Well, that’s it for the Tommies. The team had a dismal stretch drive and the season quickly came to an end. It’s a tough pill to swallow; mostly because I couldn’t be a part of it.
With four weeks remaining in the season while I was working on a blog about head shots in the Canadian League, I – ironically enough – suffered a concussion. It’s my fifth (that I can remember) and I’ve been sidelined ever since. Throughout the entire recent media blitz over hits to the head, the long-term effects of concussions began to weigh on my mind. At what point should I make a decision to keep playing or shut it down? When should I begin to value the most important organ in my body? And who is responsible for making that decision?
SHAPING AN IDENTITY
Like many others, hockey is a big part of my life. You’ll remember from my first blog that I grew up in the beaches of Toronto playing hockey and lacrosse. A large part of my evenings and weekends were spent mastering the craft. That time dedicated to the game is what makes me who I am today. Now, at 22, it’s still my love, my passion and, in some ways, my identity.
I’m aware that five concussions, two broken legs, a twice-broken jaw and all the other injuries during my career have paved the way for an uncomfortable adulthood. It’s scary to think that my thought process, decision making and reaction time will deteriorate. But at the same time, I’m not sure where I’d be without the game. It shaped the person I am, dictated the friends I made and opened many doors that otherwise wouldn’t have been opened.
Hockey has chosen the cities I live in, the families I stayed with and paid for the ride. And even though I didn’t sign the big ticket, I’m thankful for the opportunities hockey has given me. I’ve certainly taken some bumps along the way, but it was all worth it.
That being said, where do we go from here? As this rate, the NHL will have no alumni left. Players are dropping like flies and we seem to think league executives are going to magically change the nature of the sport from the press box.
I have mixed feelings. I don’t think changing rules, implementing stiffer fines or cracking down on head checks will make that much of a difference. It is more likely that change will come from the mindset of the players. Many still play for the love of the game, but there’s no hiding the fact millions of dollars are up for grabs.
Players are willing to put their bodies on the line to gain that kind of fame and status. What’s scary is we forget that old-time hockey was played without helmets, shoulder pads and special boards that absorb the impact of a check. Looking back, I wonder how they survived the trenches in those days. But if you look closer or were there to witness it, players in those days didn’t hit to hurt. The purpose of laying a bodycheck was to separate a player from the puck. It was an option, not the sole purpose.
And while owners continue to market the game – especially in the south – as a rough, battle-like sport, that’s not what it is. Hockey is a game of speed, skill and agility. This is why I think the onus is on the players, because the economics have made the game more about the paycheck than the love. And in that respect, it may never be the way it once was. Players are getting bigger, stronger and faster. Owners will continue to bring in young and eager prospects to please the customers. Coaches will continue to rush injured players back into the lineup. And those eager prospects will be willing to continue to dedicate their bodies to the company (team).
Because time is money. Any time an owner puts a weak product on the ice, they lose money. Any time a coach puts out a losing roster, they also lose money. And any time a player watches from the press box, he/she is losing valuable time to score a goal, drop the gloves or lay a big hit to help the team win and raise their value. All of which amounts to a fear of losing money.
So until the players can convince themselves that a bodycheck is intended to separate a player from the puck, not put them through the boards, concussions will stay in the game. Until they realize the damage they’re doing to their brains, concussions will remain in the game.
These players aren’t as dumb as I’m making them out to be. They realize that if an owner is willing to pay them big money to do this, why wouldn’t you? I see rule changes, fines and suspensions playing a complimentary role; I think it’s up to the players union to stand up and protect the future stars of the game, because the owners certainly won’t.
Jason Cassidy is a right winger for St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He spent four seasons in the Ontario League's with the Brampton Battalion and St. Michaels Majors. He is from Whitby, Ont., and is working towards a degree in journalism and will blog on THN.com about his CIS and OHL career regularly. Read his other blogs HERE.