National Hockey League star and hall-of-famer Ken Dryden was famous for his time with the Montreal Canadiens. But now the six-time Stanley Cup champion is famous for something else: standing up against head trauma in the sport of hockey.
Dryden recognizes that awareness is critical for stopping the increased numbers of brain injuries in contact sports. That was partially what prompted him to write his book, “Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey.”
Dryden today focuses on how the hockey league has responded to concussions and the consequences those have on players. He firmly believes that the NHL failed to act decisively in these situations, and they could have done more to prevent other players from suffering long-term brain disorders as a result.
The NY Times wrote a piece focusing on Dryden’s latest work, stating that his book focuses on the career of Montador. Montador was a journeyman defenseman who played for six National Hockey League teams. His career tragically ended from concussions, and it was on record that he suffered at least seven during his career.
After the numerous incidents, Montador started to struggle with addictions and he died at only 35 years old in 2015. During a post-mortem autopsy, it was found that he had the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease notorious for affecting hockey and football players.
In his book, Dryden discusses his history in hockey, including how the game failed to adapt equipment, tactics, and to evolve safety rules regarding head trauma. He believes that the NHL needs to remove all hits to the head, and the only person who could make that happen is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Dryden has met privately with the head of the NHL to discuss his feelings about head trauma and how they are treated, as well as the future of the sport. He does feel that the NHL might implement some changes to improve the safety of those in the sport, but nothing has happened just yet – and might not for several years.
Currently, Steve Montador’s family is suing the NHL. In their suit, they allege that the league failed to protect him from CTE and failed to warn players about the effects of their repeated concussions.
Dryden states that Montador died thinking that the issues he suffered were his fault, and he would never know that it was caused by the repeated trauma he endured during his career.
Montador had experienced the symptoms that those with head injuries experience, including memory loss, anxiety and depression, focusing issues, inability to make decisions, and being unable to put things together critically. It affected his quality of life, and it made it hard for him to focus once he was not on the ice and needed to be out in the real world.
The NHL is under scrutiny for how they treat head traumas after multiple NHL players were found to suffer from CTE or repeated head trauma at the time of their death. This reason is why Dryden feels that an official call to change is the only way to get the NHL to act and take matters seriously.
Even if the concussions are accidental, the NHL owes players a duty to protect them and warn them about getting back onto the ice if they have already suffered a concussion. Furthermore, the NHL needs to step up their screening process and ensure that they are not letting players return before they are physically ready to do so.
Dryden says one of the biggest culprits is that the game has changed dramatically from what it was 60 years ago. Right now, the speed and intensity are different. Players are going viciously after the puck at full speed, and the collisions are more violent amongst players. The fights have also grown in violence, and in some instances, the fights are almost encouraged for spectator enjoyment.
Unlike football, there is not a clear-cut path for hockey to cut down on these types of injuries. Also, Dryden fears that getting players on board for the changes required to cut down on these types of injuries will be problematic – and they may experience resistance. However, the league needs to implement stricter rules and consider gear changes to protect those who play it.
In Dryden’s book, he focuses on the experiences Montador had with physicians and reflects on his journal to help tell his story.
In one instance, he talks about how there was an injury in January 2012 at a Blackhawks game against Detroit. Steve had gone to see a physician, Dr. Terry – a physician on the team’s staff – after he was hit in the face at the game. He told the doctor how he had felt as though his consciousness was altered, and that he was hazy.
The doctor did tests and said that the SCAT test was routine, even though Steve could not pass the test where he had to remember three words. Terry noted that his effect, balance, and cranial nerves were considered intact and normal at the time of the examination. Therefore, he was shipped back into the system to play another game.
Two days later, Steve had received an examination by a neuropsychological physician as part of the NHL Concussion Program. He told the doctor about his symptoms as he had with the team doctor. This physician referred to Steve as a “poor historian regarding his concussive history.” The doctor went over his symptoms and discussed with Steve the risks of repeated head trauma. However, it was noted that he knew the risk and was comfortable with the risk of returning to the game. Therefore, Steve was cleared to play that night.
A month later he was on the injured reserve list – but for an upper-body injury. Three weeks later, Steve was still complaining of symptoms from his concussion, but he decided to get a second opinion from that of Dr. Terry. This time, he sought the attention of Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher at the Michigan NeuroSport Clinic in Ann Arbor. He reviewed past physician notes, symptoms, and injuries of Montador.
Throughout the book, you see a history of Steve visiting physicians with symptoms present then gone, then more injuries, then symptoms, then less symptoms. His journal shows entries that he would start but never finish. However, he was still labeled as “not disabled” by the team doctor.
In his career, 35 games after his first head injury and 23 games after his fourth head trauma, he finally was taken out.
Unfortunately, all of the office visits before never caught the fact that Steve was suffering from repeated trauma because he could not recall suffering head trauma – a common symptom of a concussion. By allowing him to continue playing, even though the player reported symptoms that correlate with a TBI, the physicians only increased the likelihood of further damage – and in Steve Montador’s case, the likelihood he would develop CTE.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the term used by physicians to describe a degenerative brain disease typically caused by repeated head trauma. CTE cannot be diagnosed via CT or MRI scan; instead, it is only diagnosed via autopsy. Therefore, most victims with CTE are diagnosed with other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s.
CTE is rare for most Americans. However, if you play in a contact sport such as hockey or football, it is not unusual at all. Those who play these sports are at higher risk for developing CTE, especially if they continue to play and suffer repeated blows to the head.
Today, CTE is controversial, primarily due to the policy changes it has enacted in some of America’s more popular sports.
Unfortunately, once CTE happens, there is no cure. A victim will continue to degrade, and CTE may eventually cause them to lose their life.
Once you understand the common signs and symptoms of CTE, you can better understand why it is misdiagnosed for other degenerative disorders.
Just some of the possible symptoms include:
Today, leagues are more than aware of the risks of repeated trauma. Therefore, they have an obligation to their players to reduce the number of injuries and take measures to prevent repeated concussions from being allowed.
If you played a professional sport such as hockey or football, and now you are suffering from CTE or you are suspected to have CTE, you may be entitled to compensation. Currently, these leagues have funds set aside to cover lawsuits stemming from CTE diagnosis, and you can access funds for your medical expenses, lost wages, and the permanent strain it has caused on your life.
CTE is a serious, debilitating disease. Once it starts, there is no cure. Doctors may prescribe medications to help manage symptoms, but in the end, most patients will suffer from a decrease in their quality of life – and many lose years that they could have had with loved ones.
To get started, schedule a consultation with an attorney who has experience with these types of cases.