Hockey is a game of moments.
It’s a game of big moments, precious fragments of time that are displayed on the mosaic of the game’s history- Bobby Orr soaring, Wayne Gretzky’s record-setting goal, Mark Messier’s guarantee- memories of the times the game changed forever.
However, there are small moments, moments that don’t shine as brightly as their seemingly life-altering counterparts. It’s amazing that the best stories of the game of hockey are found in those little moments.
In Philadelphia on Sunday night, hockey got to witness another one of those little moments.
Bryan Bickell has never been a superstar, his stats won’t wow you, but the effort, determination and strength will.
Bickell’s moment of fame was tying game six of the 2013 Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins. It wasn’t a highlight-reel goal, but not a lot of people remember it. The reason being 18 seconds later, Dave Bolland potted a goal off the end boards to seal a comeback win and another Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks.
He’d played a good career at that point, earning his ice time with Chicago since he made his NHL debut in 2006, but “Bicks” played three more seasons with the Blackhawks.
The business side of the game saw him traded with teammate Teuvo Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes in the summer of 2016.
Again, Bickell was not the guy talked about. Canes fans buzzed with excitement about the youthfulness and speed of Teravainen, almost overlooking
He got tagged with the term “veteran leader,” a term that means a guy has played a while, probably won’t produce much and doesn’t have many years left in the NHL.
But Bickell got to prove himself as more than a “veteran leader,” during final NHL season. He showed what it means to be a graceful warrior, brave and determined.
In November, Bickell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that could have easily forced him into retirement in the days following diagnosis.
But Bickell fought back. Just as if he was taking a defenseman into the corner boards, he battled. For five months, he scratched his way back into playing shape and rejoined Carolina for the final four games of the regular season.
Prior to the last game in Philadelphia on Sunday, Bickell announced his retirement from hockey. As the final minutes of overtime waned into a shootout, Bickell’s career had one more moment left in it.
As sports reporters, we often talk about overcoming adversity in terms of beating a team that’s better than yours or rallying in the heat of the final seconds. But Bickell’s battle gives all in the sporting community a strong dose of realism.
At the end of the day, hockey is a game. There is a life behind every player that is filled with challenges that supersedes the game in every facet. Sometimes that gets missed. Regardless of whether or not he scored, just by getting to play a few more games, by fighting back, Bickell had already won.
Skating down the ice in only his second career shootout attempt. Bickell slowed at the slot, shot and scored. It wasn’t pretty; it wasn’t fancy, but it was Bickell.
In a parallel to times before, the goal didn’t win the game, but it set the table for Carolina to seal it minutes later. This time though, the spotlight belonged to Bickell, as the team rallied around the man who had shown grace, courage and bravery.
“He’s a man’s man and a pro’s pro,” Hurricanes head coach, Bill Peters remarked, visibly fighting back tears.
While Bickell only played eleven games in Carolina, he endeared himself to the blue-collar people of the Triangle who came out in droves to support Bickell’s “Walk to End MS” event prior to the final home game on April 8. And for a team missing the playoffs for a seventh straight season, Bickell became a hero. Not a hero for scoring a goal, but a hero for overcoming, for strength, for bravery.
“It wasn’t anything special,” Bickell said of his shootout goal, “It was a shot.”