The dangers of having your BELL RUNG
Concussions are hitting CC hockey at an alarming rate; players, officials have to be cautious
By KATE CRANDALL THE GAZETTE
Dazed, dizzy, but driven to establish his place in the lineup, Colorado College forward Eric Walsky kept playing after an opponent’s shoulder check left a dent in his metal facemask. Not until later, when the symptoms persisted, did Walsky admit to himself what had happened in the Tigers’ exhibition against the U.S. under-18 team. It was the fourth concussion of his career, although it was mild compared to one he suffered in junior hockey, when he couldn’t remember the date or where he was. “It’s hard to accept that it’s a concussion,” Walsky said. “A lot of times you don’t think about the risk, but it’s a huge risk. . . Unlike other injuries, they’re irreversible.” At least six CC players have
had concussions this season, including four in the past five weeks. The latest afflicted are captain Scott Thauwald and right wing Stephen Schultz, who also had a concussion earlier this season. Both players sustained contact to the head during the St. Cloud State game Feb. 9 and have not practiced since. After being checked headfirst into the glass, Thauwald lay on the ice for two minutes before skating off. “I went black,” said Thauwald, somewhat groggy a week later. “I didn’t go unconscious, but it was a terrible pain, the worst headache I’ve ever had. Everything was kind of foggy, blurry. Right then and there, I knew I had a concussion.” Concussions occur after a direct blow to the head, face, neck or body. The force causes the brain to shift. That impact can immediately result in a wide range of symptoms including confusion, amnesia, loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, nausea, loss of vision or loss of balance. Once a person has had one concussion, the odds greatly increase that another blow, even a small one, will result in a second concussion. Research has shown that multiple concussions can have a snowball effect, magnifying the symptoms, but no one is exactly sure what the longterm effects are, said Dr. Michael Stuart, USA Hockey’s chief medical officer. Thirteen of CC’s 24 players said they have had at least one hockey-related concussion, yet many Tigers were unsure of how to define a concussion. Some classified “getting their bell rung” as nothing more than a hard hit. According to Stuart, it’s a hollow distinction. “A dinger, or getting your bell rung, is a concussion,” Stuart said, adding that even “simple” concussions — that is, concussions with short-term effects — can result in permanent damage to the brain. Left wing Scott McCulloch was checked during the Massachusetts game Dec. 29. He was dazed, but he kept playing. “That impact to the head was probably a minor concussion,” he said. “But if everybody sat out every time they took a hit to the head, there would be a lot of guys sitting out.” Another week went by before Mc-Culloch took another thump, this time in practice. He sat out a few days and the symptoms dissipated, he said. A week later, McCulloch was hit in the back of the head with a stick during practice. This time, the fog didn’t lift. “I didn’t get knocked out or anything,” he said. “But I was like, ‘This isn’t right.’ . . . It’s a lot about being honest. I had trouble reading after. I couldn’t focus. You know when you have one.” Worried by lingering symptoms, McCulloch sat out for four games. “I had to be symptom-free for a week, just the way my concussions went,” he said. “I had a few in a row, little ones. When I went back, I was a little nervous because I didn’t want to get hit in the head.” The risk is there. And the danger can escalate with a hasty return. With playoffs less than a month away and their senior seasons dwindling, Thauwald and right wing Jimmy Kilpatrick — who returned to practice this week after suffering a blindsided hit to the jaw Feb. 2 — both admitted the temptation to rush their recovery. But Philadelphia Flyers forward Simon Gagne’s experience has provided something of a warning. Gagne was checked in the jaw in late October, but returned after taking just 10 days off for “dizziness and vision problems.” Gagne endured another concussion Nov. 7 and resumed playing in January. On Feb. 10, Gagne suffered a “mild concussion” and has not played since, although he recently told media he expects to return before the end of the season. “I’ve never had one, so I don’t want to put myself in the situation where I get dinged the first practice back — just by trying to push it and trying to lie,” said Kilpatrick, who estimated he takes at least one hit per month that leaves his head spinning. “It’s not worth it. You can miss three games or you can miss 10 games. It’s your choice.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-4803 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our Colorado College hockey blog at gazettecchockey.blogspot.com
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY BRENT BRIGGEMAN, THE GAZETTE
“A lot of times you don’t think about the risk, but it’s a huge risk. … Unlike other injuries, they’re irreversible.” ERIC WALSKY CC forward on concussions
KEVIN KRECK, THE GAZETTE - Colorado College’s Scott Thauwald was injured on this play vs. St. Cloud State.