by Cate Racher, Staff Writer/Copy Editor, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Philip Danault (Photo by Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The 2017-’18 hockey season has been a tough one for head injuries for the Habs. Carey Price, Andrew Shaw, and Philip Danault have all suffered concussions and the effects of post-concussion syndrome at some point this year.

Price took a 90-mile-per-hour puck to the head courtesy of Shayne Gostisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers. Shaw received his concussion after he initiated a collision with Dallas Stars defenseman Greg Pateryn, and has been candid about struggling through a concussion during the 2016-’17 season as well. Below you can see the incident where Philip Danault received his concussion due to a slapshot from Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.

When people play sports, especially high-contact sports like hockey, there is always a risk of injury. In the NHL in particular, it can be difficult to finish out your career without having had concussion at least once. Brain injuries such as concussions, unlike broken bones or sprained ankles, are not as easily healed – there is no set way to recover and no set recovery time for players with head injuries like these.

I know, at least from my own, non-athletic experience, that it took three months of intensive concussion recovery therapy to get my vision fixed, my coordination back up to par, and make it so I wasn’t suffering migraines from seeing any light or hearing anything above a whisper. This is without any sort of challenging physical activity and following the doctors orders to a ‘T’ following a mild concussion. I cannot even imagine what the recovery is like for players who suffer multiple concussions throughout their relatively short hockey careers.

Injuries vary from player to player, so it’s incredibly hard to say exactly what effect brain traumas such as concussions have on each person in the long run, but the possibility of suffering both from physical and psychological damage due to repeated concussions is extremely high. Unfortunately, these numbers are severely underrepresented in the hockey world, but if they can be compared to the 96 per cent of deceased NFL players who suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or CTE) as a potential result of concussions, then one can venture a guess that the numbers are high.

The NHL is currently being sued by former players alleging that both the league and the teams did not do enough to protect players from suffering blows to the head, ultimately resulting in concussions and early symptoms of CTE. Most recently, former NHL player Daniel Carcillo joined the lawsuit against the league, not seeking money, but rather for the NHL to protect and educate their players on the dangers of repeated concussions.

The biggest and most notable advocate for concussion awareness in hockey is former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden, five time Vezina trophy winner and six time Stanley Cup winner during his time with the Habs in the 1970s. In the fall of 2017, Dryden published Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador and the Future of Hockey, a book that deals heavily with the problems of concussions and head injuries in hockey, mostly through the tragic story of Steve Montador.

Game Change by Ken Dryden (Photo by chapters.indigo.ca)

Montador, a former defenceman for the Calgary Flames among other NHL teams, died at just 35 years old from CTE, a fatal disease that can only be observed during autopsy and that is very closely tied to repeated concussions. Montador had been suffering from anxiety, depression, difficult focussing, and memory problems (among others) before his death. His family is now suing the NHL for failure to protect him and warn him of the long term effects of brain trauma, and Dryden uses this cautionary tale to explain why there needs to be a drastic change in – and soon.

“What was wrong with them? How didn’t they get it? Why were they so stupid?” — Ken Dryden

“I think that this is one of those big questions like cigarette smoking was 40 or 50 years ago that we look back on now and we wonder how we could have been so stupid,” Dryden said. “I think this is the one, in sports, that 40 or 50 years from now, people will look back at us and wonder ‘What was wrong with them? How didn’t they get it? Why were they so stupid?”

According to a study from the University of Calgary, bodychecking in hockey more than triples the risk of concussion and injury. This number does not include the risk of concussions due to slapshots or other hits on the ice. According to Dryden, head injuries used to be rare in the sport, but due to the changes in intensity and speed in the game, the risk of head injuries has increased exponentially; the NHL isn’t doing enough to protect their players, instead choosing to create a fog around the topic of concussions in hockey.

In a piece for theplayerstribune.com, Dryden mentions that the changes he believes should be made aren’t even big changes, but they are changes that would help players and contribute to the evolution of the game into something safer yet still entertaining for people to watch. He has called on the NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to penalize all hits to the head, not just ones that draw blood and regardless of how the injury was inflicted, both accidental and intentional.

“The changes,” Dryden writes,”are far from impossible. The game today is already moving beyond its past. And the changes necessary to make it less dangerous have never been easier to make. Hockey has become like football without the line play and if those you see were removed, there would be virtually no impact, or no impact at all, on the play and spirit of the game. The game would still be the game.”

It is an extremely important conversation that needs to be had, both within the NHL and with fans of the game. Concussions on their own are extremely serious, but in high-contact sports such as hockey, they not only have the power to end someone’s career, but as with the case of Steve Montador, they could also end a player’s life. And when you have players like Sidney Crosby who had a concussion that laid him up for almost a year for recovery, and players who are receiving multiple concussions in a year sometimes (you can find Andrew Shaw’s comments on the subject here), it’s a wonder that more players haven’t died already.