Kelen Corkum is expected to begin attending the University of Maine in the fall but his college hockey career has been put on hold as the result of numerous concussions and unbearable headaches.
Still, the fact he will be taking classes represents a breakthrough for him after going through a long and painful three-year ordeal that landed him in emergency rooms.
“I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t open my eyes. I’d lay in a dark room for hours until I could stand back up,” said Corkum, who celebrated his 19th birthday Friday.
Kelen Corkum’s life was progressing nicely three years ago.
The son of former UMaine standout and longtime NHL player Bob Corkum had just verbally committed to play at Maine and landed a spot on the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-17 team for the 2006-2007 season.
He chose Maine over Boston University, Boston College, New Hampshire and Providence.
He was going to receive a full scholarship, but under NCAA guidelines he won’t be eligible for his athletic scholarship because his injuries occurred prior to his coming to Maine. However, if his health improves to the point where he can play again, he could earn a scholarship.
Things went downhill fast after Corkum reported to the Under-17 team.
He suffered a fractured vertebra in his lower back the first month of the season with the Under-17s and sat out four months. He returned and played in 27 games with three goals and three assists before suffering a concussion that ended his season.
The following year, he was moved up to the U.S. Under-18 team. He sustained three broken ribs in a November tournament in Switzerland but continued playing until he suffered yet another concussion later in the tourney.
He wound up playing just 16 games that season and his coming to Maine was pushed back a year.
Last season, he began the season with the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs in the Eastern Junior Hockey League and got off to a great start with nine goals and four assists in 13 games.
But during a practice session in which they did a variety of contact drills without a puck, he said he suffered “whiplash” from a hit that flared up the headaches that have haunted him, off and on, since the first concussion.
“My life has been hell ever since,” said Corkum, who didn’t play another game last year.
Corkum recently went to see Dr. Mickey Collins, a Hermon native who is a sports concussion specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Collins is one of the co-founders of ImPACT, a neurocognitive testing system that gauges the severity of concussions and how long it will take for an athlete to return to action following a concussion or concussions.
“He laid everything out for my parents [Bob and Jessica] and me. He talked to us about chemical imbalances, why the body acts the way it does and the mood swings that go with it,” said Corkum. “He made it easier to understand what is going on in my life.”
Corkum said testing conducted by Collins showed that the concussions played a much larger role in his headaches and illnesses than the angst and frustration with not being able to play hockey.
“It has a lot more to do with the concussions than my emotion,” said Corkum.
“He has given me some exercises including some inner ear imbalance work to get my brain working the way it should be,” added Corkum, who had suffered some memory loss. “I have followed the routine religiously the last couple of weeks. I’ve had fewer headaches and have been able to work out at the gym without any problem.
“Things are progressing well,” he said.
He would like to return to the ice some day but isn’t thinking about it right now.
“I just want to get my health and quality of life back. I’ll be happy just waking up and living life. Hockey is the furthest thing from my mind. I’m not going to stress over hockey. I want to get my education,” said Corkum.
“Hopefully, things will go well and I’ll be able to get back on the ice soon,” he said. “[Collins] told me not to close the door on my career. People who have been worse off than I am have come back and played.
“So I’m going to keep an open mind and do what he has laid out for me,” said Corkum
Bob Corkum said his son has been an “absolute warrior” through his long ordeal.
“It has been very frustrating for us because we all want what is best for our children,” said Bob Corkum. “It has broken our hearts to see him going through this. Now it’s a matter of him doing the work, doing the exercises and being disciplined so he can get better.”
Corkum won’t be the only Black Bear recruit who won’t suit up this season.
Swedish center Robin Bergman, who played 20 games at Notre Dame two years ago and had 22 goals and 20 assists for Cedar Rapids in the United States Hockey League this past season, has decided to remain in Sweden and begin a pro career.
So New Hampshire Junior Monarchs leading scorer Kyle Beattie, who was going to begin his University of Maine career in 2010, will be coming a year early.
“I’m really excited. It’ll be great to come in this year,” said Beattie, who had 20 goals and 40 assists in 43 games.
“Going back for an extra year [to the Monarchs] never hurts. But a lot of my peers are going up there this year and I’m confident and the coaching staff is confident I can come in and do my part,” said Beattie, who will be the first Arizona native to ever play at Maine.
He is from Buckeye, Arizona.
Beattie said it is “really unfortunate” that Corkum, his former Monarchs linemate, won’t be able to play.
“I hope he gets better as soon as he can,” said Beattie.
Kelen Corkum said Beattie will be a great addition to the program.
“He’s a great player,” said Corkum who added that Beattie will supply them with an infusion of speed, scoring and playmaking.
“He’ll get things going offensively,” said Corkum.
In addition to Corkum, Junior Monarchs Adam Shemansky (18 & 38) and Matt Mangene (12 & 25) will also be part of the incoming class.
Shemansky was the other member of the line with Corkum and Beattie.
Former Junior Monarchs Brian Flynn and Mark Nemec were freshmen at Maine this past season.
The 18-year-old Beattie said he is currently working out to get stronger and has added five pounds to his frame. He is currently 175 pounds.
“I’ll be playing against older and stronger players so I’ll need to adjust to that,” said Beattie whose coming to Maine is contingent upon his being accepted into the school and meeting NCAA requirements.