Havlat's early return 'shocking': concussion specialist
Chicago's leading scorer back in lineup 2 days after he was knocked out
Martin Havlat was out cold for more than a minute with a vacant stare on his face.
Detroit's Niklas Kronwall had just crushed the Chicago Blackhawks' leading scorer, and once he regained consciousness, Havlat needed the help of a teammate and trainer to get up and off the ice. He didn't return.
But two days later, the 28-year-old was in the lineup for Game 4 of the Western Conference Final.
"I was shocked," concussion specialist Michael Czarnota told CBCSports.ca.
Czarnota, the neuropsychology consultant for the Canadian Hockey League, wasn't attending the game and is not treating Havlat. But alarm bells went off when he saw No. 24 return in time for Sunday's game.
"It's the NHL, it's the playoffs, so guys are willing to do a little bit more.… But it sure seemed that two days later was sort of pushing things."
Chicago's leading scorer in the regular season (77 points) and during the playoffs (15), Havlat was picking up a breakout pass off the boards when Kronwall ran him over. The Red Wings defender got a major and game misconduct for the hit.
Havlat's health the priority: coach
It looked like Havlat was unconscious before he hit the ice, because he did nothing to brace the fall.
Chicago's head coach Joel Quenneville had said Havlat's health was the No. 1 priority and that he'd be re-evaluated on Saturday before Sunday's Game 4.
"Our medical staff is pretty in tune to his health. His health's going to be the first criteria before he's even going to be considered to be playing," Quenneville said. "If he's ready to play and he passes all tests, he'll play."
Czarnota said he assumes doctors did everything to ensure Havlat returned only when it was safe to do so. This would usually involve biking or skating to ensure post-concussion symptoms like headaches don't return.
"But to do all that in a single day is really compressing that whole return-to-play process," he said.
Ideally a player would go through a practice and take some hits to ensure symptoms, including debilitating headaches and irritability, don't come back, he added.
Hit No. 2
Three-and-a-half minutes into the second period of Game 4, Brad Stuart laid a hit on Havlat in front of Chicago's bench, and he didn't return to the ice.
"It could have been an unrelated injury, but I think it's also just as possible that that caused his symptoms to come back, or the staff made some kind of decision — if he was involved in another big hit, we're not going to take a chance," Czarnota said.
Quenneville dismissed suggestions that one of his star forwards returned too early.
"Marty was fine," the coach said. "He was ready to go. He was flying out there and had a good start to the game, I think he really progressed the last two days.
"We did what we could and he did what he had to do. We'll see how he is going into Wednesday."
But if Havlat plays on Wednesday, Czarnota said, he'll be just as surprised as he was to see him suit up in Game 4.
Hockey has the highest rate of concussion of any sport, and it's not an injury one should "play through," he added.
"Players will say 'I've got all summer to heal.' There is no surgery for concussion symptoms, so you don't have that luxury of sacrificing today and paying the price next month."
Of course many players have played through concussions. Eric Lindros and Mike Richter are among the NHLers who were plagued by concussions throughout their careers, and Richter ultimately retired on a doctor's recommendation in 2003.
Czarnota said he hopes that after the playoffs, the NHL, Havlat and the Blackhawks talk publicly about the symptoms Havlat was or wasn't having, that they make their decision transparent, so everyone understands why he was able to return to the ice so quickly.
"These young kids are going to see Martin Havlat just completely out of it for almost two minutes. Two days later he shows up: 'What a warrior, holy cow, you can't keep him down, he's such an important player on this team.'
"A 14-year-old kid, you're going to say, 'You're different because you're 14, you can't go back and play.' They're not going to listen to that," Czarnota said.
"It's just really hard to drive that message home when there's not some kind of a caveat to say this is why we did this. My wish list is that this is a learning case that gets discussed more openly in the summer. And maybe that's the best thing that comes out of it."