Pucks can play key roles in concussions

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This post is part of a series looking at the issue and impact of concussions in the NHL. ProHockeyTalk and Comcast SportsNet are featuring pieces today as a lead-in to tonight’s special edition of NHL Live on Versus (6:30 p.m. EST.)

The official puck of the NHL is small in stature — one inch thick, three inches in diameter, between 5.5-6 ounces in weight — but its impact on head injuries and concussions can be large.

Recently, Philadelphia Flyers rookie Sean Couturier was knocked out of a game after taking a Kimmo Timonen slapshot to the head:

Couturier left the game and didn’t return. While he appears to have gotten off lightly — Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said he’s day-to-day with a head injury — it reminded many of two careers cut short by pucks to the head.

One career was that of Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens. He suffered a concussion after being hit by this Pavel Kubina slapper during the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs:

Stevens played through the injury en route to winning the Cup with the Devils that spring, but retired the next season after experiencing post-concussion symptoms.

Another career that was derailed in a similar fashion was Ian Laperriere’s. He suffered a brain contusion after blocking a Paul Martin slapshot during the 2010 playoffs:

Lapierre briefly returned to the lineup before shutting it down for good.

“They say I have a bruise in my brain and they don’t want any bleeding in there,” Laperriere said at the time. “We’re hockey players. We take pride in playing with injuries, but that’s one thing I just can’t afford to do for the sake of my family. Trust me, I want to be out there. It’s the type of play I’ve done 10,000 times in my career and I’m going to do it again.”

Unfortunately for Laperriere, he never played again. The contusion has forced him to miss each of the last two seasons with post-concussion symptoms — he’s since been advised by doctors to retire. (Laperriere still hasn’t formally done so, but is on long-term injured reserve. Ironically, the Flyers assigned his old No. 14 to Couturier.)

The aforementioned injuries beg the question: Is a better puck out there?

According to Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail, maybe there is.

MacGregor tells the story of Harry McEachern, who a half-century ago developed a new puck aimed at replacing the frozen rubber disc developed by Art Ross, Eddie Shore and others.

[McEachern] came up with a puck made of butyl rubber that was the same size and weight as the puck in the rulebook but had somewhat different characteristics.

The new puck required no freezing, as is still done to NHL pucks in order to keep them from bouncing. Butyl rubber, McEachern says, is an “energy-absorbing material” that doesn’t bounce well. The puck appeared to slide more easily on the ice and, mysteriously, caused very few cuts when flying up into players’ faces.

“If it came in touch with the skin,” McEachern says, “it didn’t break. I can’t explain it.”

Local leagues experimented with the new puck for a couple of seasons in the late 1950s and the Red Wings tried them out in practice and were suitably impressed. But the league never adopted it.

There’s no magic bullet when it comes to solving the concussion problem in hockey, but it will be important to examine every facet of the game — from pucks to shoulder pads to trapezoids on the ice — to minimize the impact of head injuries on the players.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson