Facing an uncertain future and the fear that his hockey career might be over, Mikael Tam is only now grasping the long-term impact of the vicious blow to the head he received during a Quebec junior hockey game which left him unconscious and convulsing on the ice.
Meeting journalists for the first time since the incident, the 18-year- old Quebec Remparts defenceman said he has no recollection of the incident, only fears about what lies ahead.
"While I was in the emergency room not realizing where I was or why I was there, I got scared, really scared," Tam said during a news conference yesterday. "As I was regaining consciousness I felt an incredible thing. I remember wondering if I would ever walk again. ... Mostly I was scared that I would never get to play hockey again."
The incident, that will likely forever scar Tam's hockey career, happened last Sunday during a game against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies when Patrice Cormier, captain of Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Saskatchewan, drove his elbow in Tam's face.
Tam and his family, who live in Quebec City, are waiting whether Tam will be able to resume his hockey career. They are also waiting the outcome of a police investigation after Remparts coach and co-owner Patrick Roy suggested criminal charges could eventually follow.
"I'm not sure how long I will be away from the game. I have suffered a traumatic brain injury, I've lost a few teeth and I feel very tired. ... I'm a winner, I'm a warrior and I will try and come back as soon as I can," Tam said, determined to brave the odds.
Tam said he saw the video of the hit, but the Remparts organization has asked that he not comment on the incident. Yesterday, team president Claude Rouleau kept the news conference under tight wraps asking reporters not to ask specific questions about the incident and the possible legal action.
Tam will undergo further medical tests next week. Team therapist Philippe Fait said Tam suffered a severe head injury and that it will take time to fully diagnose the impact.
"We can't say in the short term what the after-effects will be. The important thing is to rest and to be closely followed by the doctors," Mr. Fait said. 'Right now he is really tired but he has no headaches and he's not dizzy and that's a good thing."
Cormier has been suspended. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will decide on Monday what sanctions should be taken against Cormier, which may include a suspension for the remainder of the year.
In an interview with RDS, who caught up to him at a team workout in St. Hyacinthe, Que., on Thursday, Cormier was remorseful.
"I never had the intention of hurting anyone, but I'm not going to sit here and say I didn't do anything," he said. "You can clearly see that it was an elbow. But it was a reflex. I was only trying to check him. I never had it in my mind to hit Mikael in the head."
The 19-year-old native of Cap Pelé, N.B., also said that he tried several times to reach Tam to check on his health and to wish him well.
"I wanted to know how he's doing. I want him to know that I've been thinking about him a lot," he told the network.
The Remparts organization confirmed yesterday that Cormier had attempted to speak to Tam but that the team thought it best not to have a one-on-one conversion between the two players at this stage. "When it will take place, it will remain confidential," Mr. Rousseau insisted.
The incident with Tam marked the third time in just under a month that Cormier, known as a rugged, hard-nosed player, has provoked controversy. In the lead-up to the World Juniors last December, he elbowed a Swedish player in the face as the two were leaving the ice - the player wasn't badly hurt and Cormier went unpunished by the referees.