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A closer look at concussions in hockey

02/20/2008, 9:15am MST
By USA Hockey

On Feb. 20, 2008, the Colorado Springs Gazette published a series of articles focusing on concussions in hockey. Reprinted with permission from The Gazette, USA Hockey brings you the collection of important information regarding this injury.
 
Excerpts of the three articles, written by Kate Crandall, are below with links to the full versions.
 
The dangers of having your bell rung
 
Concussion graphicDazed, dizzy, but driven to establish his place in the lineup, Colorado College forward Eric Walsky kept playing after an opponent’s shoulder check left a dent in his metal facemask.
 
Not until later, when the symptoms persisted, did Walsky admit to himself what had happened in the Tigers’ exhibition against the U.S. under-18 team. 
 
It was the fourth concussion of his career, although it was mild compared to one he suffered in junior hockey, when he couldn’t remember the date or where he was. 
 
Concussions occur after a direct blow to the head, face, neck or body. The force causes the brain to shift. That impact can immediately result in a wide range of symptoms including confusion, amnesia, loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, nausea, loss of vision or loss of balance. Once a person has had one concussion, the odds greatly increase that another blow, even a small one, will result in a second concussion. 

Research has shown that multiple concussions can have a snowball effect, magnifying the symptoms, but no one is exactly sure what the longterm effects are, said Dr. Michael Stuart, USA Hockey’s chief medical officer.
 
Patience is key for players in recovering after concussions
 
As freshmen, Colorado College players take a cognitive test that measures mental facets such as memory in order to establish a baseline. 

Once a player suspects a concussion, he will retake the test to get an indication of his neurological health. 

If the player is diagnosed with a concussion, he is put on rest. 

Dr. Michael Stuart, chief medical officer for USA Hockey, said even reading and TV watching are discouraged. 

“The safe way is to recognize the concussion symptoms, give the brain a chance to rest and heal, gradually return to play and that gives you the best chance of being able to compete for the rest of the season,” Stuart said. 

Unlike most hockey injuries, which have somewhat predictable timetables for healing with ice and heat and can be patched up with tape, concussions require patience.
 
Equipment makes difference
 
Defenseman Nate Prosser suffered a serious concussion — his second in as many seasons — against North Dakota in early November. To return to play, Prosser was required to switch to a helmet with padding three-quarters of an inch thick that is adjustable on the back and sides for a snug fit. 

Many Colorado College players prefer lighter, smaller helmets with a thin layer of foam. 

While no equipment can guarantee protection from a concussion, CC equipment manager Ed Warner said he believes more helmet padding “can’t hurt.”

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A follow-up to Ian Walsh's NHL career-path article (see Stripes - February 2015)

For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials. 

USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?

Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.  

USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season? 

Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that. 

The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.

USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?

Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.

USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official? 

Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.

USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career? 

Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.

USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?  

Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.

USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?

Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.

USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career? 

Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.

Tag(s): Concussion Information