Hockey continues to evolve at rapid speed. Players are getting bigger, stronger and faster, and the quickening pace of the game means decisions have to be made in a blink of an eye.
The way in which injuries are identified, diagnosed and treated is also evolving as hockey’s leaders try to keep pace with an ever-changing game.
This is especially evident when it comes to concussions. Mostly gone are the days when a player with a potentially serious head injury was dismissed as having “had their bell rung” and encouraged to play through it. Officials at various levels of the game are increasingly giving decision-makers the tools to remove possibly concussed players from the ice and ensure they are healthy before letting them return.
The world’s biggest and most competitive youth hockey league has taken the lead in this area. Beginning last season, the Greater Toronto Hockey League partnered with Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, a leader in youth concussion research.
The goal was simple. The GTHL wanted to give coaches and trainers the ability to recognize a potential concussion. It also wanted to establish a clear set of rules that every player — and the player’s family — must follow before returning to the ice.
“There is a clear path and it’s laid out as a step-by-step return-to-play document that guides all parties involved,” says GTHL executive director Scott Oakman.
Not playing doctor
Nick Reed, a co-director of Holland Bloorview’s concussion centre, says the process starts when either a player reports experiencing concussion symptoms, or a trainer or coach sees visual signs of a head injury, such as a player clutching his head.
“First, we remove the player from play immediately and a suspected concussion report form is submitted to the league,” Reed says. “Then they’re directed to seek medical assessment to obtain proper diagnosis.”
In order to help them identify concussion symptoms, more than 1,200 GTHL trainers and coaches received in-person training by experts from Holland Bloorview before last season. The league wanted the adults behind the bench to be able to identify a variety of things that could be linked to a suspected concussion.
Trainers, especially, have been given a key role in the process.
“We have laid the responsibility at the feet of trainer and tried to take it away from the coach,” Oakman says. “Although [coaches] have a role to play, our position has been that the trainer is the…