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Messier, Primeau put their weight behind helmet innovations

Dec 21, 2011, 10:00 AM EDT

messierhelmetgetty Getty Images

This post is part of a series looking at the issue and impact of concussions in the NHL. ProHockeyTalk and Comcast SportsNet are featuring pieces today as a lead-in to tonight’s special edition of NHL Live on Versus (6:30 p.m. EST.)

Billy Daly and other NHL executives aren’t wrong when they say that concussions are probably an inevitable part of the current game. That being said, there’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to identifying and preventing concussions. Improving mouthguards and softening equipment such as shoulder pads could help, but here’s a quick look at some of the most intriguing innovations in hockey helmets.

“The Messier Project”

Mark Messier was one of the fiercest leaders in NHL history, but one of his post-career focuses is promoting a line of “concussion-reducing” helmets. You can see an older (and admittedly goofy-looking) version of the design in this post’s main image, but Messier told The New York Times that there are some more “traditional” looking options. (Then again, let’s hope that players care more about their health than how cool their helmets look …)

The showstopper is the foam on the inside, which out-performs the standard stuff that adorns current helmets, at least according to Cascade Sports’ research.

source:  (Image via Cascade Sports’ gallery.)

Does the foam/helmet design really make a difference? Such a claim might need some more research, but hopefully an independent party is either looking into it or will study these innovations. Football helmets have seen similar re-designs that sacrifice a little in aesthetics for a jump in protection, so it would be great to see hockey follow suit.

Keith Primeau’s helmet lights

While Messier’s line focuses on diffuses the impact of a concussive blow, the other two noteworthy helmets gravitate toward identification. The Canadian Press caught up with Keith Primeau, who is promoting “Impact Indicators.” The process is simple: if a potential concussion occurs, a light will go from green to red.

I can just imagine the “Rudolph the Concussed Reindeer” jokes now, which is unfortunate because the idea sounds promising if the technology is sound.

A bomb expert’s take

An Ottawa entrepreneur/former bomb disposal officer named Danny Crossman is throwing his name in the hat with Impakt Protective’s “Shockbox,” which has similar aims* as the “Impact Indicator.” The device is capable of measuring the impact of a hit and then immediately sending the data to a smartphone, according to Andrew Duffy of Postmedia News.


Obviously there’s a commercial aspect to their endeavors, but it’s still fantastic to see Messier and Primeau putting their name recognition behind a key aspect of concussion prevention: improving equipment. Messier probably said it best to The New York Times.

“Generally in our sport we’ve spent all of our money on technology for improving sticks and skates,” Messier said. “Unfortunately none of the money has been spent on headgear, which is probably our most important equipment.”

* – Yes, I’m also a little disappointed that a bomb expert isn’t coming up with some crazy Kevlar-plated helmet, too.

  1. silverdeer - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    I agree with the idea of moving to modern helmet technology to assist in the reduction of concussions. However, there are only two ways to reduce the number of impacts on the ice. The first is to make the ice surface larger, the other is to reduce the number of players on the ice at one time. It is simple physics. If you have a certain number of items flying around in a confined area at a determined speed, there are going to be “X” number of collisions. To reduce that number, you need to either increase the confined area or reduce the number of items in said area.

    • blkeskimo1785 - Dec 21, 2011 at 12:24 PM

      I agree with increasing the ice surface in width, but the number of players on the ice needs to remain the same. One or the other, not both.

      • hawkyman - Dec 22, 2011 at 3:00 PM

        Bigger rink, why? So they can build up more speed? Think about it. Bring back the Red line, it will slow the game down a little. Let goalies play the puck anywhere, then we don’t have so many crazy mad dashes to play the puck.

    • balewsquare - Dec 21, 2011 at 3:10 PM

      You may reduce the number of head shots in that scenario, but if you’re going to tell me it’ll open up space for faster skating, you cannot then deny that when these hits (and they still would happen, albeit less often) do occur, the speed and force of impact will be even more devastating than now. This doesn’t solve any problem, it sweeps it under the rug. It’s akin to the NFL moving up 5 yards on kickoffs. Doesn’t solve anything.

  2. sknut - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    What about mouthguards? I thought they are supposed to help, not sure how many players use them or would. Any progress would be great its scary to think about the long term impact of concussions.

    • danphipps01 - Dec 21, 2011 at 7:00 PM

      They help with some concussions – namely, I believe they reduce the chance of concussion on impacts to the front of the body and the face. Not sure they help much with hits from the sides or behind, but as you say – progress is great. Anything helps. I got the impression that a lot of players do wear them, though if they aren’t mandatory, they should be.

  3. cshearing - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    I’m not sure why no one seems to be looking at adding force-absorbing cushioning to the outside of the helmets. Why does the helmet need to be hard plastic on the outside?

    The ways to reduce concussions are many, and all should be analyzed and worked on. There is no one panacea out there, so looking for it is foolish.

    • danphipps01 - Dec 21, 2011 at 7:02 PM

      … huh. Good thinking. That makes a lot of sense, actually. The challenge has been fitting more padding into the same limited space, but that limit is arbitrary to begin with. You’re right. There’s no reason not to make more room on the exterior too.

    • namriverrat69 - Dec 22, 2011 at 1:03 AM

      I can see it now, 6 inches of padding on the outside of the helmut all around. Very aerodynamic. It seems the hard helmut against the head would still not deter injuries as having a quality designed helmut with padding on the inside. It has been done in football and can be done in hockey too if designed correctly. All this talk of concussions to and that last thing mentioned is protecting the head more. It shows where the priorities really are and not where they should be.

  4. goalscr - Dec 21, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    Institute the RED LINE. The way these guys skate today so fast. They are in full speed when they hit and kill each other.

    • haterzgonahate - Dec 21, 2011 at 6:05 PM

      agreed.. bring back the bloody red line and the clutching and grabbing. How is nobody mentioning this???

      it was Bettmans dumb idea to speed up the game to market it towards non-traitional hockey markets.. and look what’s happened?


      too late..blame Bettman

  5. hank10 - Dec 21, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    Doesn’t matter what shock absorbing materials or blinking lights the helmets come with, if the players do not wear them correctly it means nothing. How many players wear their chinstraps so loose it’s a wonder the helmets stay on their heads. Unless the helmet is securely worn, someone’s head is still going to be vulnerable.

  6. crkreg - Dec 21, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    First let me say that I am not opposed to new helmets or even full face guards being mandated to protect the players. But loo this problem it doesn’t seem to be just a helmet issue. A lot of these concussions aren’t occurring because of hits to the head but form hits to the body where the head is jerked like whiplash, which a helmet can not help. I agree with ‘silverdeer’ above that the rinks need to be larger. The game is significantly faster, players are bigger and stronger, and they need more space.

    • danphipps01 - Dec 21, 2011 at 7:16 PM

      Big factor – the body armour they’re wearing these days is better than the stuff some militaries get, or so it seems. It’s ridiculously hard, meant to stop pucks with barely a bruise. But the problem is, hard impacts (meaning, impacts with a stiff, unyielding object) are MUCH more likely to cause concussions than impacts with a more yielding one with the same force. So, softer, foam-edged gear like what USED to be worn in the pre-lockout days was actually safer. The same hits were less likely to concuss players because the hits were cushioned to a degree by the padding on the player dishing the hit. And we need to cycle that gear back in. Luckily, there’s talk in the NHL of doing this already, I believe, so I’m hopeful that this issue will be addressed sooner rather than later.

  7. hazlydose - Dec 21, 2011 at 6:22 PM

    How about a neck brace that would prevent the head from snapping back? Hockey players don’t need to look straight up so it wouldn’t really be a hindrance.

    • danphipps01 - Dec 21, 2011 at 7:34 PM

      I don’t know. The hits from behind that send a guy headfirst into the boards happen every other night right now. We’ve seen dozens this season already – some with suspensions resulting, others not. I think those hits happen frequently enough that neck braces could result in some devastating injuries. Some players seem to have absolutely no problem nailing each other with that kind of hit, and Shanny’s not been hard enough on them to scare them straight – so if braces are in play, I worry that that would only heighten the chance of injury on those hits.

  8. bcjim - Dec 21, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    looks really gay

    • namriverrat69 - Dec 22, 2011 at 1:08 AM

      It is the guys goofy grin that makes it look stupid. I’m sure designers can come up with a helmut better looking than that which has more padding and protection.

  9. 8man - Dec 21, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    The dialog is fiery and the ideas are flowing. PHT Planet has some ideas. Slowly, a solution will evolve and the game will be better. Getting there and getting better.

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