Traumatic Brain Injury Risk Leads NHL to Reconsider Its Rules

Oregon does not have an NHL team, but many in the state who worry about Oregon traumatic brain injuries have been watching developments in the world of professional hockey over the last few days. As I have previously noted, NHL hockey differs in significant ways from the game TV viewers saw during last month’s Olympics. Among the biggest differences: the NHL still allows hits to the head – an action that carries a significant danger of traumatic brain injuries, even among athletes wearing helmets (which are required in the NHL). Such hits are banned in international hockey.

What brought this issue to the fore is not the fact that March is Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness month, but rather a gruesome incident in an NHL game last Sunday. During the third period of a game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins was knocked unconscious by a check to the head administered by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. Savard, one of the team’s star forwards, was taken off the ice on a stretcher, wearing a head-brace. According to ESPN he has been diagnosed with a grade 2 concussion and is widely expected to be out for the remainder of the season.

What has outraged hockey fans – and not just in Boston – is the league’s decision not to punish Cooke for the infraction, despite the fact that he has been suspended on three previous occasions for unnecessarily rough play (two of those suspensions involved hits to the head). Even one of Cooke’s own teammates, Bill Guerin, “expected Cooke to be suspended”, according to the Boston Globe, and expressed incredulity when he was not. “If a guy gets hurt like that with a shot to the head, there’s got to be something,” the Globe quoted Guerin saying.

The lone bright spot in this story comes from reports that the hit on Savard – coming on the heels of several similar incidents this season – has prompted the League’s general managers to give serious consideration to changing NHL rules to outlaw all hits to head when the 2010-11 season begins next October.

Though Oregon has some of the country’s stronger laws concerning student athletes and head injuries, the ongoing debate in the NHL is a reminder that sometimes the legal system has to step in when the rules of the game are inadequate. If you or a loved one has sustained a concussion and believes an Oregon traumatic brain injury may have resulted, consulting with a Portland head injury lawyer is a prudent step. An experienced Oregon brain injury attorney can advise whether you are entitled to damages or other compensation as a result of the injury.

ESPN: GMs frame rule for hits to head

Boston Globe: Guerin: NHL should outlaw hits to head