Doc: NHL 'not denying' concussion problem

TERRY DAVIDSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:12 PM ET

Neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator aims to change hockey's culture so that concussions are a thing of the past, and hopes a new educational video will help do just that.

Tator, along with retired NHL star Keith Primeau and former national women's team member Cassie Campbell- Pascall, was at Scotiabank Theatre on Tuesday for the screening of "SMART HOCKEY", a video for young players about preventing concussions by both protecting themselves and having more respect for other players on the ice.

The 25-minute video, released by Tator's Think- Smart Canada, also features interviews with New York Islanders forward John Tavares and Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers, provides basic education on the symptoms of a concussion, and advice around the often-lengthy recovery players go through.

One reason for the rise in concussions at all levels of contact hockey is that the game is faster, the players are bigger and the style of play is rougher than ever before, Tator said.

"The game has really changed from ... 50 years ago, " he said. "Speed because of the long legs, and the force because of the weight of the player, produces more impact on the head. So what may have been a tolerable hit to the head 50 years ago is no longer tolerated by our poor brains."

Former Philadelphia Flyer Keith Primeau is five years removed from the game, retiring in 2006 because of repeated concussions.

The headaches aren't as bad now, but the father of three still occasionally suffers from dizziness and blurred vision -- hallmarks of post-concussion syndrome.

"The mentality we are bred with is this competitive spirit," said Primeau, who spent 15 years in the NHL. "But we need to educate ... kids on how to protect themselves."

Also in attendance was 15-year-old Justin Rizek, who had to hang up his skates permanently last year after suffering four concussions within two seasons while in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL).

Until recently, Rizek would find himself grounded with "dull, lingering headaches" as a result of his head injuries, not to mention memory loss and bouts of confusion.

Tator, who was the one to tell Rizek his hockey-playing days were over, agreed young players look to the pros for influence, and the NHL's endorsement of the video is an important step in helping to change the culture of the game.

"The professionals have come a long way in realizing that there is a problem," Tator said. "They're not denying it. They're supporting these educational efforts, (and) I think we've turned a corner on the professionals hoping that this is going to go away by itself."

The NHL recently has faced a firestorm of criticism from fans, politicians and its own corporate sponsors for on-ice aggression.

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins -- arguably the league's star player-- remains out with concussion problems.

Earlier this month, Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens suffered a concussion and fractured vertebrae after receiving a crushing hit from Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.

terry.davidson@sunmedia.ca


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