Whistler hockey mom calls for more education on concussion, stricter penalties for dangerous plays

As the NHL reached a tentative settlement with retired players over a concussion lawsuit, a Whistler woman and self-described "hockey mom" is calling for changes in all levels of hockey.

'If [coaches] are sending their kids out to hurt other kids … the coaches should be fined,' says Carol Milan

Carol Milan says her son Garrett Milan, pictured, was pulled from a game after he was hit in the head in what she called a 'cheap shot'. ( Facebook/Edinburgh Capitals)

As the NHL reached a tentative settlement with retired players over a concussion lawsuit, a Whistler woman and self-described "hockey mom" is calling for changes in all levels of the sport.

For the past 25 years, Carol Milan has supported her son Garrett's hockey dreams. From early morning practices to seeing him drafted to play for the EV Lindau Islanders in Germany, she's watched him grow as a player. 

That journey included watching him being pulled from a game after he was hit in the head during a match in Victoria.

"It was a cheap shot," said Milan, adding that "it's every parent's fear when your child gets hurt."

She says players need to be educated at a young age about the dangers of violently checking others and referees need to strictly enforce it.

"My son is the size of [Hall of Famer] Martin St. Louis, not a big player, and he goes into the corners. So when the guys come in … [they] have to drop their elbows and go in lower on him and that's the rules. And they need to be accountable for these rules."

Milan would like to see penalties in place for both players and coaches.

"If [the coaches] are sending their kids out to hurt other kids … I think the coaches should be fined," she said.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL reached a tentative settlement in its concussion lawsuit with former players on Monday. (Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press)

'The C-word of hockey'

Milan also noticed a pattern of underreporting injuries among players out of fear of the consequences.

"To say the word 'concussion' … that could make or break a kid's career. It's the C-word of hockey," said Milan. 

When her son suffered a hernia while playing for another team at the age of 15, he begged his mother not to tell the coach. Then, with his next team, he never revealed that he had undergone a hernia surgery.

"They do under-report because, I think, the [perceived] shame of it," she said.

'A step in the right direction'

In the lawsuit, more than 300 former players accused the NHL of failing to better prevent head trauma.

With the $18.9 million US settlement, a common fund will be established to support retired players in need financially and in terms of medical treatment. It also includes a payout of $22,000 and up to $75,000 in medical treatment for the athletes involved in the lawsuit.

However, the NHL denies any liability for the players' claims.

"Whether the NHL admits culpability in this whole thing I think is secondary to that [they're] at least willing to put some resources in to study it," said Dr. William Panenka, medical director of UBC's Neuropsychiatry Concussion Clinic.

"At least it's a step in the right direction to take the blinders off and start looking at what the real impact of concussions are."

However, he worries the work being done in the NHL might not trickle down to other leagues.

He encourages players and their families to check concussion management policies at their local sports organizations and demand they become better informed.

"We need to make a concerted effort for education, for rules changes. There are very easy changes to be made to lower the risk," said Panenka.

He would like to see more emphasis placed on education, clearer rules aimed at safety, and more money for research and training on diagnosing concussions.

With files from BC Today