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A closer look at concussions in hockey

By USA Hockey, 02/20/08, 9:15AM MST

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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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One phone call led Johnathan Morrison into a tenured career with the International Paralympic Committee

Long before Johnathan Morrison was the officiating advisory group leader for the International Paralympic Committee, he was a 30-something-year-old trying to find his way on the international circuit. 

Little did Morrison know, a random phone call in October 2005 would change his life. He remembers it like it was yesterday. He had taken a puck to the face a month earlier and was still recovering from a broken cheekbone when Scott Brinkman gave him a ring. 

As the officiating advisory group leader for the International Paralympic Committee at the time, Brinkman was inquiring to see if Morrison had any interest in officiating a three-team sled hockey tournament in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“He called and asked me if I wanted to get involved with the sport,” Morrison recalled. “Honestly, at that time I had never seen a game played. We were having this conversation about getting involved with the sport and he mentioned that there was an event in February 2006 that he wanted to send me to. It was kind of a chance for me to learn the ins and outs of the sport.”

Wait. There was more. 

“He told me if I did good he would send me to the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino,” Morrison said. “I had just moved to the Twin Cities and had just started working the WCHA and that would’ve been right in the middle of playoff time. I remember saying to Scott, ‘When exactly will I know if I’m going to go to Torino?’ I asked because I needed to tell my college supervisor that I was going to be gone for the playoffs. He goes, ‘Well, let me rephrase that. Congratulations. You’ve been selected to go to the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino.’ I was like, ‘Oh crap. Here we go.’”

All of a sudden Morrison was on a crash course, trying to learn the ropes of sled hockey as fast as possible. He watched a bunch of DVDs to study the game as well as any YouTube clips he could get his hands on. 

Then it was off to Colorado Springs without any sort of in-game experience.  

“I got very lucky because the other individual that they sent to that event in Colorado Springs was a gentleman by the name of Scott McDonald,” Morrison said. “He had been around the sport for a long time and he basically taught me the game.”

While the differences were vast, especially considering Morrison had only ever worked with traditional hockey prior to that event, the biggest difference came down to positioning on the ice. 

“Everything I knew about positioning basically got thrown out the window,” Morrison said. “You have to be on top of the play at all times because the penalties are much more subtle and much more difficult to see. You have a stick that’s only 100 centimeters long, so that hook is really hard to see.”

Besides that, Morrison also learned the hard way that certain plays look a heckuva lot different. 

“A guy using his stick underneath his sled to try to shoot a puck in a motion for someone that hasn’t been around sled hockey looks a lot like he basically threw it with his hand,” Morrison said. “I remember I actually waved off a goal that I thought was put in with his hand and everybody else knew he put it in with his stick.”

That three-team sled hockey tournament, featuring the United States, Canada, and Germany, gave Morrison the confidence he needed heading into the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino.

“I had just worked a bunch of games at a really high level,” Morrison said. “I was seeing the best players, so I felt good. When I actually got to the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino it was one of those things where I had to step up and get better every game. There was no choice.”

For Morrison, the first game of the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino was life-changing.

“When I was younger I was hoping to make the NHL (as an official),” Morrison said. “Once I was about 30 years old, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, so I kind of switched mental gears and said, ‘OK. Let’s go the international route.’ Obviously the brass ring for the international route is the Olympics. That’s what I was pushing for. That’s what I thought I had my best shot at. Then all of a sudden I get this call that I am going to the Paralympics. It took my breath away. I had been working for something like that, and once it happened, all I wanted to do was get ready for it.”

Since then, Morrison has worked three more Paralympic Games (Vancouver, Sochi, and Pyeongchang) on top of handling his current role with the International Paralympic Committee.

In that position, Morrison works with the technical side of the sport, which basically focuses on our rulebooks, as well as the officiating development side of the sport, which essentially is a pathway that finds a way to get the most out of our officials. He also oversees the assigning of certain officials to certain tournaments

“I am looking for officials that have succeeded at some of the highest levels that show a passion for the sport,” Morrison said. “I’d say the passion for the sport is as important, if not more important, than what they have accomplished elsewhere. I don’t want the guy that calls me and is like, ‘Hey. I’m a good linesman. Can I go to the World Championships?’ Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. I want guys that actually love the sport.”

That became a focus based on his experiences with the sport over the better part of the last two decades. He has grown extremely passionate about it, and as the leader of the bunch, he wants every member of his officiating crews to feel the same way. 

“I’ve been in this sport long enough and I know guys that have worked the Calder Cup and worked the Frozen Four that I could introduce them to sport the same way I was introduced and they’d do a good job,” Morrison said. “That said, I want that individual who is so passionate about the sport that they have taken a week out of their summer to come and train with us. I’m looking for someone who is passionate about the sport and I think we’ve done a good job with that so far.”