Hockey can be a rough sport. The risk of injury is high, and with the ever growing studies about the permanent damage that can occur with recurrent concussions, it does make me nervous about Brett playing the sport. I would worry MORE if he played football. In football, they are purposefully crashing into each other. In hockey they are just trying to get the puck, or this is how I justify the potential dangers in hockey not being “as bad” or as “dangerous”. He has never skated without a helmet, from the beginning, and I do hold my breath pretty frequently with the speed at which he skates, imagining disaster. One wrong fall, one crash into the boards and life could change dramatically. At free skating, I see so many kids and adults skate around, carefree without protection on their heads. It only takes a second, and bam. You’re down and unconscious with lasting consequences. The ice is hard and totally unforgiving. The head is not something to mess around with.
Brett has always been tall for his age, and people often mistake him for being older. When he played in the mite house league, as a 6 or 7 year old, he was at least a head taller than many of the players, looking like a giant with his skates on, while standing next to his friends. One particular game, he stormed towards the puck, and took his stick and went to whack the puck away from his opponent, but the kid stopped for some reason. Brett’s momentum was too great, and he knocked into this kid SO hard that it took my breath away. In slow motion, the boy went down, his head hitting the ice, no ability to stop the fall. His head bounced up and then back down. Then, he lay still and was unconscious. A parent’s worst nightmare. Brett immediately knelt down, with scared wide eyes. The boy looked so tiny then, laying motionless on the ice. The whole arena was instantly silent. That’s what happens when there is an injury. The game longer matters. You could hear a pin drop while everyone waits for the player to get up. All players were taking a knee, waiting. The boy was not moving. My hands were covering my mouth, my eyes wide in anticipation. I was frozen, waiting for movement. In this case, the boy’s Dad was the assistant coach. He quickly walked onto the ice, and I saw Brett say something to him. The coach patted Brett’s shoulder, “it’s ok, it was an accident.” He carried his son off the ice, and they disappeared into the other room. The arena was filled with the sound of hockey sticks hitting the ice; the sound of support from the players watching the injured leave the ice. My eyes welled up, praying this kid would be ok. Brett was totally freaked out, and tears streamed down his face. He felt sick about having hurt this kid. After the game was over, Brett saw the boy and went right over to him, ecstatic that he was awake and seemed ok. “You’re such a good player. I’m so sorry. You played the best game of anyone today.” “Thanks”, he said. Relief washed over Brett, (and me) but this experience stayed with him a long time. Injury can happen, even with skilled players. Because of this experience, he will often pull back instead of pushing through players, anxiety and fear of accidentally hurting someone else looming in his mind.
Last season, the Wizards organization that Brett plays for starting requiring a concussion base line test, so that in the event something were to happen, the doctors would have a baseline for normal brain function. Great idea, I thought. So, Brett got his test and I keep the results in my purse just in case. During a practice last year, Brett had worked really hard. He was fine tuning some skills, learning how to shoot better, and skating super fast during the drills. I stepped out of the rink for just a minute. Practice was ending in 5, everything was going well, and I couldn’t wait to go home and get dinner going. It was already 8:00, and I was starving. Practice seemed to end uneventfully, and Brett went to the locker room. Coach came to talk to me after practice with a serious expression on his face…which was not the norm. Apparently, Brett had gotten a puck tangled under his skates during the last drill, and he went down, falling directly on the back of his head. A TERRIBLE place to fall. Coach was concerned, and now I was as well. Brett felt nauseous, dizzy, and couldn’t really remember the fall. Why is it that everything bad happens in the last 5 minutes? I had to take this seriously. Can’t mess with the head. We got in the car and drove immediately to the ER at Yale. Even as one of the best skaters out there, these things can happen. It is extremely nerve wracking. They did all the tests, and he was diagnosed with his second concussion. I was so upset. He couldn’t play for 4 weeks which made him a very sad puppy. Making the best of the hiatus, he suited up and went to every game to watch. Forever loyal to his beloved team, but sad on the sidelines. We can’t keep our kids in a bubble, but sometimes I wish we could. In the meantime, always have your kids wear their helmet, and don’t downplay head injuries.