June 21. Las Vegas. Brian BICKELL with his wife Amanda at the ceremony of awarding the NHL. Photo: Reuters
Former forward of “Carolina” and “Chicago” Brian Bickell column on The Player’s Tribune talks about how was able to return to hockey after doctors found he has a serious illness – multiple sclerosis.
WHY I PLAY SO SHITTY?
To deny it is silly that something wasn’t right. The playoffs of the Stanley Cup 2015 in the group “Chicago”. We just lost the “Anaheim” and lag behind in the series with a score of 2-3. After this defeat in the locker room didn’t sound any inspirational speech. Most of us already went through this. The guys themselves are not spared. For us it was the third straight conference finals just two years ago, we took the Cup.
We knew that we needed to do and knew how to do it. All were looking forward to returning to Chicago and the opportunities to turn the series into a seventh game. Everyone except me. I sat, dressed in the outfit and bowed his head, once again asking myself the same question that I asked myself the last couple of months:
Why I play so shitty? We all ask ourselves this question from time to time. It is an integral part of life. Whatever you were good at some sport, there will always be someone to remind you how bad you are.
Without a doubt, I often heard this in Anaheim. “Bicell, you g**but!”. Much worse, if they are right and you play so lousy, that dream of trading places with that guy, sitting shirtless on the other side of the glass and each hand holds a pot of beer. “I know, half-naked man. But why?”
I was only 30 years old. In the NHL I managed to make only five seasons. But for some reason my whole body hurt, I was clumsy and could feel the deadly fatigue at any time of the day. Had no idea what was going on.
When I first felt the changes towards the end of the regular season, I chalked it up to laziness. Just psychological failure, I gave myself the slack, which started a black stripe. I promised myself to get in the best shape to start the playoffs.
But the playoffs came, and I felt no better. Moreover, my condition only worsened. I started to miss training and then the matches during the series of the first round. Tried new training regimes, new diets, tried almost everything but I couldn’t get into the rhythm.
To the beginning of the conference finals, I was not acting like yourself. Couldn’t understand what was going on. The fifth game was the turning point. Early in the third period knocked me in the side, and I could not breath, even back on the bench. In the end, I hobbled to the locker room where just lost consciousness. Collapsed in the doorway. Flopped face first on the floor. Fortunately, I have not had time to remove his helmet.
When I woke up, first saw bending over me a coach who brought me to my senses by smelling salt. “I think you need to see a doctor.”
First doctors suggested different diagnoses: dizziness, some problems due to fluid in the ear or even side effects from infection of the tooth. No one could say anything with confidence. I visited many specialists and found workarounds, but nothing brought me the final redemption.
Meanwhile, my team still won “Anaheim”, and went on to win the Stanley Cup. The second in three years. I finished the playoffs with five assists, zero goals and really lame sensation all over the body.
Of course, the joy overflows when your team wins the Stanley Cup, but I just couldn’t celebrate for long. I was exhausted, and no matter what I tried, things in the physical plane only became worse. Began to lose control of the left arm and leg. They could start to move involuntarily at any time if they had their own separate mind. Or they could not respond to the commands of my brain.
I began to lose control over his own body, and it was really very, very scary. Worse was that I couldn’t find anyone who could explain to me what was going on. And I didn’t receive a response the next year and a half.
When I left medical school and went out to the Parking lot, didn’t think about the diagnosis. I thought about how to tell this news to my wife, Amanda, who was waiting for me in the car and not to bring her to tears.
Closed the car door as quietly because our two young daughters slept in the back seat. “What did he say? – asked his wife. What did the MRI?”
My wife and I met when I was 16, when I played in the Junior League in Ottawa (I have courted her until she finally noticed me). I think one sound of my voice she could tell that this visit to the doctor was different from all previous ones.
They said I have multiple sclerosis. I imagined just such a phrase. Tried to squeeze those words out. But I don’t know why, just couldn’t do it. Maybe my brain is not yet fully realized. Or maybe I convinced myself that if I tell her, it’ll Wake the girls. Or just wasn’t prepared for how Amanda will see me cry. Or were not ready to see how she cries. Whatever it was, at that moment I could only say one thing. “You can go and talk to the doctor?”
We reversed. Amanda got out of the car and went into the building, and I was left with the children. I stared in the rearview mirror, watching their daughters, who so peacefully slept. This is one of the worst moments of my life… but as strange as it sounded, I would give a lot to this moment did not end. My wife is still walking on the street, a few minutes separated her from the terrible truth. My daughters slept, and they had no clue what the test can bring down the man of this life. And their dad… he was sick but wasn’t sick – it’s still hockey, still relatively healthy, can play more normal. He still watched over them and cared for them. He was still there.
Of course, it couldn’t last forever. Here is my wife out and sent to the machine. She opens the door and sits down. There is almost nothing we say to each other. And what could say? I’ll never be able to play hockey? Soon you will have to take care of three? Our lives, which we knew before is over?
It was an incredibly difficult day. We did our best to comfort each other, but the following week has been pretty lousy. For every glimmer of hope – Hey, look, there are medications! – there was a mountain of negative: side effects of the drug can cause progressive long leukoencephalopathy, a brain disease that causes seizures, mental disorders and may introduce people into a state of coma.
TO LEAVE ON HIS OWN TERMS
We both spent many hours studying the symptoms of illness for possible treatments and reading the stories of people faced with this disease. And with each passing hour became sad. It wasn’t easy from an emotional point of view. To think that one day you will Wake up, but can’t get out of bed… or perform the most simple functions… will not be able to hug his wife or to take the child’s hand.
I didn’t mean for it to end, as my wife didn’t want that. After a hard week we’ve tried to gather his thoughts and formulate a plan of action. Communicate with doctors regarding possible methods of treatment. We’ve tried a lot of drugs, spent a substantial sum, my wife is very carefully checked every detail to make sure we chose the best option. We did everything in our power to be able to return to normal. And for me, the normal state only one thing: to play hockey. I wanted to leave on his own terms.
When I made my debut in the League, the locker room was sitting next to Marian Hosoi. He immediately recognized me, although we crossed paths many years ago when he was still playing for the “Ottawa”, and I was a boy and helped ekipirovka, doing Laundry and filling bottles with water. When I got to Chicago, Marian loved to play a trick on me: “you Know, Brian, if you want, I can still wash my uniform”.
And frankly, after three and a half years in the lower leagues I was ready to wash the form Hossy each day, if it guaranteed me a place in the “Blackhawks”. I loved to play for Chicago. Always considered myself lucky, since I was lucky enough to get into a championship team, and in memory of this I still have vivid memories. I scored the first shot of his first shift. He won three Stanley cups.
And if you let it, will share one story from the life of a veteran. During the Western conference finals in 2013 against the “Los Angeles” in the fifth match I had damaged the internal lateral ligament of the knee. But I wanted to continue the game that pulled off one of the stinking bandages Hossa on his knee without telling a word to anyone. But it helped me a lot. We won in the second overtime and drove the “kings”.
In the final against the “Boston” in the sixth match I evened the score with 1:16 to the end is a feeling I will never forget. In a span of two months, I won the second Cup, married his sweetheart and signed the biggest contract in his life with a team that I truly love.
But life is unpredictable. Can’t be sure. After just a couple of years I was in Anaheim, lying on the floor, and around the crowded coaches who tried to understand what had happened to me.
“Chicago” adequately react to me, when in 2016, kicked off the new season. I was given the chance to play, but I was still sick and did not know their diagnosis, so could not benefit. So spent more games for “Rockford” in that season than in the “Blackhawks”.
The following season I was traded to “Carolina”. When I was diagnosed, I realized that the time I have leftovers. So wanted to leave on his own terms. After I announced the news to the team, made a public appeal. Explained to everyone that I’ll be back. Not sure many believed, and how I believed it?
I have received tremendous support from the partners and from the entire “Carolina” and only “Chicago,” though “Hurricanes” I spent a couple of months. Support from fans is impossible to describe. It was surprising to obtain such a flow of heat after I announced my illness.
Understood that the return will require exhausting struggle. Without a doubt, the road has not managed to overcome without any loss. For two months I was banned at least some physical activity. I could not ride, could not jog, in the third month I started to notice wrinkles on my face. Every day, I just sat there and felt useless.
I didn’t like that my wife and children see me in this weak state. I was rotting from the inside, but was still a husband and father. There were days when it was hard just to get out of bed, but I knew that I must be strong for the family.
As bad as I had it, I knew that my wife always believed that I would get better. Even when I doubted myself, she never will let me down. It got to the point that I no longer knew whose strength of will that gets me out of bed – my or her. Months passed and I began to feel better. Understand that the moment will come when I can once again wear his uniform and go out on the ice. I have to do it.
THE LAST EPISODE
I managed to hold 11 matches before the end. One goal. Four penalty minutes. 9 April 2017 hosted the final match of the season. We played against “Philadelphia”, and the second match in a row completed the main and extra time draw.
After the previous meeting coach Peters apologized to me for not have given me a series of bullets. He knew that the end of my career close, the team got into the playoffs, so he felt uncomfortable.
And here all repeated. The coach looks at the bench, but this time his gaze stops on me. He walks around and says with a smile: “Bicell. Tolchinsky. McGinn. Forward.”
The last episode of my career in the NHL. When I began the recovery process after an illness, were not even 100 per cent sure that I will get this chance. Understand that is not physically able to be that player, whom I was once. Other teams in the League probably knew it as well.
Even if my body did, my head would still be sitting by the idea that one bad power reception can supply all cross. And I couldn’t take that risk because of family. I worked hard to finally slam the door, and I’m proud of what I managed to achieve.
Before stepping on the ice for the performance of the bullet, I looked around. I felt relieved. I fought and achieved his goal to play again in the NHL. It even seemed something unreal.
He remembered all those past years, as I came through the juniors. I spent 3.5 years in the lower leagues. As he played for Chicago’s first goal, “Detroit” and the sixth match of the series against “Boston”.
Remember how I fell face down two years ago. And I don’t need to come back to play hockey.
I thought about my family and friends. Of those players, with whom I went out on the ice and against which he played. The support that throughout my career has provided me with fans and staff. Emotions overwhelmed me, I wasn’t even sure that I will be able to go on the ice and make the last shot.
9 April 2017 – the last time I put on the uniform one last time as I climbed over the side, and the last time fans of “Philadelphia” is something to shout to me. “Bicell, you g**but!”. Ah, what could be better?
I went out on the ice and tried to discard all extraneous thoughts. And the next few seconds everything was exactly as it always was. What I have lived all the past years. And it doesn’t even matter if I’ll be able to score. Again just to play hockey is a heavenly delight.
Zing. I scored. From the rod to the gate. My first and last shots in the National hockey League proved to be effective. Even fans of the Flyers applauded me.
Whatever was waiting for me in the future, I know I left on a high note. Now I feel as good as haven’t felt in a long time. I have a gorgeous wife and two beautiful children.
Understand that it will not be easy, but I’ve never been afraid of extra work. So do me one last favor. When you remember the career of Brian Bickell, don’t think about me as a player who had multiple sclerosis.
Remember me as the hockey player who loved the game that stole my partner a protective bandage to be able to play with a damaged ligament. Remember me as the hockey player who achieved everything by their labor, which is entrenched in the League and who became the champion. Remember me as the man who finished his career on his own terms, and then moved ahead 30 years, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80… Struggling day after day.
Ivan SHITIKOV, Sport-Express