Thomas Hickey relishes final shot for Thunderbirds
The clock is winding down on the junior career of Thomas Hickey, a player who has gained so much prominence that fans will be scrambling to see him when he wears his No. 4 T-birds jersey for the last time.
Special to The Seattle Times
KENT — An era is about to end for the Seattle Thunderbirds, one every bit as important as the team's move from KeyArena to Kent earlier this season.
The clock is winding down on the prestigious career of Thomas Hickey, a player who has gained so much prominence in his junior career that fans will be scrambling to see him when he wears his No. 4 T-birds jersey for the last time.
Hickey and the T-birds will be decided underdogs when the opening round of the Western Hockey League playoffs begin Friday in Spokane against the defending Memorial Cup champion Spokane Chiefs.
Spokane finished the season 46-23-0-3 and is fourth seed in the Western Conference. Seattle is the fifth seed at 35-32-1-4.
Games 1 and 2 will be played Friday and Saturday in Spokane with the Chiefs traveling to Kent for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Hickey is a two-time team MVP, two-year captain and he twice won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships during his stay in Seattle. A first-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings (fourth overall), there's one statistic that shows how valuable he is to the T-birds.
For the season, Hickey is a plus-37, a measure of goals scored for and against when a player is on the ice. Jim O'Brien is next best at plus-16.
Although he is technically eligible to return to Seattle next season, there's little doubt Hickey will either play in the NHL or in the minor leagues next season.
"As a coach it would be nice to have him for the next 10 years, but it's a good feeling to see someone who is ready to move onto bigger and better things," Seattle coach Rob Sumner said.
Hickey, a smooth-skating defenseman, hopes a long playoff run will prolong his WHL career.
"There are a lot of guys on our team who know they don't have much time left playing here," Hickey said. "We have to make each game count."
The T-birds have been an inconsistent team all season. They were 24-10-0-2 in games split between KeyArena and the new ShoWare Center in Kent, but a dismal 11-22-1-2 on the road.
Seattle won four times in nine games against Spokane in the regular season, two of the wins coming in a shootout.
"We're underdogs against a more consistent team," Hickey said. "Yet when we look at the season we know that when we play our best hockey, we can play with anyone in the league. We just have to bear down for every game."
Hickey expects a raucous greeting at the Spokane Arena, a venue that holds 10,475.
"It's going to be a different atmosphere there in the playoffs," Hickey said.
The Chiefs feature the top goaltender in the WHL in Dustin Tokarski. He allowed only a league-best 1.97 goals against average with a save percentage of 93.7 percent.
Hickey and Tokarski were teammates when Team Canada won the gold medal at the World Junior Championships.
"He has no weaknesses that we can really focus on," Hickey said.
Silvertips face Tri-City
The Everett Silvertips face one giant question mark heading into a first-round playoff matchup against the Tri-City Americans beginning Friday in Kennewick. Will Tri-City goaltender Chet Pickard be ready to play?
Pickard suffered a concussion when he was run over by Spokane's Ryan Letts in a violent collision on Feb. 28 and hasn't played in a game since. Letts earned a 10-game suspension and Pickard was listed as the backup when the Americans ended the regular season on Tuesday.
Pickard had a 35-12-0-3 record to help the Americans win their second straight U.S. Division title with a 49-20-0-3 record. The Americans are the second seed in the Western Conference behind Vancouver, with Everett the No. 7 seed with a 27-36-7-2 record.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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