Following a hit during Game 5 between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers which saw Dale Weise be blindsided with a hit to the head by John Moore, Weise left the ice for the so-called “quiet room.” He returned a little more than four minutes later.
He played the rest of the game, but word from today’s practice is that he was not on the ice, and is confirmed to be out of the lineup for Game 6 at Madison Square Garden.
Headshots are not a new issue to the NHL, but the protocol implemented in March of 2011 clearly states that following any headshot, the player is to be sequestered in a “quiet room” for no fewer than 15 minutes. We have seen this protocol followed, and we have seen it flouted.
Recently in this postseason, Tampa Bay Lightning‘s Steven Stamkos fell to the ice late in the second period of Game 3 against the Canadiens, and suffered a collision to his head as Habs Alexei Emelin tried to avoid him. Clearly stunned for a few minutes, Stamkos left the ice, and even the NHL alerts reported that he had left the game completely.
To the surprise of everyone, he returned just one shift later at the beginning of the 3rd period, and played not just the entire third, but all of Game 4 as well. There was much talk about whether or not he should have returned at all in Game 3.
Fast forward to Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. Weise, hit by Moore, fell to the ice and got up. He wobbled precariously until P.K. Subban skated over and grabbed him in a bear hug. Helped off the ice, Weise went to the quiet room, but returned to play three more shifts until the game ended.
In both instances, the press conference held by coaches afterward featured questions as to why the player was returned to play. In both instances, the answer was almost identical: “He felt he was good to go.”
This is where it gets to be a concern. We have learned way too much about the impact of brain injuries to know that there is almost always some effect immediately following a headshot, as well as latent symptoms. We also know that left untreated, brain injuries can lead to long-term, sometimes lifetime symptoms that are often debilitating.
Treatment? Rest, refraining from sports, and letting the brain heal.
On the player’s side of things, not getting back in the game, especially in playoffs, is tantamount to giving up, letting his team down and feeling unproductive. Certainly, no one can fault any player for his commitment and team spirit.
But the bigger picture is what has transpired for the all-important second elimination game for tonight: Weise is not in the lineup, and if Habs were to force a Game 7, will he return in the short term? Most importantly, did he increase his injury by playing those three shifts?
Of course, we don’t know if he would have returned regardless of a longer stay “backstage”. But why risk a player’s health and healing by allowing him to return before protocol mandates it? Why risk exacerbating the impact of a potential concussion? And why give the final say to the player whose adrenaline levels, already elevated, will habitually put himself back in the game despite the symptoms being felt and likely to develop afterward?
Perhaps it is time to revisit the mandatory protocols that govern the eventuality of headshots. It’s clear those hits are not going anywhere, and suspensions that are doled out deal with the event, but not the impact. And perhaps it is time to allow all “return-to-play” authority to be put back in the hands of the true experts: the medical staff.