By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – It started on a Monday. Three months later, that is still clear in Adam Berkhoel’s memory. And it started innocuously enough.
The rookie goaltender, signed by Atlanta and on call-up to its American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago, hadn’t played in a game yet for the Wolves when he started to feel soreness in his hip.
It’s relatively common for athletes to have issues with hip flexors, and earlier in his career Berkhoel had torn the labrum in his left hip. So no one was too worried, least of all Berkhoel, who started the season with ECHL Gwinnett before going up to Chicago at the end of October.
But despite standard treatments, the pain increased each day until after playing his first game that Friday, Nov. 19, it hurt so badly Berkhoel was taken for an MRI. Further testing revealed a septic infection and the next day he had emergency surgery.
“It just kept getting worse and worse,” Berkhoel said. “I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. It felt like a hip flexor.
“But you’re not going to think a hip infection.”
It’s a fairly rare condition in general, but especially so in this case.
“The hardest thing about making that diagnosis is that he’s a young, fit, professional athlete,” said Gladiators athletic trainer Megan Guthrie. “It’s just not something you would see.
“When he’s presenting with symptoms that are kind of like a hip flexor, a common hip injury for a goalie, you don’t expect it to be something as serious as an infection there.”
The rare disorder was diagnosed and Berkhoel began treatment, but odds were he wouldn’t make it back for any meaningful part of the 2004-05 season. In fact, the 23-year-old was lucky to have the infection caught in time. Left untreated, it can destroy bone, which could have threatened his career almost before it began.
But Berkhoel defied conventional wisdom again, playing for the Gladiators on Jan. 28 — several weeks before even the most optimistic projections.
“It’s definitely a difficult injury to come off of,” Guthrie said. “I’m amazed he came back so quickly.
“There was always that possibility he wasn’t going to come back this season at all. So definitely he surprised all of us. He was so diligent and so passionate about getting himself better.”
Berkhoel spent six weeks with a PIC (percutaneous intravenous catheter) line in his arm for twice-daily IV’s. With the internal line, he wasn’t permitted any heavy lifting. He rode the stationary bike to improve his cardio and waited for the PIC line to come out.
“But when I came back I felt like I needed to do a bit more cardio and most of all get the eye-hand coordination back,” Berkhoel said. “Which I still don’t feel 100 percent that I have back.
“It’s just a matter of time before things start to click. I feel better and better every day that I’m on the ice. You’ve just got to keep working hard and everything will get back to normal.”
The Minnesotan, who won the national championship with the University Denver last year, has played six of Gwinnett’s last eight games, posting a 2-2-2 record. But one of those was a huge 3-0 shutout against Florida.
“To come in and finally get a big game against a top team like Florida just was a big relief,” Berkhoel said. “People that doubted me or wondered what was going on with this guy, got to see what I can do and I’m just trying to build on that.
“I’m supposed to be a top goalie. I haven’t felt like I was holding up my end of the bargain, I guess, or playing to my abilities and that night was a good night just to step up to the plate.”
It was a Tuesday. Perhaps that day too will stick in his mind.