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Bryan Bickell returns to NHL after MS diagnosis

Forward plays first game for Hurricanes since Oct. 30

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell played his first NHL game Tuesday since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on Nov. 10.

Bickell, 31, said he appreciates the support he's received since his diagnosis.

"You just think about all the thoughts and all the things you've gone through to get to this moment," he said, "the people that reach out and help and the support, it means a lot for all those people to get me to where I am now, and I'm happy to be back here and just take it game by game and move on to the next one."

Bickell, who had not played for the Hurricanes since Oct. 30, said his return didn't go how he drew it up in his head. He had a minus-2 rating in 12:35 of ice time in a 5-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild. His line, with wings Andrew Poturalski, who was making his NHL debut, and Brock McGinn, was on the ice for two of three Wild goals in the first period.

His three hits helped quell concerns about his ability to play in the NHL, though.

"Physically, it was OK," he said. "It was a little bit of a rough start, but emotionally it was good to get back out there. Obviously, that first period wasn't what we wanted as a line, but I think as the game went on, it got better. It probably took until about the second shift. … There were a couple bumps and unfortunately our line didn't have the best game, but I'm sure we'll bounce back."

Video: CAR@MIN: Broadcast discusses Bickell's return from MS

For his teammates and coaches, it wasn't about Bickell's stat line.

"I think he looked a lot better than we expected for having basically been out for five months," Hurricanes forward Lee Stempniak said. "It's an inspiration to see how hard he's worked and how much he cares [about this game].

"Hockey's such an important part of our lives that you, I don't want to say take it for granted, but you always think it's going to be there, and to have it taken away like that is certainly difficult and it's a reality check for all of us. But he's put in the work, he's had a great attitude, he's just been a great person in general, a great person to know, and I'm just really happy for him to be back."

Carolina forward Jeff Skinner echoed Stempniak, saying, "I thought he was great. He moved well, skated well and made some good plays for us. That's a pretty good story and shows the perseverance, mental toughness and everything. It's inspiring, and for me it's cool to be a part of it and witness it firsthand."

Bickell is happy to be back, but he's aware of the long road ahead.

To help him prepare for what lies ahead, Bickell turned to former Wild goaltender Josh Harding, who was diagnosed with MS in September 2012, and retired from the League in 2015.

Harding was at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday and talked with Bickell after the game.

"I haven't met him before -- I've scored against him a couple times -- but it'll be good to catch up," Bickell said before meeting with Harding. "[He's helped with] just things that physically he went through, obviously the treatments, and now he wants to talk … about afterwards and what he does to get through, when he played and now when he doesn't play.

"I know with MS you need to keep cool, and that was a big thing for him. He was a goalie. He had to stand up the whole time. I get breaks. I get to sit on the bench. But it's nice to reach out to him and get some thoughts off of what he's been through.

Bickell has 66 goals and 70 assists in 392 NHL games with the Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks. He played 384 games with Chicago from 2007-16, winning the Stanley Cup three times.

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