Baseline concussion tests ahead in youth hockey

Canadian hockey players as young as 10 years old will be put

through the same concussion testing as NHL players this season.

With high-profile cases involving Pittsburgh Penguins star

Sidney Crosby and others in the news over the last year, concern

about head injuries has filtered down to the youth ranks. A growing

number of leagues are trying to address it.

They include the Minor Oaks Hockey Association, based in the

Toronto suburb of Oakville, which is forcing all 2,600 of its young

athletes playing atom level or higher to go through baseline

testing before the season starts next month.

”If we make it optional and one of the children who does not

take the test gets hurt, we’re still in the weeds, we haven’t

progressed,” association executive Louis Ouellette said Monday.

”We want to make it mandatory. We don’t believe there’s any valid

argument not to take it.”

Minor Oaks is the largest hockey association in Canada to

mandate the neuro-cognitive test, which is conducted by the

Critical Medicine Research Group utilizing the same so-called

ImPACT standard used by the NHL, CFL and virtually every other pro

sports league.

The baseline test is conducted online and takes about 25 minutes

to complete. It provides a detailed clinical report that can be

used by doctors as a comparison point when trying to assess if a

player has recovered from a concussion.

Essentially, the testing is designed to ensure that athletes

don’t return to action too soon.

”A lot of the times you see multiple case concussions and

that’s what you’re trying to avoid,” said John Chehade, director

of sales and marketing for CMRG, which administers the test. ”We

know that 80 percent of concussion cases resolve in seven to 10

days, but how do you know whose in that 80 percent category or

whose in that 20 percent category (that take longer to resolve)

like Sidney Crosby?

”You just don’t know unless you have some sort of objective

measurable data.”

Chehade estimates his company will give baseline tests to as

many as 17,000 youth hockey players across Canada this season.

Minor Oaks has pledged to foot the entire bill for its players –

at $25 per test, it will cost about $65,000 in total – and is

providing it to those from the lowest levels of house league right

through to the top rep teams.

”We’re absorbing the cost within our operating budget because

we feel it’s important,” said Ouellette.

The practice is spreading to other youth sports as well.

For example, the Calgary Bulldogs Football Association is in its

second season of mandatory baseline testing for the 180 players it

has between the ages of seven and 18.

”The kids at this age are at their most susceptible (to

concussions) and no one is doing anything about it,” Bulldogs

board member Terry Andryo said Monday. ”Each kid gets a file just

like a medical situation. Any symptoms or on-field contact is

recorded. What we’d like to do is get it to the point where we’d

like to pass that information on to the next level where that kid

is playing.”

Hockey Canada dedicates a section of its website to concussions

and has developed a six-step protocol for athletes returning from

head injuries. It doesn’t specifically mention passing a baseline

test.

The organization is unable to provide specific numbers on

associations or players who have access to that form of testing,

but it has recently taken several phone calls on the subject from

hockey administrators.

”With all the awareness around concussions and the prevention,

I think a lot of minor hockey associations have certainly locally

gone and looked at baseline testing,” said Todd Jackson, Hockey

Canada’s senior manager of member services. ”From our standpoint,

it’s just another step in the overall return to play process.

They’re taking some steps to make sure their kids are safe.”

The issue took on even more importance for Ouellette when his

son suffered concussions in back-to-back games last year. Like many

parents, he didn’t realize anything was wrong after his son took a

hit in the first game so he encouraged him to play again the next

day.

After those incidents, he started researching concussions in

minor hockey and set about instituting the new policy that takes

effect in Oakville this season.

”I would have done it anyway, regardless of whether my own son

had sustained an injury or not,” said Ouellette. ”I’ve personally

had teammates of my son that have got conflicting diagnoses from

doctors and it baffles me. It baffles me that it can be different

from one child to another. …

”We don’t want to put our children, the players, out in harm’s

way without understanding exactly how to control this and how to

assess whether they’re ready to come back.”