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Former pros discuss head injuries at summit

Monday, 01.19.2009 / 11:57 AM ET / News
The Canadian Press
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Former pros discuss head injuries at summit

LONDON, Ont. -- An all-star cast of medical men along with a sprinkling of notable former pros sought answers to the severity of head injuries at the well-attended London Hockey Concussion Summit on Saturday.

From a return to some former rules as suggested by Eric Lindros to four-on-four hockey touted by Mark Moore, the wide-ranging talks by a panel including those players and two others driven from the game by concussions, Jeff Beukeboom and Alyn McCauley, zeroed in on causes but was short on solutions.

Lindros, whose young brother Brett was driven from the game by concussions, was the victim of at least a half-dozen that helped end his career prematurely. Both, along with various hockey people and neurologists on the panel, seek to cut down on head injuries and concussions.

"I got my last one six years and one month ago," said Moore, a Harvard grad who had hoped one day to play for the Montreal Canadiens. "The top of a helmet got me in the jaw during practice. I was 20 feet wide on a drill passing the puck 10 feet right after. Next thing I remembered was being in hospital. And later, having to call the Canadiens to tell them I wouldn't be coming to camp."

McCauley remembers the Sheldon Souray hit that turned his life into trouble. Driving became a problem, as did handling bright lights and, like the rest, feeling generally off. He made it back but, like Olympic medallist Jennifer Botterill, it wasn't easy.

"It was just a scrimmage in August with the guys and Raffi Torres and I collided," said Botterill.

"It took three months," she added. "There were the headaches, the nausea - it took a long time before I felt like my true self."

Along with Beukeboom, who eventually took almost three years to recuperate from seven major concussions, the panel abhorred terms such as getting one's bell rung, conked or dinged, which tend to minimize a problem that accounts for so many games lost and careers ended.

"Mild concussion is an oxymoron," University of Toronto neurosurgeon Charles Tator said. "There is no known treatment, drug or physical exercise. The only way is prevention and if there is one, rest."

What the conference sought to accomplish was to draw attention to concussions in minor and pro hockey. First, all agreed, was that people involved in minor hockey - parents, trainers, coaches, have to be made cognizant of the signs of concussion and make sure there is rest and no physical activity until proper testing is conducted.

The symptoms are many, but typically they are dizziness, headaches, lack of focus, fatigue, blurred vision, despondency and a general malaise. Returning to activity too soon can put the victim at even greater risk. Concussion, panellists pointed out, is a brain injury, after all. Intervention is critical.

"Patience is very important (to the injured party)," said Botterill, whose brother, Jason, was knocked out of the NHL due to concussion.

All panellists agreed when it came to suspected concussion: If in doubt, sit them out.

The pro players left little doubt that there are teams in the NHL that aren't against hurrying a player back into action. Lindros says there's no mercy for somebody coming off a concussion.

"Guys like Simon Gagne and Patrice Bergeron have targets on their backs," he said.

Did he have one?

"Yes, it was ridiculous at the end."

Moore, whose brother Steve suffered broken vertebrae when jumped by Todd Bertuzzi in an infamous NHL incident, felt the four-on-four hockey that has been debated over the years could work well with the same roster size, only more sets of forwards and defence pairings.

"There are some great players on fourth lines that nobody sees much of," he said. "It has worked in other leagues."

In general, the conference was designed to help set a standard for the identification of concussion, its severity and impact on the individual and a controlled set of guidelines for the return of the athlete to action.





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