Sitting in the stands, watching your team play while you are hurt and unable to play is a tough scenario for any athlete.
This has been the unfortunate case for Americans’ forward Taylor Vickerman, who has been battling injuries the last two seasons.
He was traded to the Americans in the summer of 2013. A native of Kennewick, Wash., Vickerman had achieved the dream that many youth hockey players in the Tri-Cities dream of doing: putting on an Americans sweater.
Coming into the 2014-15 season, Vickerman was coming off of a torn ACL injury, and wasn’t 100 percent coming into main camp in August.
“I definitely felt like I wasn’t where I wanted to be,” Vickerman said. “Skating in the summer is a big part of any player’s development, I felt like I was missing that. But that didn’t really hold me back from giving 110 percent and going in and giving my best effort. At camp, you have to be optimistic, work hard.”
Unable to play in any pre-season games, Vickerman was cleared to play in the home opener on Sept. 20 against Spokane, his first game back since the injury.
Vickerman said it took a couple months to get his legs underneath him, but he finally broke through on Nov. 8 against Red Deer. He scored the tying goal on the power play with five seconds to play in the second period, with the Americans eventually winning the game in overtime, 3-2.
“It was just about time, I was getting pretty frustrated, it was nice to get that,” Vickerman said.
From there, he felt he was getting his game back, scoring a goal and two assists before the winter break. After the break, he came out hot, recording an assist in his first game back from break and then followed it up with three goals and four assists in January.
Vickerman spent most of his time during the season on a line with Ty Comrie and Vladislav Lukin. He said the three worked well together and were able to generate a lot of scoring chances while on the ice.
“I’ve always played with smaller, quick players,” Vickerman said. “I grew up playing with Keanu Yamamoto of Spokane and we always had real good chemistry so there must be something about a good, smaller skill players with a big power forward guy that goes well together.”
February was a tough month for the team and Vickerman, as the Ams struggled with injuries and players were getting frustrated.
“It was a mix of missing guys and getting frustrated,” Vickerman said. “It was tough to see that.”
The team started its push for the playoffs in March. Three games into March, Vickerman’s season ended as he dealt with an upper body injury and was once again forced to miss the rest of the season.
“These past couple years have been frustrating for me,” Vickerman said. “I’ve learned a lot from overcoming injuries. I hate to say it but it was nice to get hurt the first time to know how to handle myself and do everything working hard to get back to where you have to be but I’ve never gotten hurt as much as I have these past two years.”
Vickerman sat in the stands and watched as the Americans made the playoffs and were swept by the Kelowna Rockets in the first round.
“I wanted to go out there and just help do whatever I could, help the guys win, but it obviously couldn’t happen,” Vickerman said. “It is what it is and you’ve got to move on and set your goals high and keep moving forward.”
Looking back at the 2014-15 season, Vickerman felt this year was a learning experience.
“Definitely a learning experience for the whole team, we’ve got a lot of young guys,” Vickerman said. “We fought hard at the start of the year and then kind of fell off, every season has their ups and downs. I think the older guys really stepped up and tried to make a difference, especially at the end of the year when we needed to get points. Definitely showed a lot of promise for next year coming up.”
But a bit of good news came following the season, as Vickerman was announced as a finalist for the WHL’s Humanitarian of the Year award. At the awards ceremony in Calgary on May 5, he won the award over Eastern Conference nominee Tyler Wong.
Vickerman’s big project this year was the Americans’ Face Off Against Bullying program. Vickerman, along with teammates Beau McCue and Justin Hamonic, went to several area schools and talked to kids about how to deal with bullies and shared personal stories about their own issues with bullying.
“It was a huge deal, especially being from Tri-Cities, I felt obligated to give back to the community just because the Ams players gave me so much and gave me a dream to play in the WHL someday,” Vickerman said. “It was definitely an exciting time for me and I couldn’t have done it without everybody in the organization, my family and everything. It was definitely a full-circle effort, especially with (Justin) Hamonic and Beau (McCue) helping me out as well. It was an honor to win that and even be recognized is awesome. Going out and helping kids is awesome and to see the rewards from seeing a smile on their face is or making a difference in schools with the bullying program, it puts a smile on my face and makes my heart full.”
Being from the Tri-Cities, Vickerman has taken it upon himself to be a role model for kids in the area. When anyone asks him for advice, he reflects on a time when he was in their shoes.
“I remember, my dad tells the story all the time of one time we went down to San Jose for a tournament and saw Patrick Marleau, who’s not the biggest guy in the league,” Vickerman said. “My dad asked him what the biggest thing he would say to young hockey players these days and he said, ‘Don’t let anybody ever tell you you can’t do it.’ That’s kind of my motto, and I kind of live by that. Every time I see a little kid ask me what they need to do, what skills they need to work on, I say ‘Don’t let anyone ever tell you you can’t do it.’
In the offseason, Taylor is working hard to get back into top form for the 2015-16 season. Along with good friend Beau McCue, the two have been in the gym and on the ice getting ready for the following season.
“It’s nice to have because I’ve never really had that, I’ve always had to really be self-motivated,” Vickerman said. “It’s always nice to have somebody to help motivate you.”
Vickerman had a career-high six goals, seven assists and 37 penalty minutes during the 2014-15 season. Next season, he hopes to step into more of a leadership role with the team and exceed his career high totals from last season.
Another goal of Vickerman’s is to avoid injury and play a full 72-game season.
“I feel like my body is the best it’s ever been right now and I’m halfway through summer,” Vickerman said. “Just trying to get the NHL body build and help the team out and see what happens this year. My mindset it compete, try to help the team win and good things will happen to you. If you go into each game wanting to compete and wanting to do your best for the team and to win, score goals, win battles, good things will happen.”