Bemidji State men's hockey: Kinne recovers from stroke, leads Beavers into season a captain
Ben Kinne's life as a hockey player was threatened by a stroke he suffered during a summer 2010 workout in St. Paul.
His recovery will come full circle Friday night in Ohio when he leads Bemidji State onto the ice as a captain in the regular season opener against Miami.
Recovery was a deliberate process for Kinne and he chose to sit out last year even though he had an opportunity to play in the season's second half.
"There was no reason to push it," said Kinne, a junior who will play in his first official game since the 2010 NCAA Tournament. "Most doctors said it would take a year to recover, so I was just playing it safe. I am a hockey player but I want to live first. I didn't want to ruin that chance."
Kinne, a former Cretin-Derham High School prep star, remembers the stroke with vivid detail and recalls a typical start to July 23, 2010. He worked his summer job in the morning and left to work out at a St. Paul gym with his younger brother Bob.
Kinne arrived at the gym feeling dizzy and had trouble keeping weights straight during his exercises. He returned home to rest on a couch but his symptoms did not improve.
"My vision started going and I thought this wasn't good," Kinne said.
Kinne's father, Mike, was home from work early that day and took him to United Hospital.
"When I was being brought to the car I had no movement in the right side of my body," Kinne said. "I couldn't lift my leg up and I was being carried there. It was pretty serious. I was lucky I only live about five minutes from the hospital and was pretty lucky to get there the time I did."
A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery or a blood vessel breaks and causes blood flow to the brain to be interrupted. Brain cells die in this process and results in brain damage. Minor strokes can weaken arms and legs. Major strokes can be severe enough to cause paralysis or speech loss.
Kinne's stroke affected an area the size of a quarter coin in his brain.
"The first time the doctor came and said I wouldn't play anymore, I was pretty broken down about that," Kinne said. "My Dad had to walk out of the room and so did my brother. We were all shaken up."
Kinne said he never seriously considered retiring from the game. The family sought out second and third medical opinions, and those doctors felt Kinne could play again if the recovery was managed correctly. He spent the first two months following the stroke resting in bed and away from physical activity.
"They said you will see the most gains in the first two months and I saw a lot of gains," Kinne said. "I had numbness all down the right side of my body for at least the first two months then it started gradually going away. Then my peripheral vision came back as well. By the time school started my vision was back to normal."
Kinne returned to Bemdji State in the fall with a lighter class schedule and was back on the ice with the Beavers in October. He practiced two to three times each week and needed much of the first semester to return into playing shape. With half the season passed, Kinne felt the right decision was to continue practicing and sit out of games the rest of the year.
Bemidji State hockey players determine captains prior to each season and Kinne was named captain this summer by a team vote.
"I was a little surprised but at the same time it was a good thing so I was happy," Kinne said. "It's just an honor, anytime you get that kind of respect from your teammates it is something you have to embrace. It is just something I've took on so far this year and I'm looking to lead the team into a winning season."
Defensemen Brad Hunt and Jake Areshenko were voted alternate captains. Hunt said Kinne brings character to the locker room.
"He lives life the way it should be lived," Hunt said. "He comes to the rink every day and plays the game the way it should be played. He's a great guy and I know everyone in the dressing room looks up to him. The way he carries himself says a lot about who he is."
Kinne returned to a full class schedule this fall and his older brother, Sam, now attends BSU after transferring from North Dakota. Bob is starting his first year of juniors with the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League and has verbally committed to play at BSU. He could join the Beavers as soon as next season and join Ben for his senior year.
Kinne started in Bemidji State's 7-0 exhibition victory over the University of Regina last Sunday at the Sanford Center and his parents were in the stands.
"They were pretty excited to see me back out there," Kinne said.
He played on the top line with Jordan George and Jamie MacQueen against Regina and was back out on the power play where he excelled during a 10-goal sophomore season.
"He battled through a little adversity there and it doesn't look like he missed a step," Areshenko said. "It's awesome to see him out there and it's fun to see him out there too."
Kinne is not the first WCHA player to successfully recover from a stroke. Michigan Tech's Malcolm Gwilliam suffered a stroke during a November 2008 game against Minnesota and returned to play for the Huskies at the start of the 2009 season.
Kinne still experiences occasional numbness on the right side of his body, but has grown accustomed to the feeling and is not worried about his safety on the ice during games.
"When I go out there, I'm going to play the way I've always played," Kinne said. "There's no difference in that. The physical contact is not going to affect me in any way, shape or form. There's no reason for me not to play at the highest level I can right now."