Physically, Bryan Bickell’s decision to retire from hockey was pretty much made for him. Months after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis Bickell battled back enough to finish the season as he started it, as part of the Carolina Hurricanes’ lineup. But it was tough getting to that point.
Mentally dealing with the retirement decision, however, was another story.
“I’m sure you guys saw the video,” said Bickell referring to the emotional interview he did after playing with the Hurricanes on April 6, two days before he announced his upcoming retirement. “That’s the day before I talked to [my wife] Amanda and thought, ‘This is it.’
“We knew it was going to come,” Bickell continued. “Playing normally is tough. Now playing with what I have, it was tough to [get to] the point where I got back and finished up the way I wanted. It was tough to decide to move on. But for me and my health, and to be around my kids, was the most important thing.”
It’s been about a month since that announcement and Bickell is in a better place. The former Blackhawks forward was in Chicago on Thursday night for the NHL Go Beyond Competition, which benefits the Inner-City Education (ICE) Program. Bickell has come to terms with the end of his hockey career and is feeling much better these days.
“I’m feeling a lot better now that I’m not playing hockey. Slowing the heart rate down, slowing the body down and slowing the mind down definitely helps me feel a lot better. From the get-go to a month afterward and then working my way back, I got better,” he said on Thursday night. “I feel comfortable now. I can do a lot of things that, that month, I couldn’t really do. To move on and enjoy and hang out with the kids and do things like this [Go Beyond Competition], I’m looking forward to it.”
Bickell kept his eye on what his former Blackhawks teammates were doing, from the end of the regular season to their abrupt first-round playoff exit.
“Nashville was underrated. I know with their season they just got in [to the playoffs], but they’re a good team. I don’t say Chicago took them lightly but they didn’t find their game,” Bickell said. “I was watching the Hawks over the course of the year, what they were doing. It just didn’t carry over. With a handful of games where they didn’t matter in the standings, I don’t know if it rubbed off going into the playoff but they didn’t find that next step.
"But you can see what Nashville’s doing to St. Louis. They could be the real deal. They could be the team coming out of the west. For the Hawks to get swept, it’s definitely a hard one to swallow. But they’ll bounce back.”
Bickell and his family are still in Raleigh, N.C., but will be heading back to Canada soon. He’ll still be doing plenty with The Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation, which helps rescue abused pit bulls. The foundation will soon launch an MS-service dog program to help those suffering from the illness.
As for what else he may do in the future, Bickell said he’ll worry about that later. Right now, he’s just enjoying some peace.
“I’m not really looking forward to anything other than relaxing, enjoying some time and doing nothing, really. Not waking up and having a schedule, not having to be at practice and work out and do all that,” Bickell said. “I’ll just take a step back and relax.”