Oilers talk concussions

Oilers defenceman Theo Peckham fights Boston’s Nathan Horton at Rexall Place on Feb. 27. Peckham...

Oilers defenceman Theo Peckham fights Boston’s Nathan Horton at Rexall Place on Feb. 27. Peckham sustained a concussion in the fight and missed Edmonton’s next eight games. (Codie McLachlan/QMI Agency)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:20 AM ET

EDMONTON - Twenty years ago, maybe less, Theo Peckham would have been pressured into ignoring his concussion symptoms.

Or hiding them.

Missing games because of lingering headaches, dizziness and light sensitivity?

No such thing. Might as well go ahead and put “Wimp” on the name plate above his stall.

“Back then, guys would take a couple of Tylenol, that’s it,” said Peckham, who returned to action Saturday after missing eight games with a concussion. “That was the mentality, from everyone.”

Pretty much.

“I remember Jeff Beukeboom fought Curt Fraser and was basically knocked out on the ice,” said former Oilers defenceman and current assistant coach Steve Smith. “He came right back out and fought him again.

“It was almost overdone that it was a badge of honour to be able to come back and play again, even though you got your bell rung.

‘Wasn’t even a word’

“That’s all we called it. Concussion wasn’t even a word that was used.”

Smith never had a concussion. Nobody did back in the ’80s. But he can’t count the number of games he spent in a fog.

“It happened a lot,” he said. “There were many times when I got hit in the first or second period and didn’t remember the rest of the game. It was common.

“You spent the next couple of days being a little dizzy and the guys kind of took it easy on you in practice, but you were ready to go again for the next game.”

Today, with everyone in hockey — except maybe Colin Campbell — concerned about the prevention and treatment of head injuries, concussion protocol is being dragged out of the dark ages.

Peckham had to pass a series of tests before he was allowed back.

“Nobody ever pushed me, the team has always been on my side,” said the third-year defenceman.

“It’s not about being tough and playing through it; it’s just making sure you’re OK.

Something wrong

“You’re not considered soft to go to the team and say, ‘I’m having headaches.’ Nobody calls you out if you say you think there’s something wrong.’ ”

And even though his symptoms were mild compared with some — Beukeboom’s career ended because of concussion symptoms — Peckham knew there was something wrong after his Feb. 27 fight with Boston’s Nathan Horton.

“It was really hard when I got into a car and starting driving, or had to focus on anything,” he said. “I’d get a headache or (my vision) would get blurry.”

Ladislav Smid, the victim of two concussions, knows the symptoms better than he’d like.

“It feels like everything is in slow motion; you have no energy, and as soon as you get your heart rate up, you get really dizzy,” he said. “Headaches, neck pain. It’s not fun, it’s one of the worst injuries you can have.”

Recovery time wasn’t an option in previous eras. Try telling Fred Shero or Punch Imlach that you shouldn’t be playing because you’ve got a headache from last game.

Today, everyone is aware of the symptoms and dangers and is less willing to risk it all on a premature comeback.

“It has nothing to do with the courage of the players,” said Smith. “It’s just being educated. You cannot take it lightly. The players need to know that they can come out of the game and lead a normal life.”

They’ve seen enough horror stories to know that head injuries are serious business.

“Life goes on after hockey,” said Peckham. “You want to be able to function when you’re older. You want to be able to remember your grandkids, you want to be able to enjoy those days.

“When you’re playing, you think you’re going to play forever. But life does go on after hockey and you want to make sure you’re not left with any type of brain damage.”

They have to, because despite all the education and precautions, players might be more at risk today than they were in the “take a Tylenol” days, when few players wore a helmet.

It’s simple physics: athletes are bigger, faster, more muscular and have triple the lung capacity of their cigarette-smoking predecessors. They don’t coast around the ice on two-minute shifts anymore; the game is played in 40-second bursts at top speed.

“The game wasn’t as fast and the hits weren’t as hard back then,” said Peckham.

“Today, guys are 220 pounds and skating 40 miles an hour.

“Everything is so fast and so big that when you get hit, it does damage.”

Jerry Korab was such a giant when he played in the ’70s that he was nicknamed King Kong. He was 6-foot-3, 220 lbs.

On today’s Oilers, one of the smallest teams in the NHL, there are seven players heavier and 11 players six-three or taller.

Enforcer Dave (The Hammer) Schultz played at 6-1, 185, roughly the size of Colin Fraser. Terrible Ted Green (5-11, 185) was about Gilbert Brule’s size.

“I’m a fairly big player, but not huge,” said Peckham, 6-2, 234.

“But put me back in the ’50s and I’m a monster.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/TYCHKOWSKI


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