Are the NHL and NHLPA truly enforcing concussion protocol and awareness? If what Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk told the media Friday is any indication, then the answer is not enough. While DeBrusk never specifically said that he was concussed after he was lit up by Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri in Game 2 of the first round on April 13, he clearly intimated that he was and that he still kept playing games after that.
“I think everybody saw what happened in Game 2 against Toronto” DeBrusk said when asked about his injuries Friday. “From then on, I was battling some things here and there, but nothing that I didn’t think that I could play through. This time of year, it’s just a matter of will.”
He was then asked directly if he was concussed from the hit.
“I mean it was pretty blatant, the play,” DeBrusk said. “That’s all I’m going to really say on it. I mean, I’ve talked about that incident way too much this year and just kind of looking forward and moving past it.”
Kadri crosschecked DeBrusk in the face, and the Boston forward was forced to leave the ice. Kadri was suspended for the remainder of the series, while DeBrusk never missed a game.
The NHL, like the NFL, has been in the middle of concussion lawsuits for the last few years. As a result, the league has taken steps to prevent players from playing with head injuries. From concussion protocol to independent spotters who have the ability to remove players from the game, the NHL has improved in this area. Of course, just because the league has improved doesn’t mean it’s always upholding their new standards when it comes to concussion protocol and awareness.
Considering how Boston handled the Matt Grzelcyk concussion later in the playoffs, it appears DeBrusk, knowing he had a chance to win the Stanley Cup, hid his symptoms from the Bruins medical staff. Team medical staffs and league spotters know there is a microscope on them and are more careful these days. The onus also falls on the player and while no one is knocking DeBrusk’s toughness, you can question his judgment. You can, however, also knock the NHL’s and NHLPA’s failure to not only better detect concussions but to educate their players of how much risk is truly involved if they keep playing.
Until the league and PA change the culture surrounding concussions and acknowledge the science that links concussions to CTE and symptoms from brain damage later in life, players likely won’t acknowledge the concussion in the heat of the moment. DeBrusk is example A of this dilemma that is still very much plaguing the NHL. As DeBrusk said above, he’s trying to move forward and look past his latest concussion (he missed ten games in December with a concussion) and that’s fine, but the main problem is the NHL and NHLPA can’t move past their archaic views and handling of concussions. Until they do, players will keep doing what DeBrusk did, thinking they’re simply taking one for the team and not acknowledging they’re hurting themselves now and in the future.