Beyond The Benches

Multiple Sclerosis: A Deal Breaker In Hockey?

After playing over 500 professional games, three-time Stanley Cup champion Bryan Bickell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The diagnosis was released after the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks playoff season.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society “multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.”

At the age of 30, Bickell had signed a four-year, $16-million deal with the Blackhawks but was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes where he was unable to fully complete his contract after his diagnosis.

“Since the 2015 playoffs, I’ve been struggling to understand what was going on with my body. Again, during the past few weeks, it felt like something wasn’t right,” stated in the official statement issued by the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes on behalf of player Bryan Bickell. “Obviously, this is a bit of shock for my family and me, but I am hopeful I will be able to return to the ice and continue playing the game that I love.”

Did the diagnosis affect Brickell’s performance on the ice? Prior to the diagnosis during the 2014-15 season the forward tallied 28 points including 14 goals and 14 assists in his 80 games played. The following season in his 25 games Bickell tallied just two assists before being sent down to the Rockford IceHogs, Blackhawks American Hockey League affiliate. During his time with the Icehogs he put up 15 goals and 16 assists during 47 games.

Prior to the trade, the Blackhawks medical staff treated him but it was unclear on a concrete diagnosis.

“There are no specific tests for MS. Instead, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis often relies on ruling out other conditions that might produce similar signs and symptoms, known as a differential diagnosis,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

Since the trade from the Blackhawks to the Hurricanes, Bickell appeared in 10 games where he notched one goal before being sent down to the AHL affiliate the Charlotte Checkers for 10 games. On November 11, 2016, the Hurricanes announced the diagnosis with Bickell stepping away from the game to rest.

According to the Mayo Clinic “there is no cure for multiple sclerosis.”

The 31-year-old forward has not returned to the ice since the announcement.

Jordan Sigalet, goaltending coach for the Calgary Flames, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during his collegiate career at Bowling Green University.

“I know how alone and scared I felt when I was diagnosed,” said Flames Coach Jordan Sigalet on his diagnosis in 2003.

In 2001, Sigalet was drafted 209th overall by the Boston Bruins and spent three seasons playing with the Providence Bruins before heading overseas. Sigalet made the jump to coaching and in 2014 started working with the Flames where he is out to prove that he belongs at the NHL level, despite the MS.

“There were a lot of doubters when I was hired because of this so it is just continuing to work hard and prove the doubters wrong, which was something I had to do during my playing career especially after being diagnosed with MS,” said Sigalet. “I have always said there is only one way to get experience and it’s to be given a chance which I am grateful that the Flames organization believed in me and gave me the chance.”

On April 6, 2017, Sigalet changed roles to backup netminder as his starter, Chad Johnson, needed medical attention against the Anaheim Ducks in case something happened to goaltender Brian Elliot. At 36-years-old Sigalet not only set the tone for goaltending coach standards throughout the National Hockey League, but did it with multiple sclerosis.

In November 2012, netminder Josh Harding announced that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Harding played 71 games after his announced his diagnosis with the Minnesota Wild and has since transitioned to become the goaltending coach for the Edina High in the USHS.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it: It was very tough for me,” Harding said to ABC News. “Right when I thought that I kind of had it under control, it just seemed like something would kick my legs out from under me again.”

In 2013, Harding was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy which is given to the player that best represents sportsmanship, perseverance and dedication to the game.