In light of Brian Boyle‘s comeback from leukemia, what are some of the other recent inspiring stories around the league?
Greg Wyshynski: Osteochondritis dissecans is a disease where a bone near the knee joint is no longer sufficiently supplied with blood, which can then lead to individual pieces of cartilage detaching from the bone. These bone fragments have a rather revolting name: “joint mice.” Creepy.
Dallas Stars forward Mattias Janmark, 24, is all too familiar with the disease, as it cost him the entire 2016-17 season. Last September, Janmark had a piece of knee bone connected by a screw. In March 2017, he had the screw removed. Then came several months of rehab to prepare for this season.
Then came the start of the season. Janmark had played an important role in the Stars’ Central Division championship in his rookie season of 2015-16, with 29 points in 73 games. How would he react after missing a season? Well, Janmark has three goals and five assists in 15 games, skating 17:05 per game.
You can’t help but feel good that a promising rookie, who spent Year 2 off the ice because of a peculiar disease, is back and contributing after a long road back to Dallas. And hopefully without any joint mice in his future.
Emily Kaplan: I’ve been to a handful of Blackhawks games this season, and I can tell you the exact moment the United Center was the loudest: when Bryan Bickell took the ice. It was before Chicago’s season-opener, and nearly a year since the former Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes winger was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Bickell had signed a one-day contract to skate one last shift and retire as a Blackhawk. The lights were dimmed, a spotlight followed the 31-year-old onto the ice and the place went nuts.
I’ve been inspired by Bickell’s bravery as he braces for an incurable disease. It was around this time last year that Bickell felt pain in his shoulder. At first he assumed he was sleeping the wrong way, but the pain spread. He had numbness in his limbs, and spells of dizziness. A doctor then unfurled the news: there were lesions on his brain and spinal cord. Bickell had MS, a disease he barely knew anything about.
Bickell knew his hockey career would end sooner than planned, and he would battle new physical challenges. But he wanted to end on his own terms. So despite undergoing treatments — interjecting drugs that prevent white blood cells from entering his brain and spinal cord — he maintained resolve. Bickell ended up playing in the last 11 games of the 2016-17 season. The last game was a shootout. Bickell scored on his final NHL shot. But that’s not the end of this story. Bickell has vowed not to be defined as the hockey player with MS. Rather, he wants to fight for the disease, and be remembered for the passion that he played with and fought the disease. That’s something everyone in the United Center earlier this season — including me — deemed worthy of cheering for.
Chris Peters: There is usually no shortage of inspiring stories in a given NHL season, but one that stands out to me this season — aside from Boyle’s — is what Derek Dorsett has been doing for the Vancouver Canucks.
The 30-year-old winger is less than a year removed from spinal surgery to remove a damaged disc, which was replaced by a washer and a piece of bone from his hip, according to a recent story by Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre. The fact that he has been able to return to living his life normally, let alone playing again, is an accomplishment in itself. But Dorsett didn’t simply come back. He is thriving.
Through 16 games, Dorsett has scored seven goals. It is only the third time in his 10-year career that he has scored seven or more goals in a single season. That’s not terribly surprising for a player who primarily has made a career for himself with his fists instead of his scoring prowess. But to have done it after spending eight weeks in a neck brace and six months of grueling rehab is more than impressive.
Players like Dorsett are becoming increasingly rare in today’s NHL. Toughness alone isn’t often going to get you a roster spot these days. That had to up the difficulty in his comeback bid more. Even if Dorsett is riding a wave that likely isn’t sustainable over the long term, the fact that he was able to come back from his injury and play the way that he has is a massive accomplishment. It’s also a great lesson in perseverance and determination. This surgery could have easily been the end of Dorsett’s career, but he wasn’t ready to let that happen yet.