Public meeting addresses concussions as training camps begin

With training camps kicking off this weekend, the topic of concussions returned to the forefront of many hockey discussions. Perhaps that’s why the Outcomes following Concussion in Hockey (OuCH!) seminar was scheduled today at St. Michael’s Hopsital in Toronto.

About 200 people attended the public meeting, which addressed a wide variety of issues related to concussions in the sport.

Researcher Michael Hutchinson presented his observations from studying about 200 concussions that occurred in the NHL from the beginning of the 2007-08 season to midway through 2010. Some of Hutchison’s findings were pretty obvious. For instance, forwards suffer the most concussions, which seems sensible since there are more of them on the ice and they tend to touch the puck more often. There were some interesting observations, though, including the fact that concussions happen more often in the first period than the second or third.

Hutchison points out that this trend doesn’t follow the typical pattern of injuries.

“Generally athletic injuries have been thought to be sustained later on in the game when people are tired and fatigued,” he said. “And this was a situation where most of the concussions occurred in the first period.”

He speculated that high adrenaline and energy levels in the 20 minutes that follow the initial drop of the puck may lead to more contact between players, as may a team’s strategy to set the tone with aggressive forechecking.

James Christie of The Globe & Mail covered an interesting portion of the seminar that revolved around the mental health effects of concussions. One doctor referred to concussions as a “hidden injury” that cannot be treated like a normal broken bone or pulled muscle.

“I’ve spent 12 years doing this stuff in an acute setting, but what I haven’t seen is articles from the psychiatric point of view,” Dr. Shree Bhalerao told the conference, organized by Dr. Michael Cusimano, St. Michael’s neurosurgeon and pioneer in brain injury management. There will be between 15,000 and 20,000 concussive brain injuries across Canada this year, Dr. Cusimano said.

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“There’s still an attitude out there that brain injury is like a broken arm,” said Dr. Cusimano. “You can’t take your brain for granted.”

Dr. Cusimano told the audience that 30 percent of patients suffering from concussions exhibit signs of depression and “diminished motivation.” They tend to suffer from anxiety, increased irritability and “can lapse into substance abuse.” A worrisome 87 percent dealt with issues related to short-term memory, as well.

Of course, the most important goal is to prevent these injuries from happening – at least to the best of peoples’ abilities. Dr. Cusimano and others want actions to be taken now.

Dr. Cusimano said about one in 4,000 hockey players has a pro career “but about 70 per cent of young mothers are thinking they don’t want their young athletes playing hockey. “There’s an urgency to do something now, not 10 years from now,” he said.

It might take people some time to turn around what’s been called a “macho culture,” especially when that frame of mind isn’t always as foolish as it seems. After all, a player who sits out games because of injuries is more likely to lose his job, especially if that person is in a replaceable role like a lower-line grinder or an enforcer. Ultimately, it might take a little longer than experts would like, but at least discussions are pushing hockey leagues to become more progressive about serious head injuries.

Hagelin making ‘significant steps’ in returning to Pens lineup

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It’s been nearly six weeks since Carl Hagelin last suited up for the Penguins.

His return sounds like it’s on the horizon.

Hagelin, out since Mar. 10 with a lower-body injury, was deemed “close” to coming back by Pens head coach Mike Sullivan, just ahead of tonight’s Game 1 against Washington.

“[Hagelin] is a day-to-day decision at this point,” Sullivan said. “He took limited contact this morning. The next step, obviously, will be the full contact approach.

“He is certainly making significant steps in the right direction here.”

The speedy Swede missed the final 16 games of the regular season with his ailment, and all five games in Pittsburgh’s opening-round win against the Blue Jackets. The end result was just six goals and 22 points in 61 games played, down from the impressive stretch he had last season after being acquired from Anaheim.

Pittsburgh is hopeful the 28-year-old can rejoin the team, and provide similar production as last year’s playoff run. Hagelin had six goals and 16 points in 24 games en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Hagelin isn’t the only veteran forward that could make his return this season. Earlier this week, the Pens announced winger Chris Kunitz had been cleared for contact, and is available for the Washington series.

Sweeney shares offseason plans for Bruins

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The Boston Bruins had a relatively successful season, getting back to the playoffs after narrowly missing them the past two years.

But another interesting summer awaits GM Don Sweeney, who has a number of areas he’d like to improve.

From CSN New England:

Sweeney listed the “middle of the [forward] lineup, transition-minded defensemen and the backup goaltender position” as places he had in mind for offseason upgrades. Those were glaring areas of need throughout the regular season and postseason. 

More specifically on Sweeney’s to-do list: a left wing to be paired with David Krejci, a revamping of a third line that underachieved far too often and another top-four defenseman capable of moving the puck to go along with a more dependable backup goaltender situation than the Jekyll and Hyde performance from Anton Khudobin last season.

Boston’s pending unrestricted free agents include Drew Stafford, Dominic Moore, and John-Michael Liles, the latter of whom turns 37 in November.

At some point, the Bruins will need to find a replacement for 40-year-old Zdeno Chara. But the NHL’s oldest defenseman still has one year left on his contract, and he says he’d like to play beyond that.

To start next season, the Bruins could go with a top four of Chara, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, and Charlie McAvoy, two lefties and two righties. Assuming they don’t re-sign Liles, adding another left shot for the bottom pairing seems an attainable goal for Sweeney. Adding another top-four d-man could be tough, though.

Another situation to watch is the one with Ryan Spooner, the 25-year-old forward who found his way into Bruce Cassidy’s doghouse in the playoffs. Spooner is a pending RFA and arbitration eligible. He can be good offensively, but without the puck he’s still tough to trust.

Sweeney did not share his plan for Spooner with reporters, but it’s safe to say the player’s future with the Bruins is uncertain.

Panthers looking for ‘modern day guy’ as next head coach

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There are just two coaching vacancies left — in Buffalo and Florida, respectively — and on Thursday, Panthers GM Dale Tallon outlined what the club is looking for in its next bench boss.

“We’re looking for a modern day guy, a good communicator and a good teacher,” Tallon said, per WQAM radio. “Someone who is firm, but fair and can think outside the box a little bit, because creativity is important too as far as how you differentiate yourself from other teams playing a similar system.”

To that end, the Panthers have already interviewed one candidate — University of Denver’s Jim Montgomery. Sportsnet reported Florida spoke with him on Monday.

Montgomery, 47, has spent the last three years at Denver, building one of college hockey’s most elite programs. This year’s squad was anchored by Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher, U.S. junior shootout hero Troy Terry and, perhaps most interestingly, freshman scoring sensation Henrik Borgstrom — Florida’s first-round pick at last year’s draft.

Montgomery aside, Tallon and the Panthers sound like they’re casting a wide net to find Tom Rowe’s replacement.

The club reportedly reached out to Vancouver with interest in former bench boss Willie Desjardins. The Miami Herald floated the possibility of bringing in ex-Habs coach Michel Therrien, who resides in South Florida. Montreal radio station 91.9 Sports also connected Therrien to the gig.

Put it all together, and the coaching decision doesn’t appear to be a rush job. Tallon all but cemented that last month, when he said there “are some candidates that are in the playoffs that we can’t talk to,” adding he might wait “until at least mid-June” to make a hire.

Stars re-sign Janmark, who they ‘missed as much as anyone last season’

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Mattias Janmark, the Stars forward that missed all of this season with a major knee injury, has been given a one-year, $700,000 extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Mattias is a played that we missed as much as anyone last season with the unfortunate injury he suffered,” Dallas GM Jim Nill said in a release. “We look forward to him returning to our group and getting him back for training camp.”

Losing Janmark’s services this year was, as mentioned, a fairly big blow. After surprising onlookers by making the Stars out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Today’s news all but alleviates concerns the 24-year-old’s knee problems might extend into next season, something former head coach Lindy Ruff alluded to last month.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” Ruff said, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.