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Puckarinen Hits A Post

Mind your head

The IIHF President René Fasel is fond of saying that “there is no such thing as a clean hit to the head”, referring to the fact that the IIHF rules don’t allow that kind of checks.

That’s true, and all leagues should do everything they can to minimize the number of hits to the head in their games. Concussions are almost commonplace these days. And not always just as a result of dirty, or reckless plays.

All teams have players who know what one feels like.

In Sweden, Djurgården’s Jimmie Ölvestad just got a two-game suspension for hitting Luleå’s Mattias Persson in the head with his elbow. Persson suffered a concussion in the play. Ölvestad’s teammate Daniel Tjärnqvist missed almost three months last year due to a concussion, and Djurgården’s goalie last season, Stefan Ridderwall, missed a few games due to a concussion.

Persson’s Luleå is still waiting for Cam Abbott to return to action. The Canadian forward suffered a concussion in Luleå’s game against Färjestad last November, was sidelined for ten weeks, returned to the lineup in January, and played the rest of the season.

The original injury took place when Abbott - 181 centimeters, 86 kilograms - tried to bodycheck Martin Sevc, Färjestad’s defenceman - 183 centimeters, 89 kilograms. Sevc’s helmet may have hit Abbott in the face.

The symptoms returned in August, and Abbott hasn’t played a game this season yet.

Stefan Ridderwall’s concussion came after he had been hit at a practice, and then got a shot in the mask in their next game. He told Swedish Aftonbladet that he had felt “exhausted” but “didn’t want to be a whiner” because the team had lost five in a row. So, he played the game against Timrå, and started the next game against Södertälje, before he vomited during the first intermission, and was taken out of the game.

Last season, Helsinki IFK’s Mikael Granlund suffered a concussion in mid-October after he hit the boards after his own attempt to check another player. He returned to the game then, and scored the game winning goal in a shootout, but then was sidelined the rest of the year.

A year ago, Granlund was a super prospect, a potential first-line center. This season, he’s a candidate for league MVP, a player who shocked Russia at the Worlds, and the teenager who stick handled himself onto a postage stamp.

Last Thursday, he was on the wrong side of a hard body check again, hit his head on the sideboards and left the game. He missed HIFK’s game last Friday, but now has a full week to recover for their next game, next Friday.

The club announced on Monday that the injury was “mild”, and called it a whiplash. Granlund hasn’t skated since his injury, and while the club doctor was confident that Granlund would be back in the lineup by Friday, they will certainly let him take his time to get back to 100 percent again.

Last season, Ridderwall played through the symptoms. Abbott and Granlund both finished the games they got injured.

That’s human. We don’t like to admit - to ourselves - that there’s anything wrong with us. We try to shake it off, and hope for the best. But suddenly, we start to truly understand the consequences of concussions.

Luleå’s team doctor Yelverton Tegner linked concussions to depression last week, in an interview with TT, Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå, Scandinavia’s largest news agency.

“It’s not unusual that people who have long lasting effects of concussions become depressed. In the past we’ve thought that they’ve got depressed because they haven’t been able to play hockey anymore,” said professor Tegner. 

“The most important thing is to respect the opponents, not check from behind, and not hit somebody who’s not prepared to get checked. That’s where the coaches and managers play an important role. I’ve never heard a coach call out their players for checking from behind,” added Tegner who’s been Luleå’s doctor since 1974.

I’ve heard it once. Back in 2006, then Tampere Ilves coach, former NHLer, Kari Eloranta called out Henrik Juntunen, who ran over Olli Malmivaara, saying that he “hoped that Juntunen gets a long suspension.”

Malmivaara got a concussion and a broken nose, Juntunen a two-game suspenstion, and Eloranta … well, he got to feel the wrath of the hockey community.

Risto Pakarinen wrote this in Stockholm, soon the temporary home of the New York Rangers. You can follow him on Twitter as @puckarinen.

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Actually, the hit that started it all, Doug Weight on Brandon Sutter, always seemed clean to me. Weight Wasn’t very fast, he didn’t rise, he didn’t stick the elbow out… If Sutter didn’t lower his head on the play, it’s clean body-to-body bodycheck.

Posted by Davor on 09/27/11 at 07:24 PM ET

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About Puckarinen Hits A Post

Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden.

That's right, he's deep behind the enemy lines. He's also a regular contributor to IIHF.com, NHL.com, The Hockey News, and several publications in Finland and Sweden. He's also covered four World Championships and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for the IIHF.

And since he foolishly hoisted the Stanley Cup in his twenties, he wakes up every morning knowing he will never be able to win it.