Detroit — This time of the season for the Red Wings, with no playoffs in sight and only days left on the schedule, it’s nice to get some sort of energy boost.
Defenseman Joe Hicketts appears to be providing that Vitamin C.
All (listed) 5-foot-8, 180-pounds of boundless enthusiasm, fearlessness and hockey know-how was in full force Tuesday in the Red Wings’ unexpected 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh.
Hicketts, in his second NHL game, had two assists (his first NHL points) and played with the confidence that has been his trademark in junior hockey and in the American League with Grand Rapids.
And that hockey smile, with his front teeth missing and bubbly enthusiasm to every question, made everyone around the locker room feel a bit better.
“He comes in with that big smile, brings a lot of energy, that stuff is contagious,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall. “That’s something we definitely need right now.”
What’s helpful, too, is simply Hicketts’ ability to help the team on the ice.
While playing just under 18 minutes, along with the two assists, Hicketts led the team with six blocked shots, impressively quarterbacked the power play and didn’t look out of place while facing the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, at all.
Although facing Sidney Crosby on the opening shift, and seeing Crosby score on a 2-on-1 rush — Hicketts was the defender back — certainly wasn’t the way Hicketts or the Red Wings wanted to start the game.
“(At first) a little bit star-struck, maybe, playing against Sidney Crosby out there, but as the game went on, I got better and that’s all I wanted to do,” said Hicketts, around a monstrous media scrum surrounding him after the victory. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, and in the third (period) I thought I really brought what I wanted to bring.
“Now it’s going to be about continuing that and bringing it every day. I know that I want to leave the impression I want to leave, you have to go out there and do what the coaching staff wants. Doing too much has gotten me in trouble in the past. Those errors, you learn and live with.”
The neck surgery to Mike Green created an opportunity for Hicketts, who played in one game earlier this season in New Jersey, and played impressively that night, too.
Coach Jeff Blashill doesn’t want anybody to get carried away with two NHL games, and simply wants Hicketts to play the type of game that has gotten the young player to this level, despite many obstacles along the way.
“Joe has a lot of swagger, a lot of confidence,” Blashill said. “What that kind of swagger, he’ll have to manage his turnovers, he’ll have to manage certain mistakes.
“But he plays to win hockey games. That’s why he’s had success at the Canadion world junior level, that’s why he had success in the WHL (junior hockey), that’s why he had success in the American League.
“He doesn’t looks like a normal NHL defenseman with his size and skating combo. He’s been able to defy the odds. Can he keep defying odds? We’ll see. Careers aren’t defined in one game or two. They’re defined time after time after time.”
While Hicketts garnered much of the attention Tuesday, Kronwall had his share of the spotlight too after scoring his 80th career goal and earning his 400th career point.
The appreciative Red Wings crowd gave the veteran defenseman a warm ovation for the accomplishment.
“Everyone that has been in this locker room and has spent time here knows what he’s gone through the last 10 years with his body and how he battles through,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “He shows the young players how to do things right. It’s nice to see him get rewarded.”
Red Wings at Sabres
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, KeyBank Center, Buffalo. N.Y.
Outlook: The Sabres (24-40-12, 60 points) own the worst record in the NHL as injuries and sub-par performances again have wrecked what appeared would be a promising season.