By DAVE CAMPBELL, AP Sports Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Just seven games into his debut season with the Carolina Hurricanes, after realizing his body wasn’t quite right, Bryan Bickell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
The devastating news triggered questions about whether his career would be over. Those first few weeks of his hiatus for treatment were tough.
The nearly five months that have since passed felt, at times, like years.
Finally, as a testament to modern medicine, family support and an optimistic attitude, Bickell has returned to restart his first season with the team. The 30-year-old left wing skated with the Hurricanes on Tuesday morning in Minnesota and was in the lineup to face the Wild a few hours later.
“We’re just happy it got better and I got back on the ice and playing,” said Bickell, who was recalled from a 10-game minor league tuneup.
Bickell scored once for Carolina before the disease that attacks the nervous system was discovered. He resumed practicing with the Hurricanes in January and began playing for Charlotte in the AHL in February, accumulating one goal and three assists for the Checkers. His timing was off and his fundamentals were rusty, but there weren’t any complications or setbacks.
“Definitely blessed,” Bickell said. “We didn’t know when this day was going to come, but I’m happy to be here.”
Bickell hoped to connect in person with former Wild goalie Josh Harding, who won the NHL’s Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012. Harding went 18-7-3 with a 1.65 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage during the 2013-14 season for the Wild, before eventually being forced by the effects of his condition to retire. Harding has already provided ample counsel to Bickell.
“With MS you need to keep cool, and that was a big thing for him. He was a goalie. He had to stand up the whole time,” Bickell said. “I get breaks. I get to sit on the bench. But it’s nice to reach out to him and get some thoughts off of what he’s been through.”
Hurricanes coach Bill Peters slated Bickell for a line with Brock McGinn and Andrew Poturalski, who played with Bickell in the AHL and was making his NHL debut. There were no limitations planned for Bickell.
“He’s going to be excited. He’s going to play hard. He’ll fit right in,” Peters said.
His teammates were excited, too.
“He’s been working hard all year, even before that,” defenseman Justin Faulk said. “And with that happening, you don’t know how it’s going to affect your life, and I think he’s always had a positive attitude at least around us. I know there have probably been some tough times through there, but he’s been awesome.”
Bickell was acquired along with forward Teuvo Teravainen in an offseason trade that sent a pair of draft picks to Chicago, where he won three Stanley Cups with but became expendable with the Blackhawks needing to clear salary cap space. Bickell has eight goals in 20 career regular season games against the Wild, and he’s scored seven times against them in 15 playoff games.
“Hopefully I’ll get one tonight,” Bickell said, smiling.
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