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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 Injury Prevention this Spring/Summer

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   March 29, 2012 16:29

With Spring and Summer fast approaching, we are sharing some tips to keep you and your children safe.

PREVENTION is the only known cure for brain injury!

Brain Injury Association of Michigan President shares how to help protect children from harm by following these selected seasonal safety facts from the Brain Injury Association of America’s seasonal brochures:

Spring

  • Bicycle incidents are most likely to occur within five blocks of home. Teach by example. A bicycle helmet is a necessity not an accessory.
  • Baseball has the least amount of safety equipment required of any youth sport. Check that your child’s baseball helmet meets standards of the national Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.
  • Falls are the most common cause of playground injuries. Check the surface under playground equipment. Avoid asphalt concrete, grass and soil surfaces. Look for surfaces with shredded mulch, pea gravel, crushed stone and other loose surfaces.
  • Two-thirds of all-terrain vehicle accidents have involved children under 16 years old. Model safe behavior by always wearing helmets with face protection and protective clothing.
  • Brain injuries occur when skaters fall and hit their heads on the pavement. Wear a helmet for protection against falls.
  • Brain injury is the leading cause of death among children hit by cars. Always stop at the curb or edge of the road; never run into the street.

Summer

  • Most children who survive drowning are found within two minutes of being under water; most who die are found after 10 minutes or longer. Always supervise your child around water.
  • Alcohol use is a leading factor in boating incidents and deaths. Stop your child from riding in a boat with anyone who has been drinking alcohol.
  • A bicyclist who is wearing a helmet is less likely to die, be seriously injured or become disabled if hit by a car. Buy a helmet that meets the safety standards of ANSI , Snell or ASTM. Tighten chin strap to keep helmets from slipping forward or backward. Only two fingers should fit under the chin strap Place the helmet directly over the forehead.
  • Screens are designed to keep out bugs, not to keep in children. Install child safety window guards

Link to article

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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

The Relational Impact of Brain Injury

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   March 16, 2012 09:49

Gabrielle Giffords is on a remarkable journey of recovery -- and her husband is on it with her. In January 2012, she resigned from Congress. But many Americans have been inspired with the courage and determination she has demonstrated during her recovery. Just one year ago, the Congresswoman suffered gunshot wounds to the head and a severe traumatic brain injury as the result of a shooting rampage.

Although Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark E. Kelly, have spoken about her progress with regard to physical recovery, they have kept private regarding how her brain injury has impacted their personal relationship. With so much emphasis on survival and physical recovery after a brain injury, sometimes the aspects of emotional recovery and strains in personal relationships can be overlooked. According to a recent New York Times article, besides the physical challenges a brain injured person faces, differences in personality and mood can be significant. Sarah Wheaton writing for the Times explained, "Doctors frequently warn uninjured spouses that that the marriage may well be over, that the personality changes that can result from the brain injury may do irreparable harm to the relationship."

Marriage and Traumatic Brain Injuries

Despite these words of caution, many marriages continue after one spouse experiences a traumatic brain injury. Multiple studies have found such couples have divorce rates under the national average. Unfortunately, however, couples may still be unhappy and sticking together out of a sense of obligation or guilt rather than true love.

Psychologist Jeffrey S. Kreutzer from Virginia Commonwealth University explained, "While people may technically be married, the quality of their relationship has been seriously diminished." Dr. Kreutzer is among a group of psychologists pioneering marriage counseling techniques aimed at helping couples cope with brain injury.

Couples are taught communication strategies and encouraged to make time for one another in between doctors' appointments and physical rehabilitation. Additionally, couples need to be reminded to look forward rather than backward, because the relationship will likely never be the same as when they first met. The uninjured spouse often needs to learn how to accept that they may now be in a relationship with a very different person, and the injured spouse needs to accept the changes within himself or herself. This can be challenging for both spouses no matter how much they are focused on cultivating a healthy relationship.

One woman whose husband experienced a traumatic brain injury explained that her husband lost the sparkle she loved and "flat-lined" emotionally. Her husband told her, "I'm not the person you married," and that she was "free to leave." She felt lonely in the role of caregiver rather than wife.

Although there have been setbacks, counseling has helped the couple rebuild their relationship and set appropriate expectations. Hopefully with new attention and research focused on the issue, more couples impacted by brain injury will have similar success.

Article from Digital Journal

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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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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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Brainstreams Latest Newsletter

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   March 1, 2012 10:09

Brainstreams.ca has released the most recent edition of their monthly digest. Please take a look for information regarding survivor stories, expert opinions, and a report from the Pacific Coast Brain Injury Conference.

Click the link for the newsletter.

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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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NASCAR and Head Injuries

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   February 22, 2012 17:26

If Michael Waltrip were to count up all the concussions he has sustained over a NASCAR career that stretches back nearly 30 years, he'd certainly hit 10 — and probably keep going.

Safety measures since Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001 have gone a long way toward preventing head injuries, and NASCAR officials have taken steps to improve the way they identify and treat concussions. But Waltrip knows that won't undo all those hits he took in the 1980s and '90s.

"I whacked my head — a lot," Waltrip said. "If you think about this, I showed up in '85, when it was relatively 'safe.' We thought we had it figured out. I raced all the way through 2001 when people were getting killed. And all through that time, I was hitting my head and knocking myself out and getting concussions and going to the hospital. And I don't know what that means to me in 10 years. But I know it's a concern."


The 48-year-old Waltrip gets uneasy when he hears stories about NFL players and other athletes who are having serious neurological problems after they retire, issues that a growing amount of research indicates may have been caused by repetitive brain injuries they sustained during their playing days.

Could that happen to him, too?

"I would be the perfect case study to see what's going to happen," Waltrip said. "Because I can go back and look at the races and count up times I was knocked unconscious that I can't count on both hands."

Five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson says he has had two concussions racing stock cars, and probably many more racing dirt bikes when he was younger.

"We're not immune to concussions," Johnson said. "And certainly after severe concussions or being concussed several times, the numbers change. We know that. The dynamic is there. I think we've reduced the opportunity for it to happen, but ultimately, it can happen. I just think the odds are a lot better today than they've ever been."

Earnhardt's death in the 2001 Daytona 500 — which came after drivers Kenny Irwin, Adam Petty and Tony Roper all were killed from similar head injuries — forced NASCAR to get serious about safety.

Today, drivers must wear a head and neck restraint, while impact-absorbing SAFER barriers have been installed on racetrack walls and NASCAR completely redesigned race cars to reduce the risk of injury. Racing seats used to look a lot like passenger car seats; now they look more like something out of a spaceship, with foam-padded supports on each side of the helmet that barely allows a driver's head to move during a crash.

It's working. Going into Sunday's Daytona 500, there hasn't been a death in NASCAR's top three national series since Earnhardt's.

"If I'm Kasey Kahne or Kyle Busch, I don't have those concerns any more," Waltrip said. "We've got the cars and the tracks, we've got it all fixed. You can still get hurt. You're running 200 miles an hour. But the chances of getting hurt are slimmer. The chances of hitting your head and hurting it are really slim."

NASCAR officials say they've identified 29 concussions in their top three series since 2004 — and only 11 of those happened in the past five seasons.

"Not huge numbers, when you see it," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing operations. "But with each of those, each one's different, we've had to assess each one differently. Knock on wood, we haven't had as many to have to deal with."

And while there have been some drivers who experienced long-term effects from traumatic head injuries over the years — including Bobby Allison, Ernie Irvan, Jerry Nadeau and Steve Park — O'Donnell says NASCAR doesn't see any evidence of widespread health issues related to multiple head injuries, as the NFL and other sports are.

"There's always concerns for any driver that's been in the sport," O'Donnell said. "But in terms of drivers formally approaching us and saying, 'Hey, I want to talk about this or look at it,' we haven't seen that occur, in terms of what you're seeing in other sports right now. We'd certainly be open to working with anyone, if we see that, in helping to stop any trend that we saw."

In response to reports of football players, hockey players and other athletes having serious neurological issues in retirement, researchers at the Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute have studied brain tissue of deceased former athletes. They've found evidence of a degenerative brain disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy that has been linked to repetitive brain injuries.

O'Donnell said NASCAR officials have noticed.

"Absolutely," O'Donnell said. "It's something we pay attention to on any aspect of other sports, what they're doing. Can we learn from it? Can we implement some of these things? We're open to working with any other sport as well."

For now, veteran driver Jeff Burton is trying to gather as much information as he can about the long-term effects of concussions. Burton's father-in-law is a physician and has attended sports medicine conferences on his behalf.

"I think anybody that has any sense at all has to understand that it doesn't matter if you're playing football or hockey or racing a car, head injuries can have bad ramifications later in life," Burton said. "It appears to be the case. I think we are exposed to less of it. But at the same time, when we do have them, they can be big hits."

The 44-year-old Burton started racing in NASCAR's top division in 1993, well before the post-Earnhardt safety advances.

"I can tell you that in retrospect, there's been many times that I've had concussions," Burton said. "And the definition of concussion is a very widely used term, and how you actually define a concussion has changed over the years. But there's no question that with hitting concrete, not having (today's safety equipment), there's no question people had concussions. No question."

Waltrip said he blacked out after an accident in practice at Las Vegas in 1998, but kept it to himself.

"Hit the wall, got in the backup car, made a couple laps, went to the hotel, woke up the next morning, didn't even know how I got there," Waltrip said. "You could just fake people out back then. 'Yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine.' They didn't care. 'OK, you're fine.'"

Today, any driver involved in a significant accident must visit the infield medical center, where checking for signs of a concussion is standard procedure. If there's reason to suspect a concussion, the driver will be sent to a local hospital. From there, the driver will need to be cleared by a neurosurgeon with at least five years' experience in sports-related head injuries before he or she can race again.

"They always ask you," Burton said. "The key to that, though, is honesty. Unless it's obvious. Sometimes you can tell. But a lot of times, in football and in every sport, people say, 'I'm fine.' It's hard if you don't tell them the truth to help you."

Burton acknowledged that drivers, along with athletes in other sports, have an incentive to hide symptoms.

"There's fear in not being able to do what you want to do," Burton said. "NASCAR's always been really good saying, 'Look, we don't want to keep you from racing unless it's in your best interests.' They've been pretty good about that. People are always nervous, I think, in any sport to stand up and say I'm having these issues, because they want to race or they want to play. But if NASCAR doesn't want you to race, then you probably shouldn't be racing."

Article found at the Tahlequan Daily Press

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