Wed Aug 03 11:39am EDT
There might be no more sobering lesson on concussions in junior hockey than the one recent Western Hockey League grad Eric Doyle provided via Jon Keen yesterday. It isn't like the CHL has dragged its feet on adopting rules to penalize head contact or on getting the message across that one can't take any chances with traumatic brain injuries. We've also heard many athlete confessionals, but typically they're from bigger name athletes who are also later on in life, in their 30s and 40s, when people generally possess more self-awareness. It's striking that Doyle, a 22-year-old who hasn't played since being injured last fall with the ECHL's Ontario Reign, is willing to be open about how he tried to come back too soon from injuries.
The five-year WHL vet told Keen, who was the play-by-play man for the Swift Current Broncos when Doyle played there, that he had "at least five diagnosed concussions ... and probably two more that weren't" over his career. It is also striking that he doesn't put it on coaches or medical staff, but notes that in each of his final two seasons, he rushed back out of obligation to his teammates ("I came came back too early from that one because we were injury plagued on defence at that time" and "II put pressure on myself to get back for playoffs being a leader and an older guy on the team.") Now he wants his younger peers to know the price he's paying.
"Maybe it can help some kids going through concussion problems. Dizziness, nausea, headaches, short term memory are the physical things that still linger everyday. I've been treated and seeing therapists for depression and social anxiety disorder. I also have severe sleep problems which the docs all said are concussion related for me. "
"There are more people then you would think that deal with this but are afraid to say anything. I think it would be good for other players to see this to know its ok to admit they have problems."
"... I encourage anyone that has had a concussion to be honest with themselves, the trainers and the coaches about how you're feeling. It's not worth it to come back early if you're not ready. I know firsthand. Your life is more important then hockey."
"... If you are away from home dealing with depression you need to find someone to talk to. I know a lot of teams have psychologists but also coaches and teammates are good to talk to as well. It takes a bigger man to admit you have a problem!" (Keen's Korner)
Concussions are going to happen in any fast, collision sport, of course. One would hope hearing this from a young man only a year removed from junior hockey would hit home with current players. It's not a sign of toughness to rush back from an injury that could have lasting consequences. I am not sure what Doyle's image was during his WHL days since I didn't cover junior hockey in that span, but it's not like he was fragile. He only missed three games over his final two full seasons with the Broncos; in fact, the only game he missed in 2008-09 came was when, as he told Keen, he hurried to get back in the lineup after being injured by a blindside hit by then-Kamloops forward C.J. Stretch. Playing 141 of 144 regular-season games across two seasons is no easy task in the Dub. It is the most physically punishing of the three major junior leagues and plays more games than the OHL and QMJHL while also requiring more travelling.
From a self-interested journalistic standpoint, Doyle's timing couldn't be better. His interview with Keen came on the same day Hockey Canada announced its intention to, as Allan Maki wrote, "enhanc(e) non-contact hockey leagues "as a viable and credible participatory program.' " Likewise, while the story might not have received much attention outside Quebec, earlier this week the section of a museum exhibit on hockey dealing with the sport's harshness and violence had to be removed before the NHL would sign off on letting its trademarked images be used. That would suggest the NHL, understandably since it's a business, only wants to address concussions so long as its protects its products. Thanks to the selflessness of young players such as Eric Doyle, though, we're getting as good a picture as possible of the toll the sport can take.