clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NHL head injuries: High sticks & cranial trauma

With so much focus on head injuries from checks and fighting, the high stick often goes overlooked as a frequent cause of impact with the head.


The slightest droplet of blood was visible as Anaheim Ducks legend Teemu Selanne laid in agony on the ice. The seconds prior seemed innocuous enough, but here was Selanne with some kind of issue that forced play to be blown dead in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

As Anaheim's trainer was guided to Selanne's aide with the help of a referee, the replay showed that Luke Schenn had unintentionally hit the Ducks forward in the face with the shaft of his stick while battling for a puck. Fortunately, Selanne was able to skate off the ice under his own power, albeit with a bit more red on him than when he started the shift.

While there's no indication that this incident will have any impact on Selanne's future (with the exception of several lost teeth), it was difficult not to think back to a similar occurrence that also happened in Philadelphia almost exactly two years prior. Flyers captain Chris Pronger had his life forever changed on Oct. 24, 2011 when Mikhail Grabovski unintentionally hit him in the face with a high stick. At the time, it was thought to be a minor issue. Now, it's remembered as the final major moment in Pronger's Hall of Fame career.

Considering what Selanne has meant to countless hockey fans over the years, it would be a devastating occurrence if his career came to a close in such a fashion. Especially since he has stated this is his final year, which has allowed the hockey world an opportunity to properly celebrate his career.

But, that's the world we live in today. A necessary concentration has made detection, identification and treatment of head injuries more important than ever before in professional sports. While some question why such an increase in head injuries has occurred in recent years, it seems fairly obvious: no body ever looked for them before. And if they did, they weren't trying very hard.

Fighting and head shots have become the primary focus of "cleaning up" the game, but it's important to remember that innocuous plays can cause serious damage, too. Most feature length articles on head injuries in football indicate that repetitive "mini" traumas that occur on every play actually cause a significant bit of damage. Most times they're compared to a car crash.

Well, hockey players are hit in the face with sticks rather frequently. As we saw with Pronger, it resulted in a career ending injury.

Please don't misunderstand this and interpret it as the rallying cry for a witch hunt or a proposal to eliminate using sticks. Rather, this is an attempt to keep the discourse centered on head trauma and the serious ramifications that come along with it.

In the wake of the fighting debates that occurred earlier this year, Pittsburgh Penguins manager Ray Shero astutely observed that rabble-rousing for a fighting ban only occurred in accordance with a major incident. In essence, the conversation cycle had some fuel so they built a fire. Well, that's no way to usher in change.

Head trauma needs to be limited in as many ways as possible. Discussing and observing ways that trauma occurs or can occur is the best way to do that. Blindside hits, elbows to the head and fighting are some ways impact is made to the head, but they aren't the only ways.

We need to be aware of them, no matter how innocuous they seem.

More from SB Nation NHL:

LIKE SB Nation NHL on Facebook!

Does goalie fatigue impact a shootout?

Watch Brandon Saad’s ridiculous game-winning assist

The NHL’s illusion of consistency

The Goal: The rivalry between two high schools where hockey is life