Bickell: Playing in Austria good experience

Bryan Bickell didn't anticipate playing in Austria for long during the lockout, but three months later he returns to Chicago. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell was expecting the NHL lockout to last at most a month when he decided to play in the Austrian Hockey League.

That month turned into 113 days, but he believes ultimately that worked out in his favor.

Bickell was back in Chicago on Friday and practiced with his Blackhawks teammates at Johnny's IceHouse West. He admitted it was different playing on a larger ice rink, living in a small town in the Czech Republic and having very few people to speak with in English, but he believes he benefited from the experience.

"Being over three months, I thought (the lockout) was going to be over in a month," said the 26-year-old Bickell, who believes his skating especially improved overseas. "But you know what? It worked out the best for me. I think for my career me going over there helped me a lot because this is my contract year. Just to have the edge to come into the season. It was nice to be over there. I'm happy to be back."

Bickell's role with the Blackhawks the past few seasons has been to be a physical forward, and he has often been placed on the team's checking line. While playing with the Znojmo Eagles the past few months, he was allowed to expand his game and be more offensive-minded. In 28 games in the Austrian Hockey League, Bickell had nine goals and 18 assists.

Bickell anticipates Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to use him this season as he has in the past. Bickell hopes to provide some more offense along with that physicality this season. He's also focused on becoming more consistent.

"I think my first year was a good year and last year was kind of a speed bump," Bickell said. "Being overseas and coming into the season where I am now, I feel good.

"I need to bring it every game. No shifts, no days off. I got to be mentally focused. … This is an important year for me and for the team. Forty-eight games is a lot different than 82. We need to have a good start."

Bickell is optimistic that if the Blackhawks get off to a good start they can be right in the mix come playoff time.

"I think we have a good squad," Bickell said. "We have great depth through all our lines. When we're on our 'A' game, it's going to be hard to beat us. I think we need a good start and go from there."