Cup winner too busy to lament about MS
Two-time Stanley Cup winner Bryan Bickell, 32, says he “can still hear the ting” of his last NHL shot that struck the post and fell into the net for a shootout goal in April 2017.
Bickell confesses to missing the game badly. But he doesn’t spend time lamenting that a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis shortchanged his career. He’s far too busy for self-pity.
He spoke from Boston, where he was working with the company Biogen, to share his MS story with MS-diagnosed athletes running in the Boston Marathon.
“I’m there to motivate them, to tell my story, what I went through as a hockey player to achieve my goals, but also to have them tell me their stories to motivate me,” Bickell said.
Bickell was diagnosed in November 2016, but he had known for more than a year that his body wasn’t right. According to the Mayo Clinic, “MS is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). The immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body.”
“I’ve come a long way from the first month I was diagnosed,” Bickell said. “I didn’t know I was going to be doing anything, or if I could get better, or whether my symptoms could go away. I didn’t expect to be where I am today.”
He is living a relatively normal life, playing senior hockey twice a week with friends near his Newcastle, Ontario, home. There’s also softball and chasing around his daughters, ages 1 and 3.
“The health is great; there have been ups and downs, but mostly ups,” he said.
Bickell said leaving the NHL was tough mentally. “But physically, it’s a lot better because I’m not putting my body through the ringer,” he said. “There are some things that pop up here and there, but we adjust.”
One of the original symptoms was trouble with a shoulder. “It still comes up, but it goes away, and I live my life,” he said.
He doesn’t allow his diagnosis to rule his life. He also has embraced multiple charitable causes and has a foundation to rescue abused pit bulls.
Now, he is involved in the training of pit bulls to be service dogs for people with MS. The training is complex because MS patients have a wide variety of symptoms.
“Training is at our expense, and it can take eight months to a year to get them trained right,” Bickell said. “We are doing it one dog at a time.”
Bickell has worked to connect with other MS patients by publishing the tale of his journey at MyFightingStory.com
His life is far busier today than it was when he was an NHL player. He finds it inspiring to meet other people with MS. He has looked forward to meeting the marathoners.
“I enjoy running quite a bit,” he said. “It lets me clear my head and burns off some calories I put on the weekend.”
He laughs. “But a marathon? I was a hockey player,” he said. “I only do 30-second shifts.”
It’s clear Bickell has made peace with his diagnosis. It undoubtedly helped that he achieved his goal of coming back to finish the 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes after his diagnosis. It was a storybook ending when he scored a shootout goal on his final shot against goalie Anthony Stolarz to help the Hurricanes beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3.
His career was cut short, but Bickell had closure.
“Growing up, you want to play hockey, then play in the NHL and then win a Stanley Cup,” Bickell said. “I was lucky to win a couple of Cups (with the Chicago Blackhawks). Then to score in front of friends and family on my last shot was special.”
Bryan Bickell won Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015. Now he’s battling MS and telling his story to inspire others.
Since he’s no longer playing hockey, Bryan Bickell is doing new things to keep in shape.