Concussions in sport

On January 27, Dennis Wideman checked linesman, Don Henderson in Calgary. The NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman levelled the defenseman with a 20-game suspension.

On the face of it, the second longest ban in the history of the league fits the crime. Especially, as it left the ref suffering post-concussion symptoms from the event.

However, delving into the background is when it becomes murky. The Calgary defenseman had just been knocked into the boards. From that ugly scene, he did not look aware of his surroundings as he made his way towards the bench.

Within their explanation for the suspension, the league confirmed that he suffered a head injury.

“It is accepted for the purposes of this decision that [Wideman] was later diagnosed as having suffered a concussion. However, that fact – even accepted as true – cannot excuse Wideman’s subsequent actions.”

Bettman did not believe the advice of two concussion experts to be enough to overturn the decision. He said:

“In short, the record as a whole does not support the contention that Mr. Wideman’s actions were the result of confusion, a failure of ‘impulse control’ or a loss of balance. Moreover, to find on a record such as this one that the player was not responsible for the consequences of his actions would set a precedent that could be easily manipulated in the future in a way that would make the game more dangerous for all participants, including players.”

These circumstances are rare, but, it does feel like the league is protecting its brand. Which does not come across as a surprise. As a result of this sanction, Wideman will miss a quarter of the season and the half a million dollars he was due.

What is worrying that the player in question refused the help of the medics while sat on the bench. The game is full of big hits and skaters plying their craft through a high pain threshold. As a result, it should not come as a shock that one of its members kept their bravado even if it was to their own detriment.

A player should not be punished for not disclosing their injury. They know that their position is under threat constantly throughout their career. A person should not be harshly dealt with when the damage is of the brain’s ability to function. However, the NHL used this to their advantage and strengthened their position.

It is crass of the league to hide behind somebody that puts their body on the line to make them money to be the fall guy. The NHL and its executives are making sure it will not be them that takes the hit on this. In this instance, not to the player, but to one of their officials.

Two NHLPA doctors gave testimony in Wideman’s appeal, Paul Comper, and Jeffrey Kutcher. Comper described many “outward objective” signs of concussion, including “anything from balance impairment to disorientation, not knowing where they are, to garbled speech and confusion.”

Kutcher added it is “very, very common” for the concussion to result in “a change in awareness, a change in basically any cognitive ability that the brain possesses so a lack of orientation, impulse control, memory issues, personality changes, inability to coordinate complex tasks.”

Concussions are difficult to diagnose immediately. It does not need a medical expert to identify if a person is of sound, body and mind. You can formulate an opinion from the footage below.

The concussion protocol is sloppy and gives the league a loophole. It places the incentive on the individual to report the injury. Safe in the knowledge that those persons have many reasons not to report an incident. The lunacy of having a person with a brain issue trying to compute that decision is negligent.

Wideman had never been suspended in any of his first 800 games which span north of 10 years. It seems out of character for him to lay waste to an authority figure. Now if he was frustrated, it would be easier to get retribution on his opponent and take the in-game penalty. As a side, Wideman’s opponent, Miikka Salomaki was not disciplined for the hit that caused the Canadian’s concussion. Why would the former Florida Panther not want to exact his revenge on the Finn. That would seem to be the correct course of action.

The league took the steps they had to take to protect themselves. The NHL is facing multiple class-action lawsuits from players. The ex-pros are alleging that they were not warned about the dangers of head trauma.

They are also seeking payment as they believe they were provided adequate care when suffering from head injuries. If these accusations were proven, it could get messy quickly. It would be opening a pandora’s box. The financial ramifications it can have for American Sports would be catastrophic.

A fan of the game does not wish to see what happened to Don Henderson happen again. But, the punishment does not fit the crime and does not stop these incidents happening again. All it does is cover the backsides of those in charge by pushing the league’s dirty little secret onto the ones that love(d) playing the game.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

EIHL playoffs: Quarter-finals preview

Seven of the eight teams returned to the playoffs this year. The exception being the now defunct Hull Stingrays. Their vacancy was filled by 2015’s worst side, the Dundee Stars.

Braehead Clan and Cardiff Devils switched seedings as have Coventry Blaze and Fife Flyers.

Edinburgh Capitals missed out again as they dropped from ninth to 10th. Newcomers Manchester Storm fell away in the concluding few weeks and finished ninth.

2014/15 winners Coventry will be looking to repeat their post-season win when the action gets underway on Saturday night. Three of the four reverse fixtures will take place on Sunday evening. Belfast Giants v Nottingham Panthers commences on Monday.

In Nottingham, the one-legged semi-finals will be contested on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, the third-place game and the final.

Quarter-Finals

#1 Sheffield Steelers v #8 Coventry Blaze

Sheffield won the regular season title, but they lost six of eight matchups v Coventry. Steelers won the first and last matchup of the campaign.

Both sides split the points at Sheffield Arena. Blaze are unbeaten when coming face-to-face with Paul Thompson’s men at SkyDome. I can foresee the reigning playoff champions “upsetting” the Yorkshire outfit.

#2 Cardiff Devils v #7 Dundee Stars

This matchup pits the best defence against the best offence in the country. Netminder Ben Bows had conceded 139 while the Stars scored 200 in the 52 fixtures.

Both squads earned four points against one another. Although, the Welshman beat out their Scottish rivals in the two-legged Challenge Cup tie.

Steve King has already led his team to a final in the cup this year and I expect him to coach his way out of the first round.

#3 Braehead Clan v #6 Fife Flyers

Braehead is the form side in the division. They have won their last seven fixtures to lift the conference title. On their way to becoming back-to-back Gardiner champions, they bypassed their post-season opponents, Fife.

Todd Dutiaume got the better of compatriot Ryan Finnerty this season winning four out of six meetings.

Although, this is a bad time for Flyers to be playing their Renfrew-based rivals. The Kirkcaldy outfit has lost their final three and momentum is with the west coasters. However, I would not be surprised to see the Clan bow out at this stage.

#4 Nottingham Panthers v #5 Belfast Giants

The two closest matched seeds provide the toughest to call tie of the first round. Belfast and Nottingham had seven encounters. The English outfit won four and lost the final two.

Giants ended on a high with three wins to secure the fourth spot from Panthers. Nottingham had lost their last two and six of their previous 10. Oddly enough this malaise has taken place after the Challenge Cup victory.

Corey Neilson should guide his men into the finals weekend, but only just.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

EIHL week in review

This week’s big winners are Sheffield Steelers as they won the Elite Ice Hockey League’s regular season for the second season in a row. Steelers earned 72 points throughout the campaign, two more than runners-up Cardiff Devils.

The big losers are Edinburgh Capitals who once again lost heavily in both of their games.

Last week’s results

Wednesday:
Cardiff Devils 4-3 Belfast Giants;
Nottingham Panthers 5-0 Coventry Blaze

Friday:
Belfast Giants 5-3 Fife Flyers

Saturday:
Manchester Storm 2-5 Cardiff Devils;
Belfast Giants 5-1 Fife Flyers;
Braehead Clan 8-1 Edinburgh Capitals;
Dundee Stars 2-1 Coventry Blaze;
Sheffield Steelers 4-3 Nottingham Panthers

Sunday:
Coventry Blaze 6-2 Manchester Storm;
Edinburgh Capitals 3-6 Braehead Clan;
Cardiff Devils 4-3 Nottingham Panthers;
Fife Flyers 1-3 Sheffield Steelers

On Wednesday, Cardiff made up their game in hand on Sheffield as they maintained pressure upon the Yorkshire outfit with a 4-3 victory against Belfast.

Devils matched the result in Sheffield on Saturday and left Manchester with two points and as Erhardt champions. Unfortunately, for the Welsh side, it was not enough to be crowned champions. This allowed Steelers to run out to a guard of honour in Kirkcaldy on the last day of the season. They finished in style with a 3-1 dispatching of Todd Dutiaume’s squad.

The task was clear for Braehead. Two wins and they would place third in the table heading into the post-season and in the process regain the Gardiner Conference title. Fortunately for them, they were playing an Edinburgh side which had lost 16 straight going into this week and had no hope of finishing higher than last for some time now. Ryan Finnerty’s Clan had enough to get the four points needed and just edged Flyers in the process. As an extra, they have won their last seven and hit form at the exact right time to play Fife in the playoffs that start on Saturday.

Other results

The marquee matchup on Friday lived up to its billing with an entertaining eight-goal thriller between Belfast and Fife which Giants edged 5-3. 24 hours later, Flyers failed to regroup and lost 5-1 in Northern Ireland.

Nottingham’s National Ice Centre hosted Panthers’ 5-0 drubbing of Coventry in a game which had little meaning to both sides with their playoff seedings already decided.

Dundee went into the playoffs with a three-game winning streak after a 2-1 at home against Coventry. A day later Chuck Weber’s men bounced back with a 6-2 flourish over Manchester. Blaze will have a challenge when they matchup with Sheffield in the first round of the playoffs.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

EIHL week in review

Last week’s results

Wednesday:
Coventry Blaze 6-1 Nottingham Panthers

Saturday:
Edinburgh Capitals 2-10 Dundee Stars;
Braehead Clan 8-3 Manchester Storm;
Cardiff Devils 5-2 Belfast Giants;
Nottingham Panthers 2-4 Sheffield Steelers

Sunday:
Manchester Storm 3-6 Braehead Clan;
Sheffield Steelers 6-3 Coventry Blaze;
Cardiff Devils 4-3 Belfast Giants;
Dundee Stars 13-2 Edinburgh Capitals;
Fife Flyers 1-2 Nottingham Panthers

Blaze lived up to their nickname as they won 6-1, and briefly became the form side in the Elite Ice Hockey League. Taking the mantle from the recently anointed Challenge Cup winning Nottingham Panthers. Coventry was victorious in their last five and moved up to seventh in the rankings.

A day removed from Sheffield’s 4-2 triumph at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre. They brought an end to Coventry’s good form. Paul Thompson’s team dispatched Chuck Weber’s outfit 6-3 at Motorpoint Arena. Steelers remain top of the table after their four-point weekend.

The Englishman was not the only head coach to win both of matchups over the weekend. Braehead, Cardiff, and Dundee held their ground after picking up maximum points.

Braehead Clan’s victories, home and away over Manchester has eliminated Storm from playoff contention. The Renfrew-based unit remains third, five points off the summit.

In their doubleheader, the Dundee Stars netted 23 times against the Edinburgh Capitals. In response, Riley Emmerson’s men could only score four times. Drubbings like these are the reason that they are at the bottom of the EIHL table. Marc Lefebvre will be looking behind him with Coventry in reach. Although, they have assured post-season Ice Hockey due to these results.

Cardiff had two home matches against Belfast. The first being a 5-2 victory while Giants reduced the deficit of defeat to one, a day later.

Flyers could not take advantage of Nottingham’s post cup final hangover. The Scots lost in overtime to Panthers 1-2. If Fife had beaten their opponents, they would have been one spot and a point behind Corey Neilson’s side. Alas, they remain in sixth where they will likely finish.

With just one week remaining before the post-season, here are the penultimate week’s fixtures.

This week’s fixtures

Wednesday:
Belfast Giants v Cardiff Devils;
Nottingham Panthers v Coventry Blaze

Friday:
Belfast Giants v Fife Flyers

Saturday:
Manchester Storm v Cardiff Devils;
Belfast Giants v Fife Flyers;
Braehead Clan v Edinburgh Capitals;
Dundee Stars v Coventry Blaze;
Sheffield Steelers v Nottingham Panthers

Sunday:
Coventry Blaze v Manchester Storm;
Edinburgh Capitals v Braehead Clan;
Cardiff Devils v Nottingham Panthers;
Fife Flyers v Sheffield Steelers


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

EIHL week in review

Last week’s results

Tuesday:
Fife Flyers 1-4 Belfast Giants

Friday:
Cardiff Devils 1-6 Nottingham Panthers

Saturday:
Belfast Giants 1-2 Braehead Clan;
Coventry Blaze 12-4 Edinburgh Capitals;
Sheffield Steelers 5-2 Fife Flyers

Sunday:
Nottingham Panthers 1-0 Cardiff Devils;
Manchester Storm 2-8 Fife Flyers;
Edinburgh Capitals 5-6 Coventry Blaze;
Dundee Stars 1-2 Braehead Clan

Belfast Giants were mounting a late challenge for the title when they beat Fife Flyers on Tuesday. It was their sixth straight league win with goals from Mike Forney, Kris Beech (2) and Mike Radja. Michael Dorr pulled one back to make it, 2-1. But, the Northern Irish outfit was just too much for them on the day.

Their title hopes stalled on Saturday as the Braehead Clan won 2-1 in Belfast. As that was happening, the league-leading Sheffield Steelers inflicted Flyers to successive defeats. It was a much-needed victory for Paul Thompson’s men. They had won and lost four of their last eight regulation matchups.

Nottingham handed Cardiff Devils their third consecutive defeat days before the Challenge Cup final. The Panthers are in form, having won seven of their previous 10 and are still in with a shot of the league title. It is an outside chance.

On Sunday – two days after Nottingham’s 6-1 drubbing of Cardiff – the sides faced off again. This time in the Sheffield Ice Arena, for the cup final. This occasion was a tight, low-scoring affair. Nottingham beat the defending holders in sudden death overtime with an Evan Mosley goal. With that, Corey Neilson’s side are this week’s big winners.

The big losers are the Edinburgh Capitals. The side bottom of the table lost both games this week and are now winless in 15. To add to Riley Emmerson’s woes. The double header with Coventry Blaze ended in an 18-9 loss on aggregate. The first contest being a 12-4 hammering at the SkyDome.

In other results. Manchester Storm fell out of the last playoff spot with an 8-2 drubbing. To make matters worse this was in front of their home support against Todd Dutiaume’s men. Omar Pacha will be confident for his team to bounce back, having won eight of their last 10.

Braehead won again on the road. This time by two goals to one in Dundee as they kept the pressure on the top two with their third straight win. Clan now sits five points from the summit.

This week’s fixtures

Wednesday:
Coventry Blaze Nottingham Panthers

Saturday:
Edinburgh Capitals Dundee Stars;
Braehead Clan Manchester Storm;
Cardiff Devils Belfast Giants;
Nottingham Panthers Sheffield Steelers

Sunday:
Manchester Storm Braehead Clan;
Sheffield Steelers Coventry Blaze;
Cardiff Devils Belfast Giants;
Dundee Stars Edinburgh Capitals;
Fife Flyers Nottingham Panthers


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

Match Report: Fife Flyers 1-4 Belfast Giants

Belfast Giants faced off against the Fife Flyers in Kirkcaldy on Tuesday with the visitors leaving 4-1 victors.

With the win, the Giants moved within three points of the first placed Cardiff Devils with six games to play.

Two goals from Kris Beech. As well as strikes from Michael Forney and Mike Radja, gave the Giants the two points.

Belfast was without Matt Nickerson, Mark Garside, Johan Ejdepalm, and Brandon Benedict. However, they dominated proceedings, spending most of the period camped inside the Flyers half. The stats backed this up as the shot count was 17-5 in favour of the away side after the opening 20 minutes.

Giants took the lead in the first period as Michael Forney netted with 90 seconds remaining on the clock. Jim Vandermeer and Derrick Walser credited with the assist. It was the American’s 21st of the campaign. As a result of Ryan Dingle sitting in the Penalty Box for Goalie Interference.

Only 56 seconds had gone in the second period and Kris Beech with his 22nd goal of the season doubled the lead. David Brown was kept busy in the Fife net as Belfast continued to pepper his goal mouth. Although, their flow was broken up with five power plays to the home side.

Michael Dorr preyed on a Flyers’ pp. Scoring 81 seconds after the third-period faceoff to bring his side to within one. But, the Kirkcaldy-based side’s momentum was fleeting. Belfast restored their two-goal advantage thanks to Beech’s second of the game at 44:26. Five minutes later, Mike Radja ended the rout as he slotted in at the back post.

Head Coach, Todd Dutiaume, accepted his side were second best on the night, saying:

‘‘Some results you deserve, some you grind out – but that wasn’t the case tonight. This is the same hockey club which came out against Cardiff and won, but tonight we were disappointing.

‘‘Belfast looked like a team that wanted back into the title race. That was one of the most solid performances we have seen in this building this season. They were all over us.

“Anytime you get outshot four to one in your own building, and go 1 for 7 on the PP, you won’t win the game.’’

Dutiaume admitted they missed the buzz and leadership of injured Danny Stewart. The Flyers’ coach hopes to have him back in the line-up for the weekend. With upcoming away fixtures in Sheffield and Manchester . He will want an instant response from his men.

’’We’ll have a huge travelling support, and that is great,’’ he said. ‘‘We have to find a way to claw that performance back this weekend.

‘‘We need points to secure our play-off place and for the conference title. This is a huge weekend.’’

Fife Scoring:
Michael Dorr (1+0), Philippe Paquet (0+1), Nicolas Rioux (0+1)

Fife Man of the Match: Kyle Haines

Belfast Scoring:
Kris Beech (2+0), Mike Forney (1+1), Mike Radja (1+0), Derrick Walser (0+2), Jim Vandermeer (0+1), Chris Higgins (0+1), David Rutherford (0+1)

Belfast Man of the Match: James Desmarais

Shots on Goal:
David Brown: 41
Stephen Murphy: 13


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

Match Preview: Fife Flyers v Belfast Giants

This evening, Belfast Giants end their road trip in Scotland with a clash against the Fife Flyers. Face-off is at 19:30 at the Fife Ice Rink.

Team News

Derrick Walser has to ponder his team selection ahead of their journey to Kirkcaldy. He chose to leave out Brandon Benedict for his team’s victory versus the Clan at the weekend. The Giants will also be without the injured Matt Nickerson.

Todd Dutiaume’s has a full-strength squad as he did in their shootout win over Edinburgh.

Head to Head

The upcoming contest will be the squad’s fourth meeting of the season. Fife are certainly the side in form having won eight of their last 10. In comparison, the Giants have been defeated three times, two of them coming in overtime.

Previous Meetings

Fife 4-3 Belfast (Jan 30, 2016)
Belfast 3-2 Fife (Nov 22, 2015)
Belfast 3-0 Fife (Nov 21, 2015)

As it stands, Belfast lie in third place on 57 points. The Cardiff Devils are top having played a game more. The Sheffield Steelers are level on 62 points, but played a couple more matches than the Giants. The Flyers are five points behind tonight’s opponents.

Top Scorers

Flyers:
Dingle (22 goals + 32 assists)
Fox (24 + 26)
Stockton (21 + 25)
Caig (15 + 27)

Giants:
Desmarais (21 goals + 36 assists)
Forney (20 + 29)
Radja (26 + 21)
Rutherford (19 + 26)

Netminders

Giants – Stephen Murphy: GAA 2.66, SAV% 0.898
Flyers – David Brown: GAA 2.95, SAV% 0.893

Highlights of the last encounter between both playoff bound sides:

Belfast v Fife


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.