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Concussion crisis in ice hockey

Former New York Islander Dan LaCouture visited UMass Lowell (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)
Michaela Hyde
and Alexa Hyde

Commissioner of Hockey East, Joe Bertagna, and a nine-year veteran of the NHL, Dan LaCouture, visited UMass Lowell on Thursday, February 25 to speak to students regarding the ongoing concussion crisis in ice hockey.

LaCouture was initially drafted by the New York Islanders in 1996 as a forward. While not originally a starter, LaCouture was able to gain notoriety in the NHL by getting into fights on the ice. After being traded to several different teams, including the Boston Bruins, throughout his career, a fight in 2004 while he was a part of the New York Rangers left LaCouture with a concussion that would lead to the end of his career in 2006. Now, LaCouture is one of several former NHL players involved in a class-action lawsuit against the league.

Bertagna also showed concern over the growing issue of concussions, particularly in regards to youth hockey and college hockey. Bertagna specializes in the development and enforcement of rules to protect players’ safety and to minimize serious injuries, especially concussions.

“Ever since the subject of concussions has been elevated in national discourse, contact to the head becomes one of our points of emphasis,” Bretagna said on Hockey East’s stance on concussion prevention. “There’s actually a penalty that never existed before, contact to the head.”

LaCouture and Bertagna went on to discuss the current state of hockey and the culture surrounding it. Bertagna mentioned the changing rules of youth hockey, where checking has been removed until kids are older and the physicality of the sport has been lessened. Both men referenced the response of the hockey community, especially from youth hockey parents. LaCouture, a current youth hockey coach, mentioned how parents are often the ones inciting violence from the young players. However, LaCouture also commented that the hockey community, especially fans and parents of players, are reluctant to see any changes to the sport.

Another concern raised about concussions was the reluctance to acknowledge them and the effects they carry, by both players and coaches. LaCouture noted that he would stay in games after hits to the heads, and Bertagna reflected on his college playing days, when he played just three days after losing consciousness on the ice. LaCouture also recalled situations in his time playing in the NHL where players were able to cheat concussion tests and coaches urged players to return to the game after hits to the head.

Looking forward on the state of concussion prevention in the NHL, LaCouture comments that less fighting, like in the Olympics and the NHL playoffs, would allow for better safety of the players and for better hockey in general. Both Bertagna and LaCouture state that they are not looking to change hockey or much of the culture surrounding the sport. Instead, they want to protect the players and make hockey safer by holding the NHL accountable for the head injuries of players and by changing and being stricter in rules, especially at the youth and collegiate levels.

UMass Lowell Political Science. Social Media Editor. Politics and professional sports. Media and makeup. Follow @kaylaaakaliope for endless sports rants.

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