The NHL resumed contract talks on Tuesday with its Players Association after 2 1/2 months of the season have been cancelled. However, with college, junior and youth hockey still on the ice, safety issues around the sport have hit the headlines in the past week:
* The Toronto Globe and Mail reported on a study that was released Monday that suggested that rule changes should be enacted to reduce hockey head injuries.
Rules changes can significantly reduce injuries among minor hockey players, and lead to fewer penalty minutes for aggressive acts, according to a study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Toronto researchers found stricter bodychecking rules led to injury rates that were between three- and 12-times lower. “Interventions based on rule changes showed the greatest likelihood of making ice hockey safer for youth,” lead author Michael Cusimano, a neurologist at St. Michael’s Hospital, said in a release.
* The report came on the heels of a New York Times report on an earlier Canadian study that youth and minor-league hockey coaches are consistently defying doctor’s orders on dealing with concussions and demands for a cultural shift. The study, considered the most comprehensive for hockey yet, said that hockey has a concussion rate that is approaching football’s. It includes a disturbing anecdote about a player who was told to “skate it off” after receiver two high checks early in a game.
The study, which was published Friday in a series of articles in the journal Neurosurgical Focus, was conducted during the 2011-12 hockey season by researchers from the University of Western Ontario, the University of Montreal, Harvard and other institutions. “This culture is entrenched at all levels of hockey, from peewee to university,” said Dr. Paul S. Echlin, a concussion specialist and researcher in Burlington, Ontario, and the lead author of the study. “Concussion is a significant public health issue that requires a generational shift. As with smoking or seat belts, it doesn’t just happen overnight — it takes a massive effort and collective movement.”
* The Globe and Mail wrote about the same study, noting that concussions have been grossly under-reported in recent years in the sport.
The Hockey Concussion Education Project (HCEP), which included advanced magnetic resonance imaging and specialists at rinks watching players and looking for signs of concussions, found the concussion rate to be three times greater in male hockey players and 5.5 times greater in female players than what researchers had recorded prior to 2009-10. A total of 11 concussions were either physician observed or self-reported in 55 regular-season games last season, “yielding an incidence rate of 11.76 concussions per 1,000 athlete exposures for men and women across the regular season and playoffs.”
* The controversy isn’t just on the ice. The Globe and Mail’s Ron McGregor wrote that concussion is the elephant in the room at the NHL labor negotiations.
* Just last week, the Globe and Mail reported that Paul Henderson, who scored the winning goal in the famous 1972 Summit Series between Canada and Russia, suffered a concussion in Game 5 and probably was still feeling the effects during the deciding Game 8.
* The Bleacher Report recently offered five ways to make hockey safer without banning physical play. That included banning head checks,back-checking, fighting and no-touch icing.
* Minnesota Public Radio asked if hockey really was hockey if checking was banned or limited in youth or adult leagues.
* Meanwhile, the TheScore.com reported that the Shockbox, an experimental hockey helmet that has sensors tied to an tablet app, received a $350,000 investment during a Canadian reality show called “The Dragon’s Den.”
* In other health and safety news, KCNC-TV in Denver reported on the misconceptions of concussions for parents of athletes and Physical Therapy Products Online wrote about the importance of parents getting concussion screening before the season starts.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor