Defining moments happen every season, and Thomas Hickey authored one for the Seattle Thunderbirds on Wednesday.
The Thunderbirds were involved in a tight game with the host Chilliwack Bruins, needing a win to stay in the race for home-ice advantage in the Western Hockey League playoffs.
In three quick moves, Hickey displayed the skill that promises to make him a top pick in this year's National Hockey League draft and completely turned the game around.
He cleanly stole the puck at the Seattle blue line and sailed up ice. The next move got him around a defender at the red line, and he quickly bore in on goaltender Matt Esposito.
Just as Hickey arrived at the net, a defender dived across the crease to cut off a pass. Without options, Hickey flicked the puck under the crossbar for one of the prettiest goals of the season.
While the T-birds' bench hooted and hollered in appreciation, the air went out of deflated fans at Prospera Place.
Spokane Chiefs @ Seattle Thunderbirds, 7:35 p.m., KeyArena
"I tried to make a few moves and was forced to shoot it," Hickey explained after Seattle won its third straight. "I was going to pass it, but thankfully he left me a little room up top."
Seattle (26-19-2-11) sits fourth in the U.S. Division, three points behind Spokane for third and seven behind Tri-City for second place and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Thunderbirds play 10 of their final 14 regular-season games at home beginning tonight, when Spokane comes to KeyArena for their final meeting of the regular season. Seattle stays home to play Kelowna on Saturday.
Hickey, a defenseman who turned 18 last week, doesn't worry about the opposition.
"It doesn't matter where we enter the playoffs as long as we're playing well," he said. "If we're at the top of our game, we'll be comfortable whether we're the first-place team or the fourth-place team."
There have been stretches of this season in which the Thunderbirds have struggled converting on scoring chances and paid for it in the standings.
Hickey has developed a quick way to lighten even the most serious mood with impressions that leave everyone laughing.
"I can do a few guys on the team and a few staff members, but I can't tell you who," Hickey said. "I started doing it for fun last year, and the guys liked it, so I worked on it a little just to loosen things up. We're a team that comes to work hard every day and have fun doing it."
Impressions aside, Hickey's strengths are his skating, his ability to make quick decisions and his vision.
"He's such a great skater that he can play both offense and defense very well," Seattle coach Rob Sumner said. "Early this season we asked him to get stronger in front of our net and he's done that. Lately, he's concentrated on offense and seen the benefit of just shooting the puck. He's an elite defenseman in the league, no matter what the age."
Hickey has five points in his last three games and is tied for 15th in the WHL for scoring among defensemen with 35 points.
Hickey learned the game from older brother Daniel in his hometown of Calgary. His father, Denis, is a business lawyer and his mother, Roberta, a caterer.
"I helped my mom out a little," Thomas Hickey said. "I'm not a great cook but I've learned how to make a pretty good piece of toast."
Hickey is quick to credit teammate Scott Jackson for easing his transition to Seattle and the WHL and tries not to think about the NHL draft.
"It's in the back of my mind, but I'm thinking more about our next game," Hickey said. "It would be a thrill to be taken by any of the 30 teams, but something really special if it were the Flames because I'm a lifelong fan."
Hickey was a member of the Team Canada under-18 squad that won the gold medal in the Czech Republic last summer. He was a tournament all-star, an honor that puts him in line for an invitation to try out for the World Junior team.
"That definitely is right up there in the highlights of my career," Hickey said. "Of course winning here in Seattle with a great group of guys would be right up there as well."