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

Jul 23, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

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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.

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