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The latest edition of Connections is here!

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   February 9, 2018 16:28




      The latest edition of Connections is here!

It features a report from the 2017 Fall Retreat. More photos from the weekend can be on our Facebook Page.

Brain Blitz is on pages 3 & 4.

The Programs can be found on page 5 and information about the Spring Retreat can found on Page 6, 7 and 8.

Keep warm and stay safe!






Download the full issue: Winter 2018.pdf (3.57 mb)





Ken Dryden | News | Newsletter

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

Ken Dryden Talks Brain Injury in Hockey

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   April 15, 2012 13:31

What Ken Dryden saw on the first night of the Stanley Cup playoffs is evidence that the NHL isn't taking a strong enough stance against blows delivered to the head.

As the final buzzer sounded to end Game 1 of the Western Conference quarter-final series between the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings, Preds captain Shea Weber hit Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg from behind, before grabbing his head and slamming it into the glass.

Weber was issued a twominute roughing penalty, which he didn't serve because Nashville had completed a 3-2 victory, and was fined $2,500 - the maximum amount permitted under the collective bargaining agreement - but was not suspended.

"It's ones like that that are totally disturbing," said the Hall of Fame goaltender, who won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens.

"It turns out that Zetterberg is OK - it seems. There's no inevitably to that. In the nature of that kind of hit, he could be out for a couple of months.

"A hit to the head is an intent to injure (play). That's what it is. Even if Shea Weber is a terrific player, a good guy, all of those other things, that's fine and it's good for him. But that doesn't mean good guys don't do lousy things. By what he did to Zetterberg, he put Zetterberg's future in question by doing that.

"That's serious stuff. At what point do you stop making excuses for it and see it as it exactly is?"

Dryden is the keynote speaker at a pair of Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association concussion symposiums in Regina on April 27 and in Saskatoon on April 28.

The Saskatoon event will be more of a gala in nature, while the night in Regina will feature doctors, researchers, doctors and athletes returning to play from concussions.

The goal each symposium is to create an open dialogue, thus creating more awareness about how to prevent and properly diagnose head injuries.

"Nobody individually has a confident, clear answer as to what to do," said Dryden, who now teaches at Montreal's McGill University - his Alma mater.

"But what we do know is this is something that's not bad luck. It's not something that next week will be different. It's an ongoing question and an ongoing problem. So start into it."

Dryden said he became interested in helping address the issues surrounding concussions after reading many obituaries of deceased football players who struggled to cope with "life consequences" in the final years of their lives because of injuries sustained on the field.

On the ice, Dryden watched as Sidney Crosby was sidelined for the better part of 14 months after concussion and neck issues. But he also cited a who's who of the game's great talents that were shelved as an impetus behind getting involved.

"At a certain point what happens is that it's less the individual name and more the volume of names," said the former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager. "There have been stretches during the season where you say to yourself, 'This is unbelievable.' Each night on the sports (cast) there's somebody new that's gone down."

The biggest problem Dryden sees is there is a disconnect between what's permissible in the NHL compared to minor hockey.

Hockey Canada instituted a new rule before the 201112 season stating that any contact to the head will be punished with a four-minute double minor penalty.

During the latest concussion symposium he attended in Peterborough, Ont., last month, Dryden was told that officials had become "gun shy" to levy the penalty because of increased backslash from parents.

"If there are things that are acceptable in the NHL, for a lot of parents at a lot of those crunch moments, they seem acceptable at any level," said Dryden. "There's no doubt about it. What happens in the NHL affects what happens in Regina.

"I think there is a gap there. It makes it that much harder for Hockey Canada and other local hockey associations to do as well as they need to do."

Dryden said he believes he's suffered two mild concussions in his life - one was when he was hit during a football game when he was 12 years old and the other occurred when he was skateboarding with his son years ago.

He said the most intriguing part of the symposiums is listening to young athletes who have had to miss significant time from their favourite sport and then spent years dealing with the residual recovery.

"Those are lost years, but those are not lost years to everybody else around you," said Dryden. "Every other 14-year-old around you is doing and experiencing.

" ... After three or four years, you start to feel a little bit better, but you've lost those three or four years and you're in a very different place than your friends. Out-for-a-year is a very easy phrase that trots off your tongue, but it's inside those words where the real impact is."

So learning about the symptoms of concussions and addressing the lasting lingering impacts is essential, said Dryden.

While the NHL should take the lead, Dryden said various organizations like the NHLPA, the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada must also play leading roles to solve the problems at hand.

"The only pointing a finger that matters is that you don't point them at each other, you point them at the issue," he said. "You need every set of fingers pointed at the issue.

"The NHL is in a bind over this. OK, that's fine, so try to find an answer out of that bind. It matters too much. It matters to the NHL, it matters to the players, it matters to minor hockey players and it matters to hockey."

Article from The Star Phoenix

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Ken Dryden | News

Brain Blitz - Saturday, April 28, 2012

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   March 5, 2012 10:46

Our annual fundraising dinner is fast approaching. Please contact us for tickets or sponsorship inquiries. 

We are excited to announce that Ken Dryden will be coming to Saskatoon as our keynote speaker. He will also take part in the Round Table, about concussion in Saskatchewan, on Friday April 27. 

Ellen Kolenick will be performing at the dinner with Straight from the Fridge. Chantel Huber and Graeme Bell will the Masters of Ceremony for the evening.

We are also please to announce that BHP Billiton will be presenting the event, and are very excited to be partnering with them for the Brain Blitz weekend.

Any other questions please check out the invitiation below.

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Ken Dryden | News | Newsletter

Ken Dryden Discusses Violence and Head Shots in Hockey

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   January 8, 2012 09:54

A year ago, Sidney Crosby went down with a concussion and the way we see hockey changed. A few days ago in the World Junior Championships, Canada's junior team lost to Russia in a way it shouldn't have lost, and almost won in a way nobody should win. Each speaks to something in our nature.

Where does it come from, this fight that is in us?

Surely, it must have to do with the hard land and hard climate of our past, when illness or injury weren't allowed to keep us from the fields or the forests. That was survival. So when we created our games, we'd play them in the only way we knew how.

Or, in an indirect way, maybe the answer's as simple as the difference between a puck and a football or soccer ball. A puck is hard and small. In hockey's earliest days, when it flew out of play it could travel far and stop the action for many inconvenient seconds. It could injure someone watching. Not so a football or soccer ball. So hockey created boards to surround the ice. Low ones at first, to keep the puck in play; higher ones later when more spectators found reasons to watch the game. For hockey players from the beginning, there was no out-of-bounds. There was no escape.

So the struggle that is hockey began. At first, it was on a much smaller ice surface, seven against seven not six against six, and with no substitutions and no forward pass, there was no way to open up the clutter; no escape even to rest. For the entire game, it was body pushing against body; the boards an unmovable opponent everywhere around the perimeter. To score, a player had to get close to an opponent's net, and in the offensive zone it's as if the oval of the rink suddenly becomes a funnel, the struggle, the strain growing ever more intense.

To get to the net is a fight.

The most legendary player of hockey's first hundred years was Rocket Richard. He was not much more than average size. He possessed no blinding speed, no overpowering shot. The lingering image of him now more than 50 years after his last game is his eyes. Wide, wild, his pupils so focused on his task — to get to the net — they'd bore a hole through anything that stood in their way.

It's the Europeans who first saw this unrelenting will in Canadian players. Before European amateurs were allowed to play against the NHL's best, the Europeans saw only the Penticton Vees, Whitby Dunlops, Trail Smoke Eaters, and those who came before them. By the mid-1950s, the Europeans had closed the talent gap, they could skate and pass as well or better than their Canadian opponents, but still Canada would win. The Europeans had come to hockey late from soccer or bandy (much like field hockey on ice), games played on big, wide-open spaces with strategies, skills, and attitudes to match. Even their "Olympic-sized" hockey rinks were bigger. They'd dazzle in the open ice, but in the funnel to the net, unaccustomed to the smash of bodies, they'd look for a final pass.

Canadians first saw this fighting spirit in ourselves in the 1972 Canada-Russia series, and we only truly saw it when the series was over. Before then, Canadians saw Canadian players who looked slow and undisciplined, thuggish at times, and Russian players who looked the way we'd always seen ourselves. Then, when the eight-game series seemed finally over — after a crushing loss in what had been a very promising first game in Moscow — with the Russians leading the series three games to one with one game tied and the final three games in Moscow, things changed. We won the sixth game, then came from behind to win the seventh. In the last game, down 5-3 at the end of the second period, we scored three goals, including Paul Henderson's winning goal with 34 seconds remaining.

There was a lot not to be proud of in that series. But we were proud that we won, and we were proud that we didn't give up. In a series where one player scores the game-winning goal in the final three games and the series-winning goal in the last minute of the last game, there can be only one hero — Paul Henderson. But there were two — Henderson and Phil Esposito. Moments after the series' lowest moment, our Game 4 loss in Vancouver, Esposito had given his "speech" in a TV interview. With sweat pouring down his face and fight still oozing from him, he took on those who booed us and doubted us. He embodied what we'd show ourselves to be in Moscow — the never-quit, never-say-die Canadians others had always seen us to be.

Canadians love this about their players. We get cut, we lose teeth, and we scarcely miss a shift. This isn't about ourselves; it's about the team. We're going to feel pain anyway; we might as well play. It's the fight that's in us. It's those boards we put up around us when we created this game that gave us no place to escape; no choice but to suck it up. It's the teeth-baring grin we show when we go into the corners and into that funnel to the net. And it's an ethic that's more important now than ever. To fans who "bleed" blue or orange or black, who feel more deeply about their team than they do about themselves, they need to know that the player with the multimillion dollar contract who wears the jersey feels the same.

And it's why most Canadian fans love Don Cherry. If anyone doubts that affection, go to CBC's nextHockey Day in Canada. I was with him three times, in Iqaluit, Shaunavon, Saskatchewan and Whitehorse. No matter how many former stars are also there or who they are, the fans want to see one person — Cherry. No question. No contest. These fans love the dynamic between Cherry and his sidekick, Ron MacLean, on Coach's Corner. MacLean is often described as Cherry's perfect foil, but in fact, the reverse is true. MacLean is Cherry's perfect setup man. Cherry goes over the top; MacLean catches him and comes back with something that seems almost reasonable — and on it goes. But beneath the shtick of outrageous clothes and bluster is a funny, entertaining character who has something to say. No one survives more than 30 years at the centre of a storm with just shtick.

Whatever Cherry's talking about, he's really talking about Canada and Canadian spirit. When European players first began playing in the NHL in any numbers, he trashed them. They weren't Canadian, not in nationality, not in spirit. Just because you wear the jersey of a hockey player, he said to them, doesn't mean you're a hockey player. Prove it. When they did, he wouldn't see it because they weren't Canadian. If they proved it a different way, not with their fists but on the scoreboard, as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux did, he wouldn't see it either.

Week after week his message carries the same basic truth: In hockey, as in any of other side theme of life he goes off into — "Hey, you kids out there" — you've got to be willing to fight. Who can argue? And to Cherry if you accept that, you've got to accept that any kind of fight or fighting is right. You've got to stand up — shoulder against shoulder; fist against fist.

This is where the debate over head shots and fighting grows confused. Giving up head shots or fighting is not giving in to do-gooders who never played the game. It's not giving in to Americans. It is not giving up something Canadian. It's not even giving up Don Cherry; certainly not his spirit. But it is taking on Cherry or anyone else on hits to the head. The surprise is that Cherry and so many former players who are now commentators defend or minimize these hits — the race for the puck, the last-second shove that catapults an opponent into the end boards and a completely unknowable fate; the cruise-by elbow or shoulder to an unsuspecting player. The hit like the one the Edmonton Oilers' Andy Sutton put on the Carolina Hurricanes' Alexei Ponikarovsky a few weeks ago. Sutton could see that Ponikarovsky couldn't see him, so this was not a knee-jerk reflex. It was entirely premeditated. He had several feet to decide what to do and chose to drive Ponikarovsky's head into the glass — because he could. But Sutton is a good guy. Good guys don't do bad things, so bad things done by good guys can't be bad things.

These are cheap shots and always were. Cherry and the others didn't play this way. Is this fight? Is this standing up? Where's the courage and toughness in this?

"Fight" is not "fighting." Fight is never giving up. Gretzky, Orr, Richard, Lemieux, Lafleur — they were great fighters. They fought with their head, hands, legs, will, and need to be special, and rarely with their fists. The toughest players aren't those who hit but those who are willing to be hit, to fight their way into open ice, to fight their way to the net, to fight expectation and disappointment to score the game-changing goal. Give up fighting and get more stick-swinging?

Who were the stick-swingers? A handful of players; almost nobody — and certainly not these players. Fight is the playoffs, the Olympics, and World Cup, where fighting and head shots are rare because the stakes are so high and the distractions so consequential that there's no place on the ice for goons. "Fight" is fighting spirit. It's Canadian hockey at its best.

After the 1972 Canada-Russia series, the skill gap between the Europeans, the Russians in particular, and Canadians seemed to grow. In the 1990s and early into this century, most of the NHL's top scorers and trophy winners were European or American. That has changed in recent years. Canadians learned that more than fight was needed.

In soccer, England had its "1972 moment" in 1953 when Hungary came to Wembley and won, 6-3. England won the World Cup in 1966, and since that time the skill level of its players has improved, but much less so than for those in the rest of the world. England keeps hoping that "English pluck" can make up the difference. It can't.

We learned in Canada what England has never learned. We learned that to win: Match them with skill; beat them with will.

The debate about head shots and fighting is not a debate about Canada, Canadian hockey, or the Canadian spirit. It's about giving up the fighting, but keeping the fight.

Article from

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Ken Dryden | News

Concussions in the NHL: Waiting for Science

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   December 28, 2011 09:30

I like Gary Bettman. I was ready to like him before I had ever met him. He had gone to Cornell University; I went to Cornell. That was a good place to start. When I was president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I dealt with him often, most directly in NHL governors' meetings. He would sit at the middle of a long table at the front of a room with the league governors, usually team owners, beside him. Team owners are rich. In their own communities, they are important. They are also used to seeing themselves as important, and like to see themselves that way. In their communities and in their companies, they are also used to having their own way, and do not give up their way easily. To suggest that directing them is akin to herding cats is to give cats a bad name.

At the front table was this expressive, bug-eyed bundle of nerve endings. He spoke in bursts of words and emotions. Quick-witted, quick-tongued, aggressive, smart, well prepared — there was never any doubt who commanded that room.

His is a tough job. He presides over a league, but in many ways he also presides over a sport. In Canada, hockey matters. If Canadian NHL teams aren't doing well — on the ice or off — the hundreds of thousands of kids and adults who play recreationally don't seem to be doing as well. And because hockey seems to be a metaphor we as Canadians have applied to ourselves, and others have applied to us, when hockey isn't going well, we don't seem to be doing as well, either. As NHL commissioner, Bettman has a responsibility that the commissioners of the NFL, NBA, and MLB do not have.

In the U.S., Bettman has a different challenge. He has to try to make hockey matter for more than just an intensely dedicated minority, in more than just the North and Northeast of the U.S. In the U.S., it's baseball and football, then basketball, then … hockey. It's MLB and the NFL, then the NBA, then … the NHL. His is a perpetual struggle for attention and importance. To gain that status, it means having teams in parts of the U.S. where the struggle first must be for survival. Ask any CEO what it's like when one quarter of his or her stores, for example, drag down the others. Ask them what they would do. Shut them down; focus on their business' strengths. Bettman can't do that.

In our dealings, I've disagreed with him at times, sometimes strongly, but I've found him right far more often than wrong. Of all the NHL presidents or commissioners I've seen or dealt with, as a fan, a player, an administrator, and a fan again — Clarence Campbell, John Ziegler, and (briefly) Gil Stein — Gary Bettman is easily the best.

Now Bettman, and one day his successors, have a bigger challenge: head injuries. Amid the dangerous mess of the past few years — the premature deaths of former players, suicides, career-shortening or career-ending concussions, and the grave uncertainty over the future of the NHL's biggest star, Sidney Crosby, I was sure there would come a point when Bettman would say, "Enough." That he would intervene as forcibly as he has on franchise and collective bargaining issues. Instead, he has left matters first to Colin Campbell, an NHL executive formerly in charge of player safety, and now to former star player Brendan Shanahan.

Bettman is a lawyer. A good lawyer understands his client's position and advocates strongly for it. A very good lawyer gets inside his client's position, tests and challenges it, shapes it where it needs to be shaped, and comes to know it, and embody it, as well as the client himself. Bettman is a very good lawyer. His relentless rigor gives him his confidence, his presence and posture. When a meeting begins, he's sure — he knows — that he's the smartest guy in the room. For him to be as aggressive and assertive, for him to be him, he needs to know that. That's what allows him to herd his cats.

But on those matters where he can't quite get inside his client as deep as he needs to go, when he can't quite know something as they do, his manner changes. He knows how much hockey means to Canadians, but as an American, he can't quite know. He knows how proud and noble, almost warrior-like, hockey players see themselves, but as someone who has never played the game, he can't quite know. Often criticized in Canada for being an American (and all that means to Canadians), he has been a determined advocate for things Canadian. He knows that hockey's soul resides in Canada. He knows that the NHL isn't strong and healthy unless hockey in Canada is strong and healthy. On matters Canadian, he is respectful and deferential. He listens. About on-ice matters, he is the same. Respectful and deferential, he listens to his "hockey guys."

The problem is that his "hockey guys" are so immersed in a game they have loved and played all of their lives, so steeped in and so respectful of its traditions and understandings, they haven't fully seen all the changes that have occurred. They have seen the changes in technology, strategy, and training that have allowed now bigger players to go faster and with more forceful impact. To Bettman's "hockey guys," these are the natural evolutions of the game. They are good. They are allowed. (Indeed, if you're going to have fighting, why not a better fighter? Why not the best?)

To these natural evolutions, Bettman's "hockey guys" have also seen some unintended consequences — most notably, more, and more serious, injuries — and have responded to them with efforts toward better protective equipment, better medical treatment, and, where these are not enough, "tweaks" to the rules. What they haven't seen fully is that technology, strategy, and training, driven by the creativity of coaches, players, scientists, and entrepreneurs, always run ahead of equipment, medical treatment, and "tweaks" to the rules. Better helmets, more muscular necks and shoulders, MRIs, and Rule 48 haven't offered the answer to 220-plus-pound players moving at 30 mph. Not even close. So concussions are more frequent and more serious. But to intervene with anything else — with significant rule changes or imagining a game played in a more head-conscious, "head-smart" way — to Bettman's "hockey guys," is unthinkable. Natural evolutions that change the nature of a game are OK, but anything else are "unnatural intrusions." They are bad. They aren't allowed. Bettman's "hockey guys" forget that hockey's natural evolution was once toward a jammed-up, goalless future until some president or commissioner intruded unnaturally with player substitutions and the forward pass. Imagine what the "hockey guys" of that time would have said.

When Bettman listens to his "hockey guys," because as someone who never played the game he can't quite know, this is what he hears.

I decided about two months ago to get back in touch with him ("Go Big Red!"). It was a few days after the start of the new season. I sent him an e-mail to congratulate him on the return of the Winnipeg Jets. A minute later, he e-mailed back. This led to a back-and-forth over the next several minutes, at the end each of us promising the other (when I'm in New York; when he's in Toronto) that we'd catch up. Not long ago, we e-mailed each other again. I had been traveling; he'd been traveling. We'd both be away for the holidays, but sometime early in the new year, we would make this happen. And I had no doubt we would.

What I'd say to him is what I've said here, but also that it's time for him to not be so deferential and respectful on hockey matters, on head injuries, but to take these on in his aggressive Bettmanesque way. The stories, almost every week, of another player being concussed (or, to allow for the possibility of a more acceptable earlier return to action, another player having "concussion-like symptoms"), or of a former player now living with the consequences of his head-injured past, are real. They have happened. They are not just a case of bad luck that will surely turn. You have to know that this is your future and the future of all those owners, governors, and players, every week, for so long as you and they are commissioner, owner, governor, or player. You can try to deny the problem or try to manage it or do something. And as overwhelming as it seems — just imagine if even most of this is true: the on-ice consequences, the post-career consequences for former NHL and recreational players, the liabilities, etc., etc. — a lot can be done. The changes that may be necessary are not undoable. Few are blaming you. Most know there is so much we don't know and can't know. We don't know the dimensions of the problem. We don't know the dimensions of the answer. But we do know there's a big problem, and we do know there are some things we need to do.

Hockey isn't the only sport in need of this action. If anything, football's problem is far greater. Soccer and other sports are experiencing their own head-injury problems. Outside sports, the military is faced with many of its personnel suffering the effects of new, more concussive weapons. And for decades, we've imagined the problems without having paid much attention to the consequences of victims of head trauma in child-abuse cases.

It is OK not to know, I was intending to say to him. It is not OK not to begin to puzzle through with others toward some answers.

You and the NHL can do something. You don't need to lead this effort — in fact, it's better if you don't, to avoid the conflicts of interest that would naturally occur and any perception of them, and so not to hold back the work. But you can acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and your determination to deal seriously with it, now and in the future. One way to signal this might be to help create some ongoing structure that would encourage and generate public discussion, ideas, proposals, and action on head injuries in sports, notably hockey. It could begin with an annual conference, hosted by a university, the first one in Canada, but in subsequent years in the U.S. and Europe. The NHL could be one of the major sponsors. You, and not just your "hockey guys," could be there to show that on this "long run" problem you're in this for the long run, and are willing to puzzle through with others how we can do better.

The best brain scientists would be there to talk about what they know, and what they don't know. Players who have suffered brain injuries will provide their personal stories. League officials at different levels, in different sports, will talk about what steps they have taken, what's worked and what hasn't. The best coaches and best players, past and present, will be there to talk about what they've been trained to do and what they've done all their lives. Faced with an opponent, in this case a new "head-smart" set of rules and way of playing that keeps you from doing some things one way, what do you do? What new creative answer can you come up with? What can you do that is even better than what you did before? Each year, there will be new findings, new ideas, and fresh challenges to players, coaches, officials, scientists, and entrepreneurs who, in their DNA, feed on fresh challenges.

There is no running away. Next week's headlines have already been written. The need is to begin.

That's what I was intending to say to him in January or February when I was sure we'd be in touch again. Then I saw his video interview on the New York Times website.

The Times had published an outstanding three-part series of articles by John Branch on Derek Boogaard, a 28-year-old NHL "enforcer" who had died a few months earlier. This was Branch's follow-up video interview with Bettman. Bettman had experienced many interviews like this before, where he was asked to answer questions that weren't really questions, about violence and fighting in the NHL, and he had his usual nervous energy mostly under control.

In response to a question, he began by telling his often-repeated story — fighting has a long history in "the game," he said. Players move at 30 mph in an enclosed area; they carry sticks. There's physical contact. Different from other sports, fighting in hockey is penalized only in a limited way — with a five-minute penalty, not expulsion from the game — not to sell tickets, as is often alleged, but because fighting acts as a kind of "thermostat," as Bettman puts it, so that "things don't go too far." The threat of fighting helps to keep other matters in a game under control. And because fighting is this organic part of hockey, the frequency of fighting changes as the game changes, he says — sometimes more, sometimes less — so you can't predict its future. As for the off-ice deaths in recent months of three former NHL "enforcers" — Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak — he reacted to the deaths more like a father than a commissioner, describing their deaths as a "tragedy" and his "almost disbelief at the coincidental timing of [them]." "The circumstances of all three were different," he continued. "It was a tragic, sad, unfortunate coincidence." When asked by the interviewer to clarify if he thought the circumstances, not the timing, were a coincidence, he replied, "Yes."

Later, the interviewer pointed to the recent findings by Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy that Boogaard had the presence of CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a close relative of Alzheimer's disease, in his brain, which is thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head. Boogaard is the fourth former NHL player — the others being Reggie Fleming, Bob Probert, and Rick Martin — to show these same indications. What about this research on CTE, the interviewer asked? "I think it's very preliminary," Bettman said. "There isn't a lot of data and the experts who we talk to, who consult with us, think it's way premature to be drawing any conclusions at this point because we're not sure based on the amount of data evaluated." He repeats how "preliminary" all this is, again citing the "handful of samples," all the possible factors in these players' deaths, how with CTE, Alzheimer's, and dementia there's so much we don't know. "There's a long way to go in medical science before people can make definitive judgments," he concludes.

Gary Bettman has arrived at Stage 2 in the NHL's response to fighting and violence. Stage 1, as embodied by Colin Campbell and former Boston Bruins coach and immensely popular TV commentator Don Cherry, was aggressive, belligerent, and dismissive. Look, this is hockey. This is how the game's played. Always has been. If you don't like it, don't play it. Stage 2, as embodied in Bettman's interview, is more modulated, more thoughtful-sounding, and more reasonable-sounding (aided by the interview's setting, a room lighted dark and warm, almost cozy; there's a reason 60 Minutes' interviews and congressional committee hearings are done in the glare of bright lights). Occasionally he strays into a lawyer's gentle, prickly combativeness, but mostly he stays on his message: It is Boston University's scientific work on the brain samples of former players that helped bring head injuries to a focus, he is saying. It's science that I'm going to argue back. Science isn't impressed with anecdote and story. Science demands proof. Four brain samples are merely four anecdotes, and that's out of the thousands who have played this game. Mine is the reasonable, responsible position. Mine is based on science. Science demands proof, and I demand proof, too. And when science gives me what science insists upon for itself, I will go where science takes me. In the meantime, even with science on my side, I will continue cooperating with doctors and researchers and generate rule changes where appropriate. That's how reasonable I am.

By waiting for science, thousands of asbestos workers and millions of smokers died. The fact is, as a society we rarely have the luxury of waiting for science on big, difficult, potentially dangerous questions to meet its standard of proof. We need to take the best science we have, generate more and better information, then apply to it our best intuition and common sense — and decide. Scientists are always disparaging of politicians and other decision-makers for being so influenced by anecdote. But an anecdote, well observed, thorough, rigorous, and truth-seeking (not ax-grinding), can tell a lot. At any moment, it may also be the best information we have.

It is only by tragic fluke — his early death — that we have the Derek Boogaard "anecdote." Normally, we'd have to wait many more years to know what had happened many years before. But now we have this gift from Derek Boogaard. The NHL can also learn from the NFL experience. Many more football players than hockey players are dying now in their 60s and 70s after having spent the last several years of their lives in the living death of dementia. Football, for that generation of players, just as with hockey, was played with primitive equipment. But in football, then as now, every play involves many collisions involving many players, and one final collision. In hockey then, the game moved much more slowly with players playing coasting, two-minute shifts with few collisions. In hockey now, the game moving in full-abandon, 35-second shifts with bigger players, the collisions are never-ending and shuddering. And hockey fighters, once normal-sized and untrained, inflicted little damage. Today, far bigger and having been trained in combat much of their lives, they can cave a face with one punch and have their brains rattled in return.

Gary Bettman said in his online video interview with the Times that he hasn't talked to the doctors at Boston University. I hope he does soon. I also hope he has spoken with Derek Boogaard's family and friends to hear, really hear, about what his life was like. And with Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros, and Keith Primeau — in depth — or with any of a number of players who have had their careers ended early, about what life felt like after their injury, and what it feels like now. Or — in depth — with Sidney Crosby. As hard as it was in the 10 months of recovery after his injury — the pain and discomfort, the unknowns, the hopefulness, the crashing disappointments — now must be his darkest time. It was the sheer routineness of this latest hit. So invisible amid the action that observers assumed it must have been from a collision with his teammate Chris Kunitz. So routine it was only on replay: Crosby and Bruins player David Krejci yapping at each other from their player benches — what could've caused that? — then running the action backwards; Crosby and Krejci shoving at each other on the ice after the whistle — what could've caused that? — and backwards some more; Crosby skating toward the puck near the boards; Krejci, the puck in his skates, bent over, his back to Crosby; as Crosby bumps him, Krejci turns slightly, his left elbow striking Crosby in the visor. It was the kind of light blow that is exchanged without notice or consequence hundreds of times in a game. Krejci, in everything that follows, looks befuddled — Why is he so mad? What did I do? But knowing how he feels, Crosby knows.

If after 11 months this is all it takes …

I hope Bettman and Crosby have a good long talk.

There are debates among doctors, now played out in the media, over the correlation between hockey's blows to the head and CTE, between blows suffered now and a player's long-term future. These debates will continue. But there can be no debate about the impact of those blows on players now. Almost every day there's someone new — this week it's star Flyers' defenseman and tough guy Chris Pronger and his teammate Claude Giroux, the NHL's leading scorer — both gone and for who knows how long. The debate about CTE is important, but it's a distraction. The debate over fighting is a distraction. This is about head injuries. This is about what we can see. This is what we absolutely know. This is about now.

Bettman and the NHL cannot wait for science. They can't hide behind science, using it as their shield. They must move, and move quickly, out of Stage 2 to Stage 3. No amount of well-modulated, reasonable- and responsible-sounding words change the fact that a hit to the head, whether by elbow, shoulder, or fist, is an attempt to injure that needs to result in expulsion or suspension. No amount of hopefulness and crossed fingers will change the fact that the NHL, like the NFL, must begin to imagine and introduce more "head-smart" ways to play. Bettman needs to be Bettman. We look back on those people 50 years ago who defended tobacco and asbestos and think, How could they be so stupid? Bettman and the NHL cannot wait for this generation of players to get old just so they can know for sure.

Article Written by Ken Dryden.

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