The farewell to the largely forgettable Carolina Hurricanes of 2016-17 morphed into a hockey farewell to Bryan Bickell, and that was just fine with everyone. Bickell’s courage and fortitude in returning to play in the NHL after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis earlier in the season was worth honoring, and it was.
From his players surprising Bickell and his wife at Saturday’s morning’s Walk MS, wearing BickellBrave T-shirts, to their decision to give Bickell the team’s revered Steve Chiasson Award, awarded in memory of the defenseman who died in 1999, it turned out to be a fitting farewell for Bickell. This was the final home game of his NHL career, with the announcement Saturday that he would retire after the season, his ordeal far trumping the 10 actual games he has played for the team.
It’s fair to wonder, then, why Bickell was not the Hurricanes’ nominee for the NHL’s Masterton Trophy, which honors perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. The answer is simple: timing.
Each team’s chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominates one player for the Masterton. This year, for the Hurricanes, the local PHWA chapter, of which I am the chairman, nominated Derek Ryan, whose quest to finally make it as an NHL regular at age 29 epitomizes what the Masterton Trophy is supposed to represent. At the time nominations were due, Bickell was still playing in the minor leagues, and there was no guarantee he would make it back to the NHL. Ryan was at the time (and remains now) an ideal candidate.
Subsequently, Bickell’s return to the NHL this week despite his MS diagnosis made international news. The Carolina chapter of the PHWA applied for special dispensation, but national voting was already under way.
So Bickell isn’t under consideration for the Masterton – Ryan may, potentially, be a contender for the trophy – but there will be no lack of recognition for his effort, not Saturday and not after he leaves hockey behind to take care of himself.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock