September 9, 2011
Concussions take a toll on teen hockey player
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
Hockey was the centre of Drew Wood's universe.
"I'd go down to the rink here," the Zurich, Ont., native said, "and help stack tables and chairs hoping they would feel sorry for me and let me have some free ice time at 11 o'clock at night."
If there was a puck to chase, Wood wasn't far behind. He played at the AAA level and in the high school ranks. When one season finished, the forward quickly found another team and kept on skating.
But now, he can't play anymore.
Drew Wood is 16-years-old and has suffered six concussions. All of them are hockey-related.
"Sports is pretty much out of the question for me," he said. "The way I've interpreted it from the doctors, it's too much of a risk. If I get another concussion, the damage could be really bad."
Wood suffered his first concussion three years ago while playing for the Huron-Perth AAA Lakers minor bantam team.
"I was knocked out for two or three seconds," he said, "and I went to the hospital and found out I had a concussion. I was told I could start playing again when the headaches went away. I missed two games and was back out there."
But something inside him changed. His passion for hockey flickered.
"I started to hate hockey and didn't really understand what was happening to me," he said. "I used to love to play even when we lost -- and we lost a lot -- but I came back a different player. I used to be a playmaker and scorer but I was more the guy who would go into the areas and corners no one wanted to and muck it up."
Meanwhile, the concussion toll mounted.
In minor midget, Wood tried out again for the AAA Lakers to try to catch the eyes of OHL scouts. He suffered another concussion in an exhibition game and was cut.
The sixth and most recent head injury happened while a member of the Clinton St. Anne's high school team.
"The cage on my helmet from that one was bent and smashed, it was bad," he said. "They weren't all dirty hits. But once you have one or two concussions, you're prone to get more."
By No. 6, it's easy to point fingers at Wood's family, coaches, trainers, doctors -- the kid, even -- that enough was enough. But he wanted to be on the ice so badly, he hid his symptoms from the people who care about him most.
"A couple of times, I didn't go to the hospital," he said. "I figured I knew what the doctor was going to say so why bother. I understand that wasn't the thing to do. You get hurt, you go to the doctor."
The concussions have taken a toll on a teen with his whole life in front of him.
Innocent activities such as pick-up basketball with his buddies are a no-no. He struggles to get through 18 holes of golf.
He loves his groundskeeping job at the Oakwood Inn Resort, but found himself dreading to go into work. Anti-depressent pills have helped him feel "the way I used to."
"My short-term memory has suffered," he said. "I'll notice it when I'm using my phone. I'll be texting someone and if I pause for a while to do something else and come back to it, I won't remember what I was doing. I take notes about everything in school now and I never used to have to do that because I'd remember it."
He is a bright kid. He started Grade 11 this week at St. Anne's and is taking credits aimed at university.
He still has headaches, but is determined to finish on time with his class.
"I want to go to university," he said, "and I don't want to have to come back for Grade 13. I missed a lot of classes last year. I've always enjoyed school, the work and the social aspect of it.
"You want to be around your friends."
The future is, at the moment, a little scary for Wood. He has followed the news about NHL star Sidney Crosby's struggle to return to the lineup after a concussion. He has heard about big, tough pro players battling with the kind of depression he has in his post-concussion state.
"You see the news about analyzing (Bob) Probert's brain and what has happened to older guys who have suffered through concussions," he said, "and I wonder, 'Is that going to be me?' I've already had damage."
Wood is an on-going patient of the Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury community outreach program based out of the Thames Valley Children's Centre.
"They've been a big help," he said.
Wood has formed his own opinions on concussion prevention in hockey.
"Our equipment, the elbow pads, are like steel," he said. "That's got to change. It would help if the ice surface was bigger and I like the new rule of no hitting at the local level. You don't need it. I started hitting in atom at age 10. That's early."
Wood, of course, isn't turning his back on hockey. He still loves watching the Toronto Maple Leafs on TV and he will be back at the rink this fall.
His math teacher and hockey coach Steve Geiger invited him to help out with his old St. Anne's team, although in a bittersweet role.
"I'll be the waterboy and the door opener," said Wood, previously part of the first St. Anne's team to make it to the Ontario championships. "That'll be me."
It's something, but it's not ideal.
"You always hope there's one day you'll be able to play hockey again," he said, "but right now, I just want the normal days. You want those days where you don't have any headaches.
"I don't want anyone to have to go through this."
Not at any age, let alone 16.