Carolina Hurricanes left winger Bryan Bickell received some devastating news in November 2016: he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The 30-year-old had been having health issues since 2015, and it wasn’t until his first season with Carolina that doctors were able to put their finger on the problem.
That meant Bickell had to sit out almost the entire 2016-17 season while beginning treatment. Since this was the last year of his contract, that diagnosis also likely meant the end of his career.
But after months away from the game, Bickell made his return April 4. On April 6, after his first home game since returning, Bickell became emotional when talking to the media, causing many to speculate that he was about to announce his retirement but had not yet told his teammates.
It turned out to be true, as Bickell revealed before the Hurricanes’ final game Sunday that it would also be his last game in the NHL. Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a few years ago and did everything he could to keep his career going before realizing the stress of playing in the NHL and receiving treatment was too much. Bickell decided he would not go through that.
And in his final game, Bickell provided perhaps the best moment of the NHL season.
The Hurricanes and Flyers went to a shootout and Bickell, who had never scored a shootout goal in his career, did this in front of his family in Philadelphia:
It was the Hurricanes’ first attempt, but you could tell his teammates were ready to jump off the bench and celebrate. Even Flyers players gave Bickell some fistbumps as he skated past their bench.
The Hurricanes would go on to win the shootout.
Afterward, teammate Noah Hanifin awarded Bickell the championship belt, a thing the team does to reward the player of that particular game.
Bickell discussed what went into the decision to give up hockey with the team’s web site:
“The biggest thing is my health. I don’t want to take risks,” he said. “Obviously I’ve played hockey for my life, and it’s tough to leave. There’s a life after hockey, and to be healthy and watch my kids grow will be important.”
“Hockey is not everything. I’ve got a life after hockey. To live a healthy life for the rest of my life is important for me and my family,” he said. “We made the decision to [retire], and I won’t take any regrets. I’ve had a pretty good career and made the best of it.”
Bickell won three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks before he was traded to Carolina this past offseason. But what maybe what he will be most remembered more is his final season in the NHL with the Hurricanes.