Summit raises concussion awareness

"Education, education, education." That was the mantra repeated over and over again during the London Hockey Concussion Summit on Saturday.

Hundreds attend gathering in London, Ont.

"Education, education, education."

That was the mantra repeated again and again during the London Hockey Concussion Summit on Saturday.

"A lot of people don't have [concussion] information," said Jeff Beukeboom, a former NHLer who's now a head coach in the OHL. "Today is so important-we all have to spread the word."

Hundreds attended the day-long event, which featured presentations by many experts, as well as testimonials from former and current hockey players on how concussions hurt their careers.

"It's a real tough injury for people to deal with," said Jennifer Botterill, a member of the national women's team who spoke at the event. "I didn't feel like myself, and that's the most upsetting part."

Eric Lindros, the former NHL superstar who was plagued by concussions for most of his career, also spoke at the summit.

"I know that I've learned a lot [today]," he said. "There's very knowledgeable people [here], and hopefully word is going to spread."

To say the event was "packed with information" would be an understatement. The speakers discussed a number of topics, and had many more brought to their attention during audience question periods. This included concussion symptoms, short- and long-term effects, diagnosis, treatment, prevention options and equipment concerns.

Message made clear

But the main message was clear: Most people in the hockey world don't take concussions seriously enough.

"Many of us in this crowd, including myself, have turned our heads at some time, and pretended this injury did not occur," said Dr. Paul Echlin, the summit chair. "Concussions do exist. And as a responsible society, we must come together and take action against the underlying root causes."

Unsettling images and video of players sprawled on the ice reminded the audience of how serious the injury really is. It came along with some sobering concussion stats, including:

  • Sixty per cent of hockey players polled said they've had at least one concussion, according to a B.C. minor hockey study in 2000. The kids were aged 15-20.
  • In the NCAA, concussion frequency was highest in women's hockey, according to a study in 2007. Men's hockey was No. 2 on the list.
  • Only half of 156 minor hockey coaches passed a 2007 test recognizing concussion-like symptoms, according to Dr. Michael Czarnota, the neuropsychological consultant for the OHL and the WHL.
  • There is one concussion in every 15 games in the NHL,  according to Dr. Ruben Echemendia, director of the NHL's neuropsychological testing program.

"Not enough people know about concussions, especially at the lower levels," Beukeboom said. "I think that's our biggest problem."

And many speakers pointed out that this lack of concussion knowledge leads many people in the hockey world to believe that someone who's just had their "bell rung" is normally no cause for concern.

"It seems like it's part of the bravado," said Alyn McCauley, who played eight seasons in the NHL and is now an assistant coach at Queen's University.

A number of speakers said this "bravado" affects all levels of the game. In many cases, players don't want to fess up to injuries for fear of being considered weak. And more than a few coaches and parents don't know enough about the injury to keep the players out of the lineup.

And then they see NHL players come back in the same game that they're dinged, and get the wrong idea altogether.

"Everybody wants to prove they are tough," Czarnota said. "But when it comes to a head injury, you can't play through it."

The entire panel agreed: A change in mindset needs to happen at all levels of hockey to stop the rising number of concussions, and it needs to start right away.

"People have asked me if I'm organizing this summit again next year," Echlin said. "I hope not. I hope we get the change going now."