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Blackhawks’ Bryan Bickell hopes for breakthrough season

Bryan Bickell is looking bounce back from “little speed bump” last seaslend physical presence front net. | Getty Images

Bryan Bickell is looking to bounce back from a “little speed bump” last season and lend a physical presence in front of the net. | Getty Images

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Updated: February 13, 2013 6:09AM

Bryan Bickell still wakes up around 4 a.m. every day and stares at the ceiling for a while. The 14-hour trek from Austria to Chicago with a stop in Zurich — the one he made earlier this week with his two dogs, a mutt and a pit bull, one of which escaped his cage and “nearly had a heart attack,” according to Bickell — is still wreaking havoc with his brain, which can’t seem to accept Central time.

He has less than a week before the Blackhawks leave for Los Angeles for the season opener Saturday, so he hopes to “break through” in the next couple of days. He also is hoping to break through on the ice. He’s coming off a down season and is entering a make-or-break year with the Hawks.

Bickell had 17 goals and 20 assists in the 2010-11 season, but his production fell to nine goals and 15 assists last season.

“Me going over there [to Europe] helped me a lot because it’s my contract year,” Bickell said. “Just to have an edge coming into the season. My first year was a good year. Last year was a little speed bump, but being overseas and coming into this season where I am now, I feel good and I need to have a good start and help this team out.”

One way he could help out — and help himself — would be to give the Hawks’ struggling power play a lift. The team scored on 15.2 percent of its chances with the man advantage last season, 26th in the league. Winger Patrick Kane said the Hawks are looking for a big body down low.

“One of the biggest things is, we didn’t have a guy who would really stand in front of the net last year, where a couple of years ago you had the [Troy] Brouwers and the [Dustin] Byfugliens, guys like that,” Kane said.

At 6-4, 223 pounds, Bickell can be that player, on special teams and five-on-five. At least, he believes he can.

“It’s going to be a big year for me in front of the net. The little things for tips and screening the goalie [are what] I need to work on,” Bickell said. “Hopefully I can park my butt right in front of him.”

Despite the jet lag, the compressed schedule is unlikely to bother Bickell much. After three months playing for a Czech team, he gained a greater appreciation for the style in which the Hawks travel. He said there were times when his team would travel seven hours to a game, hop off the bus and get right on the ice, then drive seven hours back that night — with a practice the next day.

“It was unbelievable how they do it over there,” he said. “They’re used to it. I was shaking my head, but everybody was like, ‘Yeah, this is it. Get used to it.’ ”

That grind is over, and another is about to begin. With the collective-bargaining agreement expected to be ratified by the players Saturday morning, physicals awaiting the Hawks later in the day, training camp opening Sunday and a 48-game season beginning Jan. 19, Bickell can’t wait to get started. Just as soon as the jet lag wears off.

“I need to bring it every game, no shifts and no days off,” he said. “I’ve 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, and so do I.”

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