It was more that just a game day for Bryan Bickell of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Bickell did go through the normal routine of the morning skate at PNC Arena, and will be in the lineup Saturday night as the Canes play their final home game of the season against the St. Louis Blues. It will be the third game since the veteran forward, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, returned to the NHL.
But Saturday began at PNC Arena with Walk MS: Triangle 2017, hosted by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Bickell and his family — wife, Amanda, and their two young daughters — and Amanda’s brother, Devin Caskenette, were on hand for the charity event and joined the hundreds of walkers.
A surprise for Bickell was having his teammates coming walking out of PNC Arena to be with him, support him. And the coaches, trainers, equipment managers, hockey staff. Everyone was there, all wearing “BICKELLBRAVE” T-shirts.
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“For me personally and I’m sure for the other guys, too, watching how he’s handled it and how his family has handled it, and having him back is a big lift for everyone,” Canes forward Jeff Skinner said. “Watching him go through it and then come back is pretty inspiring.”
Canes coach Bill Peters gave Bickell a heartfelt hug and later became emotional in talking about Bickell with the media.
“He’s a man’s man, he’s a pro’s pro and unbelievably brave,” Peters said.
The team announced Saturday that Bickell had been voted by his teammates to receive the Steve Chiasson Award for the 2016-17 season. The award, named after the Hurricanes defenseman who died in 1999, is given to the player who exemplifies determination and dedication, and is inspiring to his teammates.
Bickell said he received his monthly MS treatment Friday and was ready for the final two games of the season, saying, “I feel a little bit better, recharged.”
Bickell said between treatments it was like “running low on gas — you just fade off.” After a treatment, he said, “You feel energized, full of life.”
The Canes close the season Sunday with a road game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Other members of Bickell’s family are expected to be at that game, which many expect will be the last of his career, given the challenges of dealing with the disease.
Carolina has been shut out in the past two home games, losing to the Dallas Stars and New York Islanders. Bickell had a couple of scoring chances Thursday against the Isles, just missing the net with a backhander.
“Hopefully we can fill the net up for the last home game for the fans,” Bickell said. “Hopefully I can get one myself. You don’t know when the last one is. It’d be special.”