Habs Fever: Head games
Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty is wheeled away on a stretcher after taking a hit by Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara during second period NHL hockey action Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in Montreal.(Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Saturday, March 12, 2011 2:22PM EST
The more we learn about head shots, the more we learn that we haven't learned enough.
With the issue so cloudy and the brains affected cloudier, we are still choosing to not err on the side of caution as the smarter course of action.
There are two schools competing for the hearts and minds to influence future roads travelled.
One school wants change, wants the world to stand up and take notice that heads are getting rocked, that damage is accumulating and lives are getting destroyed well after the last puck is dropped.
The other school wants this issue swept under the carpet for the good of the game. The belief is that nothing has changed in the game here. That this augmentation of concussions is nothing unusual and next year the players out with concussions will drop and revert back to its mean number.
The factions in this argument that want to subdue this issue have short term vision. By pushing this issue back, they really only serve to guarantee a much larger problem down the road.
Why? Because some obvious things have changed in the game and the mean number of brain injuries will never drop again.
The players are skating faster. The players are bigger. The elbow pads and shoulder pads are made of much more powerful plastics that protect better, but punish more too.
The game is designed for more speed with forwards dumping in the puck, skating in unencumbered, and at the crucial moment, a defenceman has to show his back to the forward and his face to the glass and boards and retrieve the puck and then simply hope the blindside hit won't be too severe. James Wizniewski described this common hockey moment the day after Chara's hit as the moment a D-Man is 'thrown under the bus'. Hockey is singularly dangerous and unlike most other sports because the object of contact, the boards and glass, is not movable.
In a subtle way too, more damage is done to these players because more money is on the line, so there's a reluctance to recognize that time is needed off the ice for recovery. The players inclusion in the lineup could mean a playoff spot and the 8 million dollars of gate receipts it brings, so it is a hard decision for an organization, but it shouldn't be.
Only the Penguins know the truth on what they understood about what Sidney Crosby was suffering after his first head shot. All we know is a culture existed that had him continue to play. It is the second head shot a week later that leaves him dizzy months later.
It is the accumulation of head trauma that is the key. The inability to recover from the first blow while the swelling remains at the time of the second blow. It is that second shot that the brain in its swollen state contacts, more easily its outer shell, as the spinal fluid cannot provide the adequate buffer as effectively as it did before.
The long list of damaged runs from Ali to Probert and Lindross and beyond this year to Crosby. Everyone who has seen the second concussion will say that it didn't look that bad for Crosby. It wasn't that crushing a hit, but his brain disagrees with our eyes.
The NHL brass may look at that second hit and say that Crosby has a fragile head, but with the more powerful pads these players wear on top of more powerful builds, we will learn in the passage of time that Crosby's head is just like any other.
Maybe it would help to start calling these 'brain injuries' instead of 'head shots'. Both words we use regularly now speak to the action and not the result, and maybe even that subtle change over time will alter forward perception.
This brings us to Max Pacioretty who is making a remarkable recovery from being out cold for five minutes. His brain suffered severe trauma. The faction that wants all this to go away will smugly claim that this is a good example that the brain can take this and we are making too much of this. However, this is Pacioretty's first trauma. Watch what happens the next time his brain is traumatized.
Pacioretty is now on 'accumulation watch.' In fact, there should be an NHL registry that documents every head shot that a player suffers. If a player falls down and is dizzy, then that is it for the night for that player.
The NHL doesn't want that their players might leave the game on a little bit of dizziness. Remember Josh Gorges last season as he was clearly out on his feet and then back in the game in the third period. That can't happen. It doesn't matter that Josh wants back in. The league must protect Josh who will always want to be there for his mates.
Brain injuries are treated just like any other injury in sports, but there is a major difference. What you see is what you get when an arm breaks. What you see is just the start of a downward spiral when a brain is traumatized.
We are a decade removed from losing the game's best player at the time in league MVP Eric Lindros. We are on the cusp of losing this generation's star in Sidney Crosby who simply is not improving.
We have to ask how many have to be lost and how severe does the loss have to be before the league will stop pushing this problem down the road.
The GMs meet Monday. They have long since stopped playing the NHL game. It is time that they see the game has evolved and the dangers on the ice are much greater than when they were proud to say they would 'suck it up'.
It is a painful life when you are a 45 year old former athlete whose new definition of sucking it up is trying to get out of bed everyday, living with powerful headaches, trying to comprehend your short temper with your suffering wife, hiding your slurred speech, simply letting days pass more comfortably sitting in a dark room.
And that is if you are lucky. If you are not, add perhaps Parkinson's, chronic traumatic encephalopathy , Lou Gehrig's disease, early onset alzheimer's and other dementia.
I believe the NHL is fiercely more dangerous with each and every year passing. If you do too, then this is your time to care for Max Pacioretty to help ensure that the head shot, sorry, make that brain injury, that he received last Tuesday is his last.
The demands that you the fan can collectively make on the NHL are the impetus for real change.
I challenge you, who care, to take the torch from failing hands and be what they do not have the vision to be.