NEW YORK – Two seasons ago, Stu Bickel wore the colors of the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors.
Last year? The Elmira Jackals.
But this season, the rugged 25-year-old defenseman is wearing the red, white and blue of the New York Rangers, serving as their sixth defenseman in a potential Stanley Cup run. It might seem like a big jump to most, but the Chanhassen, Minn. native told ECHL.com that he always thought that this could be possible one day.
"Obviously, that’s what your goal is, is to play in the NHL and to make an impact," said Bickel before Game 2 at Madison Square Garden.
"The playoffs have been awesome so far. We’ve got a great group of guys in here, and it’s been really enjoyable. Going into the playoffs as a rookie, you really don’t know what to expect. But it’s been awesome."
However, his teammates have been able to experience a lot more of the…well, awesomeness than he has. Although he’s played in all of the Blueshirts first 15 postseason, Bickel has averaged just under five minutes of ice time per game (4:57), the fewest of all NHL players to appear in five or more postseason games.
Certainly, the "I’m just happy to be here" cliché applies, but Bickel wants to compete. While an upgrade over being a healthy scratch, his is a difficult role to fill nonetheless.
"It’s a battle, really more of a battle mentally," he said.
"You have to stay confident. As difficult as that can be sometimes, it’s important because you always have to be ready to go. That’s part of being a professional. Obviously, I don’t run the bench, so there are certain things that are out of your control as a player. You just worry about what you can control, and that’s my attitude and my effort. Hopefully you can progress and keep moving forward."
And that is most certainly the attitude his team is taking as a whole as well, as they hold a 1-0 series lead heading into Wednesday night’s Game 2. While Bickel played a role in the gong show atmosphere that finished up the regular season series — he was involved in one of the three fights off the opening faceoff on March 19 that received national attention — at least the first game of the postseason series has strayed from the fisticuffs.
"In the playoffs, guys are going to be more careful with taking penalties," he said. "Especially this time of year, you don’t want to put teams on the power play, and they don’t want to put you on the power play, so that’s probably a part of it. It’s important to be physical. The confidence part of it is huge. You have to be confident and you have to stick to your game and play the way that you’re used to playing. You can’t let any outside factors get in the way of that."