Chicago Blackhawks Need To Respect NHL’s Concussion Protocol

Nov 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars right wing Patrick Eaves (18) and Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) fight during the first period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars right wing Patrick Eaves (18) and Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) fight during the first period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Words from one member of the Chicago Blackhawks show the NHL’s concussion protocol is not yet fully accepted

Injuries are part of hockey, and concussions are no exception. With how fast the game is nowadays, members of the Chicago Blackhawks and other team are at a pretty high risk to suffer some sort of head injury, even on seemingly innocuous plays.

That’s why the NHL is putting measures in place to try and prevent high, hard hits. The icing rule has been changed to prevent players from getting smashed into the end boards. The NHL is at least trying to consistently punish high hits.

And then there’s the concussion protocol. Beginning this season, the NHL decided to employ four independent doctors — deemed the Central League Spotters — to watch all active hockey games and search out potential concussion victims.

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This was on top of on-ice concussion spotters, as well as referees and linesmen being asked to be wary of player concussions. So very nearly everyone directly involved in an NHL game is on board with this. Nearly everyone.

Blackhawks with different opinions

Marcus Kruger became the first Chicago Blackhawk to go through the league’s updated concussion protocol Wednesday. Against the San Jose Sharks, Kruger took a hard hit from Tommy Wingels.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus, Kruger was told by Blackhawks trainer Mike Gapski to leave the ice shortly after the hit, but Kruger quickly returned and played a few shifts. Then, one of the independent doctors got in the ear of on-ice officials, who ordered Kruger off the ice.

Kruger wasn’t thrilled about this, saying: ““I’d rather have it in my hands so I can choose whether I can leave the game or not. But the league doesn’t think that’s best. I can see why they do that, too, but obviously (Wednesday) I wasn’t happy about it.”

Now, let’s compare this to the reaction of Vincent Hinostroza, who suffered a concussion earlier this season (though it didn’t need to be spotted by the independent doctors).

“Your brain is such a serious thing. You don’t want to mess around with that. It stinks at the time when you have to leave the ice, but in the long run it’s definitely beneficial to make sure he’s OK. … Our nature as hockey players is you play through injuries, but no matter how much you want to fight through a brain injury, it’s something in the long run you don’t want to do. It’s important the protocol is in.”

And one more reaction, from Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.

“The medical experts, I think they’ve grown where they’ve made changes each and every year to do what they feel is the best care for the players, and I think that they’ve gone to even another level and step this year. I think the progression is fine with us, as long as it’s safe for the players.”

Here’s a coach who played NHL hockey in a different era and an active player who has been involved with the game since before it started taking concussions seriously who seem iffy on the protocol. And here, too, is a youngster in his first full NHL season totally behind the protocol. This is telling.

Macho culture perseveres

This isn’t to say Kruger and Quenneville are neanderthals and Hinostroza is a gentleman and a scholar. Far from it. But it does show how difficult it can be for the NHL to penetrate older views about on-ice injuries and get everyone in the league to get 100 percent behind efforts to minimize said injuries.

No one likes to be injured, but playing hurt is really a big part of the NHL. Remember the 2013 Stanley Cup Final? Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron were the walking wounded.

Bergeron wound up playing Game 6 through a separated shoulder, broken rib and punctured lung. Toews almost definitely had a concussion that was problematic enough to have him on the bench for a good portion of Game 5.

And there are some injuries that are OK to play through, certainly. And there are situations where certain injuries that might keep a guy down get put on the backburner. But concussions can no longer be one of them.

You see these NFL players who took massive hits in their playing dies, then die young and are posthumously diagnosed with CTE, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head. Heck, we saw this in former Blackhawk Steve Montador, who died in 2015 and was posthumously diagnosed with CTE.

So there has to be a concerted effort, with the Chicago Blackhawks and other teams, toward permeating this “play through anything” atmosphere when it comes to concussions. Guys like Kruger and Quenneville are completely used to playing through anything that doesn’t actively inhibit them from moving. It’s a hard sell for everyone.

Might it take a hit hard enough that someone’s life is in danger on the ice to make all players and coaches see how important this is? It might, unfortunately. Hopefully it doesn’t.

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The NHL is actively taking steps to show concussions are a threat that should be treated like one. Now all of the league’s players and coaches need to do the same.