SUN Hockey Pool

Concussions on the rise in the NHL

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

There's no treatment, no cure, no external symptoms and no way to tell if they'll be haunted by this invisible ghost for a week, a year or for the rest of their lives.

So they sit, for as long as it takes, waiting, worrying, wondering if the fog is ever going to lift.

"It's probably the toughest injury I've ever had to deal with," said Nashville Predators winger Paul Kariya, who watched his career flash before his eyes in the split second it took Gary Suter to crosscheck him on the jaw in 1998.

"It's not like a bone break where you know you're going to be out for a certain amount of time. With a concussion, you don't know. It just seems like the longer it takes, the worse it gets."

Kariya missed the 1998 Olympics and the last 28 games of the regular season. The NHL suspended Suter for four games.

"I played two or three more shifts after Suter and couldn't remember any of it. I was out of it, didn't know where I was. It was pretty scary. And weeks later, I tried coming back and it just got worse."

LIST IS GROWING

Tomas Kaberle, Richie Regehr, Tim Connolly, Eric Lindros, Matthew Barnaby, Jarret Stoll - the list of NHLers who've endured the private hell of a serious concussion is growing at a frightening rate, faster than at any other point in the league's history.

Those who have been there would rather break both arms and a leg than live it again.

"I couldn't be in a lighted room. Everything had to be dark," said Kariya. "I couldn't read a book or watch TV. As soon as I tried to focus on anything I'd get a bad headache."

It was the same for Scott Parker, who missed six months last season after catching a puck square in the forehead.

"With me it really affected my equilibrium,'' said the Avalanche tough guy. "I was really off balance, I was sensitive to light. It really took a toll.

"You want to tell yourself it's not there, that you're fine, but it just isn't. You can't do anything. I was sleeping a good 14 hours a day. Constantly tired. I'd get out of bed and feel like I just did a four-hour workout. Within a couple of hours, I was back in bed."

They all looked fine on the outside. No stitches, nothing in a cast, nothing that needed to be iced. But week after week and month after month they felt horrible.

The best physicians in the world look them in the eye and shrug their shoulders.

That's when it starts to get scary.

"Very scary," said Parker. "But there's nothing you can do but sit and wait. It weighs on you mentally. You wish you had a little meter on the side of your head that says 'Red is bad, green is good,' then you and everyone else could look at the needle and see how you're progressing."

That feeling of helplessness, looking 100% on the outside, but a wreck inside, wanting to help the team, wondering if you're the next Jeff Beukeboom or Brett Lindros, can lead to a lot of long, worried nights.

"Your teammates are wondering what's wrong with you, you look fine," said Kariya. "It's a tough injury to deal with."

That's where Stoll is now. He's out for the season after Samuel Pahlsson hit him from behind in January.

"Some days I actually feel good," he said. "A week or two ago I felt pretty fresh. I still had symptoms, but I wasn't that tired, and I could watch TV and read. As I started skating and working out, more of the symptoms came back.

"Now I'm tired again and sleeping more, and the headaches have come back. So it's kind of back to where I was before.

"It's not easy, sometimes, but you have to try and stay positive and stay strong because it can drain you mentally. And once it does that, you can fall into a depression.

"That's where guys struggle sometimes."

FOG MYSTERIOUSLY LIFTS

For Kariya, Parker and New York's Brendan Shanahan, the fog lifted as mysteriously as it set in.

"That first week, some people were saying I was done for the season, some saying maybe I was done for my career," said Shanahan.

"One week stretched into two and two weeks stretched into three. I started to wonder who was right. And then, suddenly, it went away."

The ghost was gone.

"It's a pretty big feeling of relief," said Kariya. "Bones and muscles are one thing, but your brain ... you need it for the rest of your life."


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