Conference on concussions held as NHL camps begin
Published Saturday, September 17, 2011 6:13PM EDT
A group of doctors, researchers and players concerned about concussions in hockey held a conference Saturday to educate the public about the potential long-term effects of brain injuries, just in time for the start of the NHL training camps.
A public meeting at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital on Saturday, hosted by the Canadian Brain Injury and Violence Research Team, looked at the situations under which concussions occur in hockey and how they can be prevented.
The meeting focused on teaching young players about the dangers of head trauma and how to better protect themselves.
Michael Hutchison, a post-doctoral fellow in injury prevention at St. Michael's, presented findings from a study of almost 200 concussions that occurred among NHL players from the start of the 2007 season to mid-season 2010.
By analyzing video clips of incidents, Hutchison found that most are caused by direct hits to the head involving actions by other players, such as head shots with a shoulder, elbow or gloves. About one in 10 were the result of fights.
Hutchison said that there were not a lot of penalties called on the NHL hits that caused concussions.
"So there weren't any repercussions on the ice at the time for actions resulting in concussions," he said. "So there was a possibility that if a rule were to be put in place, that behaviour would likely go down."
The study also showed that forwards got more concussions than defenceman and goalies, likely because there are more of them on the ice, and because they have the puck more often, he said.
Hutchison said one finding that surprised him was that most brain-rattling blows were sustained in the first period of play.
He said this was an intriguing find that is contrary to other hockey-related injuries, which tend to occur the longer the play goes on.
"Generally athletic injuries have been thought to be sustained later on in the game when people are tired and fatigued," he said. "And this was a situation where most of the concussions occurred in the first period."
High adrenaline and energy levels in the 20 minutes that follow the initial drop of the puck may lead to more contact between players, along with a team's strategy to set the tone with aggressive forechecking, he said.
Hutchinson, who coaches minor hockey and is assistant coach for the University of Toronto's varsity men's hockey team, also found that more concussions occurred during breakaways or a rush to the net.
Karolina Urban, 21, a featured speaker at the concussion conference and captain of the University of Toronto's women's Varsity Blues hockey team, suffered three concussions over three seasons while playing forward.
"I was young and I didn't really understand what concussions were and what could happen if I got another one ... I went back out next shift and I kept playing," she said.
Conference speaker Rob Zamuner, a player representative for the National Hockey League Players' Association, said rule changes by the league aimed at preventing concussions were ushered in by the popularity of the topic.
"It's a serious issue," said Zamuner, who suffered at least two concussions before retiring from the NHL in 2004-05. The former forward with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins is also a member of the NHL-NHLPA concussion working group.
"I suggest we keep on talking about it, push the envelope to make the game safer," he told CTV News on Saturday.
Zamuner said the recent attention concussions have received goes a long way in helping to educate players and coaches, both on the professional and amateur level.
Dr. Michael Cusimano, who helped organize the conference, said that the NHL still needs to step up its game when it comes to prevention.
"This is a public health issue," he told CTV News. "In Canada, everyone know that there are more than half a million kids involved in hockey, so we think 15,000 to 20,000 kids are going to sustain a brain injury this coming hockey season, so it's very important."
Multiple concussions can have life-long effects, including mood disorders like depression and cognitive deficits that can impede learning. Over time, dementia and other neurological conditions may also develop.
With files from The Canadian Press and a report from CTV News' Omar Sachedina