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Iced Coffey

Saving the players from themselves

Few comments, quips and quotes raise my eyebrows anymore. Perhaps my nonchalence stems from the 24-hour news cycle where we hear everyone’s take on everything just about all the time.

But comments from the Washington Capitals’ Brooks Laich to Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington really caught my attention. How about you?

“I really don’t care about that awareness crap,” Laich said. “To be honest, I’m sick of hearing all this talk about concussions and about the quiet room. This is what we love to do. Guys love to play, they love to compete, they want to be on the ice. How do you take that away from someone? We accept that there’s going to be dangers when we play this game. We know that every time we get dressed.

“I don’t know, sometimes it just feels like we’re being babysat a little too much. We’re grown men and we should have a say in what we want to do.”

Laich is your typical hockey player. He wants to play, today, tomorrow and the day after. The willingness of players to ignore or overcome injury is part of hockey’s legend. The resiliency is something we cherish about the sport.

But—- and you knew a but was coming—today we know far more—and yet not enough—about concussions and the story isn’t pretty. Years ago, Sports Illustrated did a piece on concussions. The article detailed the longterm struggles of former NFL receiver Al Toon. A wide-body pass catcher for the New York Jets, the lingering, debilitating effects of repeated concussions had sent this top athlete into darkened rooms because he could not tolerate light.

In the NHL, we still await the return of Sidney Crosby from a concussion he suffered last season. Ditto Marc Staal of the New York Rangers. There are only the broadest of estimates regarding their return to the lineup. And we have seen the long-term impact of concussions on Hall of Famer pat Lafontaine, who was forced into retirement far too soon because of multiple concussions.

Back in the olden days—and it wasn’t that long ago—players, coaches and fans would chuckle over a player “getting his bell rung.”
It’s not so funny anymore, is it?

Which brings us back to Laich’s comments. It reminded me of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo earlier this season. Romo had taken a beating in a game and somehow talked his way back into the lineup despite a rib injury and a collapsed lung. A collapsed lung! Talk about taking one for the team! But the fact is, Romo should have been nowhere near the field in his condition, game or no game. He should have been getting treatment and someone should have been checking to make sure he didn’t have a concussion.

Players want to play. God bless ‘em, that’s what they do and why we watch. But coaches, trainers, doctors and medical staff have to save the players from themselves, just as fans should not expect the impossible from the players.

Having covered hockey from 1981, I can count on one hand—OK maybe one and a half—the number of players who didn’t give their all in games. With the growing knowledge base on concussions, especially the indefinite duration of concussions, the onus should be on even more careful consideration of a player’s condition. You might have to break their sticks, hide their skates or shred their jersey, but if that’s what it takes, so be it. Players get paid to play and others get pair to make sure they don’t take shortcuts with their careers, and their lives.

Speaking of concussions—There is good news for the Washington Capitals.Jay Beagle is fine after taking a shot to the face from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Arron Asham Thursday night. Coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters Friday that Beagle wanted to return to the game, but the Capitals were holding him out to make sure he didn’t have a concussion.

As for Asham’s post-fight gestures, one in which he intimated the Beagle was sleeping, the Penguins player apologized and Boudreau said it was all water under the bridge now.

“It was obviously the wrong thing to do, but he made good,” Boudreau told reporters. “I think his apology was really sincere and it wasn’t like it took two weeks for him to apologize. It was right after the game. As long as I’ve known of him, I’ve never seen him do anything like that. As far as I’m concerned, the incident is over.”

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About Iced Coffey

Phil Coffey has covered the NHL since 1981, most recently as the Senior Editorial Director of NHL.com. He spent over 11 years there.