Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Difference Between Tough And Stupid

The last time we saw Mats Zuccarello in full uniform for the New York Rangers, he looked like this. That was in Game Five against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs after taking a Ryan McDonagh slapshot to the helmet. He skated off slowly and looked dazed on the bench before he held his head in his hand as he's doing in the image above. While the Rangers issued the blanket "upper-body injury" statement, I thought that Zuccarello may have suffered a significant concussion.

Boy, was I wrong. Way wrong.

As written by Justin Tasch of the Daily News, Zuccarello said to reporters yesterday,
"I don't know what you guys know, but there was a small fracture in my head. I lost my talking and some feeling in my arm and stuff. I was in the hospital for three days," Zuccarello said. "I couldn't talk for a while. I had a contusion, some blood in my brain. That affects a lot. I went to speech therapy. I'm getting much better. I couldn't say a word for four days... I feel much better and I'm getting better and better."
Holy cow. That's some scary stuff right there.

I have a feeling that while Zuccarello is optimistic to be at training camp in four months, there might be some apprehension from the New York Rangers and the NHL with respect to the concussion lawsuits in which they are currently involved. The last time a player had a head fracture and a brain contusion from an on-ice incident was Bill Masterton. His passing was a tragedy in the hockey world and I'm quite certain that no one wants to see anything like that again, so Zuccarello stating that he "should be ready to go" for next season should raise a few eyebrows.

While it's technically not a stroke, the symptoms are fairly similar - loss of feeling in his arm, the inability to talk - to those that have suffered from a stroke. While brain trauma is different from a stroke entirely medically, simple concussion protocol doesn't begin to scratch the surface of a brain contusion that causes loss of sensation and the ability to communicate. We've seen players take extensive time off to allow their brains to recover before even setting foot on the ice in skates once more, yet Zuccarello is talking like he is recovering from arthroscopic surgery.

Anyone see a problem here?

Look, I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure that a significant brain injury should be treated as a life-threatening injury when playing a violent game like hockey. There have been studies that have shown that recurring brain injuries not only get worse, but exponentially take longer time periods from which to recover. Suffering a serious brain injury as Zuccarello did would be one of those injuries where significant recovery time should not only be encouraged but enforced before allowing his to resume his hockey career. He may not have concussion symptoms showing, but that brain injury needs time to heal properly and completely. Denying it that time means the next injury will most likely be worse.

Thanks to media coverage, there has been much coverage on those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and how their quality of life has deteriorated significantly with each following brain injury. Mats Zuccarello, as far as I can tell, is a good hockey player, a pretty darn good person, and a young guy. I don't know his IQ, but I'm going to assume he's a fairly smart individual as well. In saying that, he should be talking about letting his brain heal fully and completely rather than returning for training camp. Rushing back will only have dire consequences in the future for this likable young man.

I'd use the phrase "use your head" in Mats case, but that's exactly how we got to this point in the conversation, and there's no need to pile on any further. Get healthy, Mats, fully and completely. That's all that matters.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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