"He called me on the way home and said he really liked it," O'Neill said in a telephone interview Monday night. Hickey had not committed to the Badgers — yet. He "kind of wanted to talk to the parents on the way home, but he was very excited on the way home, so I kind of had an idea that that was going to be his choice.
"He called Coach (Mike) Eaves back Saturday."
Sure enough, Hickey verbally committed to Wisconsin on Saturday, becoming the second class of 2008 prospect to do so, joining his teammate, defenseman Ryan McDonagh (6-foot-1, 195 pounds).
Hickey (6-2, 185) could play center or wing for the Badgers. He has led Cretin-Derham Hall in goal scoring in all three of his seasons at the school, and he helped the Raiders earn their first Minnesota Class AA state title this season. Hickey finished his junior campaign with 63 points on 37 goals and 26 assists, as the Raiders went 27-4. He tallied seven points in three state tournament games, including a pair of goals in each of the three contests.
"He's a goal scorer, but he's also sort of a grinder," O'Neill said. "He loves to play in the corners. He's very competitive…
"He's a goal scorer, but he's not a pretty goal scorer all the time. He'll get the ugly ones too, which sometimes are the prettiest ones."
Hickey's visit to Wisconsin last week completed a tour of prestigious NCAA hockey programs. He visited North Dakota about a month ago, and took in Colorado College and Denver over Easter weekend. He had also visited Minnesota.
O'Neill said that Hickey was pretty quiet about the recruiting process, rarely if ever talking about his scholarship offers, but O'Neill knew that Hickey had offers from St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth. Hickey had to tell him about the trips to Colorado and Wisconsin, since O'Neill is also Hickey's baseball coach.
A three-sport athlete, Hickey was a starting tailback on the Raiders' highly regarded football team the past two seasons. He plays outfield on the baseball team.
O'Neill believes that is part of the reason Hickey chose Wisconsin. Several schools were recruiting him as a class of 2007 prospect. As such, they wanted him to play junior hockey in 2006-07, rather than spending his senior year at Cretin-Derham Hall.
"One of the things he wanted to do was find people that say, ‘Yeah, go ahead, finish your high school and then play a year of juniors and we'd love to have you,'" O'Neill said. "I think that definitely had something to do with his choice.
"I'm sure it didn't hurt that the Badgers won the national championship either."
The Badgers' current plan, according to O'Neill, is to have Hickey and McDonagh finish out their senior years at Cretin-Derham Hall, then play a year of junior hockey before joining the Badgers in the fall of 2008.
However, if UW suffers enough attrition following its 2006-07 season, and Hickey or McDonagh make enough progress to be ready to play in 2007, they could be brought in straight from high school.
"They want to stay in school here," O'Neill said. "Finish school and then they are willing to go play a year of juniors. And I think that's the agreement unless the Badgers lose a bunch of guys next year.
"But the plan is to keep them there (at) high school, then juniors and then come in as freshmen in 2008."
Hickey and McDonagh were both named first-team all-state and were part of the AA state championships all-tournament team. McDonagh, a smooth skating blue-liner, had two goals and three assists in three tournament games, and 12 goals and 33 assists through the course of the season.
O'Neill said that he felt Hickey made his decision on its own merits, McDonagh's previous verbal notwithstanding.
"It definitely wasn't the deciding factor," O'Neill said. "And obviously it's nice to have a teammate going that way too. But I think he was really excited about what (the Badgers) have there. The atmosphere at the school, and the school itself.
"They are actually both very good students. I know Ryan has like a 4.2 (grade-point average) and Chris is like a 3.8."