Kids mimic headshots they see in NHL

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

The kid never saw it coming.

A blindside hit to the head left 10-year-old Matthew, an Atom 1 player in the Calgary area, slightly dazed, but not confused.

An articulate young man, Matthew (the family didn't want its last name used) said he knows why he was the victim of a blow to the head: Kids his age watch the NHL. They want to be NHLers and they do what the NHLers do.

"I definitely think that. There have been a lot of incidents of hits to the head. NHL players are doing it and of course the kids watch it," said Matthew in an interview with QMI Agency, a followup after he sent a thoughtful and well-written email to me about headshots and the state of the game, from the NHL on down.

"They are trying to be like the NHL superstars. I really think they watch them and they copy them."

Does anybody think NHL general managers or members of the board of governors or league executives are concerned about the trickle-down effect of headshots at the NHL level through the feeding chain?

Anybody?

Matthew missed school Monday with a headache after getting hit on a play that saw his aggressor kicked out of the game with a major penalty. Matthew used the time at home to craft his email to me.

He said he was feeling much better Tuesday.

"I read your article on blindside hits and I had a blindside hit done on me the same weekend you wrote your article," wrote Matthew. "Kids know how to hurt someone because they watch it on TV, so when they play hockey, they try to do the same thing. Lucky for me, the referee did see the hit and gave the kid a game suspension. So should these gorillas keep elbowing?

"They were coming towards us and I wasn't looking at him. I was looking at the puck," said Matthew. "They had the puck and I couldn't see him. He came across the blue line and hit me with an elbow to the head. My head was hurting a little bit and I was kind of dizzy. I went to the bench and after the first few seconds I was set to get back into it."

Lucky for Matthew, his dad, Paul, has been involved in rugby and has an idea of what a concussion looks like. He watched Matthew closely and decided a trip to the hospital wasn't necessary.

Other kids aren't so lucky.

We've been hearing a lot about concussions, particularly since Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has been out with one since early January, but kids being affected at the minor hockey level are seldom mentioned.

Dr. Renata Frankovich, director of the Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Centres in Ottawa, met with a concussed 16-year hockey player the other day. Speaking at Algonquin College's sports business symposium on the business implications of head injuries in sport, she said in most cases, symptoms clear up in 7-10 days. But they hadn't for this young player.

"He had a hockey injury and I can't tell him when he's going to be better," she said. "It's a very scary situation for young athletes. With a (knee) injury, you can give them some idea of how long it will be to recover. That's not the case here. This is a difficult time that can make a young athlete depressed and scared."

Minor hockey coaches and parents should educate themselves on the symptoms of a concussion and what to do if a player is suspected of having sustained one (thinkfirst.ca is a good place to start). Coaches and parents should know it does not require a direct blow to the head to cause a concussion.

Of course, the best way to handle a concussion is not to get one in the first place, because there is no treatment other than rest.

Even after going through what he did, Matthew isn't deterred from playing the game. He said he's not intimidated or scared and the joy he gets from the playing trumps any of the lingering negative feelings he might have after the incident.

"Oh, yeah, I love it. I've always loved hockey from the first time I stepped on the ice," said Matthew. "I'll always play. I'm just not really worried about (getting a blow to the head) again. It happened and I was shocked, but I'm not worried it's going to happen every game."

Paul, Matthew's dad, said he was disappointed by what he heard from one of the coaches of the opposing team.

"He said his player shouldn't have been suspended because Matthew got up. What if he had collapsed at home later? It's that thinking, 'If there's no blood, it's not a foul.'

"I've been a part of the those player evaluation committees and I hear people saying, 'That kid is going to make the best team because he's running around hitting the top players.' Certain signals are being sold to the kids."

Matthew, through the eyes of a 10-year-old, probably sees things much clearer than most adults.

His answer to the problem of headshots?

"I think what they should do is probably just kick those guys out of the league," he said. "Kick them out of the league if they do it on purpose. It's just a game. They shouldn't be allowed to play."

If only it were that simple, huh?

"We don't mind the physicality. We play rugby," said Paul. "But when a kid can't see it coming and gets a blow to the head, it's ridiculous. It's a culture. There's got to be a good discussion about it."

Matthew should know he has helped push the discussion along.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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