Bryan Bickell wasn’t a Hurricane for long.
He played in only 13 games; mostly as a fourth liner, and registered one point, a lone goal, in his single season as a Cane.
He was an additional piece of a trade. A deal sweetener. The Canes managed to land Teuvo Teravainen, and it only cost them two picks that weren’t even their own (New York Rangers’ 2016 second-round pick and Chicago Blackhawks own 2017 third-round pick) because they took on Bickell’s $4 million contract.
The Canes loved what they were getting in Teravainen, a highly touted former first round selection, but Bickell was a gamble. Bickell had spent most of the prior season down with the Hawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford Icehogs, only dressing for 25 NHL games and registering two assists in that time.
It was, however, a low gamble. With only one year left on his contract, Carolina wouldn’t have their hands tied and the single-year price tag was well worth the acquisition of Teravainen. The Canes also felt that, despite it all, the three-time Stanley Cup champion could help the locker room by adding a bit of championship pedigree.
It didn’t work out like that, but still, for many, Bickell has become a loved and remembered player. The phrase “Bickell Brave” honored the fight he showed against Multiple Sclerosis. His fight to get back and finish his career on the ice and on his own terms, and it was carried on by the fanbase that welcomed him in.
Bickell’s health issues seemed to have first arose in 2015 during the Blackhawks’ third Stanley Cup run in six years. Bickell had been one of the most crucial members of the 2013 championship team, with nine goals and 17 points throughout the playoffs including the clutch Stanley Cup Final Game 6 tying goal.
But in 2015, his production was down, having only 5 assists in 17 games. He was unable to stay on the ice in a critical Western Conference Finals Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks, playing only a single period. The Hawks still managed to win the game without him, but he would then miss Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
At the time, Bickell told reporters he simply had vertigo. He would return to Game 3 but only registered 9:53 of ice time and wouldn’t hit the ice again for the rest of the series with Joel Quenneville opting to stick it out with Kris Versteeg in Bickell’s spot on the second line.
Before the start of the 2015-16 season, Bickell was placed on waivers. Chicago was in ca[ hell and the Blackhawks were trying to do anything to move his contract. But there was another facet to it. Bickell had told reporters that he was still dealing with those vertigo symptoms and didn’t feel 100%. At the time, Bickell’s symptoms slowly seemed to be growing worse and worse, but nobody would catch on to the severity for another year.
Bickell remained on the roster before being sent down to Rockford in November. However, Bickell seemed to still be healthy enough to dominate the AHL, as the forward had seven goals and seven assists in just 12 games down there, and so earned a call-up back to the big club in December.
But still, Bickell struggled on the NHL ice. With no goals and multiple times as a healthy scratch, Bickell was reassigned to Rockford in January as the Hawks’ continued to try and save money against the cap. Quenneville, at the time, had iterated that Bickell was fine physically in regards to worries of his previous seasons’ vertigo troubles and said that the decision was one based on a combination of finances and performance.
Bickell earned one more call-up in early April, but would only play in two more games and would not see playoff action.
The Blackhawks finally found a way to move Bickell’s contract before the 2016 NHL Entry draft, and, alongside Teravainen, he became a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Bickell started the 2016-17 season playing on the fourth line. He played in seven games to start the season before the symptoms of his worsening condition became too much for him. His last game before his diagnosis was Oct. 30, 2016 against the Philadelphia Flyers. Bickell played only 5:45 that game. At the time Bickell said it was dizziness and numbness in his right arm and leg that made him stop.
In November, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
After beginning monthly treatments, Bickell opted to try and return to hockey and was put on a conditioning stint with the Charlotte Checkers in February. He worked hard and registered a goal and three assists in 10 games with the AHL club. He was finally granted the call-up to the NHL roster for the final four games of the season.
The first three, however, were not ones to remember.
Bickell had announced he would retire from the National Hockey League the day before the final game of the season. He was calling it a career as the symptoms of MS had become too much to deal with, choosing his health and family over fighting to continue playing.
In the final game of the season in Philadelphia, Bickell made it count.
It was a back and forth game and despite the Canes having had the lead twice, Carolina found itself down. Although it was a throw away game between two teams already eliminated from the playoffs, neither was willing to cede. However, a late power-play tally from the Hurricanes had pulled the score back to even, and soon the opponents found themselves waiting for the ice to be resurfaced, a shootout upcoming, to decide that final game.
It was only right that Bickell got the first nod. He was overlooked for the home closer, but nobody could deny him this last chance. Bickell, however, was 0-2 in shootouts over his 10-year career. The team decided though that stats were irrelevant and let it be up to fate. He wasted no time as he quickly jumped over the boards.
He collected the puck, skated it down the slot and ripped it.
The sound was as clear as day and the ring off the iron echoed throughout the Wells Fargo Center. The puck had beaten Anthony Stolarz and hit the right post, deflecting straight into the back of the net.
The Canes’ bench erupted. Justin Faulk nearly leapt over the boards. As Bickell skated by all the players were grabbing onto him and their smiles reached from end to end. Bickell’s wife, Amanda, was shown on camera beaming and laughing with joy, holding the couple’s oldest daughter.
Despite the normal tenacity and aggressive reputation Philly held, the arena didn’t boo nor jeer. In fact, cheers and applause could be heard sporadically throughout the more than 19,000 faithful. For that goal, in that moment, humanity transcended fandom.
In front of his family. In front of friends who he said had driven six hours to see his last game. In view of the entire hockey world, Bryan Bickell made it count.
The Canes won that game, with Brock McGinn sealing the win, and the team all surrounded Bickell.
It was emotional for everyone who witnessed it, but it must have meant the most for Bickell.
From a Stanley Cup hero just four years earlier to having to call it quits at the age of 31. Everything had slowly been taken out of his own power, but Bickell grabbed the reigns for one final run. Bickell made an impact on the entire hockey world and found himself one more moment to be a hero.