Thomas Hickey thought of his late brother, Dan, who passed away a year ago because of a brain tumor. He remembered all the hard days of practice that did not lead to a chance to play in an NHL game. He acknowledged that doubt had entered his mind, not about his ability to play for the Islanders but about whether he might get another chance.
"A very emotional night," Hickey said.
He had two first-period assists as the Islanders beat the Flyers, 6-1, on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum. It was his first NHL game since May 3, 2019, when the Hurricanes completed their four-game sweep of the Islanders in the second round of the playoffs, and his first regular-season game since April 4, 2019.
"It’s a lot more exhausting than trying to stay physically ready," said Hickey, adding that he had trouble taking an afternoon nap, knowing he would be in the lineup. "Trying to keep your head in. Doubt creeps in. I’m proud of the work I put in.
"You just don’t know when your time is going to come. I believe in myself. But as time goes on, you don’t know."
Hickey suffered a concussion two seasons ago that led to the since-traded Devon Toews taking his lineup spot. Last season, a concussion and other injuries limited him to 14 games for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.
Coach Barry Trotz inserted him for Sebastian Aho, with Noah Dobson remaining on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list and missing his fourth straight game.
"You’re part of the team but you haven’t been in the lineup," Trotz said of Hickey. "The quality of work he does, day in and day out, is exceptional. It tells you a lot about Thomas."
What to expect
Trotz has not seen Anatolii Golyshev play in person and did not know when the newly signed KHL star will be able to practice with the Islanders. But Trotz has watched video of the 26-year-old forward, who set franchise records with 109 goals and 220 points in his eight seasons with Yekaterinburg Avtomobilist.
"He’s an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He likes to get available. He makes pretty good plays. He seems to have a knack for the net. He’s not overly big [5-7, 187 pounds] but he’s got really good hockey instincts."
Oliver Wahlstrom was a goal shy of a Gordie Howe hat trick after assisting on Casey Cizikas’ second goal and then fighting Oskar Lindblom at 15:35 of the first period, his first NHL fight . . . The Islanders are 13-1-2 at home . . . Cizikas had his fifth career two-goal game.