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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