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Concussion event and brief interview with Mark Messier

This proprietary, yet easy-to-use band worn on the neck, was unveiled during a presentation that featured leading experts in neurology and medical research. (PRNewsFoto/Performance Sports Group Ltd.)
The Collar (PRNewsFoto/Performance Sports Group Ltd.)

Concussions are one of the most serious and pressing issues in contemporary sports, with hockey being no exception. Concussions can have both short term effects, causing painful symptoms and leading to missed games for players, as well as longer term and sometimes much more tragic consequences. Treating and preventing concussions is one of the foremost challenges of today’s game, and I recently had the privilege of attending an event where a new collar like piece of equipment potentially revolutionizing the field of concussion prevention was unveiled.

The event was held by Performance Sports Group, a sport equipment company whose brands include Easton and Bauer. The presentation began with a short video about the symptoms and effects of concussions, including testimonial from Marc Staal about his experiences with concussions. Kevin Davis, the CEO of Performance Sports then gave a short speech on his company’s focus on innovation and safety not just at the professional level but also amateur and youth levels as well, before ceding the stage to Dr Julian Bailes, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the NorthShore University HealthSystem Neurological Institute. Dr. Bailes, who will be played by Alec Baldwin in the upcoming movie Concussion, then began to explain the science behind the new device.

Dr. Bailes began by introducing some basic concepts of fluid dynamics concerning the movement of objects through fluids to relate to the movement of the brain within the skull. Essentially, the “slosh theory” that Dr. Bailes came up with is that with a greater amount of fluid pressure in the skull, the brain would move around less within the skull and concussions would become less prevalent or severe. He explained that this goal, making head collisions as elastic as possible, then led him to consider the anatomies of certain animals as compared to humans in his quest for concussion prevention. Woodpeckers, long-horned sheep, and diving birds all withstand large quantities of g-forces but don’t seem to incur the resulting concussion symptoms that we see in humans. Woodpeckers in particular have a tongue that works to lightly constrict the veins around their brains to increase the pressure within the skull, allowing the birds to withstand shock against their heads. This is what led Dr. Bailes to postulate that by applying light pressure to the jugular vein in the neck and decreasing the flow of blood from the brain, the resultant increase in intracranial pressure would be enough to reduce the slosh effect and help prevent concussions.

At a Performance Sports Group event earlier today in New York, leading neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bales unveiled a new device designed to reduce mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) in sports. The proprietary band, worn on the neck, is the first device of its kind to reduce the risk of mTBI internally by using the body's own physiology rather than external protective devices. (PRNewsFoto/Performance Sports Group Ltd.)
Dr. Julian Bailes (PRNewsFoto/Performance Sports Group Ltd.)

Dr. Gregory Myer, the Director of Research in the Division of Sports Medicine at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, then took the stage to walk through some of the clinical trials that sought to verify Dr. Bailes’ theory. Dr. Myer echoed the words of both Mr. Davis and Dr. Bailes by emphasizing that what we know about sports helmets is that they are very good at preventing skull fractures but do little in the way to prevent concussions, before introducing some of the steps taken to examine Dr. Bailes’ approach. Dr. Myer first explained an epidemiological study that demonstrated a reduced incidence of concussions in athletes at high altitudes, where players incur a similar increase in intracranial pressure as the one the collar device causes. He then went on to show that in trials where some groups of athletes tried the collar and others did not, the rate of mild traumatic brain injuries were much lower. Although he emphasized that clinical trials are still ongoing, he noted that the research is promising that this kind of equipment, if brought to market, could be a major step forward in the prevention of concussions.

What followed was a short video of Dr. Charles Tator, a senior scientist at the Toronto Western Research Institute, who expressed enthusiasm about the prospects of the collar in the field of concussion prevention. There was then a short panel discussion featuring Dr. Neilank Jha, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital, and Mark Messier. Dr. Jha, who first explained his personal passion for dealing with concussions, was enthusiastic that the collar device would be revolutionary in concussion prevention not only at the professional level but also the amateur and youth levels. Mark Messier explained some of the reasons he’s excited about this project and expressed his optimism with regards to the turn towards preventive medicine in sports. During a brief Q and A session Dr. Bailes and Dr. Myer addressed some safety concerns about the collar, noting that the amount of extra blood in the skull is about the volume of a grape and the constriction of the collar on the neck is comparable to a necktie. After the Q and A session I had the opportunity to talk to Mark Messier one on one, and our conversation can be found below.

PK: What inspired you to get involved working to combat concussions?

MM: Just the fact that I had concussions, I knew the effects they had on me. I was one of the lucky ones that never had any long-term residual effects but I had a lot of friends and players that did. I saw the effects of concussions in the minor league levels, which was very concerning to me, and realized that I had an opportunity to bring some attention to it and that’s when we started the Messier Project. The Messier Project then turned into a helmet that had some technology that helped reduce the risk of concussion, and then from there continued on with Bauer, to the point where one of their main missions is to drive technology not only for performance but also for protection. All things lined up and here we are today with an incredible opportunity to help athletes from all different sports.

PK: What kind of changes do you think hockey needs to help lead to better prevention or treatment of concussions? Do you think it’s a cultural thing or an equipment thing?

MM: I think we’re doing a great job from technology to rules of engagement to discipline. It’s a very complex solution because hockey innately is a very rugged sport that’s being played at high levels of energy in a confined area. So the trick for us is to find ways where we can make the game better and faster and more entertaining, but more importantly perhaps is more protection for the players, which is one of the main focuses of Performance Sport Group, and they are innovators in both performance and protection. So I think the NHL, the NHLPA in collaboration spend every hour of the waking day to figure out ways in order to make the game better and more safe for the players.

PK: Were there any moments in your own career, either experiences you had or things you saw other guys experience that made you think more carefully about the long-term effects of concussions?

MM: Well the unfortunate part is that when you’re playing the game you’re not necessarily thinking about injury, because you’re more concerned about your performance and I think that’s just the DNA of athletes. Racecar drivers don’t think about crashing when they start a race they think about being the fastest guy around the track and winning the race. They don’t go into the race thinking they’re going to crash – hockey players don’t go into a game thinking that they’re going to get injured. But what we can do is give them options and educate the players into technology that will help them be better players as well as help them be more protected, I think that in itself is the solution.

PK: What are your thoughts on the Rangers so far this season?

MM: They’re playing great hockey. They’re playing probably the best hockey in the league, they look like the strongest team in the league, and they look like they’re setting themselves up for another great run come springtime.

 

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21 Comments

  1. Are there WADA compliant drugs that can up the blood pressure? Couple that with hydration and you’re cooking with gas.

    1. Protective equipment will always be a better solution than drugs. Nearly every pharmaceutical has long-term side effects. Hockey is nearly a year-round sport, stretching from mid-September until April / May / June depending on the success of the team.

      DISCLAIMER: I am anti-drug enough that I don’t take over the counter medication. I’ll suffer through hay fever season instead of taking medication to mask the symptoms unless I get desperate.

      1. A device that constricts blood leaving the brain might have drawbacks.

        Niacin and athletic levels of hydration may be enough.

  2. Jeff Gorton said yesterday that the team can no longer trade away #1 draft picks for proven veterans, now that is music to my ears. Here is a man who knows the value of draft picks, and this news is long overdue in my opinion !!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. What picks is he referring to? Didn’t think there were any left after Slatapus.

    2. Walt-

      Just a clarification on this….here’s the exact quote from the story…

      Gorton said that “everybody knows we can’t do that (trade a number one pick) every year.” (Not every year….but nowhere do he say he won’t do it this year)

      He said that it was worth it for the Rangers to make the deals they did, saying “we got good players, we tried to win, came close and that’s what happened.” (Speaks for itself….exactly what every GM would do when he knows his team is close)

      Gorton said that the players with the highest success rate of playing in the NHL are drafted in the first round. (Obviously, but they are still a crap shoot, especially when you are successful and don’t draft until 27-30 each year)

      He added that the Rangers are hoping to get over the edge and win without it costing them “down the road.” (Every GM would say the same thing. But the key word is “hoping” not “guaranteeing”)

      Obviously, given that the Rangers don’t have a first rounder this year, I think it’s improbable that he would make yet another deal involving a future first rounder.

      But then again, we have no idea about who might get injured, who might play poorly, or who might be available on another team. What if some terrific player on a non-contender became available, and the Islanders and Caps let’s say we’re prepared to sacrifice a first rounder to get that player? And what if the Rangers scouting department said, hey, this guy tilts the balance potentially if we match up in the playoffs? You think Gorton or any other GM would say, “nope, I’m building for the future now”?

      And remember, if the Rangers draft near the bottom in 2017, the player they get has about a 50% success rate to make it, and even if he does, we’re looking at likely 2020 before that player help us in any meaningful way. And the chances a player that low is a difference maker is extremely low. By 2020, we might be in full fledged rebuild mode anyway.

      Obviously, it’s all hypothetical. But I think what he’s really saying to his fellow GMs is, don’t come talking to me about my 2017 number one unless you have some REALLY special player to talk to me about.

        1. True. Didn’t mean to imply that you did. My point is that this is probably “GM-speak”. Stating the obvious which is no one wants to trade picks, but also not closing the door to it either if the right deal were out there.

      1. by the way, they changed the web site, and what was written this morning is very different than this afternoon………….

  3. Awesome read, Pat. Really enjoyed it. Are events like these open to the public? If so, how can one keep abreast of when/where they might occur?

    1. I was invited via email, and it was the first event of this kind I’ve ever attended, so I don’t really know

  4. On another note, one of my favorite hockey writers who’s covered the team for years, Rick Carpiniello of LoHud.com, had a live chat yesterday. I know it’s just one writer’s opinion, but still I thought I’d excerpt a few things that I figured you all would find fascinating–many points that we’ve debated in recent weeks (the few comments I have are in parentheses)…..

    On trades-I think they could use a more legit top-six winger, but whether they could afford one is unlikely. You could argue that they could have a better No. 6 D than Boyle, but I think Boyle would be top six on any team in the NHL. So there aren’t a lot of real holes. Team’s pretty deep and hasn’t nearly hit its stride yet.

    On the defense-Staal and Girardi are indeed in long-term plans. I doubt very much that they will be able to or even want to re-sign Yandle. But, they will keep him for the run and let him walk in July. Unless they think he won’t help them in the playoffs and have a better option. Doubtful.

    On McIlrath-It’s getting harder and harder for me to imagine McIlrath being here next year. I don’t think the coaching staff has confidence in him playing regularly. Maybe there will be an injury down the road and he’ll get an opportunity to play a bunch of games in a row. Until then, I don’t see it happening. I don’t think they dump him for nothing. But if he’s not going to play here, he’d need waivers to go to Hartford. And if the coaches don’t think he’s good enough to be their No. 7, then what’s the point? Money won’t be the issue. Then again, given what he’s done and the chances he’s been given, maybe he goes through waivers now. When he was in Hartford, playing big minutes, there was probably more danger of a claim.

    Is this team better than last year?– I think this team is deeper, has much better third and fourth lines. If Nash and Kreider figure it out, this team couldshould be better. That guarantees nothing in the playoffs though.

    On Nash and Kreider-I get the feeling Nash is ready to bust loose. He’s playing a very consistent game, going to dirty areas, getting chances. His game is good. Kreider needs to find some consistency. I thought he followed up that Ottawa game with a luke-warm performance Sunday.

    addressing the critics who say Sather mismanaged and traded away too many key assets–They signed Zuccarello for nothing, Hayes for nothing, added depth with Stalberg and Stoll without giving up assets, developed Lindberg, Fast, Miller, Kreider, not to mention Stepan and their top three D-men. When you are in position to give up pieces of the future to build a team that contends for a number of years, the assets they gave up are reasonable.

    Those who say the Rangers are a fluke–Their six D are the best six in the league. Would they like a top-six gritty winger? Who wouldn’t? Do you know how much those would cost in terms of assets and cap space? I mean, do you want Jarome Iginla? Age 40? for, say, Miller and a first or second rounder? Crazy, isn’t it? Everybody on the planet, within hockey, thinks this is one of the best teams in the league. The fans think it’s one of the worst.

    Skjei-I think Skjei will have a chance to be a regular next season. Might get a look late this season as well.

    Why does the PP struggle–The problem, IMO, is that the Rangers have guys on the power play who are all pass-first guys. I don’t think they’re afraid to shoot. I think they would prefer to make a pretty play. The power play has been pretty good lately (ducks). When it has been good, it’s been Kreider or Nash in front, and shots.

    Do the Rangers have enough grit to get by the Caps?–Caps aren’t even as gritty as they were last year. I don’t think they are worried about getting through a team like that

    The face off problem–still think faceoffs are, in large part, about will as much as skill, and concentration. Also the wingers have to be aware and willing to win loose pucks off draws. Kreider was great at it late last season. He and Miller have not been good this season.

    Should the Rangers look to unload some veterans now to restock?–Not dumping anybody for a future asset when you have a chance to win now.

    Do you think Buchnevich will join the team later this season? What about next season?– this season? No, I don’t. I think Russia will put him on its roster for the World Championships, taking him out of play this season. As for next season, They certainly hope so, but no, they aren’t sure he will. He can make more $$ in the KHL because of the NHL’s rookie cap. They’re hoping he wants to play here at some point soon.

    Could Kreider be traded–It would take an awful lot to pry Kreider away. And if he has a so-so season I don’t think teams will be lining up to give up a lot. So, no. (I still think he could be traded to a non-contender for a big return, but what do I know? :)).

    Is the window closing?–I don’t believe this is the last year of that window. Should be two or three more …Lundqvist is in his prime, and the four D-men are in their primes, and the forward group is young.

    On letting Stralman go–The Stralman thing always gets me. I understand, him at long-term deal would create cap problems, whereas Boyle goes away after this year. Maybe they can’t sign Kreider next season if they have Stralman.

    Worst moves of the Sather Era–Jessiman. McIlrath over Tarasenko. Trottier. Drury/Gomez/Redden trifecta.

    On Diaz–he wants out. his injury prevented any possibility of him being recalled. so we’ll have to see what happens now that he’s back playing. Or at least I think he’s back playing. But I think AV has shown he trusts and plans to use Boyle, so I imagine Diaz will be let go.

    On Miller–I think he exasperates AV by making the same poor decisions over and over and over. And he has yet to show enough offense where those decisions are acceptable. (you wonder, if that remains the case, if he could be part of a trade deadline deal)

    On AV being the best coach in Rangers history–So far, he’s very close to the top of the list. If he wins it, maybe best ever. He’s a tremendous coach. also, was thinking today, what would have happened if Slats overruled Gorton and his lieutenants and hired Messier instead of AV? Not saying AV was Gorton’s call completely. Slats liked AV, too. But I think Slats seriously considered Messier, and I doubt Gorton did. (Fascinating! Had no idea that Messier was more Slats idea but it makes sense)

    1. Great stuff Eddie!! I thoroughly enjoyed that. Carpiniello definitely shed some light on certain situations. I’m not surprised at the coaching staff’s lack of trust in McIlrath’s game. It certainly explains why he spends very little time in the lineup. I especially liked the comment that everyone in the world involved in hockey thinks this team is one of the best while fans think the complete opposite. I’m glad he touched upon the possibility of Buchnevich being a late season addition as highly unlikely. I’m not a huge fan of the whole “help is on the way” mentality. It adds unnecessary pressure on a young player and can sometimes create resentment in what is a very good Rangers locker room. When guys have fought together for 90% of the season, it’s those very same guys you want to do battle with in the post season. Especially when it comes to a guy who hasn’t spent a hot minute in the system. Buchnevich will have a chance to start fresh next season (if he chooses to start his NHL career by then). It’s nice to hear (what you and I have been saying all along) someone else refer to Kreider’s game as inconsistent. This season is crucial for him and his future with the Rangers.

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