George McPhee has sat in on the meetings as part of the NHL's committee to study concussions and the game's impact on them. He knows the numbers. He knows the scary reality.
"People react differently," he said. "Some people have several concussions; some have none. Some come back and never have another one and some whenever something happens they seem to be concussed. So you just never know, and there's no bright line test for it."
There has been plenty of awareness about head injuries in hockey, particularly over the past year after stars like Sidney Crosby and the Capitals' Mike Green missed significant time with post-concussion symptoms. But Washington forward Brooks Laich thinks the league may have gone too far.
"I really don't care about that awareness stuff. To be honest I'm sick of hearing all this talk about concussions and about the quiet room," Laich said Friday. "This is what we love to do. Guys love to play, they love to compete, they want to be on the ice. How do you take that away from somebody? We accept that there's going to be dangers when we play this game and know that every night that you get dressed.
"Sometimes, it just feels like we're being babysat a little too much. We're grown men and we should have a little bit of say in what we want to do."
The subject came to Laich's attention because teammate Jay Beagle was hurt in a fight Thursday night with Pittsburgh's Arron Asham. Coach Bruce Boudreau said Beagle wanted to return to the game but was held out because of the NHL's concussion protocol, which requires players with suspected head injuries to spend time in a so-called "quiet room" and be examined by a doctor.
Laich mentioned that in the past he has had arguments with trainers but emphasized there's a level of respect from players for that job — looking out for health over hockey.
Green, who missed extensive time after a concussion last season, believes players should be made aware of the risks, but agrees with Laich's point — that players want more control of their own fate.
"I think as a player you know if you're OK or not. You've got to make that call," Green said. "I think at times the protocol for testing for concussions — they're just tests, they're not exactly how you feel."
Boudreau said Beagle was not experiencing any post-concussion symptoms, though the grinder was not at practice Friday and his immediate status for returning for game action was unclear.
But for players like Beagle and Mathieu Perreault, concussions often just serve as an obstacle to full-time NHL playing time. Perreault admitted this past training camp that he probably had a concussion last year but was reluctant to tell the team.
"In the position that I am, which is I'm never sure if I'm going to be here or not, it's hard to admit it, because I want to stay here, and I felt like maybe if I say that I got a concussion, they'll just get somebody else to do what I do and put me away," he said. "I didn't want that to happen."
Therein lies one of the hot-button issues for the league, which has ratcheted up legislation against head shots in addition to more serious concussion protocol put into place last season. More may be done to protect players from themselves during the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations, but don't expect Laich — the Caps' NHLPA player representative — to support further restrictions.
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