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From CBC: Brutal Attack in Hockey in B.C.

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   June 17, 2013 18:33

Here is an article about an incident in BC - it again showcases the need to install respect for not only your own brain and health, but you need to respect other players, as well. Much of the behaviour mentioned in the article is unnecessary and shouldn't be taken lightly.

Click for the CBC Article

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News

Connections: June 2013

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   June 4, 2013 14:53

Check out our June 2013 e-newsletter!

Click here

 

 

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News | Newsletter

Concussions: Life or Death

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   May 27, 2013 11:05

Head Injury Game-Changer for Star Football Player

Story by: Joelle Tomlinson

 

Katie Miyazaki is all too familiar with what being hit in the head feels like. It’s not pleasant, it’s a danger in sports and it can have lasting consequences.

“Diagnosed concussions? I’ve had five that put me out for a few weeks each time,” said Miyazaki, all-star alumni of the University of Saskatchewan women’s basketball team and a former Valkyries football player. “The first one I got was when I was 12 and playing hockey. I ran into a girl. I got up, saw stars and had no idea what was happening, so I just kept playing. The next was one was about two years later in net, the third one was playing dodge ball in physical education.  I got blindsided by a ball . . . and the list goes on.”

Miyazaki almost always kept playing after the constant hits to the head. She has experienced headaches, dizziness and nausea, and only stopped playing tackle football last year after her worst concussion ever.

“This last one was in our Prairie Conference final against Regina, and I knew exactly where the hit was, and that I most likely had a concussion, but I just didn’t want to come out of the game. So I kept playing and I got hit again later in the same game,” said Miyazaki. “I was pretty sure I was concussed, but then the next day I woke up and was like, ‘Oh, I feel good!’ Then, the following day I woke up and I had never felt that sick before. I couldn’t leave my room, everything felt like it was spinning, I was nauseous, but yet part of me still wanted to play that week. If my trainers hadn’t said no, and if my coach hadn’t said no, I would have played, which is a pretty bad idea in retrospect.”

Dropping out of the game wasn’t an easy decision for Miyazaki. A star athlete, Miyazaki led the Huskies to a second-place finish in the CIS championships in 2011 and a sixth-place finish in 2012. After that, she transitioned into football, where she shone as a defensive back with the Valkyries, helping them during undefeated runs to the 2011 and 2012 Western Women’s Canadian Football League championships. Miyazaki also was picked as one of 92 players to attend the training camp for Team Canada. Those selected at the camp will represent Canada at the 2013 women’s world tackle football championships in New Brunswick.

“That’s definitely what hurt the most, and what I cried over the most. I had debated not playing football last summer, but then there was the whole Team Canada thing,” said Miyazaki. “When I found out about Team Canada, that’s what my whole summer was geared toward. I wanted to make it to that camp and make that team for this summer. It bummed me out when I knew I couldn’t play at the first camp, and I thought that dream was over. Then, I was invited to the second camp, and I was still wasn’t quite better by then. It sucks because it feels like you’re giving up on a dream, but at the same time you’re like ‘This is real life. I have a lot of other things.’ As cool as it would be, it’s life or death.”

Sometimes it is death. Last week, 17-year-old Rowan Stringer, a female rugby player in Ottawa, died after receiving a severe head injury in a game. Miyazaki says that lack of awareness is one of the biggest issues for young athletes, parents and coaches in cases like this.

“Athletes, they just want to play. The kids I coach, they always want to play and unless you tell them no, they’re going to keep going,” said Miyazaki. “Now, looking back at it, I think about how dumb it is, but in the heat of the moment you don’t think about it.

“There’s something called second impact syndrome. So if you get hit and you get a concussion— and this is very rare—but if you receive another blow and your head hasn’t fully healed, especially if you’re an adolescent, then you can die because there’s still so much swelling. That’s what happened in Ottawa. They’re saying she didn’t report any of her headaches or symptoms to her parents, but she had told some of her friends. There’s nothing they could really do in that case. It’s very sad.”

Now Miyazaki works to raise this awareness through working with the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association (SBIA). She is part of Take Brain Injury out of Play, a campaign within the association that strives to educate young athletes about the dangers of head injuries.

“We emphasize that if you’re going to respect your own brain, you’ve got to respect the brain of your opponents, too. Part of that is playing by the rules,” said Miyazaki. “My job is to try and promote that program and go out and make people aware of concussions, because I think a lot of people don’t realize how big of an issue it is. They don’t take it as seriously as it needs to be taken because you can’t see it, right?

“You look at someone and they look fine to you. If someone had a broken arm, you would never tell them to get back in the game, but if you look at someone and they just have a headache, people pressure them to get back in the game. This is something we need to stop as peers, coaches and parents.”

Miyazaki knows her football days are likely over. It’s not a guarantee, but neither is life.

“I decided not to play this year because it wasn’t worth it. Some days I still occasionally feel dizzy, which could be the concussions or my neck injury. It’s a hard thing; I know my parents don’t want me to play, and the thing is, they say once you’ve had one you’re so much more susceptible. That’s not good news for me.

“There are so many other things that I want to do in my life that to risk that and have to sit out for months again, just for one sport, isn’t really worth it to me.”

June is National Brain Injury Awareness month and Miyazaki hopes that, with the added education and conversation about head injuries, athletes start to realize the importance of protecting their brains. To learn more about Miyazaki, the SBIA or Take Brain Injury out of Play campaign, email Miyazaki at k.miyazaki@usask.ca or go to the SBIA website at www.sbia.ca.


Story from The Saskatoon Express

 

 

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News

Study out of Boston University - Brain Damage and Contact Sports

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   December 5, 2012 00:08

 

The world’s largest study of the brains of dead professional athletes has found that the majority were suffering from a degenerative brain condition before they died, giving a sobering glimpse into the potential long-term impact of violent contact sport.

Of the 85 brains Boston University researchers studied, 68 were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease brought on by repetitive hits to the head and linked to depression, memory loss, aggression and dementia. Half of those 68 were former professional football players; 16 more played football as their primary sport.

The study is to be published on Monday in the scientific journal Brain. A copy was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

While the prevalence of CTE is unknown, the Boston researchers say their work shows a clear link between the disease and football – and potentially other sports played by donors in the study, including rugby, wrestling and hockey. The brains of five former hockey players were analyzed. Four were found to have CTE. Most played the role of enforcer. They were NHL stars Reggie Fleming, Derek Boogaard, Bob Probert and Rick Martin.

Donors in the study also included two NFL Hall of Famers, tight end John Mackey and running back Ollie Matson, and former NFL and CFL running back Cookie Gilchrist. All were found to have advanced CTE.

“I don’t think we can ignore it any longer. It’s not going to go away if we pretend it doesn’t exist. It does exist,” said Anne McKee, a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University and the study’s lead author. “And if you talk to any of [their] family members, they will tell you it’s devastating. Truthfully, working on this disease is really heartbreaking.”

The study is the first to classify the disease into degrees of severity, highlighting four stages as it slowly marches through the neurological system over decades.

Initially, CTE begins with damaged neurons in one area of the brain, and symptoms might include headaches or problems concentrating. In Stage 2, subjects may grapple with depression and impairment of their short-term memory, and then eventually progress to Stage 3, which includes difficulty with multi-tasking, planning and judgment. Stage 4 includes full-blown dementia.

Within the sample, which also included the brains of former soldiers, the authors also found that one-third of the CTE cases were diagnosed with additional degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Lewy body disease. Of the donors, seven died from suicide.

In most cases, the disease was the most severe in the athletes who died in their 60s, 70s and 80s, confirming what researchers already suspected: it is degenerative.

However, the researchers were perplexed to discover that a small number of the older donors had low-level CTE despite being exposed to brain trauma as young athletes. This suggests that a mystery factor – possibly genetic or environmental – may stop the disease from advancing in some people.

“It definitely opens up the question of why do the majority of people relentlessly progress with this disease, but not everybody. What is it unique about those people that don’t relentlessly progress? And that holds great hope, if we can figure it out, for treatment and prevention,” said Robert Cantu, co-author of the paper and co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston.

CTE results from what Dr. Cantu called “total brain trauma” – which includes multiple hits to the head that cause the brain to rattle off the skull, something that doesn’t always result in a concussion. Generally, athletes suffered the repetitive brain trauma over many years. Certain sports (such as boxing and football), and certain positions played (linebackers in football and enforcers in hockey), appear more prone to these sorts of repetitive brain traumas, Dr. Cantu said.

While scientists say it is likely that CTE is rare, they still don’t know many things, such as who is most susceptible, how it can be diagnosed while players are still living, and what can be done to prevent or treat it.

Dr. Cantu emphasized that people should not assume there is a direct link between CTE and concussions, especially if the concussions are diagnosed and treated properly. In fact, he said, some of the brains found to have CTE came from people who had never been diagnosed with a concussion.

“Just because somebody’s had three, four, five concussions, don’t suddenly think you’re going to wind up with CTE – that’s not the way it works,” Dr. Cantu said.

He added that concussions should be taken seriously and treated properly to prevent other serious medical conditions, including post-concussion syndrome and second-impact syndrome.

Article from the Globe and Mail

 

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News

Ken Dryden talks Head Shots in Hockey

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   May 1, 2012 16:27

It was the Stanley Cup final, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, 1964. The game was in Toronto.

Leafs goaltender Johnny Bower was 39. He had kicked around the minor leagues almost all his professional career but everyone knew he would do anything to stop shots, even put his maskless face in front of them. In the last few years he had earned his chance.

Gordie Howe had always been great. He had the hands to score, the elbows and attitude to command the corners, and the fists to embarrass anyone foolish enough to take him on. He was 36.

Bower and Howe were both from Saskatchewan, Bower from Prince Albert, Howe from Floral. They had fished together. They were great competitors.

The puck was shot into the corner in the Leafs’ zone. Bower moved toward the puck uncertainly, leaving himself exposed from behind. Howe bore down toward the puck. Howe, the toughest guy around, could’ve plastered Bower’s head against the glass, perhaps deciding the Cup.

Instead, he yelled: “Look out, John, I’m behind you.”

The Leafs won the Cup. I was 16, living in Toronto. I read the story the next day in the newspaper. Howe’s “Look out, John” comes to me 48 years later.

It was the third game of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes, 2012. Raffi Torres of the Coyotes crashes into the Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa.

It was the perfect moment for a brain-rattling hit. Hossa didn’t see Torres coming. He had no reason to see him coming. He didn’t have the puck. He had every right to assume he was in no danger. So he let down his guard. It was Torres’s moment.

Torres did what he did not because it was survival but because the weak have it coming to them. He had been taught – if they have their head down or their eyes away from the play. And because he’d started toward Hossa while Hossa still had the puck, or almost still had the puck, Torres could say he was “just finishing his check.” That it was “just a late hit.” Torres crushed Hossa because he could.

It was the sixth game of the Coyotes-Blackhawks series, the third period. Michal Rozsival for the Coyotes was carrying the puck behind his own net, chased by Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews. Coming from the other side of the net was Chicago forward Andrew Shaw. Four games earlier Shaw had hit Coyotes goalie Mike Smith in the jaw with his shoulder as Shaw had turned behind the Coyotes’ net, sending Smith spinning to the ice. Smith was shaken, but continued. Shaw was suspended for three games.

This was Shaw’s first game back. Rozsival didn’t see Shaw coming. Shaw could’ve launched himself into Rozsival’s head the way Torres had into Hossa’s. But he didn’t. He hit Rozsival solidly in the chest with his shoulder. The puck went loose. Maybe Shaw let up because he had still in his mind his three-game suspension. Maybe Shaw realized it was his job to create a scoring chance, not to maim.

I love the first round of the playoffs. Everything is fresh, everything is possible. First seeds play eighth seeds that are just as able to win as they are. Upsets happen. By the last two rounds especially, when even the unworldly energy of the underdog seems to flag, talent tends to win out and the outcomes become more predictable. In the first round there are also games everywhere on the digital box, time zone after time zone. If the games don’t quite blend into each other, the emotions of them do. Every next game in a night seems more exciting because of the last one. Every next game seems more out of control because the last one was.

This year’s first round felt like a giant primal scream. The scream began when Nashville’s Shea Weber rammed the head of Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg into the glass. It picked up volume after the Rangers’ Carl Hagelin took out Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, culminated with the Torres hit and in the days that passed before his final suspension was announced. By then, things seemed different than they had ever been before. You could hear it in the intensity of the talk on sports channels, on mainstream channels, in newspapers, and on the streets. Players going down one after another! What’s going on here?

The talk wasn’t just about which player was a disgrace or what coach should be fired, but the violence that seemed deep in the game itself. Yet people were watching. TV ratings were up. One writer explained that it was because of our fundamental human love of violence. But for most, it was simpler. The unimaginable was happening in front of our eyes every night; we couldn’t not watch to see what would happen next.

Then one moment chilled my spine. It was the reported words of some of the coaches saying if the NHL isn’t going to do something, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. But if they take it into their own hands, how far does that go?

Players commit themselves to their teammates and to their teams. It’s what they love about their teammates, and what their teammates love about them. It’s what the fans love about them too. If these players are asked to do more, they will do more. Yet something keeps them from committing to what they shouldn’t commit. In the 1980s, if opponents of the Edmonton Oilers had truly done everything to win the Cup, they would’ve gone after Wayne Gretzky’s head. It wasn’t Gretzky’s enforcer teammate, Dave Semenko, who stopped them, nor the referees nor the league officials and the suspensions they would have levied. The players wouldn’t do it. Some basic humanity, some basic belief in the essence of a game holds us back.

That all seemed on shaky ground in the first round this year. In this atmosphere, if the teams were to do it themselves and not wait for the league, it might mean not just a fist for a fist but a head-shot for a head-shot. This after news of the New Orleans Saints’ “bounty” on opponents to injure them, and the curdling words of Saints assistant coach, Gregg Williams, about a San Francisco 49ers running back: “We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head.” Where are we going? Is there anything we won’t do?

Now, with fewer games to build up the collective temperature, and with the consequences clearer – of the injuries more so than the suspensions – maybe things will settle down. Maybe they will revert to teeth-gritting, eyes-popping normal playoff intensity.

Don Cherry likes to talk about how the implementation of the instigator rule changed the game. Teams had employed enforcers to protect their star players but, with the new rule, enforcers might draw an extra penalty as “instigators” when they intervened. This proved too high a price for teams to accept, star players went unprotected and, according to Cherry, made them increasingly open to abuse and injury, throwing the game out of control. But control doesn’t come only from enforcers like Semenko. The league could act as its own enforcer, to shut down the most dangerous and exaggerated aspects of its play. This it could have done. Make no mistake: in round one it wasn’t the league as enforcer that settled things down. Brendan Shanahan’s 25-game suspension of Raffi Torres was shooting a fish in a barrel. The real enforcer was the public. They’d had it and they said so. They don’t believe Gordie Howe and Johnny Bower are wusses.

Article from The Globe and Mail

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Ken Dryden | News

A Brother Reflects on the Loss of his Brother

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   March 22, 2012 17:12

Article by: Sheldon Kenny

This past November I lost my brother Lyndon Kenny to suicide.

Lyndon was a very good hockey player. He was drafted by the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League and he was not only a highly-skilled defenceman and strong skater, but also the toughest person I have ever known.

His ability to scare opponents and produce game-changing hits and fights was unparalleled for someone of his age.

Unfortunately, this enforcer style of play made my brother vulnerable to multiple concussions and, therefore, more susceptible to depression.

Enforcers are the designated tough guys on a hockey team. Players in this role often struggle with depression not only because they suffer numerous and severe head injuries, but also because they must deal with the pressure of fighting almost every game in order to keep their spot in the lineup.

Lyndon was no exception.

My brother became addicted to alcohol and drugs at an early age. His addictions carried on through most of his life, even with multiple stints in rehab centres.

He was not a drug addict like those on TV shows, though. He hardly let it show in his personal life. He was the most loving and caring person I knew and was constantly looking out for others.

He struggled to explain his problems to me and our family, however, and for a long time he turned away from those closest to him — as the archetypal tough guy, he tried to cope with his struggles alone.

It was only recently that Lyndon came to understand that he needed help. He began to open up to our family and made an effort to guide me down a better path of life than he had taken.

He had been drug- and alcohol-free for two months before he took his own life on Nov. 1.

The depression and anxiety proved too much for him.

Only a few weeks before his death, Lyndon left a comment on a sports medicine website indicating his struggles.

“I’m 27 and have been on a serious decline since [my] early to mid teens,” my brother wrote.

“I have had hundreds of blows to my head since I was around age five. Most occurred from my reckless style of hockey throughout my teens. Here’s a list of symptoms I have — Lack or loss of knowledge, insight, judgement, self, purpose, personality, intelligence, opinion, reasoning, train of thought, motivation, relationships, thinking, humour, ability to process information and learn, organize, planning, communicating, finding speech, decision making, visualizing, interest, sensitive to sound, ears ring, trouble sleeping, head aches, PCS [Post Concussion Syndrome] etc.”

Lyndon’s comment ended with an appeal: “Protect yourselves and loved ones! What a scary situation. I feel so bad for my family.”

His final wish came in the form of an unsent text message intended for me. Lyndon wanted to have his brain donated to research at the Boston University School of Medicine so we could have the answers he had sought for years.

Concussed

A concussion is defined as a short-lived loss of brain function due to head trauma. A direct blow to the head is not required to sustain a concussion; any sudden and jolting motion to the body that causes the brain to move around inside the skull can do the same.

For a concussion to occur the brain must bump against the skull, which can cause bruising. In some cases the brain will rotate inside the skull, and when it rubs against the bony surface of the skull it can shear off brain nerve fibres. In all cases there are no visible injuries to the brain that an MRI or CT scan can detect.

In addition to blurry vision, dizziness and confusion, the symptoms can be much worse: difficulty sleeping, a sensitivity to noise and light, nausea, ringing in the ears, trouble concentrating, difficulty tolerating alcohol or stress, difficulty speaking, communicating or understanding instructions, long- or short-term memory loss and a decreased sex drive.

People suffering the after-effects of concussions can also exhibit changes in behaviour including aggression, stubbornness, anxiety and depression. These effects may be noticed for a week or more after a concussion, but with Post Concussion Syndrome one might deal with the effects for months depending on the severity and treatment of the concussion.

With each concussion suffered it becomes easier to sustain another, and with multiple concussions the symptoms and side effects become more obvious.

With repeated head injuries, one can develop CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Lyndon was adamant that he suffered from CTE.

He knew everything about it and the pursuit of the answers he needed led him to many medical professionals who could have helped him. However, he was extremely frustrated by every doctor’s complete refusal of his claims and he was angry with himself because he felt like he could not explain to them exactly how he was feeling.

It has recently been released that legendary professional hockey players Bob Probert and Derek Boogaard both suffered from extreme cases of CTE, which is no doubt directly related to their roles as enforcers.

When a team needs something to give them a momentum boost, enforcers are counted upon to go out and get a big hit or to get in a fight. This physical playing style leads to more blows to the head, resulting in concussions.

But the evidence does not stop with Probert and Boogaard. Rick Rypien and Wade Belak both committed suicide this past summer after lengthy battles with depression. Both players played a tough game and they no doubt suffered many concussions.

While we have yet to hear the results of the tests performed on Lyndon’s brain at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy in Boston, it is obvious looking back at all the conversations we had and the symptoms he listed that he had battled with CTE for a long time.

CTE is a degenerative brain disease most commonly found in athletes who have a history of repetitive brain trauma. It is a variant of dementia with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s, such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression, and may appear months or years after initial trauma — unlike Alzheimer’s, however, it does not develop genetically.

It’s uncertain how many concussive injuries it takes to develop this brain deterioration, how severe the concussions must be for symptoms to begin and how long it takes symptoms to start developing.

Upon studying the brains of deceased individuals, researchers have diagnosed CTE as black spots on the brain tissue, which is the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. Poor recovery of head trauma is linked to this protein when it is found in excess in the fluid that surrounds the brain.

Sadly, there is no known way to reverse the effects of concussions. Even sadder is the fact that CTE can only be diagnosed after death.

As of 2009, only 49 cases of CTE have been researched and published by medical journals.

However, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which was founded in 2008, recently began a clinical study of over 150 former NFL athletes aged 40-69 and 50 athletes of non-contact sports of the same age, all of which are still alive and participating in sport. The goal of the study is to develop methods to diagnose CTE before death, which can hopefully lead to a cure in the future.

The Future

After witnessing my brother go through all he did, all I want is to see a higher level of understanding for concussions. They are deadly.

The cultures of all sports, not just hockey, need to change to adjust for this growing problem. Most importantly, the stigma of being the one to leave a game due to a concussion needs to stop because, in hindsight, the ones who take a step back and admit that there is something wrong are the tough ones.

I would be lying if I said I was not scared for myself.

I’ve played a lot of hockey in my life, have suffered a number of hard hits to the head and have been knocked unconscious twice.

In the past few years I have dealt with depression and anxiety and, although it can’t be proven, the fact that they may be a result of my concussions is a very real possibility.

I have also started to notice that I am dealing with some of the same symptoms that my brother felt he was experiencing. I have noticed a loss of personality, intelligence, motivation and humour. My ability to learn and communicate has decreased and I have had trouble sleeping.

I hope for my own and my family’s sake that I am simply reacting to the loss of my brother, but right now I cannot be certain.

Article from the Sheaf

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News

Fighting in Saskatchewan Hockey

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   March 5, 2012 12:32

There were four fights in a recent game between the Saskatoon Contacts and the Beardy’s Blackhawks, midget-league hockey teams composed of 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds. The first two were spontaneous, rising out of collisions. The players struggled chaotically to tear each other’s helmets off and flailed away.

The second two were what are known as appointment fights.

The officials stood back and watched as the players dropped their gloves and approached each other. They bowed their heads, putting their foreheads together. They unfastened each other’s chin straps — removing your own chin strap is prohibited— and took off each other’s helmets. They backed away and nodded. Then, in a flash, they were together again, raining bare-fisted blows on each other, just like the fighters in North America’s professional hockey leagues.

The officials did not intercede until the players, spent, had fallen to the ice.

Josh Uhrich, 16, was the Contacts player in the second fight of the game. He later emerged from the dressing room while the game was still going on with a small nick inside his lip and talked casually with his mother and grandmother in the bleachers.

“It’s not like I want him to fight,” his mother said. “But I knew if he did, I wanted him to do well.”

A growing body of scientific studies has begun to reveal the risk of long-term cognitive damage that can be sustained in hockey. The issue gained attention last year when Derek Boogaard, an N.H.L. enforcer who died in May at 28, was found to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head. The brains of three other former N.H.L. players have been examined posthumously, and all three were found to have the disease.

Even as some youth hockey officials advocate more stringent rules against fighting, it remains a proud tradition in places like Saskatchewan. The children who dream of playing in the N.H.L., and the parents who want to help them make those dreams come true, are convinced that fighting is an integral part of the game.

“You could get hurt falling out of bed,” said Kelly Fiske, the father of Bryce Fiske, a 14-year-old player for the North East Wolfpack, one of the province’s leading bantam teams. “It is what it is.”

‘He Was Chirping Me’

“You get one free fight,” said Ross Hnidy, 15, of the Contacts, a first-place team at the top tier of midget-level hockey. Hnidy was explaining the rules governing fighting at the midget level — one fight per season is allowed, and any fight in the last 10 minutes of a game brings an automatic suspension.

“I fought last game,” Hnidy said. “I hit this guy in the corner and he was chirping me coming out, so I turned around and we just went.”

At the bantam level, players wear cage face masks, and fighting is punishable by ejection and an automatic suspension, so fights are rare and swiftly broken up by officials. The next level is midget. Players still wear cages, and fights are also punished by an automatic ejection. But a player can have one fight without getting a suspension, so scraps, though still rare, do happen.

Next is junior hockey, for 16- through 20-year-olds, with 15-year-olds allowed to play in as many as five games on call-ups from their midget teams. In the second tier of junior, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, a player can fight six times before earning an automatic suspension and a fine for the team, so there are plenty of altercations — about a fight every other game, on average.

But at the top level, the Western Hockey League, the rules are closer to those of the N.H.L., and a player can pretty much fight as much as he likes as long as he limits it to no more than two a game. The W.H.L., known as a haven for tough players, is where Boogaard and many other fighters made their names.

Hnidy was one of three Contacts players called up this season to the W.H.L. As under-age players, they have to wear cages and so were off-limits for fighting. But next season, at 16, the cages come off if they are in the W.H.L.

“Definitely in the W.H.L., I wouldn’t be scared to fight,” Hnidy said. “I go to the gym sometimes, do the punching bag. I do some boxing. I might as well prepare for it.”

On a recent Sunday at their rink in Saskatoon’s southern outskirts, the Contacts were playing the Blackhawks, a team from Duck Lake, 50 miles north. The Blackhawks had Ryan Pilon, a 15-year-old defenseman who is good enough to have played this season in the W.H.L. and for Canada’s youth team. He had not fought since the pee-wee level and was “definitely not” going to take boxing lessons, but he said he was looking forward to fighting in the W.H.L.

“I want to get the first one out of the way,” Pilon said. “I kind of like that side of the game. I hope they don’t cut down on it.”

Question of Respect

Fighting is on the decline, and some in the sport contend the game is changing. Players who serve no purpose other than fighting, commonly known as goons, are disappearing. This season in the N.H.L., the number of fights is down 15 percent compared with last year at this time. The W.H.L., however, still averages about one fight per game — similar to last season’s rate.

Here in Saskatoon, four players on the Blades, the city’s W.H.L. team, have been injured in fights this season. But public opinion appears to be firmly in favor of preserving fighting.

“When you eliminate the opportunity for players to quote-unquote defend themselves, there’s significantly more stickwork, significantly more bullying or verbal abuse, where a player knows if he does something he can get that other player out of the game,” said Kelly McClintock, who as general manager of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association is in charge of amateur hockey in the province.

Like most fathers of players on the Wolfpack and other teams, he played in an era when there was less protective gear.

“I’m 50,” McClintock said. “It was only in my last year of minor hockey that you had to wear a full face mask. Till that point, I was never called as many names as I was in that year. People feel pretty brave behind a face mask. The year before, if someone called you something, you’d punch him in the face. I believe there was a lot more respect in the game back then than there is today.”

McClintock said he enforces the strict antifighting rules at the bantam level. But he said he would like to remove face masks at that level.

“Put the half-visor on,” he said. “Now all of a sudden you’re not as brave, and there’s a lot more respect in the game.”

Things Are ‘Different’

The Wolfpack’s players come from throughout northern Saskatchewan, but the team is based at the Northern Lights Palace in Melfort, a city of 5,000 located 100 miles northeast of Saskatoon.

Across the street from the Palace is the city’s old arena, where Boogaard, at age 15 and playing for another Melfort team, became enraged and went into the opposing team’s bench, throwing punches. The outburst impressed scouts from the W.H.L.’s Regina Pats, who moved to add Boogaard to their roster.

“Things are a lot different now,” said Darren Seaman, the Wolfpack’s coach.

Seaman, whose son Caleb is a top prospect on the team, has had a no-fighting rule in place all season.

“When you fight in bantam hockey, it’s a glorified wrestling match,” Darren Seaman said. “In bantam, with the masks on, don’t waste my time. You’re going to get a suspension no matter what if you throw a punch, so why go? Not like in the W.H.L., where they touch their heads together and take off each other’s helmets. That’s a scrap.”

Still, Seaman considers himself old school. He played junior hockey in Saskatchewan, and an older son, Tyrel, is a center with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the W.H.L. and is expected to go in the first three rounds of the next N.H.L. entry draft.

Despite his no-fighting rule, Seaman said that for older age groups, fighting is needed to govern hockey. “If you take it right out, it’ll change the game,” he said.

Bryce Fiske, a smallish defenseman on the Wolfpack, said he had no problem with fighting.

“It doesn’t really scare me — I’ve done it a couple times this year and I did it once last year,” he said. He was suspended twice this season.

Fiske is an example of the commitment young players make to hockey. He lives in La Ronge, an isolated community a three-hour drive north of Melfort, which makes going to practice twice a week difficult. Since he was 9 months old, his family has housed players for La Ronge’s junior team. Next season he will play on a top-tier midget team in Tisdale, 25 miles east of Melfort. He will board with a family there.

“To me he’s not the average 14-year-old boy — he’s very passionate, very committed,” his mother, Tracy, said. Was she worried about him fighting if he made it to the W.H.L.?

“You don’t want him to ever get hurt, but I worry more because he’s 14 and he’s going to move from home,” she said. “But when it does happen, you hope that he can take care of himself. You hope he doesn’t get hurt, and that he doesn’t hurt anybody else.”

Seeking Character

The Wolfpack recently played in Warman, a town of subdivisions just outside Saskatoon. Scouts from nearly a dozen W.H.L. teams were at the rink to see the top prospects and interview them and their parents.

“I drove a thousand miles to get here,” said Colin Alexander, director of player personnel for the Seattle Thunderbirds, as he wrote down players’ names and numbers on a clipboard.

Dale McMullin, director of scouting for the Regina Pats, was asked about Fiske.

“You’re talking about a character player,” McMullin said. “He’s got battle. He’s a hard-nosed kid.”

If another young player emerged with Boogaard’s skill set — a fighter with little scoring ability — would he be snapped up?

“Society has changed in the last 20 years,” Alexander said.

Another Regina scout, Graham Newton, said W.H.L. scouts were no longer looking for pure enforcers.

“You look for the compete level, and you look for the player who is fearless, too,” Newton said. “The terminology is throwing snow — if someone is coming to hit you, you stop short and throw snow. I’m looking for the player who can accept the body check, who has a little pushback, who shows he’ll stand up for his teammate. Not necessarily someone who’ll drop the mitts, but you look for the toughness, the fearless play — that’s what you want in a real hockey player.”

The Wolfpack lost, 4-0, to the Sask Valley Vipers. Before the players got back into their shirts and ties and headed to their chartered bus for the ride to their Saskatoon motel, McMullin, Alexander and other scouts talked to them and their parents. Would their sons be willing to go to Seattle, Victoria, Kelowna and other far-flung locales to play in the W.H.L.?

The answer was always yes.

Few players were thinking about American collegiate hockey, where there is no fighting.

Part of the Game

Tristan Elder, a tall and thin 14-year-old, is one of Fiske’s teammates and a top player for the Wolfpack. He lives near Kinistino, a town of 700 with little more than a grain elevator and a gas station, just like many other towns spread far apart along the two-lane prairie highway. Visitors often miss the gravel turnoff that leads to Elder’s house, so his father drives to the road in his pickup with the flashers on to show the way.

Elder has been playing hockey since he was 3. If he continues to progress, in about a year and a half he will probably join a club in the W.H.L.

“This is what we worked for our whole life,” said his father, Derek. “We’ve always been trying to get to the next level, playing summer hockey, driving to tournaments in Edmonton, Calgary, Fargo.”

If Tristan Elder must fight when he reaches the W.H.L., he will be ready.

“Definitely we’ve been talking about fighting,” Derek Elder said. “Tristan’s a left-hander. It’s an advantage because if you grab the guy’s right arm with your right arm, you’re swinging with your left and you’ve got his dominant arm.”

Derek Elder played junior B in Saskatchewan in the late 1970s. Unlike his son, a wing who grinds in the corners and scores a fair number of goals, Derek was a defenseman.

“I was the mean one,” he said. “I used to fight lots as a kid, whether it was on the ice or off the ice.”

Now he says he will help his son prepare for what is inevitable if he makes the W.H.L.

“I’ve got a good buddy that I played a little bit of rec hockey with — he was drafted into the W.H.L. for fighting, basically, and he told me that he would help out with Tristan a little bit with the fighting part of it — balance, some pointers,” Derek said.

“I’ve been thinking that in the summer it wouldn’t hurt to put him into boxing, how to block, where to strike, know those striking spots ...,” Derek added.

His son finished his sentence: “So you can take the guy down.”

Article from the New York Times

 

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Teenagers Suffer most from Concussions

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   February 28, 2012 10:55

Teenagers between 13 and 16 years of age suffer greater effects from a concussion than younger children or adults, new Canadian research suggests.

As a result, far greater care needs to be taken with adolescents who show signs of being concussed, says Dave Ellemberg, a Universite de Montreal neuropsychologist who conducted a two-year study on the effects of concussions in young people.

This was the first study that compared children ages nine to 12, adolescents ages 13 to 16 and young adults in their early 20s specifically in terms of the effects of concussions.

The study looked at athletes involved in contact sports, such as soccer, hockey and football, half of whom had suffered a concussion half of whom had not.

"Concussions are as common in youth athletes as they are in adults. We think that about one in five athletes have a concussion per season," said Ellemberg.

The subjects were tested on average six months after having been diagnosed with a concussion, and the study made two important findings.

"The first is that children actually suffer the consequences of a concussion as much as adults do," said Ellemberg.

"We found that kids had deficits that were equal to those of adults. That is surprising because often parents and coaches believe that children can play through a concussion because it is believed that the younger brain is more resilient.

"The second finding is that adolescents are even more affected by the concussion than are the adults, so we found that the deficits measured are even bigger."

The athletes were tested in two ways, first with "neuropsychological tests that look at memory, working memory, attention, problem solving, and we found that when they performed these tests all groups had deficits with their working memory," said Ellemberg.

Working memory refers to short-term memory, such as language comprehension, reasoning and learning skills.

"The second thing that we did was measure the electrical activity of the brain, that is the responses of neurons while they were doing these tasks."

The findings revealed that working memory, most often controlled by the front part of the brain, is the same physical area hardest hit by injury.

"So we find that not only are the concussed less efficient on the tasks we assigned them, not only is their working memory not as good, but we see that the neuronal responses associated with working memory function are weaker. And these responses are even weaker in adolescents than they are in the adults or children."

A concussion's effects are measured by its impact and intensity and on whether the sufferer has had concussions in the past.

Once someone has suffered a concussion, they are five to seven times more likely to have another one and even a much milder blow can lead to a concussion.

While it was previously assumed a child's brain was better able to absorb head trauma, Ellemberg's study suggests otherwise and indicates that untreated concussions can cause peripheral problems, potentially leading to issues at school and in the youngsters' social lives.

One of the keys to improving treatment for young people is better education and quick action, he said.

"Superstar athletes get the attention, where as parents worry more about Crosby's return to play than they do about their own kids who do have concussions every week. Parents and coaches have to know that concussions are real and they do have consequences that are grave and important for learning."

Despite the risks inherent to certain sports, Ellemberg said he's not trying to scare parents and kids away from sports.

"We want to educate people; we want to make people aware that there is a danger and to make sure that their kids do get the right diagnoses. But we do want people to practise sports. Practising a sport is important for a person's physical health, for their mental health, and for the health of a society."

Article from the Vancouver Sun

 

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Concussion on Everyone's Mind at All-Star Game

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   January 29, 2012 17:44

A break in the NHL's schedule hasn't come with a break from the focus on concussions.

Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux -- two of the biggest names participating in the NHL's all-star weekend -- made an appearance at Friday's launch of the Bauer "Re-akt" helmet, which is designed to protect against rotational-force impacts. They both touched on the rash of concussions players have suffered recently.

"I think it was alarming the last year and a half the amount of concussions that are being diagnosed and the amount of time that guys are missing," said Stamkos. "Obviously, with (Sidney Crosby) and his situation, that opens up a lot more eyes as well and we talk about it more and people become more aware.

"I've really started to take an interest in knowing more about the technology and the equipment and what's the safest."

Giroux wore the "Re-akt" helmet for the final three games the Philadelphia Flyers played before the all-star break while Stamkos has so far just tried it in practice with the Tampa Bay Lightning. They'll both have it on for Sunday's all-star game at Scotiabank Place.

"It's a lot better than the helmet I had before," said Giroux. "I just feel more comfortable with it."

He missed four games earlier this season with a concussion and can sympathize with Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who remains sidelined with a head injury. His absence is notable here this weekend.

"Concussions are just the worst injury," said Giroux. "You can't really control anything after that when it happens. I think just time, it's going to help him. That's pretty much all he can do."

Article from TSN.com

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Canada Pledges $1.5 million to the Reduction of Concussion

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   January 23, 2012 11:39

The federal government will spend $1.5-million to help reduce concussions in kid's sports.

The money goes to ThinkFirst Canada, Hockey Canada, the Coaching Association of Canada and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport to support efforts to reduce the rate and severity of sports-related head injuries.

Montreal Canadiens Max Pacioretty lies on the ice after being hit into a glass stanchion by Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara during the second period of NHL hockey play in Montreal, March 8, 2011.

The groups will work on increasing awareness of the problem among coaches, players and parents.

Among other things, they hope to develop guidelines for fitting helmets, and provide better information about the risks and signs of head injuries and when it's safe to return to playing after an injury.

The groups will look at the information about concussion and head injuries that's currently available and try to fill in any gaps.

Concussions in sports have become a hot topic in the last year, especially in the wake of the problems of NHL star Sidney Crosby, and the program aims to raise people's awareness and knowledge about head injuries.

Bal Gosal, the federal Minister of State for Sports, said it's estimated that 90 per cent of severe brain injuries can be prevented.

“We want our children to be active, healthy and have fun while participating in team sports and physical activity,” he said. “But we also want our children to be safe.”

The government says accidental injuries are the leading cause of death for people under the age of 19. More than 40 per cent of brain injuries in children and youth aged 10-19 years treated in hospital emergency departments result from sports and recreation activities.

Much of the new information will be aimed at producing low-cost or free information that can be easily downloaded, including a brain injury and concussion mobile app.

Article from the Globe and Mail

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