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  • Murphy’s Hockey Law: McQuaid sees increased concussion awareness and prevention

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    Murphy’s Hockey Law: McQuaid sees increased concussion awareness and prevention

    James Murphy December 14, 2015

    Thanks to five class action lawsuits filed against them since November 2013, the NHL is under a microscope when it comes to concussions. As a result, actions on the ice, such as head shots and fighting, which can lead to head injuries, are being scrutinized more than ever as witnessed in a recent column from Pierre Lebrun of ESPN.com and TSN.ca. In the column, LeBrun wonders why the NHL remains the only professional sports league that allows bare-knuckle fighting and suggests that even with fights on a rapid decline, why not accelerate the path to the extinction of the violent act in the NHL by handing the two combatants a game misconduct?

    Lebrun goes on to cite the hypocrisy of a league who does make efforts to reduce concussions and head trauma, creating a new concussion protocol in 2011 that added new elements and language to rule 48 (created after the 2010 Matt Cooke headshot on former Bruin Marc Savard), and the recently instituted “concussion spotters”.

    “I’ve said this before, but it just seems so hypocritical to have introduced Rule 48 (illegal hit to the head) in 2010 but still allow bare-knuckle punches,” LeBrun opined.

    The well-respected hockey scribe goes on to interview former NHLer Keith Primeau — who was forced to retire because of concussions – and discuss the progress and lack thereof by the league when it comes to concussion awareness and preventing head injuries. He and Primeau both cite the decrease in fighting and head injuries since the institution of Rule 48, but LeBrun once again concludes that fighting needs to go and sooner rather than later.

    After a recent Bruins practice, Bruins defenseman and NHLPA rep Adam McQuaid discussed Lebrun’s suggestion and the state of concussion awareness and prevention by the league and it’s players.

    “In some instances it may make guys think twice but I think it will just become one of those things where you’re not going to want to get kicked out of a game but if something happened on the ice that you felt warranted it, I still think guys won’t think twice about fighting,” McQuaid said regarding LeBrun’s suggestion to hand players game misconducts for fighting. “I think no matter what it’s an emotional sport, and if there’s that hit or people really get their blood boiling, I think it will still happen. You’re not going to get the staged fights or fights for the soul purpose of changing momentum, but those types are almost gone anyways.”

    McQuaid, like many NHLers, still believes fighting has a place in the game, and as many of his colleagues point out, he still feels that fighting can prevent other plays that lead to serious head trauma.

    “Fighting is low already, but I think anybody would say that it still has its place,” McQuaid said. “You’re not seeing guys anymore where they just go out and their job is to fight one another. But again, I think it’s important for the game and team unity to know that when something happens, we have each other’s backs and to respond. Hopefully that can help keep guys accountable at times.”

    McQuaid also pointed out how equipment, the speed of the game and illegal hits cause more concussions than fights.

    “I don’t know the stats off-hand, but I’d guess that the majority of concussions aren’t caused by fights but likely hits,” McQuaid pointed out. “Going into a fight there is, of course, the possibility you could get concussed or injured. That’s a real possibility. But I think it’s a lot higher probability you get one from hits and then if you take fighting out there’s the question as to whether there will be even more dangerous hits? Does it go hand and hand? I don’t know.”

    Another hot topic recently and one that LeBrun also cited has been whether the new concussion spotter process is being followed? Or are teams and players cutting corners at times to get the players back on the ice faster?

    In the first period of the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Panthers this past Saturday, Bruins forward Jimmy Hayes took an inadvertent Shawn Thornton elbow to the head and left the game. As part of the NHL concussion protocol, Hayes was checked by the team and NHL appointed spotter and then sent to the “Quiet Room” for further testing before being cleared to return to the game, which he did in the second period. But while everything seemed to go according to protocol in Boston that day, there have been other questionable incidents around the NHL that had the media asking team officials if the proper protocol is being followed?

    One example of this was the fight that was the genesis of LeBrun’s column, a recent fight between Montreal defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and Columbus forward Nick Foligno in a game December 1 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. In the second period, Beaulieu and Foligno dropped the gloves took a punch to the chin that caused his knees to buckle and the Canadiens blue liner to fall to the ice looking dazed. Beaulieu did not, as the protocol dictates, go directly to the spotter and quiet room if needed, but instead to the penalty box. He did not play again in the period but returned in the third period. Following the game, Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien found himself defending the team’s handling of the situation.

    “The doctors said he passed the [concussion] protocol between the second and third periods. Everything was fine,” Therrien said. “If he wasn’t feeling well, he wouldn’t have gone [to the penalty box]. He felt very good, and then we followed up.”

    Beaulieu has played every game since but many who cover the team, claim he didn’t “look right” for a few games afterward and some wondered if the team could’ve done a better job. One of the main accusations in the current concussion lawsuit by former players is that the league knowingly put players in harm’s way. That’s a pretty serious accusation and it’s no wonder Therrien got so defensive when that was intimated the Canadiens did just that with Beaulieu. These are surely sensitive times for all when it comes to concussions.

    McQuaid has no idea what happened in the past but during his career, he has never sensed his team or other teams have or would ever consider risking a player’s well being. He also made a very valid point that it is on the player just as much as the team to let it be known if he can continue to play after a potential head injury.

    “Yes I think so, well, at least, the Bruins are,” McQuaid answered when asked if he thinks the concussion protocol is followed. “Those protocols are in place for a reason and we’re all aware of that and we follow them. But again, it can’t always be on the team, part of it is on the player too and overall I think we’re all understanding that. You need to be honest with the spotter and trainers and doctors even with all the protocols in place. The teams aren’t going to force us out there or knowingly put us out there when we shouldn’t be. Everyone wants what’s best for the players.”

    In the past, if a player didn’t get right back on the ice and play regardless of the injury, he was looked down on. But now with the increased awareness and education on head trauma, that isn’t the case and players don’t have to be afraid that they may lose the respect of their teammates and peers.

    “I think it’s something where guys are supportive of each other because of the increased awareness of the short and long-term effects,” McQuaid said. “We all want what’s best for one another and in those situations, that’s what’s best, you gotta take care of yourself and take care of your brain. You can play through some other injuries, but brain injuries aren’t something you can play through. I don’t know exactly how things were in the past where maybe you see a guy and he looks fine physically because you don’t see him in a cast or a brace or limping, so maybe sometimes guys felt like ‘are guys looking at me differently if I don’t play because physically I look OK?’ So I think now, that mentality has changed.”

    Overall, McQuaid thinks the league and the NHLPA are on the right path when it comes to making the game safer, but he cautioned that too much drastic change could eliminate one the traits that makes the NHL the game we all love and know.

    “I get where it’s heading and eventually fighting will be gone but let’s not keep changing so fast and let’s not just blame fighting,” the rugged blue liner said.

    When it was suggested that shoulder and elbow pads be shrunk and softened in an effort to reduce head injuries, McQuaid agreed that was worth looking at. But once again he stressed that the league and the players are headed in the right direction.

    “We all want what’s best for our safety now and after we retire,” he said. “It’s a sensitive issue for sure and I think people are understanding more and more, the importance of taking that stuff seriously and being aware of the symptoms and potential long term effects. I think more and more players and teams are building awareness of how to handle potential concussions. We’re headed in the right direction.”

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