Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell was back in his element on Tuesday night, playing NHL hockey once again.
The winger skated a total of 12:35 in his first game since Oct. 30, making his return to NHL competition just five months after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
It’s been a long—and at times, unlikely—road back to NHL ice.
“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 with support,” Bickell told reporters after the game, a 5-3 loss to the Wild. “It means a lot for all those people to get me to where I am now. I’m happy to be back here. I’ll take it game by game and move on to the next one.”
The 31-year-old tweeted out a statement to thank those who helped him get back to the rink:
Bickell’s teammate, Lee Stempniak, called the comeback “an inspiration.”
“To know how hard he’s worked and to see him every day from pretty quickly after his diagnosis to just, I mean he was right back to the beginning, just doing basic exercises,” he told reporters.
“I don’t say this lightly: it’s an inspiration to see how much he cares and how hard he worked and getting to know him and his family over the course of the season,” Stempniak continued. “Hockey’s such an important part of our lives that, I don’t want to say you take it for granted, but I think you always think it’s going to be there and when you have it taken away like that it’s certainly difficult, and I think that’s a bit of a reality check for all of us.
“He’s put in the work, he’s had a great attitude, he’s just been a great person in general, a great person to know and just really happy for him to be back. I think he looked a lot better than we expected for having basically been gone for five months,” he said. “It’s great to have him in the room. I’m fortunate to sit next to him, and I’m just very happy for him and his family.”
MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system and can be unpredictable in its symptoms, which include fatigue, weakness, impaired vision and trouble with coordination, among others. There is currently no cure for MS, though there are treatments to help manage symptoms and slow the disease’s progression.
After stepping away from hockey for a few months immediately following the diagnosis in early November, Bickell made a huge stride forward in January when he returned to Hurricanes practice and again in February when the club assigned him to AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers to get him back into game action.
The Hurricanes called up Bickell after 10 games with the Checkers, in which he scored once and tallied three assists.
“It shows sort of the perseverance and the mental toughness and everything,” Jeff Skinner told reporters. “I think it’s inspiring.”