Normally, Bryan Bickell would have been with the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday for their road game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He’s a hockey player. That’s what he does. That’s been his life.
But life no longer is normal for Bickell. It changed when doctors diagnosed the veteran forward with multiple sclerosis, often a disabling disease of the central nervous system.
The Hurricanes made the announcement Nov. 11, and Bickell’s hockey life has since been on hold. While he hopes to one day return to the ice and play again, no one can say when that day will come.
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“I’m just taking it day by day, hopefully letting the treatment take its part,” Bickell said this week. “I’m just taking it day by day and having ups and downs through the day.”
Instead of being with the team Tuesday and a part of a 2-1 victory over the Leafs, Bickell and his wife, Amanda, were helping Hurricanes staffers deliver 650 Thanksgiving turkeys to the Helping Hand Mission in Raleigh. They packed Thanksgiving food boxes and handed them out, all under the watchful eye of Sylvia Wiggins, the mission’s executive director and someone not lacking energy.
“I came out today to take my mind off it,” Bickell said. “You see people coming in here with smiles on their faces. It’s helping their Thanksgiving.”
Bickell, with a smile, said he took a run earlier Tuesday morning to “get the heart rate back up” — his first meaningful exercise in a few days, he said. He jokingly grunted as he lifted big boxes of turkeys off the Hurricanes’ truck, saying, “I haven’t worked out in a while, clearly.”
Bickell, 30, had the game-winning goal – and denied Jeff Skinner a hat trick – on Oct. 28, in the home opener against the New York Rangers at PNC Arena. An apparent third goal by Skinner caused hats to fly on to the ice, but the puck glanced off Bickell’s jersey in front of the crease.
Hopefully, I’ll get back stable and get back on the ice. It’s tough, but we’re taking it day by day and hopefully every day it gets better.
Canes forward Bryan Bickell, who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis
Bickell was in the lineup Oct. 30 against the Philadelphia Flyers but played just five minutes and 45 seconds. It would be his last game, and in the days that followed Canes coach Bill Peters said he had an illness and that the team was awaiting the results of tests.
The 6-4, 233-pound Bickell has said he sensed something was wrong with his motor skills, that an arm and leg weren’t functioning properly, as if they weren’t getting all the signals from the brain.
Bickell had suffered from dizziness and vertigo during the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks. Traded to the Canes this past June, he said he felt fine physically and was ready to start a new chapter with a new team after helping the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cups.
But an MRI and consultation with doctors led to the diagnosis of MS, which has no cure but can be treated to manage the disease’s symptoms. The announcement on Bickell was both sudden and sobering for his teammates.
Center Jordan Staal noted he and Bickell are about the same age and that both have two daughters.
“It could easily be me,” Staal said. “It’s very hard to swallow. ‘Bicks’ is strong-willed and he’s going to keep fighting and hopefully he can get better and start playing for us again.”
Former Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding was diagnosed with MS in 2012 and continued to play for a few years. Bickell said Harding has reached out and the two have been in contact, although, as he said, it’s “different humans, different bodies that take treatment differently.”
But Bickell said Harding’s explanation of the stages of treatment “kind of gives me a peace of mind and I know what to expect.”
“You must listen to your body and take your time. You don’t want to rush into things. I know I want to get on the ice as soon as possible but first and foremost I have to worry about my health and my body.”
Bickell will continue to be regular at PNC Arena, attending games, being around the guys. That’s part of his therapy, too.
“If I have to, I’ll poke my head in and throw some pointers,” he said, smiling.
And, at some point, put the skates on again.
“Hopefully, I’ll get back stable and get back on the ice,” he said. “It’s tough, but we’re taking it day by day and hopefully every day it gets better.”
Hurricanes at Canadiens
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bell Centre, Montreal
TV/Radio: FSCR, WCMC-99.9 FM