The coaching staff at the University of Massachusetts Boston was not sure what to expect from Corey Chakeen when he committed to play hockey for the Beacons last summer.
In his fourth year of junior hockey, during the 2009-2010 season, Chakeen blossomed into a 30-goal scorer with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League. His scoring prowess attracted offers from Division 1 colleges and opened the eyes of National Hockey League scouts.
The 22-year-old Chicago native was ranked as a Top 100 NHL prospect on a few draft boards before he put hockey on hold when his girlfriend, Ashley Swenson, gave birth to a baby girl in September 2010.
The couple moved to Quincy with their daughter, Chloe, this past June. When Chakeen stepped onto the ice for UMass Boston’s season opener Nov. 4 against Saint Anselm, it marked the first time he had played competitive hockey in 20 months. He responded by scoring the Beacons’ lone goal in a 2-1 loss.
“This kid is a pretty special hockey player and an even better man,’’ said sixth-season UMass Boston coach Peter Belisle.
“Some guys think they’ve got it tough balancing hockey and their school work, but Corey is doing all the same things while caring for a child. He’s going to be a really special player for us.’’
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Chakeen is tied for the team lead in goals (6) for the Beacons (4-5-2) while playing with a broken thumb suffered during a preseason practice. He also has four assists.
Corey Chakeen (above) ‘is a pretty special hockey player and an even better man.’Peter Belisle UMass Boston coach
“When he was getting recruited by the D1 schools his biggest asset was his speed, and it has taken him a while to regain his speed after the time off,’’ said Belisle. “But he’s a very special player around the net. He’s a pure goal scorer. We’re hoping for even more from him when he gets the cast off his thumb and can really shoot the puck.’’
On occasion, Chloe will accompany her father to school, where his teammates and players from the UMass women’s softball and soccer teams will babysit while Chakeen is in class or at practice.
“Everyone loves Chloe,’’ said Chakeen, an economics major who is working toward being accepted into the university’s five-year accelerated BA/MBA program.
“She’s always around the guys and they all call themselves ‘uncle.’ The girls on the softball and soccer team have been great. It’s pretty hysterical, because Ashley decided she wanted a pink diaper bag, so I walk in with my Reebok hockey bag and a pink diaper bag over my shoulder.’’
His 30-goal, and 30-assist campaign with the Silverbacks attracted interest from a number of Division 1 programs, including Michigan State, Holy Cross, and Rochester Institute of Technology. He also played for the Chicago Steel and the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League.
“I was talking to several Division 1 schools, but when I found out I was having a baby the talks came to a close because I knew I wanted to be there’’ for her, said Chakeen, who took a year off to help Ashley through her last year at the University of Nebraska.
“After I made that decision, some of the Division 3 schools started calling.’’
UMass Boston assistant coach Sean Walsh first learned of Chakeen while he was working as an assistant at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. After he accepted his position at UMB two years ago, he stayed in touch with Chakeen.
“The plan was for Corey to help Ashley finish up her degree, and then he would tackle getting his degree,’’ said Belisle. “He was thrilled that we stayed on top of him through that process and that he’d still have the opportunity to play college hockey and get an education.’’
While Chakeen still has a desire to play at the professional level, he is concentrating on contributing to a strong start for the Beacons. UMB kicks off the second half of the season by hosting the 47th annual Codfish Tournament, one of the premier Division 3 showcases in the country.
UMass will play Southern New Hampshire on Jan. 6 in a first-round game while Tufts takes on Johnson & Wales.
“We had a bit of a slow start in our conference, but I’m really excited about how the team is shaping up over the Christmas break,’’ said Chakeen. “I think we’ll perform well during the Codfish tournament. It’s a pretty special tournament and it’s nice that UMass gets to host it.’’John Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.