Former NHL goaltender Ken Dryden wrote a book about a hockey player he never met because he wanted to know how the recently retired 35-year-old had died.
Longtime NHL defenceman Steve Montador was plagued by concussions throughout his hockey career and diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy after his death in 2015.
“25 years from now people will be looking back on us, on the big things that we got wrong… I think in sports it’s head injuries,” Dryden said.
“The only way that we can really appreciate what a head injury means… it’s really the life affect, what is life like when somebody suffers a significant head injury.”
In his book, Game Change, Dryden explains how Montador had significant memory problems, anxiety, anger, depression and difficulty trying to make sense of things.
“It’s a life that changes you and it’s a pretty lousy life.”
“The danger with hockey is that the players move fast and they move much faster than they do on a field, there are many more collisions than there used to be in hockey and more forceful ones because players are moving faster,” Dryden said.
When asked what NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman should do, Dryden is firm, “no head hits, no excuses.”
“To get to the point where we say that a hit to the head is illegal, no excuses, no explanations of whether the head was down a little bit, up a little bit, targeted, no, it becomes a penalty.”
Dryden notes that the NHL has put automatic rules in place and teams adapt, the game goes on.
“One of the things the NHL has done this year and is taking great pride in is reducing the number of slashing penalties,” Dryden said.
“This is slashing penalties, this is stuff that isn’t even necessarily a hit to the body, it often is to the hands, but sometimes it’s even to the stick and you get a slashing penalty… this is much, much less significant and you can do exactly the same thing with a huge effect and players and coaches adapt.”
Dryden believes players and coaches can adapt again to new changes around hits to the head.
“Especially now when you watch the Jets and other teams the way they play… the pace at which they’re moving, the kinds of contact that automatically happens, it is a more and more and more exciting game that needs any of this less.”
Dryden points out that players, coaches and parents also play a role and need to intervene.
“That hit to the head may well have consequences and you have to treat it as if it may have consequences.”
“A kid and a player at any level is going to want to play and that kid is going to say they’re ok, and they’re going to back out on the ice and the coach and the player has to trust themselves and say that kid doesn’t look right… and even though I don’t have a doctor beside me… I know him, that the kid isn’t right,” Dryden said.