A con­cus­sion dis­cus­sion

Lo­cal hockey lead­ers have mixed views on new rules

The Compass - - ORTHTE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

Con­cus­sion. It is a word no­body in hockey wants to hear.

It brings with it im­ages of play­ers face down on the ice, hours of re­hab and CAT scans.

With the whole world watch­ing with baited breath over the sta­tus of NHL megas­tar Sid­ney Crosby, it has be­come a ma­jor topic of con­ver­sa­tion.

Smaller hockey cir­cles have started to take no­tice, and are look­ing to pro­tect­ing their chil­dren for the fu­ture.

A story ap­pear­ing on the CBC’s web­site dated Sept. 15 makes ref­er­ence to mi­nor hockey as­so­ci­a­tions across Canada bring­ing in a man­dated con­cus­sion pre­ven­tion pro­gram.

It would re­quire young ath­letes, atom aged and up, to un­dergo base­line con­cus­sion test­ing be­fore the sea­son be­gan.

Pro­grams in Bri­tish Columbia, Al­berta, Saskatchewan, Man­i­toba and parts of On­tario are cur­rently the ini­tia­tive.

Coin­ci­den­tally, all the pro­grams have large pop­u­la­tion cen­tres.

In­ter­est­ing ini­tia­tive

Wendy Penney, spokesman for Cee­Bees mi­nor hockey in Har­bour Grace, said the pro­gram is an in­ter­est­ing ini­tia­tive.

“I’m not sure if it is some­thing we could do on our own,” she said.

Penney said there were a num­ber of in­ci­dents where play­ers ex­pe­ri­ence head in­juries last sea­son.

She would pre­fer to have Hockey New­found­land and Labrador (HNL) take the first step in ini­ti­at­ing such a pro­gram.

“If it was an ini­tia­tive from HNL, we would fol­low suit,” ex­plained Penney.

Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle posted to ScienceDaily on June 1, 2011, the base­line test­ing pro­vides a base­line score of an ath­lete’s at­ten­tion span, work­ing mem­ory and re­ac­tion time. Af­ter suf­fer­ing a con­cus­sion, the ath­lete will re­take the test and if there is a de­crease in the score the ath­lete is benched un­til the score im­proves.

“ We would not be ad­verse to the (test),” said Penney. “ We’ll do any­thing we can to pre­vent in­juries.”

She said her as­so­ci­a­tion, which does not have the re­sources of the larger main­land cen­tre, could look at an in­tro­duc­tion year to see “ how it works out, and see if it is help­ing.”

“As long as it is not go­ing to cost the as­so­ci­a­tion $1,000,” Penney said of the pro­gram’s chances.

Ed­die Rus­sell, a former mi­nor hockey coach and on-ice of­fi­cial, said to sup­plant the cost of the test, which is taken online, the as­so­ci­a­tions could look at build­ing it into the cost of reg­is­tra­tion.

“It is cer­tainly a pro-ac­tive idea, and very in­ter­est­ing,” he said. “But cost would be a prob­lem.”

New rules

Head­ing into this mi­nor hockey sea­son, HNL has not ex­cluded con­cus­sions, more specif­i­cally, head shots from the dis­cus­sion.

In fact, it has in­tro­duced a new set of rules that they hope will cut down on the num­ber of checks to the head.

“Any con­tact at all to the neck, head or face area, whether it’s in­ten­tional or ac­ci­den­tal, calls for a stiff penalty of a dou­ble-mi­nor,” said Craig Tulk, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of HNL.

Any in­ten­tional con­tact to the head of a player will carry an additional ma­jor penalty.

“HNL may have gone over­board with the new rules,” said Bay Arena spokesman Bo Ben­nett.

In par­tic­u­lar, the new rules de­note a face wash, rub­bing your open glove in an op­po­nent’s face, with a dou­ble-mi­nor penalty.

“ You can’t re­ally face wash some­one be­cause your glove can’t go through the visor or face­mask,” said Ben­nett.

He ex­plained his dis­like for the new rules cen­tres on the as­pect of a dou­ble-mi­nor penalty for con­tact to the head, whether it is ac­ci­den­tal or in­ten­tional.

“If it is a de­lib­er­ate hit to the head, I have no prob­lem with a dou­ble-mi­nor,” said Ben­nett. “But, for in­ci­den­tal con­tact it is wrong.”

Start­ing young

While the new rules are ex­cluded from the ju­nior and se­nior cir­cuits in the prov­ince, Tulk said the hope is to start the ini­tia­tive in the younger play­ers so when they reach the older lev­els it is in­grained in their style of play.

Penney was at the HNL an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in Gan­der when the new rules were brought in.

She said some as­so­ci­a­tions wanted to elim­i­nate con­tact com­pletely.

“ You can’t re­move con­tact, then you’re chang­ing the game,” Penney said.

What can be done, how­ever, is ed­u­cate par­ents, coaches and mi­nor hockey of­fi­cials on the con­cus­sions and dan­ger­ous hits “to make them more aware of the prob­lem,” she said.

Re­ac­tionary

Ben­nett thinks the re­ac­tion taken by the main­land as­so­ci­a­tions is re­ac­tionary to what is hap­pen­ing in the pro ranks.

The big­gest con­cern Ben­nett has when it comes to head­shots is the pro­tec­tive equip­ment play­ers are us­ing these days.

“I played my en­tire ca­reer, from Day 1 to day done, with leather cov­ered equip­ment,” he said.

The equip­ment has mor­phed from leather to a hard plas­tic ma­te­rial.

Ben­nett said if he took the el­bow pad his 11-year-old son uses and struck some­one over the head with it, he “could kill some­one.”

Rus­sell, mean­while, said play­ers now are big­ger and stronger.

“The ath­letes, to­day, are start­ing to work out when they are younger,” Rus­sell said. “ With the gear they wear, it could be dan­ger­ous.”

“The gear to­day is made to stop bul­lets, more than it is to pro­tect the play­ers, Ben­nett added.

Photo by Ni­cholas Mercer/the Com­pass

Player scrums, like this one from a Bay Arena ban­tam prac­tice on Sept. 27, can re­sult in ei­ther ac­ci­den­tal or de­lib­er­ate checks to the head. HNL is try­ing to cut down on these ac­tions by in­tro­duc­ing a manda­tory dou­ble-mi­nor penalty.

Ed­die Rus­sell

Wendy Penney

Bo Ben­nett

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