A revolution is taking place within professional hockey in North America. Players, trainers, and physicians are demanding increased awareness for player safety. Terms like progressive degenerative disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are becoming a part of daily vocabulary. Helmet protection and concussions in hockey only scratches the surface of the underlying player safety issues. What measures are being taken to protect players by professional hockey organizations, and what equipment is available to help safeguard hockey players from unnecessary short term and long term injury?
There is no more denying the long-term effects of repeat concussions by the NHL. Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak demonstrated that CTE has serious and sometimes fatal effects on the emotional and mental state of hockey players. In recent months, with the sudden passing of Steve Montador, a lawsuit has been filed against the NHL on behalf of the Montador family. What can the NHL do to prevent this in the future? Significantly pressure equipment manufacturers to increase concussion-preventing technologies in helmets both at the retail and professional levels. Implementing these technologies and making them available for younger athletes means lesser amounts of concussions over the lifetime of the athlete, and ultimately improved quality of life should these athletes make it through to professional hockey. Should this change be made, many other areas of the game need improvements in order to further protect players while on the ice.
Another very common injury in hockey is a laceration from a skate blade. All kinds of horrific injuries have occurred from freak accidents. Many hockey manufacturers have recognized this problem and designed various pieces of performance ware to combat this issue. Bauer, Easton, Reebok and a few others produce a sock that is woven with Kevlar to prevent injuries to the ankles, feet, and Achilles Tendons from skates. A relatively new company by the name of Vital Nation also has designed a shin-guard sock that is more durable and with Kevlar sewn into an area on the back of the leg where many freak injuries from skates occur. Many players from NHL teams have been seen using these socks already. Whether or not players actually take advantage of these pieces of equipment is solely dependent on the player. Sadly at the time Erik Karlsson, now captain of the Senators, pieces of equipment comparable to the above mentioned were available for use.
Mandatory use of visors is one step that every level of professional hockey has already taken to protect players. In the past it was rare to see a player with any sort of eye/face protection in the professional ranks. Now, it is uncommon to see a player without it. Thankfully this is a change that has proven time and time again to be extremely beneficial for players. Every hockey player has, at one point or another, had a close call where all that separated the skater from the ER is the small piece of metal or plastic.
While some solutions to player safety are available today, a couple major steps still must be taken. In the concussion prevention discussion Physicians and scientists must come to an agreement on what it means to keep prevent injury and protect players. This disagreement is likely to continue until more evidence is provided regarding the correlation between helmet protection and CTE.