Should your kids play hockey?

With the NHL and youth hockey seasons now underway, parents across Ontario are grappling with an important question: is hockey safe enough for my child to play? A growing body of evidence suggests that Canada’s national obsession puts kids at risk of various injuries, especially concussions. As a result, a diverse group of stakeholders including medical professionals, brain injury lawyers, and ex-NHLers are calling for improvements to player safety.

Ken Dryden, a seven-year NHL veteran, six-time Stanley Cup champion and federal politician, is a particularly prominent advocate for change. He recently published a book titled Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador and the Future of Hockey which follows the career of Montador, a former NHL defenceman who died in 2015 at the age of 35. After his death, a neuropathologist confirmed that Montador suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease found in individuals who have suffered repeated head injuries.

Dryden is calling for new rules that specifically target concussions, including penalization for all plays involving contact with the head, an initiative that brain injury lawyers are likely to support.

“Whether they are intentional or accidental, whether they are incidental or significant, whether they are from an elbow or a fist or something else, it doesn’t matter,” Dryden told CBC Radio’s Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current. “It’s about the injury. It’s about the brain. It’s about the player being hit. It’s about the effect of it – not the cause.”

“Concussions affect a life,” he added. “They don’t just affect the ability to play a sport.”

Dryden isn’t alone in his call for substantial rule changes: after singling out body checking as the leading cause of concussion in youth hockey, the Canadian Paediatric Society endorsed the elimination of checking in non-elite youth leagues. In response, Hockey Canada banned bodychecking for 11- and 12-year-olds in 2013, and in 2016 Hockey Edmonton disallowed checking for players younger than 17.

The Hockey Edmonton move produced immediate results: concussions fell 64 per cent over the previous year at the peewee level, from a rate of 2.79 per 1,000 game hours to 1.12.

Of course, banning bodychecking won’t eliminate concussions in hockey. Any sport played on a hard, slippery surface with wooden sticks and a frozen rubber disk is risky, regardless of body contact rules. But as medical researchers work on diagnostics test and equipment manufacturers improve their products, removing bodychecking from the game could significantly reduce a player’s risk of concussion.

If you, your child, or a member of your family has suffered a head injury while playing hockey or any other sport, contact the brain injury lawyers at Will Davidson LLP for a free consultation. We can help you assess your best options and guide you on your path to recovery.

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