The Clutch Nature of the Islanders’ Thomas Hickey

Rob Taub
New York Islanders, Thomas Hickey
Oct 30, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey (4) takes the ice before game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG PAINTS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Hickey has a special place in the history of the New York Islanders.

It was four years ago tonight when Hickey, then age 27, scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Game Three against the Florida Panthers to complete the Isles’ comeback victory that evening and also help regain the series lead in their favor.

The moment still resonates with fans, but it was just one of several over Hickey’s seven-year tenure with the franchise, which enabled him as clutch.

When Hickey first became an Islander, he came with a chip on his shoulder.

Drafted fourth overall back in 2007 by the Los Angeles Kings, Hickey — a former captain of his world junior squad for Canada — never really flourished in the Kings’ organization. He played five seasons in the AHL before the Kings they unceremoniously placed him on waivers in January 2013. Former Islanders-gm Garth Snow decided to take a flyer on the Calgary, AB native as the lockout-shortened season was set to begin in January 2013.

It was one of the smarter calls that Snow made during the time he was running the organization. And that’s where the legend of Hickey’s clutch antics first came to be known. Or as Butch Goring, current broadcaster for MSG Networks and a former four-time Stanley Cup winner liked to refer to him “a mosquito on the ass of an elephant.”

In just his tenth NHL game, the first of Hickey’s heroics as an Islander came in Montreal in a game that was also a bit of a turning point for the Isles early on that season.

After the Islanders had fought back to force overtime, Hickey was in the right place at the right time, when he made the wise decision to go the side of the net after John Tavares was cutting to the middle. All alone in with a wide-open cage, Tavares lost an edge and fed Michael Grabner, who spotted Hickey. Hickey slammed home the pass and gave the Isles a huge 4-3 win. To make things even more unique, that goal was the first NHL goal of Hickey’s career.

That would be the only goal Hickey scored all year before he came up big again the following season in early December. Once again, it came in OT.

With just under two minutes left in the extra session and the Isles pressing, Hickey received a cross-ice pass and made the heads up decision to make a spin move to gain some room past Sens forward Kyle Turris. Wheeling it around the net, Hickey threw a backhander which banked of Ottawa d-man Cody Ceci past goalie Craig Anderson and into the back of the net.

It was another big goal for the Isles, who were red hot at the time and extended their winning streak on home ice to seven games.

Fast-forwarding to the end of the 2015-16 season and the Isles with an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth for a second consecutive season. Who else but Hickey to score, without a doubt, the team’s most important goal of the year.

A lot of the credit should go to Tavares — who would usually be the player to set up Hickey –, but Hickey himself showed his awareness. Instead of getting right up in the rush into the offensive zone, Hickey instead trailed the play and put himself in the perfect position in the slot to receive the slick feed from Tavares and deposit it top corner past Capitals’ goaltender Braden Holtby.

After the goal against the Panthers a few weeks later, Hickey’s antics had garnered him the nickname, “Mr. Clutch.”

“There’s not a guy on our team that plays as big as Thomas Hickey,” former-Isles coach Jack Capuano said back then. “When you talk about toughness, I’ve always defined it as taking a hit to make a play. And that’s what he does. … It’s always good to see a guy like that get rewarded.”

The other two big-time markers — the last of his six total as an Islander — didn’t hold the same weight as the other previous ones. But they still showed Hickey continued to have a flair for the dramatic.

This season was probably one to forget for Hickey.

The 31-year-old was waived just before the start of this season — rookie Noah Dobson made the team over him — and ended up heading to Bridgeport. While there, the Calgary native, unfortunately, got hurt and spent a majority of the season rehabbing. He was called up before the whole COVID-19 pandemic took havoc on the NHL and the entire sports world for that matter. He didn’t suit up, though.

So if his time with the Isles is indeed over, it’s worth remembering Hickey’s clutch performances and the impact they had.