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Concussion doctor calls for mandatory education

Head trainer Richard Stinziano of the New Jersey Devils goes to the aid of Patrik Elias of the Devils who lies motionless on the ice after being checked by Ryan Wilson of the Colorado Avalanche during NHL action at the Pepsi Center on January 16, 2010 in Denver, Colorado.

David Zalubowski/David Zalubowski/AP

Dr. Charles Tator envisions every hockey team in Canada sitting down in front of a laptop in a preseason team meeting this fall, watching his newly-released concussion awareness video.

That is the dream for the 25-minute video that Tator, a neurosurgeon and one of the world's leading concussion educators, produced with the help of Scotiabank and Reebok-CCM Hockey and screened to the media on Tuesday.

"Every player, every year," said Tator, also the founder of ThinkFirst, a group that educates people on head and spinal injuries. "To me, if every hockey association recommends its teams watch it, that would be even better than the government of Canada making it mandatory."

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The video, called ThinkFirst SMART HOCKEY, is hosted by Canadian Olympic gold medalist Tessa Bonhomme and features her teammate Caroline Ouellette along with first-person accounts from NHL stars like John Tavares, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Myers. It addresses safety concerns, lobbies to have hits to the head removed from the game and pleas for a return of respect for opponents.

Fran Rider, long-time president of the Ontario Women's Hockey Association, attended the screening on Tuesday and says every team in her association across the province will be urged to watch the video in the yearly team meeting they already hold. She also plans to have Tator attend the OWHA's annual general meeting this summer to stress the importance of educating parents, coaches and players on preventing and treating concussions.

Rider says there were 96 reported concussions this season in the OWHA, an association of 37,000 players. While she has seen some more honest reporting of concussions by players recently due to increased awareness, she has also seen passionate players go to great lengths to hide concussions or try to return too quickly after suffering one.

While the OWHA mandates a doctor's letter documenting that a concussed player may return to play, Rider has actually known of players who have gone to numerous doctors or walk-in clinics attempting to find someone to write such a note after other physicians have said they are not yet ready to return. She is hoping more education will help stress the proper treatment for concussions and the need for parents to re-enforce the message at home.

"Everyone needs to understand their responsibility when it comes to concussions, and they need to understand the seriousness of the issue," said Rider. "No activity with a concussion means no activity -- the player can't rest from hockey but go play volleyball with a concussion. And they shouldn't just sit out if it's a preliminary game, but play if it's a championship game. The seriousness of the competition has no bearing on whether a player should sit out with a concussion."

The screening was followed by a live panel discussion hosted by broadcaster and former Team Canada captain Cassie Campbell-Pascall, including guests like Tator, Bonhomme, Scott Oakman, executive director of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, and former NHL player Keith Primeau, whose career was cut short in 2006 by repeated concussions.

"I feel good now, but for five years I had symptoms like headaches, head pressure, my vision isn't so great and I have stiffness in the neck," said Primeau, who is a spokesperson for Play it Cool, a injury intervention program for minor hockey. "It's been a long journey for me."

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Tator hopes that by educating teams to take swift and proper action to have a concussion examined, the cases of players suffering long-term effects like Primeau can be drastically reduced.

Tator acknowledges that with so many minor hockey associations across Canada, it's a big task to put the video in front of every player to watch every season, but hopes that making it free and downloadable at website will enable teams.

"I'm optimistic that the big attention to this issue will pay big dividends," said Tator. "We will save the game."

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About the Author
Sports reporter

Based in Toronto, Rachel Brady writes on a number of sports for The Globe and Mail, including football, tennis and women's hockey. More

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