MONTREAL — Joel Quenneville likes talking about concussions as much as he likes divulging lineup changes and injury specifics. He grimaces, grumbles, and basically declines to comment. But when asked if Corey Crawford had been “tested” after taking a Shea Weber slap shot to the facemask, Quenneville said he indeed had been.
“Right away,” Quenneville said. “Killing that penalty [and] the rest of the period.”
Quenneville clearly had missed the point of the question. Just as the NHL apparently has missed the point when it comes to concussion awareness.
It was inexcusable that Crawford stayed in the game after taking a headshot that even he deemed the hardest he’s ever taken. Yes, Crawford appeared fine afterward. Yes, he played very well, finishing with 40 saves in the 4-2 victory. Yes, he was perfectly lucid and quick-witted during his postgame scrum with reporters.
But again, that’s not the point.
Look, we know by now that NHL players and coaches are not going to remove a player from a game unless he’s physically unable to stand. It’s the macho culture of the sport — no pain is too great, no risk is too severe. If you can skate, you play. No matter what. We’ve seen it before with countless players on countless teams. That very much includes the Blackhawks.
On Dec. 11, 2014, Jonathan Toews was sent face-first into the boards at Boston’s TD Garden by Dennis Seidenberg. It took Toews a moment to get up and skate slowly to the bench, before he decided to stay on the ice for the upcoming 5-on-3 power play.
“Five-on-three, I wouldn’t want to come off, either,” Quenneville said after the game. “I don’t think anybody would want to come off in that situation. He’s a competitive guy.”
Sure, but at some point, competitiveness turns into recklessness. Toews got thrown out of a faceoff, took a penalty, sat out his two minutes, and then left for the dressing room to be tested for a concussion. He didn’t return to the game. But it never should have taken that long.
It’s unacceptable that things like that happen, but they happen all the time. And they’re almost understandable, given the high stakes for coaches and players. But that’s exactly why the league added its own concussion spotters for each game this season. They’re supposed to step in and take the decision out of the hands of coaches, players and team medical staff. They’re unbiased and unconcerned with how close a game is or how important the two points are.
And if taking a slap shot between the eyes from a guy who has topped 108 mph during skills competitions doesn’t trigger the concussion protocol, then the entire process is a joke.
Spotters have taken players out of games throughout the season, including Hawks forward Marcus Kruger, Edmonton superstar Connor McDavid and Arizona goaltender Mike Smith. Smith, as you might expected, blasted the concussion protocol afterward, saying the rule would encourage teams to target goalies, in order to force them out of games.
Of course, players hate it. Of course, players want to decide their own fate. Of course, coaches want to keep their best players in the game. But that’s exactly why it’s critical to take such decisions out of their hands, to save them from themselves.
Crawford appears to be fine, fortunately. But the way he wobbled backward to the ice after the hit, clearly stunned or dazed or woozy or whatever, he never should have been allowed to stay in the game.
Concussion symptoms don’t always appear right away. It takes more than a cursory glance at a guy’s eyes and a quick conversation in the crease to determine if a player needs attention. If there’s any question at all, a player simply must be taken out of the game, and taken back into the “quiet room” for further evaluation.
Because there’s a lot more at stake than just two measly standings points.