Sunday, March 20, 2011

NHL Focuses on Concussions and What to Do About Matt Cooke

Some of the biggest names in the game, including the Capitals’ own Mike Green, have fallen victim to the debilitating effects of concussions this season, forcing the NHL to take a hard look at ways to prevent player concussions resulting from dangerous hits to the head.

The good news for Mike Green is that he getting much closer to returning to the ice and Caps fans could possibly welcome him back this week. Green took a puck to the face in a game against the Penguins in early February and then was hit in the head by Rangers rookie Derek Stepan just a few weeks later. The scary thing about concussions is that there is no projected “timetable for recovery” and many concussed players are sidelined for months while dealing with symptoms such as headaches, light sensitivity, dizziness and even depression. Boston’s Marc Savard’s season was cut short due to recurrent concussion symptoms after being the recipient of head contact during consecutive games. Meanwhile, Sidney Crosby – one of the league’s poster boys alongside Alex Ovechkin – just started to skate for the first time last week since he suffered a major concussion back in January.

In light of the rash of concussed players thus far this season, league General Managers made the issue of head hits/concussion prevention one of their hot topics during their recent meetings in Florida. The GMs have already taken a stance in banning blindside hits to the head. The most recent debate failed to result in a ban on all head shots but will take a closer look at hits to the head as a result of boarding or charging.

And as hockey players are some of the most competitive athletes you’ll ever see, most are understandably hesitant to take themselves out of a big game after they’ve received a blow to the noggin. Thus the NHL implemented a stricter concussion protocol that went into effect last week in which a player suspected of having a concussion will have to be removed from the bench and examined by a physician (versus the team trainer as was previously the case) in a quiet place. Another possible solution to cutting down on the number of concussions would be to enforce stricter punishment to players guilty of targeting opponent’s heads – especially in the case of repeat offenders.

For fans, the speed and physicality the game are part of what makes hockey so captivating. So let’s hope that the league is heading in the right direction as far as protecting the players of this phenomenal game that moves at the speed of light! Unlike sprained ankles, tweaked groins, or broken bones, concussions are preventable injuries that can unfortunately, have lifelong negative health effects and can prematurely end a player’s career.

And while we're on the topic of head shots, one of the league's dirtiest players (why Matt Cooke, of course) displayed his dirty work on national television as he took a deliberate elbow to the head of the Ranger's Ryan McDonaugh:

In HM's opinion, suspending this repeat offender for anything less than the remainder of the season (throw in a few playoff games for good measure) would be an absolute joke.

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