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Concussions Rise in NHL

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Hockey is a great sport, loved by many, but along with that comes many unfortunate injuries.

Injuries are a part of any sport, but in recent seasons, it seems that concussions are happening more frequently in the NHL than in years past.

The issue came to a forefront last summer when three NHL players died, Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard. All were thought to have suffered from depression and concussions.

In hockey, a concussion can happen from anything ranging from a dirty headshot to a clean body check to being hit in the head with the puck.

So why does it seem concussions are happening more now than before?

“Players are getting bigger, they’re getting stronger, they’re getting faster,” said Kevin Kacer, head athletic trainer for the Chicago Wolves, an AHL team.  “When I first started with the Wolves, guys were a lot smaller, now guys are a lot bigger, stronger and faster and injuries are going to happen.

“Also, the focus is on concussions, concussions, concussions,” Kacer said.  “Concussions have always been apart of the game. Now, in modern times we know more of the symptoms of concussions and players are much more aware of the symptoms and they’re more concerned about their general welfare. Guys are a lot more honest.”

So what exactly is a concussion?

WebMD defines a concussion as a traumatic brain injury that is caused by falling, a blow to the head or body or a shaking of the brain inside the skull.

“You think of your brain as being an egg yolk within an eggshell,” Kacer said. “Your brain is that yolk and the shell is your skull.  And if you shake that around a lot that brain kind of jiggles within that skull.”

That jiggling disrupts the neuro-connections in the brain, causing a concussion, he said.

With concussions becoming a hot topic in the NHL, the league has been taking action to try to put an end to the blind side, illegal hits and headshots that can lead to these injuries.

They have been coming down harder on players, punishing them by suspending them for longer periods of time and fining them large amounts of money.

These types of punishments being handed out will make changes, but not overnight.

“I think we’re seeing a lot more concussions because people know more about them,” said Chicago Blackhawks fan, Caitlin Cooney. “It also seems like some players don’t have respect for their opponent.  I have seen a lot of hits where a player is facing the boards and a guy will come charging and ram his face and body into the glass.  It’s dangerous and there has to be more caution and respect, it’s a game.”

Even with these new rules, any player can eventually suffer a concussion while playing, getting them from fighting, clean or illegal hits to the body or head, falling on the ice or just getting hit in the head with a stick or puck.

There are plenty of players in Chicago who have been out with concussions in the past few seasons.

This current season the Chicago Wolves currently have three players out with a concussion and while the Chicago Blackhawks do no have anyone out at this moment, they have had players sit out with a concussion earlier this season and during the last two seasons.

In the 2009-10 NHL season, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews sat out 16 games with a concussion.  He was delivered what is considered a good, clean hockey hit, but was still injured on the play.

Dave Bolland was hit with an elbow to the head in 2011 against Tampa Bay and was out for more than a month with a serious concussion.

This season in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, rookie Marcus Kruger received a vicious charging hit and suffered a concussion and missed several games.

But Chicago hockey players are not the only ones who have been bitten by the concussion bug.

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the face of the NHL, has missed more than a year with a concussion and post-concussion symptoms.  His struggles have been well-documented and there is still no timetable for his return. His serious concussion issues seemed to have thrown the talk of head injuries more into the spotlight.

The inevitable truth is that no matter if the dirty hits stop and fighting is taken out, concussions will still occur.  Hockey is a collision sport, and accidents are bound to happen, and not just in hockey but in any sport.

“What makes hockey so fun are the big hits and fights, you take that out of the game, it’s not hockey,” said Cooney.  “Hopefully the NHL can get a control on concussions and keep hockey the way it is.”

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.