It always feels a little silly to say your heart is breaking watching millionaires, but there are instances where if it didn’t you’ve become pure granite on the inside. In this case, it’s watching someone whose whole life has revolved around one thing having that one thing simply taken away from him, and I doubt there’s an amount of money in the world that can make one at peace with that. If you didn’t see Bryan Bickell after last night’s game, you may want to seclude yourself before watching:
[WATCH] An emotional Bryan Bickell spoke with the media following his first game back in Raleigh Thursday night: pic.twitter.com/mo2yP0vjtX
— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) April 7, 2017
This blog spent a lot of time defending Bickell. Because when the dust settles, Bickell should be remembered as a class guy who scored three of the biggest goals in Hawks history. That’s right. Three of them. He started the comeback against the Wings in Game 5 with the opener. He scored the winner in the Game 6 comeback. And he scored the equalizer in Game 6 in Boston. You probably remember his near-psychotic scream after that one, most likely because you were screaming in the same fashion (and if you’re me, punching Killion in the head at the same time). All of these got overshadowed by goals and accomplishments that would come later, but those more revered goals don’t happen without Bickell providing the platform (he also got himself an OT winner in Game 1 against the Wild, on an assist from Stalberg, if you really want to bake your noodle).
It’s also forgotten before that 2013 campaign, Bickell was really good in the playoffs in ’11 and ’12, just for losing efforts. He gutted out as much as he could against the Canucks before the ligaments that were slashed by a skate crawled up into his elbow after Game 6. He won Game 2 against the Yotes. And you know, he was pretty good in 2014 too, when his body first started to give out on him, with seven goals in 19 games that year.
Most of the ire toward Bicks was simply because he signed a contract that was offered to him. He didn’t hold out. He didn’t make demands. He was offered it mere days after the ’13 win. What was he supposed to do? Booing players simply because of their paycheck has never and will never be fair. It’s not like Bicks ever stopped trying. His knee just started to deteriorate, and now we know there was a hell of a lot more than that going south on him.
We know sports is a strange world, although how much we should just accept that is a struggle we will never get an answer to. In a town where masses of fans have rushed to defend the indefensible, Bickell got more shit than most players here when we pretty much know he’s one of the best people to grace the Westside Hockey Club in recent years. He saved pit bulls. Every member of the media who covered the Hawks raved about what a dream Bickell was to deal with. And again, his only crime was earning a big paycheck and having his body betray him.
If this is it for Bicks, I will remember the goals in Game 6 vs. the Wings and Bruins of course. But it’s that one in Game 5 that sticks out most to me. Remember how panicked we all were when the Hawks were down 3-1 (well, we weren’t but we certainly weren’t at ease either). I remember walking into the building that night and shocked at how many fans had dumped their tickets to Wings fans that night, terrified of seeing it all end at the hands of The Red Menace once again. Contrasted with there being probably 70% less Wings fans in the building for Game 7. The opening of that game was back and forth, and it didn’t settle the nerves at all. But when Bicks slammed home that rebound, I literally leapt out of my seat, and screamed loud enough for all the Wings fans around me to be a little frightened. Even though Detroit would tie that game, for some reason I knew that Bickell opening the scoring meant things were going to be all right. We could breathe again.
The road ahead for Bickell isn’t going to be easy. The man certainly deserves a break or two. And sometime next season, he should be brought back to the United Center to get the ovation he never really got after 2013. And it shouldn’t be out of sympathy or pity. It should be out of genuine appreciation for the things he did on and off the ice. I look forward to that night.