Severe Head Trauma and Brain Injury Fears Linger as New Hockey Season Opens

The NHL’s 2010-11 season opens at 9am PT tomorrow when the Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild face off in Helsinki, Finland, one of several Europe-based openers the league has planned. But when the Boston Bruins take to the ice against the Phoenix Coyotes in Prague, Czech Republic a few days later the specter of traumatic brain injuries will hang over the team in the form of their absent star center, Marc Savard.

As I noted in several blogs last spring, the concussion Savard sustained after a vicious hit to the head spurred interim rule changes while last season was still under way. After having the summer months to consider tweaks to those rules, the NHL recently announced that it is banning what are known as “blindside hits” to the head – like the one that took out Savard – according to the Reuter News Agency.

Speaking to reporters, however, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman noted that the new version of the rule is also designed to ensure that “some of the responsibility for player safety remains with the player being targeted,” according to the Reuters report.

Savard returned to the ice briefly some weeks after his injury last March, but it quickly became clear he had not fully recovered from his traumatic head injury. He has not been able to practice fully throughout the summer, and is not traveling to Prague with his teammates. Exactly when, if ever, he will be able to return to the game remains uncertain.

Hockey, like football, is a game built around tough, often violent, action. Still, it is also clear that the pro leagues have an obligation to try to make the game safe. This extends not only to the players the league and its teams employ. It also includes the example the pros set for younger players, including children, who take them as models. Severe head injuries, here in Oregon and elsewhere, remain both a problem and a serious risk in hockey, football and other sports. If you are a parent who believes that responsible adults may have failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent a Portland traumatic brain injury you owe it to yourself to consult with a Portland brain injury lawyer on the options the legal system may be able to offer you.

Reuters: Rule on NHL blindside hits to have biggest impact on new season

NESN: Marc Savard’s rehab schedule will keep him from traveling to Prague