Fight now, worry later

Maple Leafs forward Jay Rosehill scraps with Rangers forward Brandon Prust at Madison Square Garden...

Maple Leafs forward Jay Rosehill scraps with Rangers forward Brandon Prust at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y., Dec. 5, 2011. (BRUCE BENNETT/Getty Images/AFP)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:34 PM ET

CALGARY - If you want to discuss injuries with pro athletes, you might as well bring out some black cats, make them walk under a ladder and smash a mirror.

Its taboo.

The fears go up a notch with NHL players who regularly put themselves in more danger by fighting.

Then comes the new level with possible impact on the brain, which has risen to the forefront after an autopsy showed Derek Boogaard, the NHL enforcer who died this past summer, suffered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain ailment related to Alzheimers disease and believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

I try not to worry about getting injured and stuff that might happen later in life with my body, Calgary Flames right winger Tim Jackman said. Theres always concerns about bumps and bruises, what Im going to feel like with my body and getting out of bed.

But Ive never really thought about my brain, I guess.

The impact of fighting on players brains has jumped into focus with the deaths of Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak last summer.

Although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said theres been no proof CTE can be linked to fighting in the game, the possibility increases when you consider researchers said the brains of deceased NHL brawlers Bob Probert and Reggie Fleming also revealed CTE.

Jackman, who has recorded 128 NHL and AHL fights according to hockeyfights.com, is caught between wanting to find out more information and hoping such issues wont happen to him.

Its a little alarming, but there are a lot of ways you can get hit in the head in this game, he said. I dont know how much research theyve done about it.

How can they say its just from blows to the head? It can be a lot of things. If they did research on my brain and saw some spots, could they say its from headshots or the food Ive eaten?

The good news in that regard is fisticuffs arent as prevalent as seen in other eras.

However, concussions remain a hot-button issue.

I know were trying to limit some of the blows to the head this year, and I think as players were definitely getting the message, said Flames captain Jarome Iginla, whose career has included 58 NHL fights. In fights, you are going to take some, and I dont know that you can limit those. Theyre working on eliminating all the other ones away from fighting ... a lot of the head shots and blind-side hits.

Well be taking those as we continue to get that message (out).

With these findings has come more awareness. And, hopefully, better long-term study.

If thats the case, its definitely alarming, said forward Brendan Morrison. Were going to have to continue to monitor with guys.

I dont know how you really monitor it unless you get inside their heads, but its a situation thats definitely concerning.

Still, dont expect players like Jackman to stop playing the way which helped them reach the NHL.

I think we all enjoy playing this game and being in this league, he said. Its kind of the price that we pay, I guess, to play in this league.


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