Cup win­ner too busy to la­ment about MS

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NHL - Kevin Allen

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.”

JON DURR/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Bryan Bick­ell won Stan­ley Cups with the Black­hawks in 2013 and 2015. Now he’s bat­tling MS and telling his story to in­spire oth­ers.

JOE LAM­BERTI/(CHERRY HILL, N.J.) COURIER POST

Since he’s no longer play­ing hockey, Bryan Bick­ell is do­ing new things to keep in shape.

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