Thomas Hickey had to go through a lot to get to where he was on Saturday, his first regular-season NHL game since April 4, 2019.
Hickey did play a few games in the playoff that year, but concussion issues have plagued the once Islanders regular and limited him to 14 games last year in the AHL. Off the ice, Hickey had to deal with the loss of his older brother Dan a year ago. Dan Hickey passed away last March after succumbing to his battle with brain cancer.
With all of that in the back of his mind, Hickey hit the ice Saturday night in the New York Islanders 6-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders defenseman had a pair of assists on two of the Islanders’ four first-period goals and was named the game’s third star.
“It meant everything really,” Hickey said when asked the important role he had in Saturday’s win. “Just to be with the guys was big and then to chip in was huge. Very emotional night. Really happy with the effort of the guys and it’s nice to come back and get a win.
“Just a lot of good feelings right now.”
6-1 #isles win. Thrilled for the team but mostly for Thomas Hickey. It’s been an emotional few years. Tonight brought much needed joy for the defenseman and his family. #NHL @MSGNetworks @NYIslanders pic.twitter.com/n5o0RecaLm
— Shannon Hogan (@Shannon_Hogan) March 21, 2021
Prior to the concussion he suffered during the 2018-19 season, Hickey had played at least 60 games a season in all but one since signing with the Islanders in 2013. And the one year he didn’t was because the NHL season had been shortened due to the 2012 lockout.
The concussion in 2018-19 allowed Devon Toews to get a crack at the lineup and the now-traded Toews ended up never coming out. Part of the challenge for Hickey since then had been staying mentally prepared.
Hickey admitted that the doubt he’d ever get another chance to play in the NHL would ever come. That made Saturday night all the more special to 32-year-old.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve had in a long time,” Hickey said. “Personally and professionally it’s been tough and there’s people you want to do things for to make them happy because we’ve had a really rough go. Been thinking about my brother and always just want to do good things while he was battling and fighting and just show him you can play for him. I think that carries over even though he’s not with us.”
Hickey added: “It’s been a tough road, but I feel it’s worth it. It’s worth that wait.”
“It meant everything, really. Just to be with the guys was big and to contribute was huge. It’s a very emotional night. Really happy with the effort of the guys and that’s the biggest thing. Just a lot of good feelings right now.”
Hickey & Beauvillier ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/He4uOJbXq4
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 21, 2021
The seasoned defenseman was back in the lineup on Saturday after Islanders head coach Barry Trotz made adjustments to his lineup. The Islanders have been playing without Noah Dobson, who remained on the COVID-19 protocol list.
Sebastian Aho had been filling in for Dobson since he was placed on the protocol list last Sunday, but Trotz felt with the size and toughness that Philadelphia has that Hickey was the better fit.
“Thomas is a lot stronger than you think for his size,” Trotz said. “I just felt we needed to rein it in and get a little more systematic in our game. A guy like Thomas can do that. He keeps the game pretty simple. He gets two assists, obviously, he has some experience.”
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