Hawks get their first experience with new concussion protocol

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Marcus Kruger missed a critical penalty kill Wednesday after being removed by the league’s concussion spotters. (AP Photo)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — If it were up to Marcus Kruger, he would not have come out of Wednesday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks.

Which is exactly why it wasn’t up to him.

The Blackhawks had their first experience with the NHL’s new concussion spotters when Kruger — shortly after he was hit hard along the boards by Tommy Wingels — was ordered out of the game and back to the dressing room to check for a concussion. Kruger missed a critical penalty kill because of it, but returned for the third period after getting cleared.

Kruger was clearly angry as he came off the ice.

“I’d rather have it in my hands so I can choose whether I can leave the game or not,” Kruger said Thursday. “But the league doesn’t think that’s best. I can see why they do that, too, but obviously [Wednesday] I wasn’t happy about it.”

Kruger said Hawks athletic trainer Mike Gapski initially told him to leave and get checked, but he quickly came back and played “a few shifts.” Eventually, notified by the league’s concussion spotters in New York, a referee told Kruger he had to leave.

Coaches are naturally reluctant to give anyone else control over personnel decisions, but Joel Quenneville supported the new protocol.

“The medical experts, I think they’ve grown where they’ve made changes each and every year to do what they feel is the best care for the players, and I think that they’ve gone to even another level and step this year,” Quenneville said. “I think the progression is fine with us, as long as it’s safe for the players.”

The new rule is designed to take the decision out of the hands of coaches and players, who might feel compelled to put a win ahead of safety. Back in December 2014, for example, Jonathan Toews was hit face first into the boards by Boston’s Dennis Seidenberg. Despite his history of concussions, Toews never came off the ice, playing on the ensuing power play. He took a penalty, sat it out, skated to the bench, then finally left the game. It’s happened countless times around the league, year after year.

Vinnie Hinostroza, who just suffered a concussion in Winnipeg at the start of the circus trip, thinks the new protocol is the right way to handle such potential injuries.

“Your brain is such a serious thing,” Hinostroza said. “You don’t want to mess around with that. It stinks at the time when you have to leave the ice, but in the long run it’s definitely beneficial to make sure he’s OK. … Our nature as hockey players is you play through injuries, but no matter how much you want to fight through a brain injury, it’s something in the long run you don’t want to do. It’s important the protocol is in.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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