As I sit catching up with the 24/7 coverage before the Calgary Flames game against the Vancouver Canucks, I find myself thanking the hockey gods of the Flames’ fortune. Watching the Philadelphia Flyers struggle with the loss of Chris Pronger and then Claude Giroux to concussions. While Giroux has returned to play, Pronger was shut down for the rest of the season. While the Flyers are not the only team to be affected by such a misfortune, they have managed to take center stage right now thanks to the HBO special.
The Flames have managed to avoid such a problem so far with their scratches being not concussion caused. I’ve hemmed and hawed over how to introduce this topic to a Flames based blog, but seeing as I do not wish a concussion on the team so I can address this issue, but I do think this is something that does affect the Flames. It affects how they play, both as someone delivering the hits and taking the hit.
After what will go down as the worst summer in NHL history, it’s hard not to think about the effects the sport has on the brain. Hits have always and will always happen in hockey, but it’s forcing everyone to rethink exactly how the future of hockey will be played out. There is no ignoring this growing issue any more. As we look back on this summer, it is important to remember that not all concussions are suffered by those in the enforcer role. While the losses of Wade Belak, Rick Rypien, and Derek Boogaard are certainly tragic, in light of Rene Bourque‘s hit on Brent Seabrook I think it’s important to look at those who aren’t in an enforcement role. Bourque’s hit:
For this, in the Shanaban era, Bourque received a 2 game suspension and Seabrook left the game with upper body injuries. According to Yahoo! Sports, Seabrook informed the media:
I got hit and heard (Bourque) say right away that he was sorry. … I couldn’t get up, so I put my head down, and everybody seemed to think that I was knocked out.
While Seabrook walked away with only some bumps and bruises, he hasn’t always been so lucky in the past, having already suffered from three concussions. Seabrook is not the only one out there with concussions in their past. So many players have played through concussions and concussion-like symptoms, and many lost careers because of concussions.
I want to take this opportunity to look at concussions, not from the oft talked about angle of this summer’s loss but from those who have been side lined too early. Players who seemed like the had targets on their heads, game after game was a risk for them. Three players that stand out in my mind for early retirement due to concussions would be Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya, and Pat LaFontaine. Thankfully these men stepped off the ice before their health issues caught up to them while still on the ice. However, that’s not to say they are in the clear now. But enough blabbering, let’s get to the heart of this.
Most notable for two things, his Japanese decent and head trauma, Paul Kariya is the most recent of these three players to retire earlier than planned because of concussion complications. Unlike Lindros who had a series of misfortunes, it’s somewhat obvious to see where his career hit a turning point, on February 1, 1998 when Gary Suter blindsided Kariya:
Really, from then on, Kariya is not the same player: hesitation plagued his once fearless style, later concussions added to the already struggling super star until finally, after sitting out the 2010-2011, he retired because of difficulties with post-concussion symptoms.
Side bar– Paul Kariya had a cameo in D3: The Mighty Ducks
In 1983, the NHL was set a fire by the young talent of the Islanders’s center, Pat LaFontaine. His talents came long before I was around, and for seven years, LaFontaine managed to skate, swoop, and score for the New York Islanders at the end of their meteoric rise. 1990 was the first of his concussion issues, while playing against the New York Rangers. The unconscious LaFontaine was whisked away in an ambulance that was delayed in its whisking abilities, as Rangers’ fans tried to over turn the ambulance. But the career ending hit was in the 1996-1997 season when LaFontaine was hit by François Leroux in the head.
Through sheer determination, and against doctors’ wishes, managed to get himself traded to the team with the ambulance flipping fans. Colliding with a teammate, LaFontaine suffered a final concussion that lead to his retirement.
I’ll be the first to admit, I had such a school girl crush on Lindros when he played. From the Philadelphia Flyers, to the New York Rangers, with a brief stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a final stop with the Dallas Stars, the dashing center from London, Ontario certainly always drew attention. Drafted first by the Quebec Nordiques in 1991, Lindros had already made a name for himself in hockey with his skill and size, the recognition only grew from there. Since I’ve already spoiled the point of this post, there’s no shock where this goes.
In March 1998, Pittsburgh Penguin Darius Kasparaitis knocked him out for 18 games. In December 1998 he received his second concussion and only sat out for two games, a third concussion occurred in January of 2000 where he once again missed only four games, and just a few weeks later in March 2000 Lindros received his fourth concussion. That on went undiagnosed for 4 games and eventually shut him down for the rest of the season, however while working his way back to playing form, Lindros was hit in the head during a non-contact scrimmage in the AHL which resulted in a 5th concussion. Retuning just days later to the NHL, Lindros suffers another concussion in Game Six of the Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils.
After that concussion, we all pretty much know the story. He sat for the 2000-2001 season due to contract disputes with Bob Clarke, was traded to the New York Rangers where he racked up a few more concussions, as an UFA post lock out, Lindros chose to head to Toronto where he played only 33 games because of a wrist injury, and finished up his career in Dallas.
The man had started his NHL career with 70+ points per season, one managing 115 points and was reduced to a fraction of his former skills by the time he ended up with the Rangers. Lindros wasn’t a fighter, he didn’t enforce, but he manage to become one of the most banged up players of the modern NHL.
As I look at all of these players, clicking through to other players, one thing routinely stands out: how little players sat as they recovered from concussions. Taking a look now, with guys like Sidney Crosby, Marcus Kruger, Evander Kane, Chris Pronger, and so many other, their season have been put on hold. It is no longer, sit for a few games and then come back full force. No, they are given so much time. Players have entire seasons shut down for safety reasons, Pronger joins Marc Savard as some of those unlucky few who don’t get to have a 2011-2012 season. But looking at the long term, seeing exactly what long term, repeated concussions can do to a brain, make these precautions well worth the loss on the ice. Extra attention has been given to those with concussions or those at high risk, sadly it take summers like this past one or the loss of Bob Probert to really bring attention to the danger our players face.
The clips show in this article are clearly all cheap shots, but even the most clean of hits can result in a concussion. Therefore, I think it is of the utmost importance, not only to work on changing the way players protect their heads and hit, but also change the way they take a hit. To be proactive and not accept the fate of having their head slam into the boards or glass. The Flames struggle enough already with consistently icing a team, let’s not add concussions to this list of complications.
Go Flames Go!
And now for something completely different: