Did NHL linesmen save Zach Bogosian's brain?

USA TODAY Sports

Fans hate it when NHL officials intervene to prevent a spontaneous fight from igniting, but Saturday night their actions may have saved Zach Bogosian's brain from serious injury.

Zach Bogosian nearly got into a fight with Kyle Okposo over the weekend, and the fact linesmen kept it from happening may have prevented brain damage.

To understand why, we have to revisit Saturday night's 5-4 shootout win by Okposo's New York Islanders over Bogosian's Winnipeg Jets.

A little under eight minutes into the second period of a close game between two teams chasing a playoff spot, Okposo knocked Bogosian off the puck with a check that looked like a shoulder to his chin.

The hit isn't included among the selected hits in the NHL's official highlight package from the game -- which is interesting since, if it wasn't a penalty and didn't elicit supplementary discipline, then it was a highlight-worthy check that knocked Bogosian on his tail.

Watch it via YouTube here:


Bogosian is slow to get up -- enough that the referees blow the whistle to stop play -- and he takes some time to circle with Okposo and exchange words. He heads to the bench to sit, but soon after he went to the locker room briefly.

But Bogosian doesn't really miss a shift: He's back on the ice a minute later.

Later in the period, a still-fiery Bogosian took the opportunity to crunch Okposo into the boards from behind (but not in a dirty way), then turned to Okposo's center Frans Nielsen, finishing a check with his arms carrying high into Nielsen's head, a move that drew Okposo's ire.

That led to a sequence that put both Okposo and Bogosian in the box, shouting with rage at one another on the way to the sin bin and continuing once inside.

In fact, for reasons fans of both teams could not figure out, before both players were escorted to the box it was only the linesmen who kept the two from dropping the gloves and trying to beat the hell out of each other. Fans of both teams thought it was an overzealous intervention.

As Winnipeg Free Press writer Gary Lawless described it:

Bogosian wouldn’t leave immediately after the hit and late in the second period he and Okposo were about to settle their differences with a fist-fight when the linesmen intervened.

Bogosian, with his wild beard and a wilder look in his eyes, seared an image of rage upon this game which Jets fans won’t soon forget.

That description aptly fits both men. In a very contentious match with high stakes for both teams, fans were about to see an old-fashioned fistfight between two players who had reason to want to destroy each other via fists to the head. Only the linesman stood in the way of a passionate bout, one of those "natural" fights stemming from human emotions that even reluctant fight fans accept are part of the game.

Except apparently Bogosian was already concussed at the time.

Lawless reports that is why Bogosian is now out at least a week, and it raises the timeless question once again: Why was Bogosian allowed back in the game?

As a sport, and as a sports-loving continent, there is so much we don't know about concussions. It's clear they vary by incident and by body, and they're both hard to diagnose and hard to convince a competitive victim of their severity in the heat of battle.

But one thing we do think we know about concussions is that a second blow to the head is quite dangerous.

From an NBC News article on "Second Impact Syndrome," which is the worst-case scenario:

[SIS] can occur when an athlete suffers a jolt to the head too soon after an earlier concussion. Experts say that if the brain doesn’t have enough time to recover from the initial concussion, a second one can have a devastating, often fatal, effect -- even when the second jolt is no more than a light bump.

The second hit causes the brain to swell catastrophically, but it’s the first injury, experts say, that makes the player a walking time bomb.

Again, those are the worst-case scenarios, but hockey fans need look no further than the Sidney Crosby drama to see an example where a second (and less violent) collision can be the one that keeps a player on the shelf for a calendar year.

If Zach Bogosian is concussed, he should have never returned to Saturday's game. And if that diagnosis is the correct one, those overzealous linesman may have saved his career, if not his brain.

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The Bruins’ luck with goalies

Six (!) outdoor games in 2014

Dissecting the Caps’ penalty kill woes

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