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Ice hockey needs to grow up when it comes to dealing with concussion

Ice hockey. (Photo: Andrew Kitchener)
Roar Rookie
6th December, 2016
13

There is nothing better than watching an NHL game being played in Edmonton, a city with one of the harshest winter climates in North America, from the comfort of an air-conditioned lounge room in the middle of an Australian summer.

And what a game we had on Monday afternoon, Sydney time, with the Minnesota Wild continuing their Canadian road trip in Alberta with a trip to the simply stunning new Rogers Place for a meeting with the Edmonton Oilers.

The spectacle of an Edmonton side packed full of young talent starting to finally deliver on their potential, who finally have a shot at bringing back playoff hockey to the city – not to mention an overtime winner from the Minnesota captain worthy of any highlights reel – was overshadowed by Edmonton’s young superstar captain being forced off the ice.

This was an NHL game, so you might be forgiven for thinking that Connor McDavid was cleaned up in a check along the boards, or was maybe punched in the face after having taken his umpteenth slash to the hand and squaring up for a fight himself.

But alas, no. It was just a simple trip and fall.

McDavid’s head did, however, hit the ice. And under the recently improved, second-year NHL concussion protocols, neutral medical spotters watching on video in a centralised bunker in New York contacted the arena officials and had McDavid removed for a mandatory scat test.

As an Australian surrounded by rugby league and the NRL where head injuries force players out of the game with lifelong problems year after year; heading off for a concussion test seems the intelligent thing to do!

The long-term dangers that playing through any sort of brain trauma, and that is exactly what a concussion is, poses to an athlete are widely understood and accepted by the medical and general Australian sporting community alike.

But hockey and the NHL are a different beast.

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The ‘man up’ culture is on a whole other level in the sport and the backlash from players, coaches and even the angles that North American media have run with may as well see the sport as a parallel universe when it comes to accepting the concussion protocols as normal.

This absolute doozy of a quote came from McDavid’s Edmonton teammate Patrick Maroon following the Oiler’s overtime loss:

“That’s part of hockey, and that’s why we have all this gear that protects us. Yes, if someone gets seriously hurt, we’re concerned. But he just fell, got tripped. I just don’t get it. It’s a man’s game.”

19-year-old McDavid himself showed a little bit more common sense in his emotional post-loss chat with the media, but was still livid that he was forced off the ice for his own protection:

“I hit my mouth on the ice. You reach up and grab your mouth when you get hit in the mouth, it’s a pretty normal thing. Obviously, the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling. So he pulled me off.”

This is the biggest question for me. How did the spotter know how he was feeling? At least in rugby league, a doctor stands in front of the player to look for the slightest hint of a concussion in the player’s eyes, speech or behaviour. Surely it would be common sense for someone on the medical staff to conduct a simple preliminary evaluation like this to see if a proper 15-minute scat test is required?

Running the excuse that you can’t trust team medical staff is ridiculous. They are professionals with integrity and put the health of their players first. If the medical staff refuse to put the best interests of the player first and allows him to continue when he shouldn’t, then the club is fined and run the risk of being docked points. It’s not hard.

What this whole situation has highlighted more than anything is that the league needs to do more to educate the clubs, players and even the media.

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I’m sure I’m not the only Australian hockey fan who is dumbfounded by the negative reaction that this has received while living in the current age of medical science. Not to mention legal precedents of past players damaged for life and suing because protocols such as these didn’t exist!

Come on guys, it’s 2016. This should not be a thing anymore.