Impact to Aftermath

The science of traumatic brain injury

NHL Playoffs Should Be About Skill, Not Cheap Shots That Can Cause Brain Injury

Fighting in hockey and brain injury once again hot topics as playoffs move on

The NHL playoffs are underway.

Here in Philadelphia, all the news is about the Flyers playing the Penguins. But even though the Flyers are up in the series, the news isn't all good.

There's been some cheap shots, some involving the head, and it's getting a lot of attenton including this article by local sports writer Sam Donnellon.

There has been a lot of controversy about hits to the head.

Some interesting facts:

  • In 1968, Bill Masterton died from an on-ice brain injury during an NHL game.
  • Helmets didn't become mandatory until 1979, and this rule only applied to new players who started their NHL careers after the rule was enacted.
  • The last player to play without a helmet retired in 1997.

At the time, I am sure that many people were grumbling about how this would change the game for the worse. Now, no one would even think to play without a helmet. This just goes to show that rules designed to increase safety in sports don't necessarily make the sport less popular. Hockey is still a popular, exciting, fast-moving and hard-hitting game. I have found playoff hockey is the most exciting sporting event to see live.

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However, I think that rules that minimize hits to the head and the specific targeting of the head need to be in place. More severe penalties on fighting (as seen in European and Olympic hockey) may also help decrease the number of head injuries.

We are much more aware of the dangers of concussions, and personally, I want to see star players have long careers uninterrupted by recovery from brain injuries. I also think that we need to ensure that there are even more stringent rules for youth hockey players. There have been some very important studies that identify the advantages to holding off on checking until an older age in youth hockey as a way to minimize injuries early on. Also, since the goal for most young athletes should be participation and not a college scholarship or NHL career, the emphasis should be on safety, both to prevent injuries and by taking a very conservative approach to return to play after a concussion.

To me, you can play hard, yet safely.

What are your thoughts on fighting in hockey?

 

 

Thomas Watanabe, M.D., is the Clinical Director of Drucker Brain Injury Center at MossRehab and cares for persons with brain injuries ranging from mild concussions to very severe traumas.

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