The following is an opinion piece. No research studies were conducted, it is my opinion and I’m just a player who has spent his life in the game and around the gear industry.
There’s a lot of talk about in sports in general nowadays about head injuries and it seems there are many more concussions being reported. In my opinion, it’s a product of a few things. First and foremost, what we know and understand about head injuries in general. The medical community has shown the severity and consequences of concussions, leading players and coaches to take them a lot more seriously and make decisions with far more caution. Gone are the days of getting hit, sniffing the smelling salts and jumping back out for your next shift. This is for good reason – coaches, parents and players are beginning to make smarter decisions regarding concussions.
There are obviously more concussions being diagnosed today, partially because fewer concussions are being ignored and part because there are more occurring. I don’t believe that there used to be fewer and now there are a ton. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I’m going to totally make up some numbers here, but hey, that’s the beauty of blogs – I get to voice my opinion! If there were 100 concussions that occurred back in the day, I’d guess 30-40% were reported and diagnosed. Today there’s more concussions happening and I’d guess 75-80% of them are reported. To the naked eye, it seems like there’s 3 times as many concussions happening, but I don’t believe it’s as huge as it seems.
In my own opinion, one of the problems is the advances in equipment. There have been some amazing, great advances in protective hockey equipment that have elevated the game. It’s a faster game, players are bigger (see: John Scott, Zdeno Chara, Tyler Myers), they hit harder, skate faster and shoot harder. Players are much more protected than in the days of leather elbow pads, tiny shoulder pads and no helmets, which is great!
The flip side of that coin is that the players are much more protected, which might be a bad thing! The protection level of modern day equipment gives many players a sense of invincibility. The attitude becomes “it doesn’t hurt me, it must not hurt him.” I say this because I believe in my heart of hearts, most hockey players have enough respect for the game and opponents that they don’t look to intentionally injure another player.
Players see big hits and want to go out and throw the body around without a real understanding of how to do so, or know the real purpose of a check. Yes there’s proper occasions to give somebody a green light, see ya next week, open ice bundle. However, most checks are to simply knock someone off the puck. Blame it on us as coaches for not explaining body contact and its purpose better. Or blame it on what young players see in the NHL, but I feel that it’s getting worse.
Moving up the hitting age in youth hockey is good in some ways. It gives more time for players to learn other aspects of the game, fundamentals and to be more mentally prepared for a contact game when they begin hitting, but there’s a downside. The later players are allowed to hit, the later they are being taught to hit. What I see as a problem with this is that we used to teach 60-70 pound PeeWee’s to hit. Now when a player learns to hit, they are 2 years older and 2 years taller, stronger and heavier. Suddenly they are larger, but with the same lack of understanding of how, when and why to throw a hit.
The fact is, players are better protected than ever and most don’t realize the damage they can do with an improper hit or an accidental elbow. Part of what deterred throwing an elbow years ago, or wildly throwing your body around for a hit, was many times it hurt you as bad or worse than the guy you hit. Pads were less protective, and they were also softer and less harmful to others on the ice. Nowadays elbow pads or caps on shoulder pads are bonafide weapons moving around the ice at 15-20 MPH.
The NHL took steps a few years back to help that, regulating the amount of soft foam on shoulder pads and helping to protect its players by lessening the damage done by shoulder to head impacts. Two manufacturers are starting to make a step in the same vein. Bauer, Easton and Reebok have both stepped up to build pads designed for “two way protection.” What this means is they are building a pad that protects me as a player wearing it and it protects my opponent who may have contact with that pad.
Reebok’s new 20K line is the first full foam elbow pad and shoulder pad. First, this makes them extremely light; they are still a performance pad after all. Second, it is still as protective, if not more so than any other more traditional style of pad. Third, it doesn’t have that outer layer of hard plastic that can seriously injure another player on the ice.
Another pad featuring this type of protection is the Easton Pure Pro. Designed exclusively for us here at Pure Hockey and found only in our stores and on our website. The Pure Pro features a similar all foam shoulder cap, making it lighter for better performance while providing protection to other players on the ice. These type of foam shoulder caps increase performance and make the game safer, what more could you ask for?
Bauer’s Supreme TotalOne NXG shoulder pad was a similar effort with the shoulder caps. They took their patented Vent Armor foam and applied it on both the inside and outside of the shoulder caps. The inner layer protects the player wearing the pads and the outer layer protects the other players on the ice by softening impacts. A layer of plastic in between to stabilize them separates the two Vent Armor layers. Bauer is providing the same protection to other players on the ice that it is providing to players wearing Bauer gear.
In my view, this is a great step in the right direction. There is still a risk to other players with this pad, but that risk is reduced. Impacts are softened. It may seem like a silly thing to think about and easy to have an “as long as I’m protected” attitude, but think about what you’d rather get hit by coming across the ice, a soft foam pad or something made of hard plastic?