NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NHL keeps concussion experts busy

Three added to growing list; better diagnoses create 'epidemic'

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The NHL's concussion list keeps getting longer.

Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen of the Carolina Hurricanes, along with Milan Michalek of the Ottawa Senators are the latest players to go down with the injury.

Skinner leads the Hurricanes in scoring, while Pitkanen is the team's top-scoring defenceman.

The Hurricanes confirmed Wednesday that both players suffered concussions and are out indefinitely.

Michalek, who leads the league with 19 goals, suffered his concussion in Monday's 3-2 overtime win at Buffalo. Michalek collided with teammate Erik Karlsson late in the second period.

Take a whirl around the league -- especially among the Eastern Conference contenders -- and you'll see key cogs missing time because of concussions. Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, Philadelphia's top scorer Claude Giroux and defenceman Chris Pronger, Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, Los Angeles centre Mike Richards, Boston centre Marc Savard and Rangers defenceman Marc Staal have all missed chunks of time, if not the entire season, as they deal with the lingering effects of blows to the head.

"It seems like someone is going down every single night now," retired NHL standout Jeremy Roenick said. "It's frustrating to watch. You don't like having your top guys out."

The NHL has acted, taking steps with new policies and harsher punitive enforcement that was aimed at curtailing some of the violent hits that left fine-tuned players complaining of dizzy spells. Quiet rooms and ImPACT tests have joined hat tricks and power plays among the league's vernacular.

But despite all the hand-wringing over the head being used for target practice by some NHL players, the blows that knocked out Crosby and Giroux were mostly accidental.

Crosby's return from a 10-month layoff was short-lived after he complained of a headache following a game last week. Against Boston, Crosby collided with teammate Chris Kunitz and absorbed an elbow from Bruins forward David Krejci, which caused his symptoms to resurface.

"It tends to seem like it's an epidemic when we're just better at recognizing them," said Mark Lovell, the founding director of the UPMC Sports Medicine concussion program and CEO of ImPACT, a system designed to diagnose concussions.

Gone (mostly) are the days when players are told to "shake it off" and get back on the ice after they're knocked senseless. Today's players aren't soft, they're smart and safe.

The number of players who have missed at least one game a season due to a concussion or concussion-like symptoms has been sliced by more than half since the 1999-2000 season.

In that regular season and post-season, 94 players missed time because of the injury, according to STATS LLC. By the 2009-10 season, the number dipped to 33 players. It spiked to 52 a year ago and stood at 32 this season, through Tuesday's games.

The concussion is the toughest, most complicated injury, to diagnose. Safer equipment, visors and a greater respect for the opponent could all lessen the chances of concussion.

Not all players want to err on the side of caution. Washington Capitals centre Brooks Laich railed against the NHL's increased safe-than-sorry stance on concussions in October.

"I'm sick of hearing all this talk about concussions and the quiet room," Laich said. "This is what we love to do, guys love to play, they love to compete, they want to be on the ice. How do you take that away from somebody?

"We accept that there's going to be dangers when we play this game and you know that every night you get dressed. Sometimes it feels like we're being babysat a little too much. We're grown men, we should have a little say in what we want to do."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2011 C8

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