Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell will make his return to the NHL Tuesday night, nearly five months after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
General manager Ron Francis announced in November that the 31-year-old had MS — the same condition that struck former Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding in 2012 — after Bickell missed five games to undergo extensive testing for an undisclosed illness.
Despite battling the ensuing symptoms caused by the autoimmune disease, including dizziness, extreme fatigue, loss of coordination, vision problems and cognitive impairment, Bickell was back on the ice in less than four months. After a couple weeks of practice and conditioning, the Bowmanville, Ont., native suited up with the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate in Charlotte on Feb. 25. Since returning to the ice, Bickell has a goal and three assists in 10 games.
As Bickell gets set for his NHL return on Tuesday, we look at some of hockey’s most inspirational individual comebacks:
In the prime of his career and on the heels of leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992, a 27-year-old Mario Lemieux was diagnosed with cancer in January 1993 and began radiation treatments in February. Lemieux flew to Philadelphia immediately following his 22nd and final treatment to meet the team and played that very same night, picking up a goal and an assist. Most remarkably, Super Mario finished the season with 60 goals and 160 points in just 60 games to capture the scoring title.
In possibly the most gruesome and sickening accident ever caught on tape during an NHL game, Clint Malarchuk had his throat slashed deeply by a skate blade in March 1989. As the Buffalo Sabres goalie dropped to his knees and blood streamed from his neck onto the ice, team trainer Jim Pizzutelli worked quickly and was able to stop the bleeding — ultimately, along with doctors and paramedics, saving his life. After being so close to dying, Malarchuk returned to the net just 10 days later and went on to play parts of eight more professional seasons.
A horrific version of deja-vu occurred 19 years later when Richard Zednik’s external carotid artery in his neck was sliced by the skate of teammate Olli Jokinen. Somehow, Zednik had the wherewithal to instinctively cover and apply pressure to the wound while he skated to the bench for help. That split-second decision most likely saved his life, as he bought the few seconds necessary to make it to the hospital alive. After being forced to miss the remainder of the season, Zednik picked up two assists in his second game back in 2008-09.
As a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1999-00 season, Bryan Berard ruptured his eyeball after being struck by the stick blade of then-Ottawa Senator Marian Hossa. Following seven eye surgeries and a year away from the game, Berard geared up for a comeback and returned to the league to start the 2001-02 season with the New York Rangers, where he posted 23 points while playing in all 82 games.
In December of his rookie year with the Boston Bruins, Phil Kessel was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent surgery immediately to have his right testical removed. After missing only a month, Kessel was back on the ice in January and finished his rookie campaign with 11 goals and 29 points. The 29-year-old has put up 638 points in 814 career games and was a key contributor to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup championship in 2016.
In September 2001, it was revealed the beloved captain of the Montreal Canadiens had begun chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Based on published information and the opinion of an oncologist at the time, Koivu had about a “50-50” shot of surviving the first year following the diagnosis. Later that season in April 2002, Koivu returned with a clean bill of health and led the Canadiens to a first-round playoff victory over the Boston Bruins.