again. I’m here to play my best and do whatever it takes.”
This season has been a humbling one for Bickell, who has spent most of it with the Blackhawks’ minor-league affiliate. But as the regular season winds down the left wing is getting another chance, starting Thursday against the St. Louis Blues. Teammates said it was good to see Bickell again.
“You’re happy for him,” Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “He’s got a big smile on his face. It’s just good to see him. He’s such a good guy and having him in the locker room is always a nice thing.”
[MORE HAWKS: Marian Hossa out, Bryan Bickell in vs. Blues]
Bickell skated on the Blackhawks’ third line with Andrew Desjardins and Dale Weise, a line that should definitely bring a physical presence. Coach Joel Quenneville said Bickell must bring that physical game regardless.
“I think that’s one of his better attributes because he’s a big body, he can play against top guys and can wear a defense down,” Quenneville said. “He can get on the puck quickly, has a big shot, speed and gets to the net. We always talk about the appreciation for having a power forward that can create space, generate offense or can get the defensemen aware of being on the ice. I think Bicks can do that. But the consistency is what we’re looking for.”
The postseason is where Bickell has traditionally done well; it’s where he earned his four-year, $16 million deal during the 2013 Stanley Cup Final run. But that consistency of which Quenneville spoke of has been the issue. The 2015-16 season has been frustrating, at least at the NHL level. Entering this season still fighting the vertigo that cost him a few 2015 Stanley Cup games, Bickell couldn’t find any consistency. His latest stint in Rockford has been since January, but he’s played well there, recording 15 goals and 16 assists in 31 games. But it’s what he does here that’s going to count.
“I think every game’s got to be real good from the situation I was in this year,” Bickell said. “It was tough. But to see these guys again and to be back up here, it’s lifting. Every game I’ve got to play like it’s my last, and do what I need to do.”
How Bickell is used going forward is uncertain. Quenneville said Bickell gets his opportunity vs. the Blues, “and we’ll see how it goes going into next week.” Bickell was reminded of his early Rockford days in his latest stint. He also took some valuable new lessons from the experience, and hopes he can apply those here now.
“Being positive is the biggest thing,” Bickell said. “I think going down there, I didn’t want to be a sore thumb. Have a positive attitude and work hard and I’m happy to be back up here for a couple games going into one of the times I like the most, the playoffs. Looking forward to it.”