Flames at the World Juniors day 4: I think Brandon Hickey wants to score

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.

  • piscera.infada

    Hickey looks good, but I think the “defensive role” he’s been given by Lowry has made him a little more tentative than the rest of the defenders. He needs to be given a bit more leash to produce. If Canada wants to do anything against Sweden and beyond in this tournament they’re going to need to get the Hickey-Fleury pairing going offensively a little bit more, and they’re going to have to start using the defense more in the offensive zone–they’re very easily defended playing below the goal line, because the opposition basically just clogs up the slot.

    • Ari Yanover

      He’s barely gotten mentioned at all. Which I guess makes sense since he’s being put out there to mostly not be noticed. Nobody’s saying anything bad about him, though, which is nice.

      @redhot1 – I love that BU’s uniforms are red and white so I can kinda cheat when trying to find pictures. Because nobody is taking pictures of him at the WJs!! 😐

    • MontanaMan

      Pronman tweeted out that he thought Hickey might be 2nd after Hicketts in terms of d-men that have impressed him on team Canada.

      Speaking of Hicketts, whichever Flames scout watched enough Royals games to declare that Kanzig should be taken in the third round while not noticing his defense partner at all, should be fired!

      • redhot1

        I fully agree. With season tickets to the Hitmen, I see Kanzig alot and he’s taken a step back this year. Albeit, he was playing with Sanheim last year, but he was passed (easily) on the depth chart by 2016 1st round prospect Jake Bean this year.

        • cberg

          Interesting comments, seems like there’s never a bad opportunity to tear down the kid from so many… Here’s some other comments I’ve been hearing lately.

          Jake Bean: several commentators noting Bean a strong candidate to be the first draftee out of the WHL this year. So, passed by THAT a problem?

          Mid-season team awards from the writers and broadcasters following the team: MVP-Kanzig runner-up; Top D-Kanzig arguable #2

          Personal observations from self and noted commentators above: Hitmen .500 team when he joined, been virtually unbeatable since he’s joined the team and now tied for 1st. Primary factor noted by all is Kanzig’s contribution, leadership (A) and presence on the team. He’s also contributed a bit offensively. Give the kid a break!

      • McRib

        Hicketts went undrafted because he had two serious injures going into the draft that scared teams medical staff away, TSN just makes it sound like Detroit are the only ones who knew of him. He still should have been drafted I agree (also agree Kanzig should never have been anything more than a 7th rounder, we learned our lession with Riley Bruce it seems), but if not for injury he would have been a third-fourth rounder. Exactly the same reason Brayden Point was a third rounder and not a late first, he had an injury at Summer U18s going into draft wasn’t 100% cleared by medical staff at combine. I’m actually really interested to see how Hicketts does in pro, he try’s to play bigger than his frame can handle in the WHL at times. He could end up getting Mitch Wahled, or he could be legit (more likely).

    • MontanaMan

      Hickey’s been very steady and has shown an upside in the offensive zone. As far as TSN broadcasters go, if you aren’t a Maple Leaf prospect, you don’t get a lot of mentions.

  • Mullen7

    Is it just me or do many of Canada’s star forwards (like Marner for example) seem to be pretty selfish with the puck? Every time I see them they are trying to do too much, showing off their dangle ability before eventually turning the puck over.

  • McRib

    When I have watched Hickey this season on BU he has kind of been pigeonholed into this same defensive role as well, anyone with as good of a shot as he has should be given more offensive minutes. After the last few minutes in today’s game I think Team Canada realized his offensive upside, he was just screaming them in from the blueline in the third. Fun to watch!! This kid just needs to watch TJ Brodie game tape on a continuous loop the next couple of summers!!!