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Gold Medal Blog 03.01.12

by Meaghan Mikkelson / Calgary Flames

Hockey is a physical game and a high impact sport. Combining the speed and intensity of the game, the small ice surface, all sizes of players, checking and collisions, and pucks travelling at speeds up to 100MPH, injuries are bound to happen.

One of the most talked about topics in the World Junior tournament over the past week has been the injuries of two of the tournaments top forwards, Canada’s Devante Smith-Pelly and Swiss Flame’s first-round draft pick Sven Baertschi. After blocking a point-shot during their opening game against Finland, Smith-Pelly suffered a broken foot that has put him in the press box for the remainder of the tournament. His last chance at participating in winning a gold medal for Canada at the World Junior tournament ended abruptly. A few days later, Baertschi left the Swiss versus Slovakia game with what has been diagnosed as a “mild” concussion. Although he may return to action at some point during the tournament, concussions are a delicate injury in the hockey world right now, and the severity is often misdiagnosed and difficult to calculate.

Injuries are obviously very difficult for an individual player to deal with. Although Smith-Pelly has done a great job of putting on a brave face in front of fans and the media, which cannot be easy, there is no doubt that he is devastated by what has happened. He will obviously do his best to support his teammates for the duration of the tournament, and find a way to contribute to their success in a different way, but I guarantee there is not a day that will go by that he doesn’t wish he were playing. Sven will provide the same support to his teammates, but with the nature of his injury, he may have no idea when he will play at 100% again.

Playing on a team is like being a member of a family, and the other players on the team are your brothers or sisters. When you are injured, you no longer feel like a member of the family, and you feel like an outsider. These players undoubtedly feel like outsiders, and the emotional pain of not contributing, and feeling like an outsider on the team, is greater than the pain from the physical injury itself. Although their teammates will do their best to make them still feel part of the team, the pain they feel emotionally is difficult, if not impossible, to relieve.

With the loss of one of their most dominant and physical forwards, the Canadian Team was forced to deal with this adversity, relying on others to step up and make an impact in attempts to fill the skates of Smith-Pelly. The same applies to the Swiss team with regards to Sven. Lines have to be re-arranged, and the roles of each and every one of the forwards changes, as more is being demanded of players who were not necessarily anticipated to make such significant contributions. It was obvious in the games following Smith-Pelly’s injury that this setback was well managed by the Canadian team. They dealt with it the day after it happened, and they moved on.

In the game of hockey, we take risks and sacrifice our bodies in order to make the right plays. Whether it is blocking a shot like Smith-Pelly, or getting to the puck first and taking a hit to make a play, we put our bodies in vulnerable positions that are bound to result in injuries at one point or another. Some players are less fortunate than others, but it is a part of the game.

In hindsight, after making a play resulting in an injury, if you asked any player if they would have held back or not blocked a shot, the answer would be no. You sacrifice your body to make plays that will help your team to win the game.

In a competition of this intensity and length, the players will become more physically fatigued as the games go on, leaving the body more prone to injury. It is important that they are taking preventative measures such as warming up, cooling down, stretching, and getting treatment on a daily basis to avoid strains and pulls.

Canada is fortunate to have the presence and expertise of Dr. Steve Norris, a world-renowned physiologist who worked with our team the 2010 Olympic year. He has implemented a number of recovery strategies to rid the body of lactic acid such as hot-cold contrast baths and wearing pressured stockings post-practice and games that go from ankle to waist. It is evident that the team is utilizing the best recovery strategies possible to ensure that the players are feeling their best on the ice.

Any strategies that have been implemented will help to diminish the probability of injury, but will not eliminate the possibility altogether due to the nature of the game. Often times, whether you get injured or not, is out of your control. Being the only object between the puck and your net, you instinctively do whatever it is you need to in order to win. The thought of injury does not even enter your mind when you are in the heat of the game. It just happens.

Author: Meaghan Mikkelson

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