Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Concussions in Hockey: AHL Veteran Bryan Helmer shares his thoughts

This article first appeared in the August 2010 edition of Main Street and is reprinted here with permission of the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper.

Photo by Kathryn Hedrick
In an effort to raise awareness of a serious injury at the professional and amateur level, I have discussed the growing crisis of concussions in sport in my recent Main Street Week columns. To help shed some light on the topic, I have reached out to several of my contacts to talk about the issue in their sport. This month, American Hockey League veteran Bryan Helmer shares some of his thoughts about concussions in hockey with The Voice of Sport. Bryan started his AHL career with the Albany River Rats in 1994 and this season he will play his 1,000th AHL game. He spent the last two years with the Hershey Bears, winning back-to-back Calder Cup championships.

“I remember at the start of my career, getting your ‘bell rung’ pretty good, you would just keep playing,” recalled Helmer. “Nowadays, if anyone even says they have a headache after a game, they get at least a week off. There is definitely more awareness now then when I first started.”

Besides a newfound awareness amongst the players, equipment manufacturers are working to find solutions to this problem too, with new helmet technology and changes to the existing equipment. The professional leagues are attempting to establish guidelines for dealing with head injuries, and many players are becoming proactive when it comes to their own health.

“A lot of guys in Hershey are wearing a mouth guard,” said Helmer. “They make these mouth guards now that are supposed to prevent concussions. A lot of guys live by it; they have said they’ve been hit hard and if not for these mouth guards, they would probably have gotten a concussion. A guy on our team has had a couple of serious concussions, he wears one and he also wears a protective helmet. He’d tell me that there were days when he would have to go sit in his bedroom and it would have to be pitch-black during the day, that’s a tough life.”

“Most guys I think, if they could get a good hit, they would probably hit a guy. There are a few that might get the elbow up but I think most of the guys are not trying to end someone’s career. They are just trying to get that big hit. The leagues are trying to bring different equipment in to see if that will help, and I think a big thing is going to be these mouth guards. I tell any of the young guys coming in that maybe they should wear one.”

Like most athletes, hockey players are competitive by nature and they hate to be on the sidelines when they could be on the ice helping their teammates. I asked Bryan if players worry that they are letting the team down by admitting that they cannot play because of a concussion.

“You know, in probably 90% of the hockey players, it is exactly that way; they would play through it. That’s just our mentality. You feel guilty, you want to be on the ice and you want to help your team out. No one wants to watch their team play.”

“It is hard for the trainers sometimes to see how you are feeling, you know your own body,” Helmer explained. “For a guy like me, if I see one of my teammates get hurt with a concussion I tell them to take their time to come back. It’s your career; it’s your life, come back when you are ready. Most teams now are aware of it (concussions), and let you take your time to get back.”

While it is difficult to eliminate head injuries in a high-impact sport like hockey, a new awareness has everyone involved working towards a solution, which ultimately, will help professional and amateur hockey players stay healthy. Have a great sports day everyone - and remember to have fun, but play safe.

Thanks again to Bryan for sharing his time with Main Street and The Voice of Sport - If you missed it, take a look at our recent conversation from earlier this month: TVOS and Bryan Helmer

Photo by Kathryn Hedrick - Check out her other great pictures on Thanks Kathryn!