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Bickell still adjusting to life after retirement from NHL

Forward left game to deal with multiple sclerosis, would like to find way to work with kids

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- Bryan Bickell misses a lot of things about playing hockey, but spending time in the weight room is not one of them.

"Physically I've enjoyed retirement because I don't have to put my body through getting ready for the season and working out," he said after attending the Carolina Hurricanes' game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Thursday. "I haven't lifted weights since the last time I worked out [when I was playing], but it's different."

It's different because for the first time since he started playing hockey as a child, Bickell, 31, did not spend the summer preparing for a new season. He retired from the NHL in April after it was announced in November 2016 that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Still adjusting to a quieter, more relaxed lifestyle, Bickell was excited to get a chance to visit with his former Hurricanes teammates and to be in a hockey environment again. Though he's no longer playing, Bickell still follows the NHL closely and keeps tabs on how his many friends around the League are doing.

"I don't think I've really adjusted emotionally," Bickell said. "I've been watching a lot of hockey and a lot of highlights. I think I've watched more hockey in the start of this year than I have in the last five years. You miss it, but then I see my buddies do well and it's great to see."

Bickell, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks (2013, 2015), said he feels great as he manages the illness that forced him to retire with 136 points (66 goals, 70 assists) in 395 NHL games during 10 seasons with the Hurricanes and Blackhawks.

"This day was going to come so it was time to move on and look what's next," he said. "I've got a lot of life to live and enjoy all the best. Things are good. Slowing the body down, slowing the mind down, relaxing is helping. Being around a lot of friends and family is nice because we've usually been gone. It's a bit of a different lifestyle but we're going to get used to it."

Bickell said he's not sure yet what he wants to do as he begins the next chapter of his life.

"I know I'll find something," he said. "I can't sit in the house all day and do [nothing]. But for the time being it's nice to see the kids grow and be around my wife, Amanda."

Getting back into hockey is a possibility down the road if the right opportunity presents itself, he said, but in the meantime he expressed an interest in working with kids in sports in some capacity.

"I've always liked working with them," said Bickell, who has two daughters, Kinslee and Makayla, both under 3 years old. "Sometimes they can be a headache at times. But it's nice to work with kids."

Bickell said it was an emotional experience getting ready for his final game, against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on April 9. But it had a storybook ending that still brings a smile to his face. On the final shot of his NHL career, his hard wrist shot got past goaltender Anthony Stolarz in the shootout, helping Hurricanes to a 4-3 win. The reaction of his teammates, the Flyers and the fans in Philadelphia, he said, is one he continues to cherish.

"It was definitely a cool way to hang them up and score on my last shot," he said. "Going through that last period, all the memories I went through and knowing I was lacing up my skates for the last time was tough. Seeing that goal go in, it was definitely cool, and getting to see the guys' reactions and the fans in Philly too was definitely special because we know the fans in Philly can be kind of hectic."

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