- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kirk Muller doesn’t know if he suffered a concussion during his playing career. Sure, he got hit in the head, but they weren’t diagnosed in the same way.

Now the Carolina Hurricanes’ coach, Muller’s playing days ended before the 2004-05 lockout. Washington Capitals right wing Mike Knuble’s career has spanned the time when it was called “getting your bell rung” and nothing more to an era of quiet rooms and protocol where it’s recognized as a brain injury.

“Back in the olden days you just shook it off, seeing stars and all that,” Knuble said.

Now, the NHL is seeing its stars and numerous other players miss action with concussions. Capitals leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom has missed 15 games and counting; Jay Beagle was out for 31 games this season, the and face of the league, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, has played just eight games in the past 13 months because of concussions.

An unofficial count by Sirius-XM radio’s NHL Home Ice lists 28 players out with concussions or concussion-like symptoms.

“The NHL has a concussion crisis,” said agent Allan Walsh, who has had more than a half-dozen clients suffer one in the past two seasons.

And while it is debated whether concussions have sharply increased or the awareness of them has, it’s a multilevel crisis because it involves the rules of the game, player safety and long-term health [-] and symptoms can vary from one person to another.

It’s the mystery nature of the problem that makes it even scarier.

“You just got to try and go throughout the day normal. It’s a tough thing,” Beagle said. “It’s something you can’t X-ray it and be like, ‘Yeah, your bone’s broken.’ It goes by how you feel.”

‘Wouldn’t wish it upon my enemies’

More than a handful of Capitals acknowledged suffering at least one concussion during their playing careers, to differing degrees of severity. Not knowing the symptoms to look for might be the hardest part.

Beagle had that problem, too. Knocked out in a fight with Penguins tough guy Arron Asham on Oct. 13, he was eager to return to the game and felt good to go for the next day’s practice, too. But doctors and trainer Greg Smith held him out, something he was thankful for when he started to feel out of sorts.

“I honestly didn’t know. I came in and even for a month I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t know why I’m sitting out. I feel fine.’ And Smitty’s like, he kept asking me questions and sensitivity to light and things [-] noises [-] that aggravates you,” Beagle said. “And then I’d get thinking about it. I was like, yeah, you know, when I’m driving to the rink at night to come watch the game and I see the lights on the cops’ cars and I’d look away and it hurts.

“I never really noticed that until he said sensitivity to light, noise [-] things like that. And it’s something that I was doing, and it didn’t register to me.”

For defenseman Karl Alzner, it was easy to pinpoint because of a headache he couldn’t shake and vision that was “blurry and slow.” Backstrom claimed to be feeling “pretty good” three days after an elbow to the head from Rene Bourque, then with Calgary, gave him a concussion. But he has skated just five minutes in the past month.

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