Concussion awareness and prevention in professional hockey was front and centre at the 2016 Hockey Conference at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Wednesday.
Several former players, coaches and managers are in town for the conference, including former NHL player and coach Ted Nolan. Nolan’s son Brandon suffered a concussion in 2007, just one day after his debut as an NHL player with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Nolan says it took his Brandon more than two years to recover from the injury, and says he’s still battling issues. Brandon missed the entire 2008-2009 NHL season and was eventually released from the professional team as a result of the injury.
“Concussions are not like hurting your elbow — your elbow gets better. Sometimes your head doesn’t get better, so taking head-shots out of our game and letting the players realize you know, when you hit someone in the head you’re altering their life,” Nolan said.
Nolan says there’s been a tremendous shift in the level of awareness of concussions, but he says there’s still work to be done to make sports safer for everyone involved.
For UNB assistant professor of kinesiology and conference chair Dr. Jonathan Edwards, the sessions aim to explore the impact of rule changes and concussion education on athlete safety.
“Whether we talk about Sidney Crosby when he had his concussion and sat out for so long, or the deaths of hockey players or the law suits, it’s definitely a hot button issue.”
Former NHL coach Mike Johnson says he likes what changes the leagues are making, and says discussions and sessions like these are important for raising awareness about the seriousness of concussions at every level of the sport.
“At the junior level, where I was before I went to Pittsburgh and Portland and now back at the junior level, in the Western Hockey League we’ve implemented a seven-step plan to deal with concussions as coaches and as management,” Johnson said.
He says whenever a player has been hit or fallen down on the ice, it’s taken very seriously and the players are removed from the game and assessed.
The Hockey Conference takes place every two years in different cities and covers a wide variety of topics, from sociology and psychology to history and sport management.