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Renowned concussion doctor: “Let’s get head shots out of hockey”

May 4, 2012, 11:54 AM EDT

Pittsburgh Penguins v Montreal Canadiens Getty Images

At a panel discussion Thursday night at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, concussion and brain injury expert Dr. Charles Tator made a definitive statement about head shots in the game of hockey:

Eliminate them entirely.

“We have no treatment for concussions,” Tator explained. “We have no treatment for the accumulative concussion, we have no treatment for the repetitive concussion, and it is the repetitive concussion that causes brain damage.

“Let’s get head shots out of hockey.”

Former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button also spoke about head shots, and believes the issue needs to be addressed.

“I don’t think it’s about fighting, it’s about blows to the head,” Button explained. “They should take away all contact to the head. Zero tolerance.”

The statements come at a time when another professional sports league, the NFL, is under siege for the treatment and handling of brain-related injury. According to a report, there are over 1,000 ex-NFL players currently suing the league, claiming not enough was done to inform players about the dangers of concussions in the past, and not enough is done to take care of them today.

In light of Tator’s comments — especially the admittance there’s “no treatment for concussions” — you can expect the issue of head shots in hockey to carry on throughout the summer, especially when it comes to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.

  1. dougr42 - May 4, 2012 at 12:00 PM

    What would zero tolerance be? You can’t ban a guy for one head shot. And what about the ones that are accidents?

    Rule 48 can be enforced better but the one thing that will reduce head hits would be making it illegal to have your hands high when you hit.

    • mehetmet - May 4, 2012 at 12:20 PM

      kind of like the nfl does with qb’s. Any contact is a penalty, the severity of the penalty is determined by the intent and severity of the hit. if its accidental or light, 2 min penalty. If its more serious 5, 10, game, suspension etc.

      If a guy is headhunting, throw him out, if a guy throws a check, and makes contact with the head unintentionally, 2 mins –control yourself just like you do with your stick. Just because you didn’t mean to hit him in the face with your blade doesnt make it ok.

      • bmscalise - May 4, 2012 at 12:38 PM

        Exactly – I don’t know why people think the only answer is insane suspensions for head contact. Even if it was the right thing (which is uncertain), neither players nor owners would consistently support it. Hence, Torres’ appeal. The Pens stance not to appeal Cooke’s suspension was an outlier, a laudable move that unfortunately won’t be emulated.

        Instead, start with a basic 2 min penalty for head contact of any kind and consistently enforce it (I know, a lot to ask of this league). Good lord, you get two minutes for a puck over the glass. I think it would do a ton of good – because it is possible to be consistent in enforcing it, something that won’t happen if you rely on supplemental disciple, and because even short-sighted players know they shouldn’t be taking penalties.

        This policy doesn’t mean you can’t have supplemental discipline, depending on the hit; it just eliminates what is a huge gray area and ensure that ALL head contact is punished in some way, if only for 2 min in the box. The players know its never okay – and enough with the excuses.

  2. bcjim - May 4, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    Just shut down all sports leagues.

    Also, ban cars. Lots of accidents. And bikes, surfing, jet skis, skateboards, snow skis, guns of any sort, boxing, mma, wwe, football, motorcycles.

    Kids can all just hang out at the mall or play video games. Man life will be great.

    • bloggersarenotjournalists - May 4, 2012 at 1:32 PM

      Spoken like a boy

      How many parents and insurance companies are going to continue spending money and allowing their children play a sport that some people are beginning to say?

      Play, Concussion 1 , Concussion 2, Concussion 3, suicide

  3. barkar942 - May 4, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    You can fall out of bed in the morning and hit your head on the nightstand and die.
    NASCAR was one of the first sports to react to head injuries because of the death of Dale Earnhart.
    Football, hockey, boxing, all sports that involve extremely physical contact. Much has been done in many sports trying to quell the number of brain injuries- i.e. concussions- and still they happen and the debate continues.
    bcjim’s post is obviously a facetious one, but it is a commentary on “let’s all overreact to everything in life”.
    Concussions will continue to happen in sports. The main focus should be to minimize the amount of head hits in sports as much as possible and in science to protect the brain with different forms of equipment (better brain protecting helmets that reduce the impact to the brain, softer padding on arms and shoulders, HANS devices in racing, etc.).
    Not all hits are penalties- best case in point it the hit on Michael Sauer by Dion Phaneuf- straight-on, face forward hit. It still concussed Sauer. So what do you do about hits like that?
    The bottom line is that the players all need to understand vulnerability to injury- there are certain impacts that need be avoided by an attacking player if they see their opponent is in one of those vulnerable positions. There have been much fewer boarding injuries this year because guys are letting up when they see the numbers on their backs. Does it still happen, yes- but definitely much less.
    The Scott Stevens patented east-west cream the unsuspecting player (Chris Neil’s hit on Bryan Boyle) just plain needs to be outlawed. If you move east to west on a player don’t cream them when they are vulnerable. This is mostly education of the players to stay away from the head.
    Do I want to watch “Boy in the protective Bubble sports”? No. But I would like to see fewer career ending concussion injuries like Marc Savards, or Eric Lindros.

    • bloggersarenotjournalists - May 4, 2012 at 1:38 PM


      If you played hockey you would know that most of these hits happen on the “trolley-tracks” and they have been told it’s the best place to be blown up.

      You don’t tell players not to hit them when the skate North and South
      You do not tell players not to hit the guy with his head down.

      You tell them to stop skating with their head down and skating North & South.

      and btw “east and west?” east and west are when the nets are, it get what you’re trying to say, but you shouldn’t be the one saying it and you’re only partially correct.

  4. bcisleman - May 4, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    The NHL could do as is already done in international hockey. Make any head shot an automatic ejection and one game suspension. Additional games could be added depending on whether it was ruled intentional and the severity of injury.

    Some will raise the notion that this would be unfair to bigger players as they would have more difficulty making legit shoulder hits on shorter players. I would submit that Zdeno Chara is as big as they come, routinely plays in international competition and I do not ever recall him getting ejected for a head shot.

    This is what the NHL SHOULD do, but it won’t. It will keep on as it has been until there is another Masterton tragedy. Then it will mull the issue for a dozen or so years before doing anything as it did with the helmet mandate after Masterton was killed.

  5. Paul Busch - May 4, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    I can understand the comment, “it’s not about fighting”. Ken Dryden said the same thing in Regina at a recent panel discussion on head shots and concussions. He felt that there is a lot more emotion around fighting and it complicates the head shot discussion.

    But fighting is an issue. How can the league have a department of player safety but then allow them to punch each other in the head. According to NHL stats only 3% or 4% of the approx 100 concussions this season were caused by fighting but why not eliminate an activity that is already illegal and save 3 or 4 more players from head trauma. If you combine fights with hockey hits, fighting makes up less than 1%. That means you are 3 or 4 times more likely to suffer a concussion from a fight versus a hit.

    I am against fighting simply because I don’t believe that it belongs in the game. It takes away from the fast pace and artistry of the players and tarnishs the image of hockey. I’ve also written about the myths of momentum and policing, publishing studies and stats that disprove the claims of pro-fighting fans about why it needs to remain. But the health issue is big enough on it’s own to make the decision easy for the NHL.

    • bloggersarenotjournalists - May 4, 2012 at 6:01 PM

      You never played Hockey and are a parasite trying to push the agenda you are spewing on your site

  6. jpelle82 - May 4, 2012 at 2:37 PM

    its already banned. this conversation is stupid. you cant hit people in the head, its a penalty and will get you suspended. the game is too fast and the pads are too hard, until they do something about either of those things, you are going to see a good amount of concussions. adding stricter discipline wont help, there are thousands of guys waiting in the wings to play nhl hockey, you suspend a guy or ban him, another will fill his roster slot and life moves on.

  7. billsin20xx - May 4, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    How about banning helmets (in hockey and football) so the ‘hitters’ have think twice a bout how and where they are hitting people?

    I know it’s kind of facetious to think about but I do think many of the nastiest hits in hockey and football are because guys don’t have any fear of hurting themselves with the hits.

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