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NHL Toughens Up On Concussions

Sarah Sotoodeh |
March 20, 2011 | 9:41 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Montreal Canadiens' Left Wing Max Pacioretty (Creative Commons)
Montreal Canadiens' Left Wing Max Pacioretty (Creative Commons)
Starting March 16, any player suspected of having a concussion will be taken out of the game and examined by a physician, not a team trainer.

According to the revisions made to the NHL protocol for Concussion Evaluation and Management, the player will be taken to a quiet location and evaluated there. 

The revisions are just one example of what went on at the general managers meetings this week in Florida.  

The focus on the meetings was safety—concussions were the main concern, but also addressed were the possibility of banning all head-hits (which did not get approved) and improvements on equipment and the glass surrounding the rink.

Instead of a quick assessment by a trainer, the physician will have to use the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool on the player. 

 If symptoms like balance or mechanical problems, disorientation and loss of consciousness are determined, among other symptoms, the player will not continue to play in the remainder of the game.

“The game has just evolved, and as it evolves you have to make these adjustments,” Nashville GM David Poile told NHL.com.  “In a year from now let’s hope there are less injuries, period.”

The league has been inundated with players who have suffered concussions, most notably Sidney Crosby, who has been suffering from concussion-like symptoms since January.  

Crosby skated three of the last four days this week, and was on the ice for 15 minutes for each of the days.

“Right now we’re just progressively moving slowly and trying to get back into the swing of things.  It feels good just to have gear on,” Crosby told the media at the Penguins practice.

The most recent incident, involving Max Pacioretty, happened on March 8, just a few days before the meetings began.

The footage of the violent hit on the Montreal Canadiens’ Pacioretty by Boston Bruin Zdeno “Big Z” Chara is chilling. 

A hit in hockey is painful, but with Chara, who is 6-foot-nine, it can be downright dangerous.

Pacioretty’s head hit the stanchion (the metal poles supporting the glass) between the team benches after Chara pushed him toward the boards.  His head hit the glass with such force that Pacioretty was unconscious and had to be taken away by a stretcher.

“Obviously I feel bad about what happened.  I was trying to make a strong hockey play and play hard.  It was just very, very unfortunate that the player got hurt and had to leave the game,” Chara told the Boston Herald.

Pacioretty is currently recovering from a severe concussion and a non-displaced fracture of the fourth cervical vertebrae, according to coach Jacques Martin. 

The Montreal police are now investigating the hit, after a large number of fans called the emergency center when the NHL did not take action against Chara.

“I am upset and disgusted that the league didn’t think enough of [the hit] to suspend him,” Pacioretty said to TSN.com.  “I’m not mad for myself, I’m mad because if other players see a hit like that and think it’s OK, they won’t be suspended, then other players will get hurt like I got hurt.”

Boston Bruins' Captain Zdeno Chara (Creative Commons)
Boston Bruins' Captain Zdeno Chara (Creative Commons)
After the news of Chara’s lack of punishment from the NHL, league sponsors like Air Canada threatened to withdraw their support.

In addition, Geoff Molson, the team owner of the Canadiens, wrote a letter to the fans pleading their support in trying to get the NHL to change the rules.

“The news of the NHL decision yesterday was a hard blow for both the players and fans of the Montreal Canadiens.  It was one which shook the faith that we, as a community, have in this sport that we hold in such high regard,” Molson wrote in the letter to the fans.

Pacioretty spoke to the team physician and met with his teammates on March 16 before the game against the Washington Capitals at Bell Center in Montreal, one week after he was injured.

“The fracture in his neck has to heal but he doesn’t have concussion symptoms and that’s the key part,” James Wisniewski, the Canadiens defenseman told The Canadian Press.  “We’ve seen guys miss a significant part of time this year with headaches and stuff like that so for him to get out here and come to a game it’s important and really meant a lot.”

On March 17, Coach Martin announced that Pacioretty will be able to start working out on March 26. He could start playing again in three to five weeks, which is the time it takes for his neck to heal. 

Martin says the normal concussion protocol will be used when he starts working out, but until then, Pacioretty is on complete rest.

“It’s encouraging, because at one time it was a question mark whether he would be able to come back and play, so that’s good news,” Martin told NHL.com.  “And it’s encouraging that he’ll be able to start his training in a short time and should be able to play in the playoffs.”

Just this week, San Jose Sharks forward Dany Heatley was suspended by the NHL for two games after his elbow to Dallas Stars Steve Ott’s head. 

Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand was also suspended for two games.  Marchand had a disciplinary hearing Thursday after his elbow to the head of R.J. Umberger of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The next GM meetings will take place this June, where the discussion of safety will continue.  But for now, the Pacioretty hit remains a violent reminder of the dangers of hockey.

Watch the hit:



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