On Oct. 14, the morning after Jay Beagle suffered a concussion in a fight with Arron Asham and had to leave the Washington Capitals’ game at the Pittsburgh Penguins, Brooks Laich had some pretty pointed comments about the league’s protocol process.
“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,” said Laich, who is the Caps’ NHL Players’ Association representative. “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.”
Since then, even more awareness has come to head injuries in the NHL, with the likes of Jeff Skinner, Kris Letang, Nathan Gerbe, Chris Pronger, Milan Michalek, Claude Giroux and Mike Richards all missing time because of concussions or post-concussion syndrome.
Laich on Thursday was asked if he changed his mind on the matter given the apparent epidemic of concussions this season.
“Not really. I just don’t want people to automatically assume because a player takes a hard hit that it’s a concussion. Hard hits happen,” he said. “You look at the other night, Brent Seabrook was knocked out and he played the next night in Pittsburgh, and I watched him play [Wednesday] night against Montreal. I don’t want everybody to just say every hard hit is a concussion because taking hits and receiving hits is part of the game, and I don’t want players to miss action because there’s so many red flags being thrown up in the air.”
Laich emphasized he cared about player safety, too.
“Head injuries are unique injuries,” Laich said. “I’m all for safety, but I also don’t think you can eliminate the physical aspect of the game.”
In past discussions since that meeting with reporters in October, Laich mentioned that trainers and doctors serve a purpose to protect players from themselves.
That’s the idea of the NHL’s concussion protocol, which seeks to ensure that players don’t suffer multiple concussions on the same night. If a player is experiencing symptoms of a concussion, he is forced to leave the game and spend time in a so-called “quiet room.”
“Now what happens if it’s Game 7 of the playoffs — it’s the second round, and you get hit hard with seven minutes left?” Laich said. “Are you going to go to the quiet room for 10 minutes, or are you going to say, ‘You know what, let me finish this out and 10 minutes from now we’ll go in the quiet room or something?’
“It’s fine and dandy in October and November, but how are we really going to govern this thing come May or June is the question.”
It figures to reason that some players might go about hiding concussion symptoms in situations like that. Colby Armstrong of the Toronto Maple Leafs tried to last weekend, but his concussion was revealed when he started vomiting and experiencing blurry vision Monday.
Laich is not a player to just go about his business and ignore trends and situations around the league. When prompted with the notion that New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal played with a concussion last season, the 28-year-old forward brought up Armstrong and teammate Jay Beagle.
“The whole concussion and the protocol thing is such a gray area. Everything has to be handled on an individual basis. … There’s reasons people do it,” Laich said. “I totally understand the safety aspect. On our team, if Jay Beagle’s not ready to play, I don’t think he should play. I would want to play. That’s in me — that’s built in me that I want to play the hockey game. If I’m alive I think I can play the hockey game. But sometimes you do need to be protected from yourself.”
Being such a difficult issue, count Laich among those who don’t have a solution.
“I don’t know if there’s any way we’re ever going to solve it,” Laich said. “You obviously have to look after players’ safety, but you also have to trust the players a little bit that they know their body, and if they say they’re OK, hopefully they are OK and nothing bad happens.”