In 2002 the Canadian Hockey Association introduced a No Head Check Rule following a similar rule in USA Hockey and in the International Ice Hockey Federation. Thus, in amateur hockey, there is no such thing as a “clean” head check (such as a shoulder to the head). Hopefully, the NHL will follow suit.
Catastrophic injuries, injuries leaving a player with a permanent physical or mental deficit, is our Fund’s Mission. Preventing such injuries over the past 42 years has been organized under four headings: rules, equipment, facilities and AAR (attitude, awareness, and respect).
In 1959, son Bill, suffered a grade 3 concussion when his unhelmeted head struck the ice. The need for hockey helmets surfaced. Five hockey head injury deaths are recalled at that time. The CHA demanded all minor hockey players wear helmets (1965) and a CSA hockey helmet standard was in print in 1973. This rule prevented head injury deaths.
In the early 1970’s blinding hockey eye injuries became a concern, 43 blind eyes in the 1974 hockey season. Protective eye and face protectors were the answer. To this date (1972-2002), 311 blind eyes in Canadian hockey have been recorded, 8 of these to players wearing certified visors but not one to a players wearing a certified full-face protector. Equipment is the answer in this case.
In the 1980’s and late 1970’s spinal cord injuries surfaced.
Broken Necks (cervical cord injuries) resulted in “life in a wheelchair.” Over the years 1966 to 1996, 62 Canadian hockey players are now in wheelchairs. Preventive measures, including rule changes and education, attitude, awareness and respect, is working. In the 1980’s 4 wheelchair players appeared annually, in the 1990’s down to 2 and now in this new century, it has dropped to one.
The present hockey injury prevention challenge is concussions. Accordingly, our Fund, May 31, 1998, sponsored a Concussion Discussion Meeting in Banting Hall, Toronto General Hospital. Speakers, included neurosurgeons, a neuropsychologist, hockey trainers, referees, hockey executives and the media, with the purpose of establishing a plan of prevention (our Fund Mission). Concussion brochures, at the Funds’ expense, and in conjunction with the CHA, were sent to every registered hockey player from coast to coast. Every registered CHA coach received a plastic, shirt-pocket sized, concussion card.
Are concussions occurring more frequently or, because of the number of professional players reported, are they more newsworthy? We favour the former.
C.H.L. injury statistician, Pat Clayton, in Calgary, discussing injuries to1325 junior players, reported 56 concussions in 1999. In the years up to 1996, concussions averaged 4% of reported injuries. The percentage increased annually to 8%, 8.4%, 14%, 17 and 16.5% in 2001.
Dr. George Nagobads, USA Hockey, reports that one NHL team in the 2000-01 hockey season recorded 6 concussions, all head checks, proving the need for a No Head Check rule.
Many amateur players, including women, spoke at our Concussion Discussion meeting, describing their concussion as the reason for stopping to play, but very little is published of these amateur player concussions.
Concussion suffering professionals on the other hand, are featured in the media, Paul Kariya, Pat Lafontaine, Nick Kypreos, Geoff Courtnall, Eric and Brent Lindros, Alyn McCaulay, Brian Bradley, Dennis Vaska and others have either been sidelined for long periods or have retired.
In the past, injury prevention in hockey was first introduced in the amateur game and, when proven beneficial, was adopted by the NHL.
Rule changes: no high sticking, no hitting from behind; equipment: helmets, visors; facilities, larger ice areas; and coaching teaching: safe play, proper attitude, awareness of catastrophic injuries and respect for self, opponent, officials are examples.
We do seem to be making progress: in Canada the OHA introduced a Head Checking Penalty in 2000, in 2002 there was a No Head Checking Rule in USA Hockey, the I.I.H.F. and The Canadian Hockey Association.