Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell said he felt “OK” physically Tuesday in his first NHL game since last fall before it was announced he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Bickell also said he was fine from a mental perspective and was mostly engaged in the game, a 5-3 loss at the Minnesota Wild. Overall, Bickell played 12:35, registered three hits and was a minus-2.
“It was a little rough start, but emotionally it was good to get back out there,” he said. “You just think about all the thoughts and things you’ve gone through to get to this moment and the people that reached out and helped and the support. It means a lot for all those people to get me to where I am now and I’m happy to be back here and we’ll just take it game-by-game and move onto the next one. “
The 31-year-old Bickell, who was acquired by Carolina last summer from the Chicago Blackhawks, had played 10 games with the Charlotte Checkers from Feb. 25 through April 2 before being recalled by the Hurricanes on Monday.
“The last couple of days it has been a lot of travel but we have a day to rest and get ready for a home game,” Bickell said. “It’ll be nice to see the family. I haven’t seen them in a while. It’ll be nice to sit back, relax with them and regroup and hopefully we get a start better than we did today.”
Bickell had one goal in seven games this season with the Hurricanes in October before opting to take some time off following the announcement of his diagnosis.
He had dealt with health issues and a decreased playing role since the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he missed time with what he believed was vertigo. Bickell previously said since that point he had been “struggling to understand what was going on with my body.”
Last season he had two assists in 25 games with the Blackhawks and also spent 47 games in the AHL with Rockford where he had 15 goals and 31 points. Bickell is in the final season of a four-year, $16 million contract signed after he helped the Blackhawks to the 2013 Stanley Cup with 17 points in 23 playoff games.
“With the circumstances and the rough road that me and my family went through, to get this opportunity with some games left is definitely a blessing,” Bickell said the morning before Tuesday’s contest. “I didn’t know when this day would come, but I’m happy to be here.”
Bickell isn’t the first player to resume an NHL career after being diagnosed with MS. Former Minnesota goaltender Josh Harding played 34 games with the team and four with the Wild’s AHL affiliate after his diagnosis was announced. Bickell said he had spoken with Harding for support.
“To get some words of wisdom from a guy who’s been through it definitely helped,” Bickell said. “A lot of people reached out through these months knowing this day was going to come, so I’m happy to be here.”
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