- Bickell was diagnosed with MS in November 2016
- Had dreamed of an NHL return
- Recently announced retirement
(CNN)He woke with a start, a strange pain in his shoulder.
Used to big hits and aching bones, pro hockey player Bryan Bickell reassured himself, blaming the pain on a strange sleeping position, a pinched nerve, or perhaps an infected tooth he had at the time.
But it didn't subside.
"It came back, and it went down my arm," the 6-foot, 4-inch, 223-pound left winger tells CNN Sport. "Then, after a couple of weeks, it went down into my leg. This was something different."
Revered by 20,000 fans every time he took the ice, suddenly the three-time Stanley Cup winner was feeling decidedly human.
"The signals I was sending to the right side of my body were off," Bickell explains. "Something was not right."
When he moved his stick, "it was not doing what I was telling it to do." It was as if the skills the former construction worker had honed from the Greater Toronto Hockey League all the way to the NHL had been stripped away.
Even worse was the realization he had to pull himself off the ice.
End of the road?
Then, in November 2016, he got the news.
Bickell, a veteran of nine NHL seasons, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disease that affects the central nervous system and for which there is no cure.
Ice hockey had been his lifelong dream. He'd relished every moment playing, from the "odd mini-stick games in hotel hallways" to the game-tying goal during Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup final with the Chicago Blackhaw