Monday, 22 December 2008

Is This The End Of Bergeron?

I have spoken a little on the subject of concussions on this site before. Players such as Eric Lindros, Brett Lindros, Pat LaFontaine, and Keith Primeau have had their careers ended early by concussions, and this is something that the NHL needs to look into before we lose someone's life due to a concussion-related injury from a hit to the head. Patrice Bergeron, as seen to the upper left, missed the majority of last season with a concussion after Flyers' defenceman Randy Jones crushed Bergeron into the end boards in the centerman's 10th game last season. The end result was a major concussion, and it led to him sitting out the entire season.

Thankfully, Bergeron was given the green light to begin practicing and playing near the playoffs last season, but he was held out of the playoffs as a safety precaution until this season. It appeared that Bergeron was on a road to complete recovery as he appeared in 30 of 31 games this season, posting four goals and 18 points. That is, however, until Saturday afternoon when Bergeron collided with Carolina defenceman Dennis Seidenberg in the second period. He attempted to knock the defenceman off the puck with a bodycheck, but his head collided with Seidenberg's shoulder.

Boston head coach Claude Julien told the Associated Press that "Bergeron was alert" when he spoke to him after the game. "The doctors have been looking at it," Julien said to the AP. "They haven't given us any indication as far as the severity of it. Obviously, he went down a little dazed. We're not able to give you a verdict. That's all I can tell you about that situation."

Bergeron suffered a Grade 3 concussion on the Jones hit last season, and it appears that this head injury will be minor at the worst. But a brain injury, such as a concussion, can be entirely different that a head injury. General Manager Peter Chiarelli knew Bergeron was concussed at the time of the hit.

"Yeah, you could see what it is the way his head snapped back, so that’s what it is," Chiarelli said to the Boston Herald. "We don’t know how bad."

The fact that this would be the second concussion in 14 months for the 23-year-old has ominous overtones when it comes to Bergeron's age and career. At the time of his retirement from the game, Keith Primeau was 34. He couldn't even skate in practice without getting headaches and blurred vision, and Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin told him that he would never clear him to play in the NHL again in October 2006 after they exhausted every option for Primeau to return.

Primeau had experienced problems with balance and vision earlier on in 2006, and it eventually led to his untimely retirement when he was in the prime of his career. "I think a career of concussions has a cumulative effect," Primeau said to ESPN in 2006.

In testing for concussions and symptoms of concussions, Peter Keating of ESPN found that the National Academy of Neuropsychology's Sports Concussion Symposium discovered that 759 players since 1997 have suffered concussions. That's approximately 31 concussions for every 1000 games played, or approximately three concussions per 82 games.

What I found interesting is that "[t]he NHL has been conducting baseline tests of players since the 1997-98 season. After a player is injured, doctors or trainers administer additional rounds of memory and motor-skill tests; they can then compare his performance to his baseline scores to help determine when he can return to the ice". In essence, these doctors have a final say on whether or not a player is fit enough to return to the game based upon medical data.

The study found that "players often take blows to the head that exceed 100 times the force of gravity", something that is only increasing due to the high speed and aggressive nature of the game. According to studies, NHL players have missed an average of 639 games per season due to concussion-like symptoms - a scary number.

What does this mean? No one is certain yet. The league cannot positive say "what kinds of hits NHL players are most susceptible to — whether most concussions are caused by, say, blows to the back of the head". They do know, however, that multiple concussions require longer recovery times, especially in the cases of severe head trauma.

The latter would apply to Patrice Bergeron. He has now had a major concussion and another minor concussion in the span of just over one year - brain trauma that requires a lot of rest and observation. I'm not a doctor so my advice is meaningless, but I would hope that Bergeron doesn't rush back. He needs to be symptom- and problem-free in order to continue his career. More importantly, he needs to be problem-free simply to maintain his quality of life.

I'm quite certain that if Bergeron needs any support, both Keith Primeau and Pat Lafontaine can tell him how important it is for him to be healthy rather than being back on the ice.

Godspeed, Mr. Bergeron. But don't rush back under any circumstance.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

starodayear said...

This story is so timely it is unbelieveable with the passing of the Whitby player, Mr. Sanderson. It also pertains to minor hockey. We have just finished a tournament in St. Catherine's, Ontario - the Vic Teal. The refereeing was appalling as they allowed head shot after head shot go. It appeared that they were more concerned of ensuring that the games started and ended on time than the actual safety of the players. Some of them were even verbally abusive with the kids when thay complained about the unnecessarily rough play. It was a great tournament to teach smaller players that hockey isn't for them. Our team, 1 minor concussion and 2 injured necks. Too bad that this tournament reflects so poorly on an otherwise pleasant community. We won't be returning or advocating the Vic Teal to anyone, ever. Meanwhile, what is Hockey Canada and the Ontario Hockey Association doing about it? Probably nothing!