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Hockey looks to reduce concussions
Hockey is seen as one of the most aggressive and physical sports. If you’ve been to any youth, junior, college or professional game, you know a fight or big hit is sure to rally the crowd. But with these big hits come big costs: concussions are a huge problem in the sport at all ages, and more and more players are seeing their careers end because of these head injuries.
Last month representatives from all levels of hockey met in Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic with one goal in mind: finding a way to reduce the number of concussions in hockey, particularly at the youth level. It’s a goal many youth coaches in Colorado share.
“As the kids get older, they need to be able to play the sport with some contact. I just think that the type of contact has to really be cracked down on, early, and all the way up through the ranks,” said Boulder Valley Youth Hockey coach, Chris Herdic.
The Mayo Clinic discussions considered upping the age players begin checking from 11 to 13 as a way of reducing younger injuries. Many youth organizations have checking clinics or classes that show players how to be safe and respectful when hitting on the ice.
“We definitely got taught. Coaches told us how to hit, how not to hit, how to absorb a hit, and how to keep your head up so you’re not getting blindsided or having your neck crushed,” said CU club hockey player, Chase Komatz.
Last month the New York Times reported 18 percent of hockey injuries are from concussions, and in the NHL, 75 percent of those concussions happen to the guy without the puck. Herdic has coached ten to eleven year olds the game for years and even at that age has seen kids miss shifts or periods of hockey, complaining their heads hurt.
For Komatz and another University of Colorado teammate, head injuries are not new. Komatz suffered a head injury while playing for his club team last year that sent him to the hospital. His teammate, Jeff Palmer, had a grade three concussion (the most serious type of concussion a person can have) that triggered a seizure and kept him off the ice for two months. While the hit on Komatz was a penalty, Palmer was injured on a legal check.
“It was a legal hit, just at a weird angle. That’s all it was. I saw a tape of it and I just hit the side of my head real hard. It wasn’t a bad hit or anything,” Palmer said.
Both players have played the sport at competitive levels, and they have definitely seen the sport get more aggressive and more physical as they’ve gotten older.
“It’s a little less aggressive but the hits are bigger, though. They’re bigger guys, so obviously it’s going to hurt more,” said Komatz.
“The guys are bigger, the guys are stronger. You’re going to get hit harder, definitely,” said Palmer.
Despite their head injuries, the players know what is at stake every time they get back on the ice. Komatz said he is always conscientious when he goes into the corner to retrieve a puck. Many head injuries can happen in the corner of the ice when a player turns his/her back to the charging opposition.
Youth hockey organizations are taking the initiative to combat the concussion problem in their own rinks. Some have gone as far as requiring players to take tests to determine damage done to their brains after a player gets a concussion. One such test is the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT).
Boulder Valley hockey mom, Lisa Corely, was in an organization that did this test and said its benefits were outstanding. “The association we used to play for required the players to all go get an ImPACT test. It measures the brain activity at the beginning of the hockey season, so they want the kids to have them at this young age when they start hitting. After a concussion, they go back and do the ImPACT test again and they can see what brain activity was affected from the concussion.”
“It’s not a bad idea because then you know what impact that one concussion or second concussion or third concussion has had on the player, if any,” Corley said.
While it is unclear how drastically the game will change because of concussions, already players and spectators are seeing new rules emerging in the NHL and youth leagues making certain checks illegal. The decisions at the Mayo Clinic could change the future of the game, and the future health of its players.