Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds fans undergo a bittersweet experience every season. Each year, they have to say good-bye to the 20-year-old players who are "graduating" out of the WHL. Some have to say goodbye to players who move into the pro ranks earlier than age 20, leaving fans bursting with pride... and heartbroken at the same time. No, we won't see them on the ice at Comcast Arena or ShoWare Center anymore, but we have watched them develop. And at the best of times, we can continue to watch them develop in the AHL and hopefully cheer them as they realize their NHL dreams.
One player who's left a gaping hole in the Seattle Thunderbirds lineup (not to mention its defense) is former Captain Thomas Hickey. He wrapped up his 20 year old season by helping the T-Birds reach the first round of the playoffs. He also Captained Canada's national team to its 5th consecutive gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Ottawa.
Over the summer, Thomas worked out and really had a great showing at Los Angeles Kings' training camp. He stayed with the Kings for all of the preseason, before General Manager Dean Lombardi sent him to the Kings' AHL affiliate Manchester Monarchs to fine-tune his skating and get plenty of ice time. Thomas just returned to Manchester and is living in a hotel while looking for his first apartment or house to rent. His roommate at the hotel is another name familiar to T-Birds fans: former star forward Bud Holloway, who also had a great showing during training camp and is in the Monarchs lineup with Thomas.
I caught up with Thomas the day after he and the Monarchs beat the Albany River Rats 6-3. Thomas figured prominently in the game- and he was taking a well-deserved rest. Read on to learn more about how he spent his summer, his thoughts about nearly cracking the Kings' lineup, and how he's still finding time to follow his old team here in Seattle.
SR: Nice game last night! I was listening online to try and prepare for the interview.
TH: It was a good way to start our season out.
SR: How does it feel to be back in Manchester?
TH: It's good. I think we have a really good team this year so it was nice to get the season started and get into it so I'm looking forward to it.
SR: It seems like you have strength everywhere and having Bud Holloway up there with you, too, is like having a familiar face, isn't it?
TH: Yeah, it's great. We're actually roommates now in our hotel so that's good, too, but I knew a lot of the guys from the end of last season and it's a young group so it's nice being familiar with all the guys.
SR: The last time we talked, you were preparing to hit Kings training camp as ready as you could be, and from everything I've seen and read about training camp and the preseason, you seem to have met or exceeded everyone's expectations. How was it from your end?
TH: I think going down (to camp), that was the goal to be in good physical shape and I think I was. The biggest part was going out and doing it on the ice and I felt it was really good and I got better as camp went on. I didn't leave anything in the tank, so from that end, I'm happy with what I put out.
SR: I read a quote from Dean Lombardi saying he was really happy with your camp, especially after the last couple of years. He seems to be a man who doesn't mince words and for him to have great confidence in you and say you're basically back in Manchester to work on just skating and getting a lot of ice time, it seems that you should hit the Kings' lineup before the season's over. How does that affect your mindset?
TH: That's encouraging. We had our meetings at the end before I headed out there and like you said, the things he had to say to me were positive. He said I'm going in the right direction so it's nice to get a vote of confidence from management so for me, I've gotta put in more work and show them I'm ready for the big leagues.
SR: After spending four years with the WHL, living with billets, going home for the summer, you did spend a little bit of time with Manchester at the end of last season, but this is your first full season outside juniors. How's the transition been for you? What's it like to finally be on your own?
TH: It's something that I'm gonna have to get used to because right now, I'm still in a hotel but sort of looking for apartments or house to live in this week. I've been doing some searching around with a few guys. That's something I've never done before, but it's fun and it's neat and it's gonna be a life experience, too, not just hockey. I'm looking forward to it. I had a great time living with billets and being in Seattle but at the same time, it's time to turn the page and start being a professional hockey player.
SR: What's Manchester like as a city?
TH: It's nice. It's pretty small. It's just below Boston. I've been to Boston before but I don't know how to compare the two. It's obviously much smaller but you get that feeling of being out east and there's a lot of old buildings and it feels cultured compared to most things out west.
SR: It seems like your number for the time being is 37, when you've worn 4 for most of your career. Do you have any thoughts about that or are you kind of ambivalent?
TH: It's something I don't really care about, to be honest. I was always a big fan of 4, but it's a pretty common number in hockey so you've gotta switch it around sometimes. 37's what I had at training camp and I'm not very picky. I'll go with it.
SR: Do you have any messages for fans back here in Seattle?
TH: It's an exciting time (for the T-Birds). The guys got off to a slow start. I watch online and after that win they had on Friday night, the shutout, I think that's a good sign and things are only going to get better. I miss it back there but I'm keeping tabs and I'm sure they'll do very good this year.
SR: Friday was a pretty interesting game. It seemed like the whole team worked together to keep Tri City from scoring, yet to let them get as shots is not good. Having Calvin block 57 shots is amazing, but you don't want to tire him out that soon.
TH: You don't want to rely on him that much but with the goalies they've got, with Jake and Calvin, you can occasionally get games out of them like that. It's not something you want to do that often but it's nice to have two guys that are capable of it.
It's always nice to catch up with players who have moved on and it's great to expand our knowledge of the AHL. The Monarchs are on my list of favorites, along with the Toronto Marlies (Greg Scott, former T-Bird), Manitoba Moose (Taylor Ellington, former Silvertip), Abbotsford Heat (Riley Armstrong, former 'Tip), Binghamton Senators (Jim O'Brien, former T-Bird), Wheeling Nailers/ECHL (Chris Cloud, former T-Bird), Peoria Rivermen (Mitch Love, former 'Tip), San Antonio Rampage (Shaun Heshka, former 'Tip; David Spina, former youth hockey player), Houston Aeros (John Lammers, former 'Tip), Norfolk Admirals (Riku Helenius, former T-Bird). If I'm leaving someone out, please let me know and I'll add him.
As for our friend Thomas Hickey, T-Birds fans aren't the only ones watching him and tracking his career. Los Angeles Kings fans are excited to have him in the system and cannot wait until the day he lines up on the ice at Staples Center. And you don't have to be a hockey expert to know that day is coming soon. Until then, listen to Monarchs games online at http://www.monarchshockey.com/ . Then let's compare notes.