Thomas Hickey opened up about his difficult journey after playing his first NHL game in almost two years Saturday night.
The New York Islanders defenseman collected a pair of assists in a 6-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. He suited up for the first time since May 3, 2019.
Injuries, including a concussion, had derailed his career. In addition, his brother Dan died of cancer at the age of 33 last March.
"It meant everything, really," Hickey said when asked about being a key part of Saturday's win. "Just to be with the guys was big, and then to chip in was huge. (It was) a very emotional night. (I'm) really happy with the effort of the guys and it's nice to come back and get a win. That's the biggest thing, and (I) just (have) a lot of good feelings right now."
Hickey added he dealt with doubt about whether he would ever get an opportunity to play in the NHL again.
"You just don't know," he said. "There are so many factors that go into it, so you just don't know when your time's going to come, and every day that goes by you feel like maybe it's a bit further away. But that's not always reality, it's just how you feel, so that was the doubt, but I believe in myself and I've reinforced that, so I was prepared for that."
The 32-year-old said he felt great about being back on the ice and having another chance to make his family proud.
"It's the best feeling I've had in a long time. Obviously, personally and professionally, it's been tough and there are people that you want to do things for to make them happy because we've had a really rough go.
"I've been thinking about my brother and I've always wanted to just do good things while he was battling and fighting and to show him that (I) can play for him. And I think that just carries over even though he's not with us. That's in the back of your mind, so those are the things you're thinking about, and it's been a tough road, but I feel like it's worth that wait."
Hickey was the Islanders' nominee for the Masterton Trophy - awarded to the player who "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey" - last June.
He's spent his entire seven-year career with the Islanders, who claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings in 2013.