Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill talks about Joe Hicketts ahead of his NHL debut on Monday night. Gregg Krupa, Detroit News
Newark, N.J. – Joe Hicketts got a call Sunday morning from Jeff Nelson, head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Red Wings wanted him.
Trevor Daley is the Wings’ latest injury, and the numbers finally dictated the need for another defenseman.
It is Hicketts’ time.
His first NHL game is 7 p.m. Monday against the Devils (Fox Sports Detroit, 97.1 FM).
Petr Mrazek will start in goal.
“Nellie called. He just said I was going up,” said Hicketts, a diminutive, offense-minded defenseman, who is listed at 5-8, 180 pounds. “I didn’t know I was going to play at that point.
“It’s just something that – it was a dream come true, almost.”
One of Hicketts’ models is the retired Dearborn-native Brian Rafalski, who listed at 5-10, 194 pounds by the end of his career.
Hicketts debuts playing for the Red Wings, for whom Rafalski played the last four seasons of his career, against the Devils, for whom Rafalski played his first seven seasons.
Hicketts gained notice and popularity with Red Wings fans with his hard-nosed approach and some vicious body-checking that seemed to belie his size and provide the very definition of “scrappy.”
Confidence and toughness are what his coach in the NHL seeks.
Hicketts has shown both playing preseason games for the Red Wings, as well as for the Griffins.
“I think the biggest part for him or any other young player that comes in is they have to have confidence and swagger,” Jeff Blashill said. “That, lots of times, separates guys that make it in the NHL and guys that don’t.
“Mental toughness, swagger. To be able to step into tough situations and be not afraid.
“You can’t be afraid to make a mistake; you’ve got to play hockey,” Blashill sad.
“I think his best asset has been that, and he’s got to do that tonight.”
Hicketts will start out paired with Jonathan Ericsson against the Devils.
The Wings signed Hicketts, 21, as an undrafted free agent in September 2014.
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Joe Hicketts talks about his work ethic being key in reaching the NHL. The Detroit News
He won gold for Canada in the 2015 World Junior Championship as an alternate captain, and was named to the All-Star team of the Western Hockey Association twice.
Two seasons ago, he led the Griffins defensemen in scoring during the regular season (7-27—34) and the postseasons (1-7—8), helping lead Grand Rapids to the AHL championship, the Calder Cup.
This season, his scoring pace is down (2-6—8, in 43 games). But it also is true the team is not playing quite as well, generally.
His parents, Mike and Lee-Gaye, will watch him against the Devils.
“My parents are flying in. They made it to Toronto last night,” Hicketts said of them traveling from the family home in Kamloops, in south central British Columbia.
“They had to stay the night, just with the time change from B.C., and they arrived this morning.”
Their son has arrived in the NHL, playing for the Detroit Red Wings.