New NHL protocol put into practice with Vernon Fiddler

Earlier this week, the General Managers came up with a new protocol to deal with concussions designed to protect players’ safety. On Friday night, the NHL put it into practice as Coyotes’ forward Vern Fiddler was evaluated after being the recipient a hit-from-behind by Vancouver’s Alex Burrows midway through the 3rd period. Burrows received a 5-minute major for boarding and game misconduct for the play—thankfully Fiddler just missed part of the game as he went awkwardly into the boards.

The play had consequences on the scoreboard as well. The Coyotes scored twice on the ensuing 5-minute major power play and eventually won 3-1.

In the past, Fiddler probably would have been evaluated on the bench by one of the trainers before heading back onto the ice for his next shift. But with the GMs new system put into place, the decision to immediately return to the game is taken out of the player’s hands. As of Wednesday, here’s how these situations are now to be handled:

“The NHL Protocol for Concussion Evaluation and Management has been revised in three areas: 1) Mandatory removal from play if a player reports any listed symptoms or shows any listed signs (loss of consciousness … Motor incoordination/balance problems … Slow to get up following a hit to the head … blank or vacant look … Disorientation (unsure where he is) … Clutching the head after a hit … Visible facial injury in combination with any of the above). 2) Examination by the team physician (as opposed to the athletic trainer) in a quiet place free from distraction. 3) Team physician is to use ‘an acute evaluation tool’ such as the NHL SCAT 2 [SCAT stands for Sports Concussion Assessment Tool] as opposed to a quick rinkside assessment.”

On Friday night, Fiddler was examined for approximately 10 minutes before he was able to rejoin his team. Thankfully, everything checked out when he was evaluated by the physicians at Rogers Place in Vancouver.  Fiddler explained the process after the game.

“I came in the dressing room and that’s the protocol now and that’s what the trainer said when I got hit. You like for it to be quiet and not a bunch of action around.”

“They asked me a bunch of questions, just a typical neuro-psyche test and I just did what I was asked,” Fiddler said. “He just asks you a few questions about the game, what day it is.”

A player being forced to be evaluated by an actual doctor (not a trainer) in a quiet room is a huge deviation from past procedure. We used to hear how a guy just “had his bell rung” or how a hit “cleared out the cobwebs” while a trainer would give a player the once over on the bench. Sometimes adrenaline would get the best of players. Sometimes testosterone would get in the way. But both mistakes can be minimized when taken away from the action and objective tests can be performed. It’s a great step forward and as tonight showed, in practice it has the potential to give both players and organizations a little piece of mind when one of their own is hit.

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