How concussions are a risk to every ice hockey player – and it’s not likely to ever change

Organisers this week revealed plans for an ice hockey match to raise funds for the sport's concussion victims, at Sheffield Arena on April 20.

Saturday, 9th February 2019, 09:10 am
Updated Saturday, 9th February 2019, 09:17 am
Danny Mawer, Sheffield Steelers strength and conditioning coach, right

It coincides with an ongoing NHL debate about concussion diagnosis, management and return-to-play protocols.

Sheffield was chosen for the Canada v USA friendly because of the city's sporting reputation.

Today, we examine the effects concussion have had within the Steelers' camp over the years.

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We asked for the views of past and present personnel and were surprised at some of the findings.

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Danny Mawer has seen more than his share of injuries amongst the cut and thrust of ‘Steelershockey.’

But the team's conditioning coach ranks concussion as one of the worst things a skater can suffer.

And Mawer should know - he's been on the end of it.

He was clobbered on top of his head when he played for Sheffield Spartans. "After that blow, I had probably the worst couple of days of my life," he says. "It was like having a migraine, an aura, flashing lights...

"Years ago, concussion would be brushed under the carpet as ‘he's got a headache'. But that doesn't start to describe the potential problems: vision difficulties, mental health, memory loss, anxiety, aggressive changes in personality.

Steelers Scott Allison in his playing hey day, 2001

"Hockey has woken up to this and at Steelers and elsewhere there are mandatory baseline tests and sufferers must take a complete rest. In our last European tournament, a head injury specialist attended each game and would simply pull a player out of a match if a check-up was felt necessary."

Helmets aren't a guarantee skaters will avoid concussion, Mawer added.

"It is not about that, it is about brains - and how they move around in the skull when a chin, head or body gets hit. The speed of the game is increasing and so are the quickness of hits. That's the problem. Concussion can ruin lives."

 

Andre Malo is helped off the Ice after injuring his face on the boards.

PLAYER VIEWS:

 

Steve Carpenter:

I had bad ones. I remember hitting a kid and the impact sent him to hospital while I got a wicked concussion that I didn’t treat right. I had no idea where I was, what period it was or the score. That was followed by massive headaches for months.

Now I feel like my memory is getting worse.

I feel it made me become angry quicker than before and I battle with depression as a result.

Liam Kirk in his Sheffield Steelers' days

They are doing what they can but these injuries will always be there.

Teaching kids how to hit and be hit at an earlier age will help and the knowledge about concussions has helped change how people play. Before it was "sniff some salts and go for pints" after the game, now they have baseline testing as well as a protocol before you’re allowed back.

 

Tim Cranston:

I had multiple bad concussions. In my day concussion diagnosis and recovery protocols didn't exist; you played through it. Most were caused by a direct blow to head from an elbow, shoulder, punch or stick.

That would mean headaches, loss of consciousness, blurred vision, dazed, sick to stomach, vomiting, imbalance, vertigo.

Then you'd face sleeplessness, recurring headaches, fuzziness, lack of appetite, fatigue, memory loss and no doubt brain injury.

We should automatically see major penalties, game misconducts, suspension and fines for direct blows to head with intent.

Until or unless direct contact is banned from the game, head injuries remain an inherent risk.

You could change the game entirely by taking (direct) hitting out, but that still wouldn't stop indirect or incidental contact due to the speed of the sport.

 

Marc Twaite:

I had several knockouts. At 15, Mark Pallister hit me and I was out cold. At 19, Chris Brant at Bracknell 'clothes-lined' me - again out cold. Someone took my helmet off, someone slapped my face and I staggered to the bench. At 20, Mike Ware's elbow in Edinburgh caught my jaw and dislodged it; I couldn't grit my teeth.

At 21, Shawn Byram (Ayr Scottish Eagles) knocked a tooth out with an elbow to the face.

I've had a lot of head trauma and none were really diagnosed as a serious concussion.

Hockey is a fast contact sport - you'll never stop the head injuries and whiplash whilst it's full contact at high speed.

In a simple body check, if your body is relaxed, you'll get hurt. That's the game.

In hockey there should be a risk assessment done to the size standard and pace of the game you’re playing at.

Hockey can be like a car crash. Each player needs to be looked at by a neurological expert to know what actual damage has been done.

It's a complex situation. There are so many players now coming forward with problems in life after hockey - like me.

But no-one really cares; you're just a number and replaced and everything is forgotten.

 

Josh Pitt:

I’ve had one concussion and shortly afterwards, bright lights bothered me as well as loud noise such as being at the Arena during a game.

Taking dirty hits and staged fighting out of the game is a big part of reducing concussions, that's been happening over the years.

But hits and fights are still a part of hockey and that will likely never change, so besides that and better helmets, I don’t think the risk can ever be taken out of contact sport. It has come a long way and gotten a lot better than it used to be.

 

Paddy O'Connor:

I had two quite serious concussions. One was a high-speed body check near the boards, resulting in my head colliding with the boards and a loss of consciousness. Second was a blocked slap shot that hit me in the head, tore my ear apart and knocked me out.

Symptoms were bright lights painful to my eyes, motion sickness - like fairground rides - temporary memory loss, anger issues. Checks to the head need to carry an automatic 10-game suspension then increased for serial offenders until they are banned for the season, unpaid.

Banning all body checking would reduced it massively.

 

Ron Shudra:

My worst concussion was playing for Halifax Oilers (AHL) aged 19. I'd taken a slap shot and was in my follow-through when I was hit in the chest and went backwards head first into the boards. The contact cracked my helmet in three places. I was KO'd for a few seconds, had a constant headache for a week, felt sick, was tired and weak, had dizziness. I missed three days of practice but played the games the following weekend! Now it’s two-week minimum rest when diagnosed.

Now there's more knowledge on the causes and effects. Players know there is an inherent risk of all types of injuries; it’s a contact sport.

There were serious repercussions if players were deemed to attempt to injure one of your own, retribution would be swift. Also players had longer memories so if they didn’t think you paid for it then, you'd pay for it every time you were played against. 

I’ve seen guys have to fight three different guys in consecutive games!

Players have to actually give a damn about the other guys as well. Hitting by definition is to separate the man from the puck, not to try to decapitate someone.

 

Ryan Finnerty:

Concussions were not diagnosed and dealt with medically like they are today. I sustained a few in my career. My worst was from running into another player accidentally, resulting in losing consciousness in Peoria, Illinois.

My symptoms: being nauseated and unable to focus - lasted two weeks. Fortunately, I've not suffered long term effects. The NHL are cracking down on headshots and putting a lot more emphasis on players to eliminate these types of injuries and hopefully, we see a drastic decline in head-related injuries.

 

Andre Malo:

I had multiple concussions; it was only in the latter part of the 1990s that concussion protocols started to appear. Before then, even if you had a blow to the head and struggled, you'd continue to play. Helmets weren't as sturdy then and symptoms were seeing stars, blurred vision, headaches, nausea, sore neck. Longer term some of the headaches persisted as you didn't have time to recover.

Eliminating deliberate contact to the head is a must, and equipment needs to be looked at. Shoulder pads and elbow pads with thick plastic, which is usually the first thing that makes contact with the head, need to be examined. Maybe a softer material could be used.

The wearing of a mouthpiece should be compulsory, it helps with the contact.

 

Scott Allison:

Fans may remember the incident at Nottingham when Barry Nieckar punched me in the back of head? It was my only concussion.

There should be a better policy towards violence and sucker-punching or running people from behind. When a player is not expecting the hit or punch - that's when bad concussions happen.

It's a violent sport. But there are rules. It used to police itself. Now, not so much, as they try to remove fighting.

Sucker-punching and hitting from behind should be banned.

 

Les Millie:

I took a forearm to the head, unaware it was coming. I played two periods without knowing it then came round as the mist disappeared. Longer term was a constant headache, a sense of being a little cloudy. I carried on playing which increased the risk of further damage.

It will be hard to totally rid concussions from the game. The reason why they happen are headshots, blindsided hits, from behind, all of which you still see and won't lessen over time.

 

Jamie Leach:

Shannon Hope (formerly Cardiff Devils) gave me a concussion. I would have kicked the s**** out of him if he'd dropped his gloves! Seriously: it’s part of the game. If you are a player who keeps getting concussed then you are putting yourself in the wrong situations.

The only time I got concussed is when I put myself in an area on the ice that is dangerous… and having to be on the ice with disrespectful players.

 

Liam Kirk:

I think the officials need to be more strict on hits to the head or late hits to lessen the chance of concussions.

Marc Twaite playing for Sheffield Steelers against Nottingham Panthers
Josh Pitt, current Steeler
Jamie Leach after receiving a horrific broken cheek from a slashing incident.
Ryan Finnerty
Canada v USA Ice Hockey organisers....Pictured: Kevin Noble, Dom Stokes, Kerry Goulet, Jake Oakl
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