Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sauer latest concussion victim

Before he could look, Michael Sauer had Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf's shoulder right on his chin knocking the Ranger defenseman to the ice. The collision was another scary reminder of how physical the sport is. In an instant, you can be leveled and seeing stars. Ask Sid Crosby, David Perron and more recently Marc StaalKris Letang and Nino Neiderreiter.

Considering the in depth New York Times piece on Derek Boogaard about the brain damage incurred in his final days, any time the word concussion is uttered, it becomes daunting for everyone involved. Right now, the Rangers list Sauer as day-to-day. If only that were the case when it comes to head injuries. Nobody really knows what's going on. Every case is different and each player must be handled with extreme care. Looking back at what happened with Staal where he was "good enough" to return and take part in the playoffs before recurring PCS shut him down, it's all the more puzzling. How fast will Sauer recover from what was a good hit by Phaneuf without leaving his feet and not targeting the head?

Sometimes, you can't always blame the hitter. Was Mark Fistric's hit that concussed El Nino really worth three games (one more than Jordin Tootoo for running Ryan Miller) or was it a classic case of Niederreiter being in an awkward position with his head down that inflicted the damage? The Star defenseman was a repeat offender and the injury definitely was a factor. But as we've seen with Letang, who actually returned to play the hero following a vicious Max Pacioretty hit, the head is a delicate area. The more we learn about long-term affects (C.T.E.) on former players who are no longer with us, the scarier it becomes. In Sauer's case, it wasn't from fisticuffs but just a huge open ice hit. However, fighting definitely is barbaric and must come under scrutiny due to what we're finding out.

I've always been a proponent of fighting. I'm not sure hockey can survive without it. Unless you can get rid of unnecessary cheapshots entirely, opponents will take liberties with stars leading to more fragile situations like Crosby. The role of the tough guy is to serve and protect teammates from such nonsense. Enforcers have a very difficult job, which also might explain why so many play through pain and do what Boogaard did. On painkillers and minute to minute. As we've learned, fighting is not heroic. It is serious with every blow sustained that could be it for guys we admire for their bravery. However, it's a lonely road afterwards with so much we couldn't begin to imagine on their minds. When is enough enough? That's the growing question the NHL and NHLPA need to answer. How they handle concussions must be more hands on. We're at least moving in the right direction. But it's the guys who use their fists for a living who must be watched more closely.

Some of the excerpts in the extensive Times feature written by John Branch are flat out devastating. Try this one on for size and you'll agree how serious it is.

Boogaard was embarrassed and worried that news of his addiction would shatter his reputation. He was also concerned that someone would take his role. From rehabilitation, he tracked the preseason fights of teammates and texted friends to gauge how badly he was missed.

He rejoined the team after missing the first five regular-season games and had his first fight on Oct. 21, at home against the Colorado Avalanche’s David Koci. Boogaard started with a left-hand jab to Koci’s chin, then grabbed Koci’s jersey and knocked him down with two right-hand punches.

Boogaard skated, expressionless, to the penalty box.

From the outside, everything seemed normal. It was not.

“His demeanor, his personality, it just left him,” John Scott, a Wild teammate, said. “He didn’t have a personality anymore. He just was kind of — a blank face.”

Boogaard fell asleep while playing cards on the team plane, a teammate said. He passed out in corners of the team’s dressing room. He was uncharacteristically late for meetings and workouts. Wild trainers and doctors warned Boogaard’s teammates not to give him their prescription pills.
 only gets sadder from there with the amount of painkillers the BoogeyMan was on eventually costing him his life in one of the saddest hockey tales that are increasing. How can we better help these ultimate warriors. What we do know is the longer they're held out of physical activity, the more likely they'll recover and return to the ice. For the Blueshirts, they lose a valuable player who teamed with Mike Del Zotto on a solid second pair. Now, Sauer is replaced by $900,000 bench warmer Anton Stralman, who may as well be confused with Zarley Zalapski. With Tim Erixon hurt, that's what they'll live with. For how long who knows.

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