Bickell and M.S.
Bryan Bickell could feel himself slipping, however in 2015 he wrote it off as a mental lapse or a period of laziness. It’s a fair estimate that most every hockey player gets chirped at, especially during away games. However, the “you suck”s that Bickell heard got to him more than most.
Simply put: he could feel his game declining but he didn’t have an answer.
"“I definitely heard it in Anaheim. “You suck, Bickell!” It’s worse when they’re right, and you’ve been sucking for so long that you start thinking about picking the brain of the shirtless guy behind the glass who’s double-fisting beers. “I know I do, shirtless guy. But why?””"
The signs continued to pop up to Bickell, but none of them pointed to any reason or explanation for the feelings he was experiencing. Bryan was hurting and hurting bad. He missed practices which eventually turned into games in the first round of the 2015 playoffs.
Then, things turned from bad to worse.
"“By the conference finals, I was beside myself,” Bickell wrote. “I couldn’t understand what was happening. Game 5 was my breaking point. I took a hit into the boards early in the third period and I couldn’t catch my breath, even after I got to the bench. I eventually huffed and puffed back to the locker room before I fainted, right there in the doorway. I fell face-first into a wall on my way down. I’m honestly lucky I still had my helmet on. When I came to, the first thing I saw was the trainer, hovering over me with smelling salts. “I think you need to see a doctor.””"
Following that, Bickell went on to endure some very tough times. He saw doctors, but couldn’t get a definite answer on what was wrong. Bryan was tired constantly and felt as if everything was trending in the wrong direction for him physically. He was losing control of both of his left limbs as they’d move at random. Bickell simply couldn’t get them under control.
"“I was losing control over my own body, and it was really, really scary.”"
It took him a year and a half of doctors visits until he finally got an answer. The Bickell family (his wife and kids) went on to experience very, very tough times. They tried to put a plan into place in regards to treatment, medications and the cost of everything.
Despite all of that, though, Bickell had one thing in mind: going out on his own terms.
For three months, he wasn’t able to do any physical activities. Bryan wrote that he felt worthless for the majority of the time.
Not only did he feel like he needed to get back for his own personal sake, but he was doing it for his kids and family too. There were times he couldn’t get himself up in the morning, however he did it anyway for the sake of his family.
"“No matter how bad it got, I knew my wife always believed that it would get better. Even when I had my own doubts, she would never let me even think about calling it a day. It got to a point where I didn’t know if I was up and out of bed because of my will or hers. But as the months went by, I actually started to feel a little bit better. I knew I would, at some point, suit up and play hockey again. I had to.”"
When he eventually did, he played in a total of 11 games with the Carolina Hurricanes.
On April 9, 2017, Bickell played in the last game of his NHL career. The game went to a shootout and his name was called.
Just like in 2013, he didn’t miss.
Words cannot describe what a special moment that was.
Bickell scored on his first and last shot in the NHL. In his Players Tribune article, he closes by urging fans to not remember as the guy with M.S., however his story has provided inspiration for many across the world.
Instead, he says this:
"“I want you to think about the guy who loved this game so much that he stole Hossa’s stinky knee brace so he could play with a torn MCL. I want you to think about the guy who worked for it, and stuck with it, and won at it. I want you to think about the guy who retired on his own terms — and then moved through his 30s and 40s, into his 50s and 60s, into his 70s and 80s, like he skated through his 20s. By grinding, one day at a time.”"
Bryan Bickell. Grinding.