Leigh Jeffries, Feature Columnist
This NHL season has continued to catapult the issue of concussion to the public’s attention with some of their biggest stars falling victim to concussion. For Sidney Crosby, or a local hockey hero, the concussion is no longer something to be shaken off, to get on with the game. In the last few years, concussions in hockey have become a hot-button topic forcing changes to the way players are assessed as well as the general perceptions of concussions.
According to Susan Forbes, a concussions researcher and adjunct professor at Lakehead University, “a concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that cannot be detected at the present time using existing technologies.” Concussions occur when a player is suddenly stopped but their brain continues to move inside of their skull, causing damage to the brain.
Mark Vermette, former professional hockey player from 1988 to 1995 received several concussions throughout his career. He recounted an incident while playing in the AHL when he was hit and fell to the ice. He had to crawl to the bench because he couldn’t stand to skate. The trainer did a quick analysis by looking at his eyes but did not stop him from finishing the game.
Vermette experienced headaches and had trouble sleeping later. He recalled feeling “foggy” and “spacey”. The trainer explained this was just part of the recovery process and not to worry.
Players who took time off to recover were considered soft. Today as a coach, Vermette is sensitive to players who sustain concussions, ensuring they take the time to make a full recovery before returning to the ice. His believes concussions are treated far more seriously now than when he played because life beyond hockey has become important.
Often times, young players believe that it is difficult to sustain a concussion. After receiving a blow that sent his world black, Jesse Taylor, defenseman for a major midget AAA team, believes people shouldn’t take concussions for granted. He recalls his recovery took a long time. The team, his doctor, and his family were very cautious to ensure that he had no lasting symptoms. “I was off the ice for three weeks before I was allowed to start skating. Then I had three or four practices before I played again. It was four weeks.”
The discussion about concussions highlights how lives are profoundly affected, says Forbes. The ripple effect of brain injury drains the individual, who becomes fatigued and loses the ability to focus and retain information. An athlete often becomes isolated which may lead to depression. Beyond that, there is the possible link to a degenerative brain condition that leads to Alzheimer like symptoms. She concludes, “At the end of the day the best thing to do is educate around injury because if you can change behaviours you can reduce risk.” Positive outcomes follow an athlete who has totally healed.
Hockey is a game that is played fast and hard. Players have to think about what is going on around them and must play smart to avoid concussion.