Bryan Bickell on battling multiple sclerosis, end of NHL career

Carolina Hurricane’s Bryan Bickell before the start of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Sunday, April 9, 2017 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

Bryan Bickell’s final hours as an NHL player were spent in thought. He couldn’t help but think of those who supported his efforts to become a professional hockey player, as well the friendships he made over 10 years in the game. He knew the day was coming, but couldn’t be fully prepared for the emotional rollercoaster the day brought.

Five months earlier, Bickell’s career took a drastic turn. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and spent the next three months sidelined from hockey. After responding well to treatments, he eventually started his comeback in the AHL with the Carolina Hurricanes’ affiliate in Charlotte. He played 10 games there before getting the call back up to the NHL.

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By then, Bickell knew this was going to be his last season. The rigors of hockey do enough to a fully healthy body. But playing with MS made it that much tougher. So in his final game in the NHL, the 31-year-old three-time Stanley Cup champion say goodbye and went out in memorable fashion.

Two months after his final game in the NHL, Bickell is feeling good. No longer putting his body through the paces of hockey practices and games, he continues getting treatments. He’s also working with biotech company Biogen, which helps those battling serious neurological and neurodegenerative diseases, like MS.

Bickell takes a drug called TYSABRI once a month, which helps slow “the progression of physical disability, reducing formation of new brain lesions, and reducing the number of relapses.” So far, Bickell and his doctor are pleased with the results.

“I have lesions on my brains and my spine. It sends signals to the right side of my body — it kind of has a miscommunication,” Bickell told Yahoo Sports recently. “TYSABRI helps me stay neutral and keep those lesions down.”

Now that his playing days are over, Bickell is focusing his efforts on raising money for MS research and spreading awareness. One interesting endeavor is he’s teamed up with Manantler Brewing Co. in Bowmanville, Ontario to create a beer where proceeds will go to benefit MS. Since it’s his name, he will get a chance to do a taste test and provide feedback before the final product is unveiled.

Bickell and his wife, Amanda, will also be working with his foundation to provide service dogs for MS patients who need assistance.

There was still plenty of hockey left in Bickell’s body before the MS diagnosis arrived, but part of him is relieved he finally found out what was going on with his body. He played 395 games in the NHL and won three Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks. It may not be the way he wanted to go out, but he can’t help but be pleased with his career.

“We didn’t know what was going on for the longest time and then getting the diagnosis and fighting my way back … and then finish off the way I did. I think it was special,” said Bickell. “But the way my career went I wouldn’t take anything back.”

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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