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Breakout hockey star Liam Hickey has family, home province in his corner

Monday, March 12th, 2018

Parents, fans in Newfoundland and Labrador ecstatic for 19-year-old

Devin Heroux · CBC Sports · March 11

The streets of St. John's were where Liam Hickey realized his Stanley Cup moments as kid — he spent hours perfecting his hockey shot.  

"People back home still talk to us about driving by the house and seeing Liam shooting balls endlessly into the net," Todd Hickey, Liam's father, said. 

All he wanted to do growing up was skate like his favourite Montreal Canadiens players and at just 19 years old he's getting his chance with Canada's para ice hockey team at the Paralympics in South Korea. It's just not how he ever imagined it.

Hickey was born without a femur in his right leg. At age four he had surgery that allowed doctors to attach a prosthetic leg to his knee.

"It was difficult. I think it was the most difficult thing he's gone through. As a parent watching it was so tough," Michelle Hickey, Liam's mother, said. 

She remembers watching her son continually try to skate without success. Switching to goaltender didn't work either, leaving young Hickey devastated.

"All my friends were playing regular stand-up hockey and that's all what I wanted to do. I couldn't accept that I wouldn't be able to play," he said. 

Introduction to para hockey

Michelle and Todd have always known their son was athletic and they were relentless in finding something he could be a part of. They found para hockey and wheelchair basketball when Hickey was nine. 

"At first I didn't want to try either of them," he said. "In my eyes it wasn't cool as a kid to be playing para sports."

He was set on not playing either. But his parents were set on him playing both — and they won. 

"His running and skating were the things that held him back. Once he found sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball he realized he could be the fastest," Todd said. "I've always told him he could be the best."

Hickey tried both sports and the moment he did everything changed. He was hooked. He could imagine being competitive, working towards something — scoring the winning basket or goal. 

"My parents have carved a path for me throughout my entire life," Hickey said.  "They were the ones to go out and find something I would be interested in and pushed me to keep moving forward."

Double Paralympian

Liam is a naturally gifted athlete, excelling in both wheelchair basketball and para ice hockey. In 2015, Hickey won silver for Canada in wheelchair basketball at the Parapan American Games in Toronto and later made his Summer Paralympics debut at the 2016 Games in Rio.

Now he's one of the rare Canadian athletes to compete at both a Summer and Winter Paralympics as a valued member of Canada's hockey team.

Hickey, who plays on the first line and consistently contributes on offence, has the chance to become the hockey star he dreamed about being as a kid and win gold for everyone who supported him along the way.

"I take the time before each game to focus and realize I am playing for my country, province, family and friends back home," he said. "It's been my goal since I was a little kid."

"He wants to be an impact player. He wants to be the one scoring the big goal," Todd said. 

Both Todd and Michelle are in the crowd watching every moment in Pyeongchang. They're joined by Liam's grandmother, Jenny, sister Megan and girlfriend Lydia. They're waving a Canadian flag and Newfoundland and Labrador flag after every goal.

'They have my back'

It's the support of people all across Newfoundland and Labrador that Hickey says motivates him when times get tough.

"Everyone back home has shown tremendous support, more than I would have ever expected," he said. "Family, friends and people I've never even met before are reaching out to me and letting me know they have my back."

While it's been a long and arduous journey to get to this point, his parents marvel at how their son has persevered.

"He's a strong personality. He has leadership characteristics. He's very determined. We always taught him to be humble and be proud," Michelle said.

Todd can't stress the staying humble part enough. He says it comes with territory of being from Newfoundland and Labrador. 

"It takes a community to raise a kid and in Liam's case, everyone in the province feels his success. That makes us even more proud than a medal."