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Lou Dickenson hopes his hockey odyssey will finally land him in the NHL

Lou Dickenson never gives up.

He's playing for the ECHL's Gwinnett Gladiators, and he's still holding out hope that he'll make it to the NHL.

"My goal for this year is to try to get to the AHL," he says from the suburbs of Atlanta. "If that doesn't happen, I want to win a championship with this team.

"My dream is to play in the NHL and I'm trying to get there."

Lesser men would have thrown in the towel long ago.

Dickenson, 25, who grew up in the Ottawa region, has played on 14 teams since joining the major-junior Mississauga IceDogs nine years ago. He wasn't much into checking but his offensive attributes prompted the Edmonton Oilers to take him 113th overall in the 2000 NHL entry draft.

Dickenson also played in the OHL for London, Kingston, Guelph and Ottawa, which he cherishes as his favourite stint in the sport. He learned a lot from coach Brian Kilrea.

"They've all been different," he says of his many stops. "But playing for the 67s where I grew up was a big thing for me and for my family at the time."

He played college hockey at St. Thomas University in Fredericton in 2003-2004, and his desire for hockey was restoked when he had a successful run in the made-for-TV "Making The Cut" series.

Dickenson got into 17 AHL games with the San Antonio Rampage in 2004-2005 while also skating for the ECHL Texas Wildcatters and the Central's Laredo Bucks.

Figuring the possibility of an NHL career was fading fast, he packed a suitcase and set off to see the world.

He scored a career-best 43 goals and assisted on 36 for 79 points in 41 games with SV Caldaro in northern Italy in 2005-06.

"I went over there and did real well," he says. "I enjoyed it."

He was all over the map the next season: seven games with Bofors IK in Sweden; 22 with the Edinburgh Capitals in Scotland; and 13 with a team in Ljubljana that won the championship of Slovenia.

"Most of the people there spoke English," he replies when asked if language was a barrier. "They treated us really well.

"It was first class. Everything was really good."

The cameo in Sweden proved fortuitous in that he met in that country the woman who now lives with him in Georgia.

Dickenson continued to follow what was happening in the NHL and deduced that, with the way rules applications were eliminating some of the obstruction fouls, his speed and stickhandling abilities might be suited for the big-league game much better now.

"I decided I wanted to give it another shot," he explains.

He joined the Gladiators, a winning team playing in an 11,300-seat arena that opened only four years ago. They've drawn more than 10,000 spectators to two of their home games so far this season.

"It's going pretty good," says Dickenson. "Our team is doing well and I'm having fun.

"Everything is positive."

He had five goals and six assists after 10 games. Dirk Southern of Winnipeg, an Anaheim Ducks draft pick in 2003, has been one of his linemates. Another Canadian on the team enjoying a good start is Derek Nesbitt of Egmondville, Ont., who had seven goals and five assists.

"We have a lot of depth," says Dickenson. "Whether we've had injuries or callups, we've worked through it all."

President-GM Steve Chapman is happy to have Dickenson.

"Lou is a class act," says Chapman. "He's wicked fast, a great skater, and has fast hands."

Dickenson doesn't get discouraged easily.

"Whatever the league, I get up in the morning and think about what hockey has given me," he says. "I just love playing hockey, whether it's a practice or a game.

"I feel so lucky to be playing. I always look on the bright side of everything. It wasn't something I had when I was younger, but you learn to appreciate what you've got."

Dickenson's conversation with this reporter abruptly ended when time on his cell phone elapsed. He found a store where he could purchase more minutes and called back. He's salt-of-the-earth thoughtful.

"People have said to me, 'Don't you think you're too old to be still thinking you can make it to the NHL?"' he says. "I'm just going to keep working hard.

"You can never give up. I feel that, with the rules changes, the dream is still alive. Going to Europe helped me improve as a player. I'm a good player. If it doesn't work out, I can always go back to Europe."

He's collected many of the sweaters from the teams for which he's skated and he'll be able to tell his grandchildren quite a story. He hopes it will be a tale that includes a chapter on the NHL.


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