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Virginia Tech helmet study could ‘hit hockey like a ton of bricks’

Jul 23, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Championship - Semifinals Getty Images

Whether it’s actually true that there were fewer concussions in the 2013-14 season or not, head injuries remain a significant problem in the NHL and in the sport overall. The New York Times reports that Virginia Tech researchers are tackling at least one facet of the issue: the helmets that protect those vulnerable heads.

Dr. Stefan M. Duma and Dr. Steven Rowson are pivoting their STAR system from studies that began with Virginia Tech’s football team in 2011 and applying those standards to hockey helmets.

“After football, hockey is the sport that produces the highest rate of concussion,” Dr. Duma said. “We want to produce a mechanism to try and reduce that risk of concussion.”

While it’s unclear if increased internal padding truly helps reduce the risks of concussions, that seems to be one of the standards that generates a higher rating on that STAR system. The New York Times reports that the two researchers are expected to release their findings in the fall or winter, and the results might not be pretty.

Although concussions can be caused by all sorts of contact, Duma said, they tend to occur most often when the head is subjected to 80 to 120 g’s of acceleration. The current standard for acceptability by USA Hockey and other governing bodies require helmets only to reduce high accelerations acting against the head to 300 g’s. A 2011 report by the concussion-awareness organization US Youth Sports noted that standard as the lowest “of any contact sporting helmet allowed for use in the United States.”

ICS Laboratories president Dale Pfriem told the New York Times that these findings will “hit hockey like a ton of bricks.” (A side-by-side comparison between the padding inside a hockey helmet and a football helmet certainly seems jarring.)

Pierre-Luc Beauchamp, a spokesman for CCM, said it’s too early to tell what might happen as a result of the research – the report indicates that the STAR system made a big impact on football helmet sales – and wonders if more padding means fewer concussions.

Those are all valid questions, but taking a deeper look at equipment might just help make a dangerous game a little bit safer.

  1. terrier92 - Jul 23, 2014 at 10:25 PM

    Crap. Time to replace my Jofa !!!!

  2. greej1938l - Jul 23, 2014 at 10:26 PM

    Love the pic! :)

    • davebabychreturns - Jul 23, 2014 at 10:54 PM

      Badgers fan?

  3. sjsharks66 - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:08 PM

    The helmets can help all they want. It’s not going to help against elbows to the head and crucial boarding majors. Hope it helps for the everyday check. That would be great.

    • paperlions - Jul 24, 2014 at 8:31 AM

      Yep. The biggest concern with concussions is often the acceleration and deceleration caused by the hit and whatever the head hits to be stopped….no amount of helmet padding prevents the brain from smacking the inside of the skull really hard when the head is suddenly stopped.

      • phtjoey - Jul 24, 2014 at 8:38 AM

        Researchers at Mayo Clinic had something to say about reducing concussions.

      • paperlions - Jul 24, 2014 at 8:44 AM

        Yes, well. That is completely different issue.

        As an experiment, it would be interesting to see what would happen if fighting was eliminated from the NHL. Would cheap and dirty hits escalate in games until someone was seriously hurt because there was no mechanism to stop that trend in the play via fighting? Maybe. It would be interesting to find out.

        I wouldn’t be surprised at all if being an official became much more difficult as then the only mechanism for policing the game would be the refs….or more frequent longer suspensions for dangerous hits.

        Hockey is a violent sport. I understand the desire to make is safer, but at some point…it just stops being hockey.

      • pepper2011 - Jul 24, 2014 at 1:37 PM

        Yeah – nobody makes you fight. In any sport (or life) their will be instances of stupidity – Thornton, Bertuzzi, etc… where guys are not willing, but 99.9% of the time the risk is understood. Just like every time a player laces up the skates he knows he could get hit legally.

        The Thornton incident is almost a perfect example. Two concussions. one suspension. The guy who was hit “legally” missed more time than the guy who was punched unwillingly. The Guy who was suspended missed the most time (if memory serves me correct).

        The game has moved away from the late 80’s Penguin type teams that had 15 guys (more if you take an 80/82 game average) with 100+pims.

        They need to have stricter and more consistent punishments for the guys who play recklessly. It’s a fast game and mistakes will be made; it’s the guys like Cooke, Torres, Kaleta, etc.. that continuously make poor decisions and continue to hurt people that are the problem.

        Like paperlions said – it’s a fast, dangerous, & violent sport. Are we going to lower the speed limit on highways to 25 because more serious accidents happen at 30+mph? Seems like you should get rid of the people who can’t seem to grasp they are responsible for others as well as themselves.

        It’s up to the owners and GM’s to stop giving useless players contracts. Kaleta and Scott are two that come to mind. They are not good enough players to be in the for 5+ years. If you have 2 goals in 236 games. there is NO reason to be in the NHL. None.

  4. shaundre93 - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:25 PM

    I think this could help. I’m surprised they haven’t mandated better helmets already. Anyone who’s played knows the most popular helmet is the Bauer 4500. It came out in like the late 90’s/early 2000’s and is comprised of just plastic and some very dense hard foam. Time to sacrifice some “sty” and get these guys in modern helmets. It certainly won’t hurt anyone.

  5. avscup - Jul 23, 2014 at 11:28 PM

    Soften up the shoulder and elbow pads and enforce the rules consistently. More padding in the helmet cannot hurt but the fact remains, hockey is a collision sport. You can reduce concussions, but not eliminate them.

    • 950003cups - Jul 24, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      The hard shell on the elbow and shoulder pads can easily be placed between two thinner linings of sense visco foam. It’ll still reduce impact on crashes, and reduce the shock of hits to the head. No need to take away the shells inside. Just protect players from their impact effectiveness

      • avscup - Jul 24, 2014 at 2:07 PM

        Or simply not make them as ballistic as they are. Lots of ways to soften the pads.

  6. stakex - Jul 24, 2014 at 1:25 AM

    Can a helmet be made that would significantly reduce concussions in hockey? Perhaps…. and it would probably be the size of a beach ball. At least so far, there is little proof that a helmet can be made to significantly reduce concussions but still remain small enough to be acceptable. I mean sure, its easy to say “Make a better helmet!”, but its a very tough engineering problem given the way acceleration g force works.

    Its pretty moot anyway. Most concussions probably wouldn’t be helped by a better helmet, and there are other ways the NHL could cut down on concussions if they really wanted to. Banning hard plastic shoulder and elbow pads, and allow minor obstruction against attacking players chasing pucks into the zone are two fixes that would no doubt result in less concussions.

    • kaptaanamerica - Jul 24, 2014 at 1:52 AM

      banning hard plastics in upper body equipment would be start and making players where helmet with increased padding would be another.

      ultimately, i think the league should make it a part of that standard contract language that the player takes responsibility for any concussions or other injury that occur in playing the sport. that’s why they get paid the money they do. its a high risk profession for head injury.

      other occupations with risk, the employee signs a waiver and takes danger pay to compensate. these people are adults with access to legal advisors who should guide them on signing such agreements. if you don’t sign off on the risk of injury, you should go play in a beer league.

      • hockey412 - Jul 24, 2014 at 8:54 AM

        Umm….bigger picture…the beer leagues use the same helmet. I agree that these are adults, know the risks, yada yada…and hell let’s just be honest, we talk about safer helmets out of one side of our mouths but we defend player fighting out of the other.

        Point is, whatever can keep the KID’S heads safe up until they are ready/able to make the risk/reward decision on whether to play a sport professionally that could have a serious health effect on them later in life, let’s take a look at it please.

      • jpelle82 - Jul 24, 2014 at 10:12 AM

        you raise a good point…nhl players are a mere fraction of the people who play hockey. better helmets are good for everyone and the overall hockey world (if the overall hockey world can afford the helmets)

      • hockeyflow33 - Jul 24, 2014 at 2:54 PM

        All the concussion suits center on the fact that teams knowingly covered up or downplayed concussion data

    • govtminion - Jul 24, 2014 at 10:22 AM

      Just FYI, your comment about the size of it immediately made me imagine the helmets the troopers wore in ‘Spaceballs’. I’d love to see this now.

    • desertfan - Jul 24, 2014 at 12:01 PM

      Most concussions have nothing to do with the helmet.
      They are from shoulder to jaw and elbow to jaw hits!!!

      • 950003cups - Jul 24, 2014 at 12:28 PM

        That’s exactly right. In football it’s no different. Guys get decked blindside to the head and it’s lights-out for two weeks. That’s why in hockey it’s important to ease off on the armour shields on shoulders and elbows. Put those plastic cups under dense foam. It’ll have drawbacks, but the upside is way better with what’s happening

      • jpelle82 - Jul 24, 2014 at 1:40 PM

        drawbacks would be that guys are less excited to block shots or throw big hits I would think. it would really deter the james neal types from throwing cheap shots if the cheap shot had the potential for unintended self inflicted punishment.

      • mogogo1 - Jul 24, 2014 at 6:11 PM

        Not sure how big a difference it would make on hits. Hockey players don’t lead with their heads like NFL players do. That’s a sport where the equipment has TOTALLY contributed to injuries, concussions in particular. They stuck armor on guys and then were surprised they used it as an offensive weapon. You make an NFL player wear a hockey helmet and nobody leads with their helmet.

  7. Wineshard - Jul 24, 2014 at 5:51 AM

    I can foresee a Craig MacTavish lawsuit coming. His helmet was clearly substandard. However, there was nothing to protect anyway.

  8. phtjoey - Jul 24, 2014 at 8:00 AM

    “helmets do not prevent the primary reason for concussions in collision sports” – Dr. Robert Cantu

    Dr. Robert Cantu is one of the world’s foremost authorities on concussions and brain trauma in sports.

    “Today’s helmets do a marvelous job of protecting against skull fracture. That’s something we almost never see anymore in our practice. And, helmets reduce the most serious inter-cranial bleeding — they’ve reduced that dramatically, by almost 80 percent. But they don’t do very much for protecting against concussion. That’s because the most injurious acceleration the brain can get is a rotational one, where the head is spun violently. The helmets don’t do very much at all about attenuating those forces. I’m totally in favor of better helmets, but unfortunately I don’t believe that helmets are the solution in terms of concussion.” – Dr. Robert Cantu

  9. flyboystransport - Jul 24, 2014 at 9:36 AM

    Part of the problem is hockey players don’t wear their helmets snug so when they get hitit flops all over the place.

    • killerpgh - Jul 24, 2014 at 4:26 PM

      That will probably be addressed next year. The AHL seems to be the NHL’s guinea pig to test out possible rule changes. The AHL is trying the out the new rule when a player loses his helmet he can’t just keep playing. He has to stop, pick it up and resecure it or leave he ice immediately. If a player continues to play without a helmet it’s a penalty.

  10. ronarch13 - Jul 24, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Huh, Hockey helmets have less pads than Football helmets? Strange. Perhaps one reason could be that HOCKEY PLAYERS DON’T USE THEIR HELMETS AS A WEAPON.

    • jpelle82 - Jul 24, 2014 at 1:44 PM

      unless your name is Kaleta or Dorsett

    • mogogo1 - Jul 24, 2014 at 6:17 PM

      I think the fastest way to eliminate football players from leading with their heads would be eliminating the facemask. Guys will lead with their heads into any situation now because they feel invincible in those helmets. With your face exposed–even partially exposed like shielded hockey helmets are–nobody goes in head-first.

  11. frankiesweep - Jul 25, 2014 at 2:20 AM

    Go Hokies!

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