A concussion discussion
Local hockey leaders have mixed views on new rules
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.