Ken Dryden Speaks the Truth

Must read. Follow the link. I clipped a lot out.

Ken Dryden on hockey violence: How could we be so stupid? - The Globe and Mail
The brain weighs about three pounds. It floats [...], surrounded by spinal fluid, not quite in contact with the skull. Except when the head is jarred. Then, the brain moves, ricocheting back and forth [...] like a superball in a squash court. With hard-enough contact, the brain bleeds. And the [...] neurons and pathways that we use to think, learn and remember – get damaged.

Why would we ever have thought otherwise? [...]

I feel the same when I remember that the effects of smoking or of drunk driving were ignored for so long. I feel it when I think of women in the past having no right to vote and few rights of any kind, and when I think about slavery: How could people 50, 100 or 200 years ago not have known? How could they be so stupid? I wonder what will make people say that about us 50 years from now. What are the big things we might be getting really wrong? Chemicals in our foods? Genetic modifications gone wrong? Climate change? [...] It wasn't until 1943 in the National Football League that helmets became mandatory; in the National Hockey League, not until 36 years after that, in 1979. The first goalie mask wasn't worn in the NHL until 1959. And in a whole childhood and adolescence of playing goalie, I didn't wear a mask until 1965, when I had to wear one on my college team. How could I have been so stupid?

[...] Two hockey players [...] colliding with each other and with the boards, glass and ice exaggerating the force of every hit. [...] In addition, there are the countless mini-collisions that never make the "Highlights of the Night." They make players feel a little dizzy, but then seconds later, almost every time, they feel fine. So they must be fine. [...]

[...] What is our answer to those voices 50 years into the future? We can only say that we didn't want to know. [...] It may be all right, or inevitable, for everything in the world around the game to change; but the game itself is "pure" and must remain that way. Hockey began in Montreal in 1875 because some rugby players wanted a game for the wintertime, and they wanted to hit each other. But the rugby players couldn't skate very fast, their bodies were smaller than ours are today, and they were playing on a smaller ice surface where they had little room to pick up momentum. With no substitutions allowed, the game moved at coasting speed. Bigger ice surfaces changed the nature of the game; so did the forward pass; so did boards and glass; so did substitutions, shorter shifts and bigger bodies.

Helmeted players in today's game are far more vulnerable to serious head injury than helmet-less players were in generations ago. We choose to ignore the fact that the "nature" of any game is always changing. Today's hockey – in terms of speed, skill, style of play and force of impact – is almost unrecognizable from hockey 50 years ago, let alone 100. [...]

I would add to Dryden's list of changes to the game:

equipment. I have heard it said, about football, that the way to stop helmet on helmet hits is to get rid of the helmets. Of course, this is met with derisive laughter. But I like this idea. I'm pretty sure rugby doesn't have the concussion problem of the NFL. And nobody accuses those guys of being "wusses."

The NHL version of this, in my opinion, is not helmets, but shoulder and elbow pads. I grew up playing in the 70s, took several years off, and came back to the game in the 90s. I was shocked by two developments: (1) how much better the skates were; you could simply skate faster, cut better, get out of the gate more explosively, pivot more tightly (and blow out your old knees much more easily, I was soon to find out), and (2) that the shoulder pads and elbow pads had turned into suits of armor. I was used to the old-style shoulder pads that barely looked like you had anything on; you know, like Brendan Shanahan. And elbow pads were little more than a bit of leather with a little plastic cup on the end. With those old pads, if you shouldered someone in the head at full speed, you would feel it in your shoulder. Delivering a check, you were much more exposed. You couldn't just throw yourself recklessly into someone. In the new (now old, late 90s) equipment, I felt comparatively impervious to harm. And not in a good way.

My 18 year-old (strong) shoulder with flimsy pads was much less of a weapon than my 30-something year-old (decrepit) shoulder encased in battle armor. And that's messed up.

I have no doubt that we would see fewer concussions if we returned to a less protective shoulder and elbow pad. And, to the folks who think this would lead to more shoulder and elbow injuries, I think not. In my own experience, I've been hit a lot, and I don't think anyone ever hit me on the top of the shoulder, where the weapon-like armor is. Those are not there for defensive or protective purposes. They are for attack. It seems like a no-brainer to reduce their efficacy as a concussion delivery system.