When Kyle Wellwood first started playing hockey in the late 1990s, he didn’t even know what a concussion was.
“We didn’t even talk about concussions,” said Wellwood, who kicked off his hockey career in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe Junior B League before playing for the Vancouver Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Ontario league, which is a level below the B.C. Hockey League, had no concussion protocol.
While things have improved since then, with the implementation of Hockey Canada’s six-step return-to-play protocol, players can, and still do slip through the cracks.
The BCHL is hoping to stop that through a new partnership with the app HeadCheck, which will allow coaches and athletic therapists to assess a player’s condition in 5-10 minutes. If the test shows negative results, the player will be pulled from the game and assessed by a medical professional.
“It’s a way of standardizing the process and making sure we have record of this as a league,” said BCHL commissioner John Grisdale.
Players will now all undergo baseline concussion testing before they ever set foot in an arena.
“We’ve seen situations where players can be lying down after a hit, carried off, and next thing we know they’re back in,” said Grisdale. “This isn’t going to stop that, but coaches and trainers have to be accountable for the decision made to put [that player] back in.
“If the trainer says, ‘I told him to stay out,’ [the] player said he wanted to go in, and [the] coach said go back in – well, then we have a problem.”
It’s a stark contrast to Wellwood’s hockey playing days.
“It was wake up and go,” he said. “You just wanted to play so you waited till you could physically skate and then you played.”
Surrey Eagles coach Brandon West sees it as a promising step, but admitted he didn’t think anything could fully solve hockey’s concussion woes.
“We’re never going to put an athlete in a situation where their health is in jeopardy,” said West. “But if I had a dollar for every time someone had their bell rung and didn’t get tested…”
Added Grisdale: “There are always ways to fool the baseline test. The reality is we hope we are one step better than we were last year.”
PHOTOS: HeadCheck, the app: