Thursday, March 24, 2011

Globe and Mail article feat. Dave Adolph

Here's the article from Tuesday's Globe and Mail on concussions in hockey and featuring Huskies' head coach Dave Adolph. Great read.


Dave Adolph was there the night his son Max was obliterated.

It happened in Portland, Ore., where Max’s Kelowna Rockets were playing the Winterhawks in a Western Hockey League game late last October. Adolph had the puck down low and was trying to protect it when all of a sudden he was rocked high and hard by an opposing player.

At that moment, both father and son were changed. Max Adolph has struggled with post-concussion syndrome all season, and Dave Adolph, a hockey coach by profession, has wrestled with his emotions while trying to help his son.

“It’s terrible,” Dave Adolph said. “He feels useless, worthless. As a parent, you offer support, but it’s frustrating because that’s all you can do. I don’t know how to comfort him.”

For two decades, Adolph has coached the University of Saskatchewan men’shockey team. Before that, he played for the Huskies and captained their 1983 national championship-winning team. He knows the game, studies it and has followed the recent rash of head injuries, not just because they’re in the news, but because it’s hit home.

His 18-year-old son Max has played just over 30 games this WHL season. The league’s weekly reports show he was out with a head injury on Nov. 2, 2010. He returned to action Dec. 7 but was out again with a head injury on Jan. 11, 2011. He returned Feb. 8, then was sidelined yet again, this time for good, on Feb. 22.

Overall this season, WHL players suffered more concussions and head injuries than their celebrated counterparts in the National Hockey League. By the NHL’s own tally, there have been 80 incidents of players hurt by a shot to the head. According to the WHL’s updates for its 22 teams, there were at least 97 cases of concussions and head-related injuries.

WHL commissioner Ron Robison acknowledged that count, tabulated by the Kamloops Daily News, and agreed: “The number of concussions has risen at an alarming rate.”

Why, though, is the crux of the matter.

Robison sees it as many hockey people do: a batch of ingredients creating a dangerous mix; bigger, stronger players moving on an ice surface that hasn’t gotten any larger. Add to that the clampdown on hooking and holding that has allowed for more speed and more hits. Add, too, a generation of young players cursed by the advent of lighter yet more dangerous equipment. They feel invincible until that same piece of equipment on an opposing player hammers them into submission.

“More than half of the concussions occur next to the glass,” Robison said. “When we discuss it with the coaches and managers, it’s largely players who are positioned along the boards. Maybe we have to look at charging and the way the rules are called.”

The father believes his son’s recurring problems are related to the hit he took in Portland.

“He was in the corner, doing what he does, trying to cycle the puck,” Adolph recalled. “He exposed his head and he got ripped. [This past Saturday] he felt nauseous. He told the Kelowna trainer and that put him on another seven-day rest period. He’s worried if the coach thinks he’s not tough enough. That’s what kids do. As a parent, I’m thankful he’s not playing.”

Adolph’s twin vantage points as a father and coach have altered his way of thinking. He admitted his son’s plight affected the way he acted this past Canadian Interuniversity Sport season. For starters, he paid more attention to what the trainer was saying about the Huskies’ injured players. He also found himself “reaching out to those kids, 24/7. Those were things I never thought of before.”

Adolph has done his share of thinking over what’s happening in hockey. He wonders why modifications haven’t been made to deaden the dangerously hard-shell elbow pads and shoulder pads, something that’s been talked about for close to 10 years. He wonders why so many young hockey players go into the corners with their arms down, their heads exposed, face-first to the glass.

He wonders, too, why every hit now has to be so punishing, as if the intent is to hurt the opponent, especially if he’s in a vulnerable position.

“There’s no more angling [off a puck carrier], especially in junior hockey,” Adolph said. “They’re trying to put someone out of the game. Before, kids would get their sticks up [as protection] and you’d see more high-sticking penalties. Now you see them get crushed and their heads ricochet off the glass.”

Max Adolph recently returned home to Saskatoon to spend time with his parents. They wanted to see how he was doing, how he responded to their prompts. It was a chance for the hockey-coach dad to talk to his son and say the only thing he could.

“I saw him the time he was hit in Portland, that was not good. But at home, he was bright and positive. I wanted to reassure him there’s more to life and that he’ll find something he enjoys doing [beyond hockey]. We wanted to make sure he knows that.”

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