Lauri Korpikoski made a name for himself as one of the most athletic, hard-working players in the NHL. The lightning-quick “Korpedo” played 609 regular season games and scored 201 points before heading off to Europe in 2017. He was originally a New York Rangers first round pick (19th overall), but he spent most of his career with the Phoenix Coyotes. The Oilers, Stars and Blue Jackets also got to enjoy his services for a while.
Korpikoski was born in Turku, Finland, but he didn’t return to his hometown immediately after leaving the NHL. Instead, he joined the Zürich Lions in Switzerland and won the championship in his first season. However, here’s where his story took a turn for the worse. Despite signing a gigantic six-year deal with TPS Turku last summer, the last 15 months have been extremely difficult for the 32-year-old.
Korpikoski Diagnosed with IBD
It began in Zürich, where Korpikoski and the Lions were still fighting it out for the Swiss championship. The Finnish forward was back in action after multiple regular-season injuries, but this time he was slowed down by his stomach. Constant diarrhea and a lack of energy hindered his performance significantly.
It was cool to win the championship, but that was a grueling time for me. Being a typical Finn, I tried to survive for another 5—6 weeks, before finally going to a doctor, (from Ilta-Sanomat — 3/5/19).Korpikoski on the Swiss playoff run.
In May, Korpikoski was diagnosed with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) which is a chronic disease that can be treated relatively well with medication and proper nutrition. After the diagnosis, a return to Turku was a safe option for him and his young family. Coming to terms with his new lifestyle was easier in familiar surroundings, and a six-year contract meant there was no rush to get back into full fitness.
Korpikoski Suffers Myocarditis in Preseason
After a successful offseason, Korpikoski and TPS traveled to two Champions Hockey League away games to kick off their 2018-19 campaign. The matches were played in Malmö and Munich. Before the trip, he felt a slight pain in his chest, but suspected it was a muscle strain. The pain got worse after the team landed back in Finland, however, and he was unable to sleep and he caught a fever that same night.
The next day TPS’s doctor sent Korpikoski to hospital. It turned out he was suffering from a potentially life-threatening Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by his IBD medication, a situation that occurs roughly once in every 10,000 cases. The connection was found thanks to TPS’s medical team.
Korpikoski had to stay in the hospital. He was told not to move for eight days, all the while his team skated on opening night. His resting heart rate got dangerously low at times, forcing the doctors to consider pacemaker surgery. Luckily, it was not needed. Switching IBD medications meant, however, that his overall recovery time was prolonged significantly.
Korpikoski Makes His Return
In his prime, Korpikoski was an explosive, 203-pound (92 kg) athlete. The summer and autumn months naturally took their toll on his body.
The lowest point was in December, when the IBD was still very difficult. The scale was showing 177 lbs (80,1 kg), and I had to start training again. At the time I thought: ‘Forget it,’ (from Ilta-Sanomat — 3/5/19).Korpikoski was feeling down in the winter.
Months of inactivity didn’t make things easy, but Korpikoski put his head down and got to work. Friendly encouragement was provided by his trainers.
When we started the rehab work, fitness coach Hannu Rautala told me that I looked like a ski jumper, (from Ilta-Sanomat — 3/5/19).Korpikoski’s coach took the situation with good humor.
He returned to action on Mar. 3 against Lukko Rauma. He played the last four regular season games and appeared on three of TPS’s five playoff games. The postseason ended way too early for TPS, who are currently one of the top clubs in Finland. The team was eliminated in the first proper playoff round, albeit against the eventual champions HPK Hämeenlinna.
Next season, Korpikoski should be a lot closer to his former self, again leading the team with a captain’s C on his jersey. He has regained a lot of muscle and that should help him use his best assets — speed, power and explosiveness — even more. He will most likely start the season on TPS’s second or third line, but will definitely gain more ice time if things go as planned. In the Finnish Liiga he can still be one of the very best.
Viljami is a Finnish journalist who began his career writing for Jatkoaika, the biggest hockey-specific website in his home country. From there he moved on to THW to cover European hockey more extensively. Both past and future NHLers are given the spotlight in Viljami’s articles.