NHL Is Taking Concussions More Seriously

Fans Still Like The Hard Hits

In all fairness, I should begin by admitting that one of the reasons I’ve been a hockey fan for so many years is because it’s a serious contact sport and it moves fast, waiting for no one.

However, one of the most frightening sights is seeing a player checked from behind, sending the player head first into the boards hard enough to snap their head back. Generally this kind of hit drops the player to the ice, unconscious or significantly dazed.

One of the issues I have with the current NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, is his refusal to accept what is now widely considered a medical fact….blows to the head can cause significant brain trauma that may not create serious problems for years.

I believe it’s the responsibility of every professional sports team to provide players with equipment and/or rules of the game to protect them. This includes a consistency of enforcement that ensures the same level of protection for every player. It also includes mandating the coaching and training staff to take the decision to stay in or leave a game out of the hands of the player.

In a recent interview Wayne Gretzky indicated that when he was a player in the NHL a possible concussion was treated with two aspirin and a prolonged skate the following day…sweating it out so to speak. There has been a significant increase in knowledge and understanding of head injuries by doctors, trainers, and players,

However, the research has only scratched the surface and there is much more to be done.

In 2015 the NHL implemented the Concussion Spotter program to assist clubs in identifying players who exhibit visible signs of concussion, such as dizziness; appearing dazed or confused; balance or coordination problems; or difficulty getting back up on the ice.

These concussion spotters are employed by the NHL and must be certified Athletic Trainers or Therapists with a high level of hockey expertise. Central League Spotters observe games from the NHL offices via live game broadcasts on multiple feeds. In-Arena Spotters, also employed by the League, are physically present at all games to observe players’ behavior and to identify those who exhibit visible signs of concussion.

They must have the same training as the central league spotters and are assigned to ensure they will be dedicated solely to the spotting function during games.

Every NHL game has central league spotters viewing the broadcast and an in-arena spotter watching the players for possible injury. The responsibility for identification and removal of players who require an acute evaluation for possible concussion, however, is currently set at club level.

Recently, one of the Edmonton Oilers’ top rookies, Connor McDavid, was pulled from a game after an opposing player tripped him, causing him to hit his chin on the ice. He was given the rudimentary concussion tests, which he passed, but he was not allowed to return to the game and the Oilers subsequently lost to the Minnesota Wild.

Clearly, McDavid and some of his teammates weren't happy that he was pulled from the game.

When I began to research this article I read an opinion declaring that if hits were eliminated, hockey would become nothing more than a polite soccer match. The owner of that opinion is in favor of eliminating hits of any kind, believing that true fans of the game would enjoy hockey simply for the skill involved in creating plays that would move the puck down the ice and into the net.

Don’t misunderstand, I was a soccer mom for over 15 years and I continue to enjoy the sport. However, if I’m watching hockey, it’s because I expect to see players who will persevere through multiple hits, willing to retaliate within the allowable parameters if that’s what it takes to win the game.

I’m fairly certain that every NHL player has a clear understanding that being polite on the ice will not get his or her name on the Stanley Cup. Good sportsmanship is a different issue and there is an award for that.

Commissioner Bettman agrees that as more high-profile cases emerge and as the games increase in importance closer to the end of the regular season the debate will likely get louder. But that's exactly why the spotter program is in place.

Players typically don't want to come out of a game, and left to make the decision on their own, will skate until they drop. Does that mean some players are going to get pulled who didn't have concussions? Of course. But it also means the players who need to be off the ice, are off the ice.


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