LAS VEGAS -- Bryan Bickell knew he was coming to Las Vegas to be honored at the 2017 NHL Awards and NHL Expansion Draft presented by T-Mobile on Wednesday for courageously coming back to play for the Carolina Hurricanes after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
The surprise for Bickell and his wife, Amanda, was the $20,000 joint donation the NHL Foundation and NHL Players' Association made to the Bryan and Amanda Bickell Foundation, which works with rescued pit bulls as service dogs to assist abused children and those with MS.
"They definitely surprised me with that," Bickell said. "It was a generous donation to our foundation that we'll be working with MS people to find them service dogs. That's definitely a good step to help us."
Video: Bickell commended for return after MS diagnosis
Bickell's battle with MS, a disease of the central nervous system, was featured as the "Inspirational Moment" during the NHL Awards. After learning his diagnosis on Nov. 10, Bickell, 31, initially didn't know if he would play hockey again, but after beginning treatments of Tysabri, a medication he takes once a month to control his symptoms, he was able to resume skating in January.
Bickell was cleared medically in late February and played in 10 games with Charlotte of the American Hockey League before being recalled to play in the Hurricanes' last four regular-season games. He decided to retire, though, because the demands of playing professionally and fighting MS were a strain physically.
Since scoring a shootout goal in a 4-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers in his final NHL game on April 9, Bickell has been committed to sharing his story and spreading the word about MS, which there is yet to be a cure. He viewed being honored Wednesday as another opportunity to spread awareness and put a ribbon on his NHL playing career, which spanned 10 seasons and included Stanley Cup championships with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
"I was kind of nervous going into it, but it's an honor to be here to see everybody and the respect for my story that I've gone through this year and [over] the years," Bickell said. "I'm just really happy to finish it off this way."
Bickell, who had 136 points (66 goals, 70 assists) in 395 games with the Blackhawks and Hurricanes, understands that his celebrity as a former NHL player gives him a platform to talk about MS and hopefully inspire others. He also hopes his work helps raise funds to fight the disease and leads to a cure.
"The big thing that a lot of people talk to me about is the inspiration to my teammates that I showed and the positive attitude to overcome something that's life-changing and to fight your way back," he said. "To do that, shows that for anybody, not just some people with MS, that there are different things that people can overcome."