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.
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 Alzheimer’s 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. “There’s always concerns about bumps and bruises, what I’m going to feel like with my body and getting out of bed.
“But I’ve 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 there’s 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 won’t happen to him.
“It’s a little alarming, but there are a lot of ways you can get hit in the head in this game,” he said. “I don’t know how much research they’ve done about it.
“How can they say it’s 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 it’s from headshots or the food I’ve eaten?”
The good news in that regard is fisticuffs aren’t as prevalent as seen in other eras.
However, concussions remain a hot-button issue.
“I know we’re trying to limit some of the blows to the head this year, and I think as players we’re 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 don’t know that you can limit those. They’re working on eliminating all the other ones away from fighting ... a lot of the head shots and blind-side hits.
“We’ll 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 that’s the case, it’s definitely alarming,” said forward Brendan Morrison. “We’re going to have to continue to monitor with guys.
“I don’t know how you really monitor it unless you get inside their heads, but it’s a situation that’s definitely concerning.”
Still, don’t 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. “It’s kind of the price that we pay, I guess, to play in this league.