Concussions continue to plague NHL


Concussions continue to plague NHL

Dave Bolland thinks about it all the time: the concussion hes had, the worries of getting another one and the effects that could come in the future. And with Chris Pronger becoming the latest player sidelined by his own concussion problems, those thoughts are there again.

I think you always have them in the back of your head; you always have it sitting there, said Bolland, a day after the Philadelphia Flyers announced Pronger will miss the rest of this regular- and postseason. You never know going into a hit or anything, you could have another concussion. It does get scary.

Pronger is the latest to be felled by a concussion, and its unknown how it could affect the 37-year-old beyond this season. Will he play again? What does his injury now mean for his quality of life in the future? Its all unknown. And thats where it really gets scary.

Its a tough stretch right now for the league and certain teams with that diagnosis. The tough part about it all is the uncertainty, said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. At the end of the day you hope their quality of life gets back in order quickly, then you make other decisions. Its tough to hear that type of news.

Pronger is the latest to be sidelined by a concussion. His status for this season, unfortunately, is sealed. For others, such as Pittsburghs Sidney Crosby, Philadelphias Claude Giroux and now Carolinas Jeff Skinner, the term out indefinitely is part of a daily routine.

And while several players suffer through their concussion problems, talk continues on how to cut down on them. Sean ODonnell, who was Prongers teammate in Anaheim and Philadelphia, said players have to be proactive in protecting each other.

Everyone wants the big hit and you want your ice time and want your coach to be happy with you, but we have to realize were a fraternity out there. You want to make sure you take care of your guys, he said. You want to hit them hard. If they get hurt fairly, they do. But we need to make sure when someones vulnerable we pull up and our eyes dont light up because we think we can really put a hit on someone.

The term concussion epidemic has been a media story staple lately. But are concussions more prevalent now or are they just finally being recognized more?

I think theyre definitely being diagnosed more, ODonnell said. You used to hear the term stinger or got his bell rung, and if you added those up, they might be the same amount of times you hear concussion now.

Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne, who is still good friends with Pronger, said theres certainly a different outlook about concussions now compared to several years ago.

In the old times, nobody knew how dangerous they were. At that time, if you didnt play right away they thought you werent tough enough in this league, he said. Obviously, were all so concerned about concussions because you never know.

Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers, who was Prongers teammate and sometimes roommate during their St. Louis Blues days, said the concussion situation is three-fold.

First, theres more information and guys are more cognizant of when theyre concussed and reporting it; and doctors are more knowledgeable of whats going on, he said. Second, ever since the rule changes, guys are bigger, stronger, faster and theres not much obstruction for guys to get in and hit guys. The third part is, maybe weve lost a little bit of that respect for each other, and somehow hitting guys in vulnerable positions has been accepted.

The NHL is cracking down on the bad hits that cause these concussions. Brendan Shanahan has doled out the suspensions and players are getting the message. But sometimes even the clean hits cause concussions, so theyll never completely be eradicated.

Pronger is the latest concussion casualty. He wont be the last. Players are just trying to be as aware and safe as they can be.

I hope hes going to be better. This league needs a guy like Pronger, Selanne said. There are too many concussions right now. And the league and every player should be worried about it.

Richard Panik fueling Blackhawks' top line

Richard Panik fueling Blackhawks' top line

Richard Panik was coming off his first career hat trick last week when he was asked about solidifying his spot on the top line with Jonathan Toews.

“I wouldn’t call it mine, for now,” Panik said.

The right wing’s hesitancy was understandable: Outside of some Blackhawks veterans, your place on a line is only as good as your last game.

But considering how he’s playing right now and the amount of goals he’s scored, you’d think Panik will be a top liner for a little while longer.

Panik scored the game-tying goals against his former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, with 88 seconds remaining in regulation on Saturday night. There was probably a little feeling of vindication for Panik on that goal – Panik spent last season with the Leafs’ minor-league team until he was traded to the Blackhawks. But no matter the opponent, Panik’s been a scoring threat.

“We didn’t expect six goals in six games but we knew he’d be an offensive threat for us,” Toews said. “He’s showing consistently. He had the hat trick – when you have a game like that, the puck keeps finding you and he’s making no mistakes around the net. He’s shown he can score goals in any which way.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Part of the reason Panik’s back on the top line was the Blackhawks wanted to get more balance among the forwards. Marian Hossa, a longtime sight on that line, is on the third. But again, it’s all in what you do with the opportunity.

“The position he ended up being in was probably more so [for] being ready every game, consistent, doing the right things,” coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday’s game. “He has all the tools we look for. He’s coming up with loose pucks, hanging around the net, going to the hard areas, giving us some physicality and finish as well. That was a big one, for sure, so he’s been a very pleasant start for us and for himself.”

The Blackhawks will always take goals no matter who scores them. But it’s how and from where Panik’s scoring those goals that’s especially good for the Blackhawks. Constantly looking for a net-front presence, Panik’s providing it. Most of his goals have been within a few feet of the net.

“Yeah, I’m just trying to find the space in front of the net and the goals are scored from there,” he said. “That’s the area I want to go to and it’s working.”

In six games Panik has already reached the totals he had in his 30 games with the Blackhawks last season (six goals, two assists). Panik approaches every game on the first line like it could be his last up there, and considering how often the Blackhawks change combinations that’s a smart approach. But the Blackhawks were looking for more consistent scoring on that top line, and as long as Panik helps provide that, he’ll stay put.

“Consistency was my biggest weakness. I’m just focusing on that, bringing it every night,” Panik said. “I think I know what I’m capable of. I know I can play on this level. Now I have an opportunity. I just have to take advantage of it and keep playing this way.”

Five Things from Blackhawks-Maple Leafs: Richard Panik stays hot

Five Things from Blackhawks-Maple Leafs: Richard Panik stays hot

This Five Things was headed for a lot of negativity before the final three minutes of regulation. But thanks to the Blackhawks’ third-period comeback, this one won’t sting as much as Friday’s installment.

So while you all celebrate the Cubs going to a World Series, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 5-4 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

1. Waking up just in time. The Maple Leafs haven’t played their best hockey in third periods – entering Saturday’s game, they’d been outscored 6-1 in that frame. But for 17-plus minutes of the third it didn’t look like the Blackhawks were going to take advantage of that stat. But they would, salvaging a point out of nowhere with two goals within a minute (Artem Anisimov at 17:32 and Richard Panik at 18:32). Better late than never.

2. The Richard Panik show continues. The forward said he doesn’t think about Toronto anymore, that it’s all about the team he’s with now. But looking at his celebration on his game-tying goal late in the third period, there had to be a little motivation to score against the Leafs, right? The Blackhawks don’t care who the opponent is, and Panik now has six goals to start the season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Power play fizzles. Ah, thought we were going to talk about the other special teams? In a second. The bigger problem on Saturday was the Blackhawks’ advantage, on which they went 0-for-6. It took until overtime, when their fifth power play was a 4-on-3 for them to really generate anything against the Leafs.

4. Late-period goals hurt. The Blackhawks looked set to enter first intermission with a 1-0 lead but Tyler Bozak scored with just 14 seconds remaining. They could’ve had a 2-2 tie entering the second intermission but James van Riemsdyk scored with 1:44 remaining in the second. Again, the Blackhawks overcame that. But coach Joel Quenneville talked about the loss of momentum in games, and here are two examples of it.

5. The Auston Matthews show. The Leafs phenom didn’t score a goal on Saturday but there’s no doubt he had his effect. His speed was especially on display on William Nylander’s goal; Matthews drew several Blackhawks and Nylander had a rather open net on the rebound.