The year was permeated and punctuated with affairs of the head, from the face of the modern NHL, Sidney Crosby to the mental demons of a trio of tough guys, to intelligent changes in the name of player safety.
Examining the Brain
Families of deceased former NHLers Rick Martin, Bob Probert and Reggie Flemming donated their loved ones brains to BU Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Findings were somewhat troubling yet illuminating.
Shutting Down a Super Star
Crosby was first injured at the Winter Classic, then absorbed another hit a couple games later and was pulled from the Pens lineup for the remainder of last season and the first two months of this season. After briefly returning he is again out of their lineup with no return date in sight.
New Rinkside Protocol
Teams adopted a more refined post head trauma test. We heard the phrase 'quiet room' and watched as player after player - after player was diagnosed with 'concussion-like symptoms.
The Three Suicides That Stunned Hockey
In disturbing succession Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak all took their own lives. All three made a living in hockey with their fists more than their sticks and their deaths were immediately linked because of that - a premature conclusion most would state.
The Department of Player Safety
The league emerged from a sort of 'Dark Ages' in regards to player discipline especially when the subject of hitting was on the table and in particular hits to the head. Brendan Shanahan was put in charge and he has wielded a suspension hammer in tandem with the power of video. He's like a scar faced, no nonsense Carson Daley setting up video clips on NHL, not TRL.
Forced by a violent head-to-turnbuckle collision involving Max Pacioretty, the league altered the configuration of where glass ends to a curved, forgiving transition area. Smart, and overdue.
Broadcast Headed in Better Direction
The hiring of John Collins to head up the NHL's Broadcast Dept. was a fabulous one. He comes from the NFL where they seem to be doing ok. The massive NBC deal plus a gaggle of International rights contracts have come under his watch. Smart man. Full head of hair.
It's not just hockey, pro sports like soccer and football have also seen a disturbing escalation in the number of players sidelined with what is essentially a bruised brain. But hockey seems to be magnified, probably because it's the only sport that allows fighting and it's the only one played in a confined area. How deep has this 'epidemic' become? Well at one point in late December the league's top point scorer, it's top goal scorer and it's best overall player were all out of their respective lineups due to concussions.
The Messier Project
Mark Messier has helped develop a helmet that claims to "displace energy within seconds". The problem at the NHL level seems to be that the helmet doesn't pass the "mirror test", as in, it doesn't look good on. Fashion 1, Intelligence and Safety no score.
With a half a season of hockey to be played and a new CBA to be hammered out by the Fall of 2012 I hope and trust we're headed in the right direction on all of this.
To all of you, I wish a happy and prosperous New Year...and a January 1 headache that is much more manageable than ones scores of NHLers had, have, or will have in the coming year due to their chosen vocation, and an errant elbow or two.