Bickell trying to work his way back to Chicago Blackhawks

 
By Brian Hedger
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 11/10/2015 9:45 AM
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  • Bryan Bickell is back in the AHL for the first time since 2009-10, and he's doing all he can to work his way back to the NHL.

    Bryan Bickell is back in the AHL for the first time since 2009-10, and he's doing all he can to work his way back to the NHL. Associated Press file

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Bryan Bickell stood outside the visitor's locker room wearing a ratty, old Blackhawks undershirt and a look of relief.

The goal he scored Friday night at Van Andel Arena was for the Rockford IceHogs, and Bickell is begrudgingly back in the minors. But neither of those qualifiers mattered at that moment.

After not recording a point in seven games for the Blackhawks and getting reassigned to the AHL, Bickell finally had scored again, tipping a point shot into the net during a power play.

"I don't know how long it's been since I scored a goal," he said, allowing relief to morph into a smile. "It's nice to get that first one out of the way and build off that."

Bickell's offensive drought wasn't just a recent struggle.

Including the preseason and all of last season's championship run in the playoffs, Bickell hadn't scored since April 7, when he beat the Minnesota Wild with a goal late in the third period at the United Center.

Dry spells, however, haven't been uncommon for Bickell since he signed a four-year, $16 million contract following the Hawks' 2013 Stanley Cup title. After playing a major role in that run, adding 9 goals and 8 assists, Bickell's production tailed off.

Now he finds himself in the AHL for the first time since 2009-10, trying to put his NHL career back on the tracks.

"It's a little different, but I've got to start again," Bickell said. "I've got to start over, refresh and work my way up again."

It wasn't that long ago when Bickell tied Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final late in the third period, setting the stage for Dave Bolland's thrilling goal to clinch the Cup just 17 seconds later.

Sometimes that memory feels like ages ago for Bickell. Since hoisting the Cup in Boston, he has signed the new contract, gotten married, become a father and dealt with the disappointment of unmet expectations the past two seasons.

His $4 million salary-cap hit sticks out on the cap-crunched Blackhawks' payroll. It's the biggest reason Bickell often was mentioned in off-season trade speculation, while also being the most likely reason a trade wasn't consummated.

Nothing drove that point home more than being put on waivers Oct 2 and clearing the next day. It granted the Hawks 10 games or 30 days to reassign Bickell to Rockford, which they did last week to shave $950,000 off his cap hit.

Cap space probably wasn't the main objective, though. Most likely, it was another wake-up call for Bickell, along with a chance for him to rebuild confidence.

"It's tough," Bickell said. "I thought going into the season this was a good opportunity for me (playing for the Blackhawks), and I guess it just didn't work out. I felt great (with my) conditioning. That was the best (physical) condition I was in the last handful of years, so I don't know … maybe a lack of confidence or lack of trust, you know, wasn't there on both sides."

Trust shouldn't be an issue with IceHogs coach Ted Dent, who previously helped Bickell as an assistant coach during four AHL seasons.

"Confidence is a huge part of the game," Dent said. "The mental part of the game is a big thing now, and confidence. Bicks is a specimen. He's a big boy. He can shoot the puck. He can finish checks and he can skate, so he's got all the attributes. He's just got to clear his head and play with confidence and free his mind, I guess."

It will help when issues affecting his vestibular system are completely gone.

Bickell first experienced dizziness and imbalance last season during Game 7 against Anaheim in the Western Conference finals. It initially was diagnosed as vertigo, but that assessment changed over the summer.

Bickell was surprised the problems flared again at the start of training camp. He was sent to visit a specialist who deals with vestibular issues, and Bickell said the treatments to "reset" his system helped.

One of the treatment methods includes spinning around in a chair while opening and closing his eyes.

"We've kind of (found) ways to help it, and it's basically gone." Bickell said. "It comes from hitting and it just is what it is. That's my role and it's going to take different prices, with different surgeries on body parts, or the new one with (this).

"It's not going to leave overnight. It's going to take time. It's just getting better day by day, and it's getting really close."

Asked if a stint on long-term injured reserve was considered, Bickell shook his head.

"I didn't think it was bad enough that I couldn't play," he said. "Being an athlete, you just want to play every game in whatever you do. You want to help out your team and yourself.

"I don't think it was to the point where I needed that. I could play and I felt comfortable out there and I wasn't hurting the team, but it is what it is. It's the next chapter in this storybook that I've been writing, so it should be fun."

How motivated is he to finish his story in the NHL?

"I'm definitely driven," Bickell said. "I want to prove them wrong, that I can play up there, which I know they know."

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