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Pacific District efforts a catalyst for nationwide concussion protocol program

By USA Hockey, 10/10/17, 3:30PM MDT


Pacific District is committed not only to player safety but also to the innovation it takes to continually advance new ideas and programming

In 2011, while serving as president of USA Hockey’s California affiliate, Steve Laing assembled a committee comprised of two board directors and two medical experts to research and vet California’s first statewide concussion legislation, Assembly Bill 25. Effective in Jan. 2012, the legislation only applied to public school sports, however, Laing challenged the Concussion Committee to take the basics of this legislation and create a comprehensive concussion education, awareness and protocol program that could be implemented statewide in hockey.

The resulting concussion protocol program has been in place in California since 2012, becoming the cornerstone of the Pacific District’s ongoing commitment to increasing the safety of youth hockey in its affiliates.

“As program administrators and leadership, it is our duty first and foremost to be concerned about the safety of our athletes,” said Laing, now a Pacific District director. “Whether that is the size of the ice, the length of the period, the protective equipment or the way the game is played, there is always an opportunity to make the experience safer for the athlete without compromising the integrity of the game or the level of competition.”

Moving Forward

Fast forward to today and the Pacific District is committed not only to player safety but also to the innovation it takes to continually advance new ideas and programming, as well as support the common visions shared with USA Hockey in terms of player safety and player development. In Feb. 2017, the Pacific District implemented concussion protocols that build on the original California program, but also reflect the specific concussion legislation requirements of its affiliate members. This mandatory protocol is a key component of the Pacific District’s commitment to educating its membership – players, coaches, parents, managers, athletes, volunteers and leadership – about the importance of being able to recognize the symptoms of a concussion and the critical need to ensure that a concussed player is clinically evaluated and diagnosed, recovers fully and is safely returned to participation. The protocol includes an acknowledgement for coaches and parents/guardians, any additional state-required forms and acknowledgements, and a library of educational information and tools for member programs to draw from to educate their membership.

Expanding and implementing the protocol for the Pacific District is Jaime Campbell. In a newly created pilot program, Jaime will fill the role of player safety/concussion awareness representative. Laing said selecting Campbell was an easy choice and a unanimous decision by the board members.

“I added Jaime as an original member of the California Concussion Committee in 2011, and she has been instrumental in developing the programming they have used since the beginning,” said Laing. “She knows how to guide a project from conception through completion. She has the support of the USA Hockey player safety leadership, and we all trust her to take this, and any other player safety initiatives, to the next level for the benefit of the athletes in our district.”

Campbell says it has been a labor of love to be part of the concussion program from the beginning, and she’s excited to see it expand across the Pacific District.

“What no one will see are the hundreds of hours that the original four members of the committee put in to making the concussion program look as simple and seamless as it does today,” she said. “The first two years were a huge commitment of time and personal resources to be certain we ‘got it right’. We were all very focused on ensuring the messaging and the materials would truly meet the needs of our membership in simple, comprehensive language that reflected the core reality that concussions are real and can alter a person’s life forever if they do not recover completely before they return to participation in any activity.”

The Next Level

USA Hockey is pleased to see the Pacific District take a leadership role in developing the player safety coordinator role.

“The Pacific District is an innovative leader in concussion education and management,” said Dr. Michael Stuart, USA Hockey’s chief medical and safety officer. “We look forward to working together in order to develop nationwide programs that will enhance the safety of our sport.”

Expanding the basic components of the concussion protocol throughout the district, then for each individual state affiliate (building in legislative requirements) was the first step for Campbell. With the tools and materials in place, she is now visiting each state affiliate providing training and education on how to implement and use the protocol. Campbell acknowledges that new programs are sometimes met with some hesitancy, but she’s ready to work through it.

“People don’t naturally embrace new concepts or programs that appear to complicate a process,” she said. “They have to really be able to understand the problem to see the need for the change, or the additional step, form, signature or training. Our challenge is to ensure our program delivers that message effectively.”

Campbell’s personal commitment to the program was formed by the very people who inspired the need for it.

“Having a conversation with a young person or a professional athlete whose life has been permanently altered by a concussion, or with a parent whose child will never be the same because of a concussion, will drive this point home in a heartbeat,” she said. “Those are the messages we need to send, the stories we need to tell, that serve as the basis for this program and the reason it is so important that we have these resources for our members.”

Future Opportunities

These programs are not a one-time undertaking, and they are not self-sustaining. There is a constant need for this education to continue each season as new parents, athletes and volunteers join the growing ranks of USA Hockey in its Pacific District affiliates, as well as continual changes in state legislation. The key to a program’s longevity will be in the commitment of leadership to continually evaluate, revise and adjust to current information, research, technology and legislation.

Campbell knows this new role goes beyond the concussion protocol and looks forward to participating in player safety discussions on a more strategic level.

“As a volunteer, the ability to interact with industry experts focused on the best possible outcome for our athletes at every age and skill level is an honor and a huge responsibility,” said Campbell. “Vetting new technology, creating test groups and pilot studies that assist USA Hockey in its ongoing efforts in regard to player safety, and developing programs and messaging that support those ideas and efforts is an opportunity for the Pacific District to continue its tradition of commitment to both its membership and to USA Hockey. If our grassroots efforts can have organization-wide benefits - that is a win for everyone.”

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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.”