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NHL Concussions Stir Controversy

Lauren Ammatuna |
September 2, 2011 | 2:36 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer


Savard suffered serious concussions in 2010 and 2011. (Dan4th Nicholas via Creative Commons)
Savard suffered serious concussions in 2010 and 2011. (Dan4th Nicholas via Creative Commons)
What do Eric Lindros, Matt Barnaby, Adam Deadmarsh, Steve Moore, Pat LaFontaine, and now Marc Savard have in common? They are men whose careers have been cut short due to concussions, with Savard as the newest addition.

It was announced Wednesday that Savard will not play this season, and most likely will never play hockey again.

This comes as rather depressing news to not just the Bruins organization – who have the 34-year-old signed through 2017 – but for the entire league. 

Concussions have been and always will be apart of the game, and it is not uncommon to hear of a hockey player having one. Ice hockey, after all, is a highly physical sport where high-speed intense contact is made regularly.

Since the risk of receiving a concussion will forever be a part of a hockey player’s life, what is the NHL going to do to help make the environment safer for these men who physically put their lives on the line to play this game? 

Fed up with the amount of recent head injuries, Air Canada announced last season that it would cease all sponsorship of the NHL if the league did not make an active effort to change the way with which these incapacitating hits were dealt.

There have been many discussions and debates about what needs to -- and what can -- change in order to provide a safe environment for the game to be played. However, at a set of rules that satisfies both the players and the officials has yet to be created, as there is always the argument that any changes would compromise the game’s integrity.

Halfway through this past season, after having to stomach numerous dangerous hits, the NHL decided to change the way in which it treats its players in the immediate moments following the injury. It was decided that players had to be taken to a quiet room for a specific amount of time where they could calm down, relax, and be –- we are told -– properly evaluated (meaning, being asked more than how many heads their trainer has) before being released to go back on the ice and play.

Prior to this change, most players would walk the pain off and scoff at the thought of not coming back to the ice, as it would be a huge blow to their pride. These incredibly tough athletes are willing to play through anything, and as admirable as that is, it is not necessarily what is truly best for them. 

Sidney Crosby, for example, came back to play during the Winter Classic after being hit in the head, despite looking a bit woozy. The Penguins staff received lots of criticism for this decision, as many did not think he should have been cleared to return to the game.

His story only became worse when just a few days later he suffered the hit that has ultimately kept him away from the game he loves most for nearly eight months.

The tricky thing about concussions, though, is that no two people react to them the same way. Such is the case for Nathan Horton and Max Pacioretty, two NHL players who had concussions this past season but who have recuperated and are preparing for this upcoming season. 

Hockey fans witnessed Pacioretty suffer not just a concussion, but also a fractured vertebra as he was slammed into the stanchion by Zdeno Chara. They also watched Nathan Horton of the Boston Bruins go flying into the boards after a hit by Aaron Rome during his run for the Stanley Cup.

Horton and Pacioretty, having recovered, are examples of the lucky ones.

As wonderful as it is to hear that they have healed, we cannot let their good news overshadow the tragedies of Crosby, Savard and the growing list of players who are currently suffering from post-concussion syndrome.

This past summer a few changes were discussed, but many of them will not be put into effect for this upcoming season, as it takes a while for any change to be implemented. 

For instance, in light of the Pacioretty event, ESPN reported that NHL officials believe putting "curved spring-loaded Plexiglass stanchions between the benches" will help prevent his type of injury from happening again. This, in addition to the treatment changes made halfway through the season, are changes that make for a great foundation of more solid changes yet to come that will make the game safer for all its players. 

With 35 days until the first puck drops to start to the 2011-2012 season, there are still many questions left unanswered in regards to concussions in the league, but at least these ideas show that the officials are attempting to fix the problem instead of turning a blind eye to such a tricky, yet serious, issue.


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