With the Swedes off and not playing again until tomorrow morning (7 a.m.!) and Mackenzie Blackwood’s return from suspension, Brandon Hickey was the only Flames prospect in action at the World Juniors today, as Team Canada took on the Swiss in a much tighter affair than would have been expected.
Canada 3-2 Switzerland (SO)
The idea of using Hickey in an offensive role just started to rear its head as overtime looked imminent. Thus far in the tournament, he’s been used purely defensively and on the first penalty kill unit (which remained true today), but Hickey has been starting to shoot more.
Hickey only had one shot actually recorded on the game sheet, but he had a lot of other attempts that didn’t make it through (often due to being blocked), including what looked to be Canada’s very first shot attempt roughly eight minutes in. He didn’t shoot as much as he did against Team Denmark, but still more than against the Americans, and was often looking for the offensive play.
In fact, while Hickey hasn’t been seen on the Canadian power play, he did get a few seconds at the end of their fourth and final try, where his one shot came from: a blast from the point. He also drew a penalty when Calvin Thurkauf, when trying to lift his stick to create a rush, ended up hitting Hickey in the face instead; this eventually led to Canada’s five-on-three, but it’s not on Hickey that the usual power play showers couldn’t score.
Really, though, throughout an entire close game, Hickey was looking to create. He wasn’t on the ice for any goals, but he continued to jump up into play, and the one time he got burned doing that his defence partner, Thomas Chabot at the time, was back to ensure nothing would go wrong.
His on-ice intelligence and great skating ability allowed him to be an active defender, often keeping the puck onside and disrupting opposing forwards bearing down on him when play went the other way.
Just because Hickey is looking to score more often now, though, doesn’t mean he’s going in half-cocked. In dangerous moments, such as a good Swiss cycle on the power play, he played cautiously – maybe even apprehensively – but nothing bad happened with him out there, even when the Swiss were looking increasingly dangerous. His game was to keep them to the outside and monitor the situation as they cycled.
My favourite moment came in the final 10 minutes of the third. Tied at two, Hickey and regular partner Haydn Fleury were manning the blueline on an extended pressure shift for Canada. Hickey kept the play going numerous times, keeping the puck in the offensive zone and finding open space or a teammate to keep creating chances. While Canada didn’t score on the shift, a goal did feel imminent due to just how long it lasted, and Hickey was a big part of that.
He had two shifts in the shortened bench that overtime provides as well: two shot attempts for him on the first shift; and a defensive role on the second shift, leaving the ice once the puck got out of the zone. He was actually mismatched with Joe Hicketts briefly then, giving us a little bit of time with a Hickey – Hicketts pairing.
Overall, Hickey played a solid, defensively sound game, and you can tell he really, really wants to put some points on the board.
Team Canada’s final round robin game is against Team Sweden on Dec. 31, a team that should prove to be a tougher opponent (to take nothing away from the Swiss, they battled hard), so we’ll see if Hickey gets his chance then, but I wouldn’t count on it. It’ll be interesting to see if he keeps up his offensive play against them, though, since it wasn’t as visible against the U.S.
Considering how Mason McDonald already has had two starts in the round robin, and Mackenzie Blackwood didn’t do anything to indicate he shouldn’t start the next game (neither goal against was his fault, he had some intense shorthanded saves, and was perfect in the shootout), I would expect the Flames prospect to be backing up once again.
So the New Year’s Eve game should at least offer the promise of a Hickey/Ollas Mattsson matchup – two defenders used in primarily defensive roles – at absolute minimum.