(1090 The Fan) — The decision didn’t come easy, but for Justin Hickman it came as a necessity. In early January, the Thunderbirds captain opted for shoulder surgery ending his season and Western Hockey League career.

Hickman, 20, was bothered for several months by a shoulder that repeatedly came out of its joint. After playing through the injury initially, it became clear by the end of December that it was hampering his play too much.

While his sudden departure left a large void on the Thunderbirds roster, both in a secondary scoring presence and in leadership, both Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk and general manager Russ Farwell signed off on surgery.

“There’s no doubt it changed our makeup a bit,” Farwell said. “(Hickman) gave us another big, physical forward that could push the pace and those guys are hard to find. So we weren’t able to replace him. We were lucky we were able to bring (Roberts) Lipsbergs back.”

Hickman, 20, finished 11th on Seattle’s all-time games played list with 285 over parts of five seasons. He scored 55 goals and finished with a total of 132 career points. In 31 games during the 2014-15 season, Hickman had nine goals and 28 points.

Thursday, Hickman signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins of the NHL. The signing moves the forward one step closer to culminating a life-long dream of playing in the NHL, a goal his former general manager believes Hickman can accomplish.

“He’s been improving every year and I think he’ll improve over the next three to four years,” Farwell said.

I caught up with the recovering Hickman last week to talk with the former Thunderbird star and new Bruin about his injury, time with the T-Birds and his future.

(1090 The Fan): I heard that you flew down to South Africa to get the surgery done. What played into that decision?

(Hickman): I did . . . It was something that my dad came up with. (I saw) one of the top orthopedic surgeons over there, and he works on a lot of the pro rugby players and cricket players. The way they do the surgery that I needed . . . is much more better. And also, I got to see a lot of family over there that I haven’t seen in a long time.

How did the surgery go?

Yeah, everything’s good. I just got back in the gym last week, been able to train and stuff again. It’s going well.

How hard was the decision to end your season?

Yeah, it was definitely not easy. It was my last year with the team and I had been there for a long time. And you know, playing with a bunch of guys for a long time, it was definitely tough to have to step away. I’m still keeping up with the team and talking to everybody. I know they are having some great success lately which I love to see. So hopefully, they can make a great playoff run through March.

How has the rehab process been so far?

It’s pretty good. With any big injury, luckily time is on my side. Being able to wait until September to have to play again is good. I have full range of motion (now).

Is that the timetable for your recovery?

Well, it’s about four-to-six months recovery for it so a little before that, which is nice.

What is your focus right now?

I just signed with the Boston Bruins. So just right now I’m just kind of training, going to the gym . . . doing all my rehab and putting in my time to make sure I’m ready to go for next season.

Are you expecting to go to camp with the Bruins this summer then?

Yeah, definitely. I’ll go to summer camp in July and then head back in September for the main camp.

How exciting is that for you? It’s been a long process, I’m sure.

It definitely is. It’s a long process which it is and I’ve had the best time of my life playing junior hockey in Seattle. It’s exciting to get rewarded by being able to continue my career by playing in the NHL.

What were your favorite moments in your time playing with the T-Birds?

The playoff series last year against Everett could be one of the top moments. That was just one of the most fun times to be playing in my career. With the fans, how crazy both buildings were. And also, I think back to the days when I was a little younger, when I was 16, 17, a little naive and going to school and going through drills with all the boys, those were highlights.

How do you look back on those four years with the Thunderbirds and how they have shaped your game as a hockey player?

I think I definitely found out what type of player I am. It showed you the ropes of what it’s going to take to make it to the next level. There’s different roles on every team. Not everyone is going to score goals, not everyone is going to fight, but everybody working together is going to make for success. That’s one thing in the Western League, I definitely found (out) the type of role I’m going to play.

Any regrets after five years with the T-Birds?

None.

Do you have a last message for the Seattle fans?

Thanks to all the fans. They’ve been behind me and the team every single step of the way. I have been there for a couple years and a couple of them were good years. They have definitely stuck with it and it’s only getting better from here.

-Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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