By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – Down the ice came Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane on a two-on-one rush, flying at full speed toward Anton Forsberg and the net. Kane took a one-timer and fired just wide.
Back the other way came Artem Anisimov and Alex DeBrincat, with a chance blocked away by Corey Crawford. A new hockey season is upon us, and hopes are high – as always – for the Blackhawks. Near center ice stood Joel Quenneville, the second-winningest coach in league history, with the whistle in mouth held steady with his typical scowl as the Blackhawks practiced Wednesday.
Two seats into section 101 of the United Center, Bryan Bickell looked on with a smile and his daughter Kinsley in his arms, staying stationary for a brief moment. At years old, Bickell will have to get used to watching off the ice.
It’s a fate Bickell never could’ve imagined upon scoring the game-tying goal against the Bruins in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the first of two Blackhawks tallies in a 17-second span that won them their second Stanley Cup in four seasons during a stretch in which they’d win three titles in six years.
Multiple sclerosis, the debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system, brought Bickell to Wednesday, signing a one-day contract with the Blackhawks and officially retiring from hockey. Bickell played for the Blackhawks from 2006-’16 before playing 11 games for the Hurricanes last season.
“There’s good days and bad days, but more good than bad,” Bickell said in a press conference Wednesday at the United Center. “Things are going the right way. The technology and treatments they come out with every month, every year, it’s outstanding. Hopefully, one day, we could find a cure, and we could hopefully help out to do that.”
Bickell reflected on the great moments of his career – being drafted by the Blackhawks in the second round of the 2004 draft, scoring a goal in his first NHL game in a win over Red Wings back in April 2007, parking in front of the net to tie Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
But nothing quite compares to the most emotional goal, his final one, a shootout tally in his final NHL game back in April with the Hurricanes.
His family was overcome watching from the stands. Kinsley saw the puck go in.
“To see that last shot go in was definitely special,” Bickell said.
Bickell has used his platform as a hockey player to create the Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation, which brings awareness to pit bull dogs and pairs them with abused children. There’s now an additional mission, with Bickell working to bring service dogs to those with multiple sclerosis.
There are many celebrities and public figures with multiple sclerosis — names like Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Joan Didion, Clay Walker and Ann Romney. Josh Harding, once a rival goaltender with the Wild, retired in 2014 after getting the diagnosis and now aims to impact those dealing with the disease.
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation estimates that some 400,000 people in the United States and 2.5 million worldwide live with the disease. It’s still new to Bickell, but he’s searching for ways to help those affected.
Wednesday at the United Center was about looking back on the fond memories Bickell enjoyed during a 10-year NHL career, which included nine in Chicago. He reflected on the glory of three Stanley Cup championships and the relationships forged. As Kinsley pressed against the Blackhawks’ backdrop behind his podium, Bickell mentioned how Corey Crawford is now a father.
The Blackhawks are an organization now steeped in glory thanks to the accomplishments of the last decade since Bickell scored his first goal. Their accomplishments were shared together, with a star like Jonathan Toews finding the gutsy Bickell in front of the crease to alter history.
Bickell should still be out there on the two-on-one rushes, but he now has a goal much greater.
“I want to be a figure for MS,” he said. “Tell my story (and) what I went through. Just inspire other people that get diagnosed.”