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Bryan Bickell’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
Bryan Bickell’s starting point for the 2016-17 was nothing overly exciting. He was acquired during the offseason from the Blackhawks along with Teuvo Teravainen for second and third round draft picks. Teravainen was the player desired by Ron Francis and assuming the final year of Bickell’s contract at a salary cap hit of $4 million and an actual salary of $4.5 million was simply part of the cost that Francis had to pay to get Teravainen. Chicago needed salary cap relief to make their salary cap math and pairing up Bickell and Teravainen was a way to accomplish that. Bickell was coming off a 2015-16 season that saw him collect only 2 points in 25 games at the NHL level and play most of the season at the AHL level. For reasons unknown, his production and level of play just were not what they were a few years earlier when Bryan Bickell was a playoff hero for the Blackhawks.
Bryan Bickell’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
Bickell entered training camp in the cluster of playing competing for roles and ice time on the fourth line. He had a strong preseason banging bodies, generating some offense and staying out of trouble defensively. He entered the regular season with ice time on the fourth line and the power play to boot serving as a net front presence. In 7 games, he carved out some ice time and played a key role on the second power play unit.
Then everything changed and hockey analysis and hockey in general suddenly became irrelevant.
On November 12, 2016, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that Bryan Bickell had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and would take an indefinite leave from the team for treatment.
That day was a tough one for Hurricanes fans and a day that added perspective and very clearly showed where the game of hockey fit in the bigger picture of life.
As sad as that day was, it ultimately turned out to be a launching point for greatness for the rest of the season. Bryan Bickell made an inspiring return to hockey to play with the Charlotte Checkers later in the season and then topped that by treating the Carolina Hurricanes faithful to a special and memorable final weekend of the 2016-17 season.
At a time when Hurricanes hockey fans were clearly scheduled to do some combination of grumbling about a playoff miss or just quietly walking away from a disappointing 2016-17 season, they were instead treated to something absolutely special. On Saturday morning, Bryan Bickell was surprised by the entire team showing up at the Walk MS fundraiser wearing “Bickell Brave” shirts to support him and the cause. That night, Bickell’s return to PNC Arena ice for the first time since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis made for an emotional and memorable home finale. And then Bryan Bickell capped off the season by scoring in the shootout in the season finale on Sunday night making for footage powerful enough to make anyone cry.
In addition to the special weekend, Bryan Bickell offered Canes fans a few important reminders:
NHL hockey is great, but people and their stories can be far greater.
True hockey and sports heroes are less about accomplishments and more about character, rising above and being bigger than the game and the results on the scoreboard or in the standings.
There is power in sharing. Bryan and Amanda Bickell could have rightfully retreated to a small circle of family and friends upon learning of the multiple sclerosis diagnosis. By instead sharing their journey, they helped increase awareness, raised funding and provided a model for how great people rise above adversity and turn it into something positive.
Grading Bryan Bickell
Graded as: An inspiration first and a depth forward second.
Grade: A+/B+. Bryan Bickell obviously deserves an A+ for his 2016-17 season. And though his season in a Hurricanes uniform was cut short, he was on track to be a difference-maker on the power play and the fourth line before more significant heroics took priority.
What say you Canes fans?
Where does Bryan Bickell’s story and final weekend of the 2016-17 season rank in a Hurricanes’ history that is actually fairly rich with great people stories?
What are your other favorites that also rose above hockey?
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