University of Calgary

Ken Dryden delivers blunt message on sport concussions to university forum

UToday HomeApril 23, 2013

By Don McSwiney

Ken Dryden didn’t mince words as he spoke to a crowd of 400 young athletes, coaches and parents who had come to hear him speak at the MacHall Ballroom Monday night.

“Each of us needs to do something extraordinary,” Ken Dryden told the audience attending the University of Calgary forum, Sport Concussions: From Problems to Answers, Where We Go Next. “We need to push this agenda forward.”

The former Montreal Canadiens goaltender, who won six Stanley Cups and the iconic 1972 Russia Canada Summit series, has written extensively on what it means to be an athlete and what it means to protect athletes from themselves.

“I believe that we’ll look back on this and consider our acceptance of body checking as one of the many stupid things our generation did. In the same way we shake our heads at the public acceptance of smoking or the resistance to seatbelt laws.”

The audience was mostly on side with Dryden’s message, although many had come just for the chance of meeting a legend – filing into the ballroom, clutching copies of his book The Game, hockey cards, goalie masks and blockers to be autographed.

Ashley Greene, who plays on a Calgary girl’s hockey team, brought her father’s Ken Dryden hockey card, printed 21 years before she was born. “I think it’s amazing, I heard so much about him growing up. I was super excited to come.”

University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon began the evening by discussing the university’s leadership role in the Brain and Mental Health initiative, which brings together more than 200 researchers from the Faculties of Arts, Education, Engineering, Kinesiology, Medicine, Nursing, Science, Social Work and Veterinary Medicine with the goal of accelerating research activities for maximum impact.

The collaborative approach seems to be working, Dryden said, remarking on his experience observing the Zurich consensus report on concussion treatment. “First of all I couldn’t believe how many Canadians were there. Then I couldn’t believe how many Canadians were presenting, then it was almost embarrassing to find out how many were from Calgary. There was a real buzz in the room about Calgary by the end of that conference.”

Dr. Winne Meeuwisse – the co-author of the consensus statement who leads the University of Calgary’s concussion and brain injury initiative with the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the Faculty of Medicine and Kinesiology – began the evening by pointing out the many partners who are making the campus a world leader.

The evening began with athletes telling their often-frightening stories of repeated concussion. Multiple Olympic medalist Kristina Groves, who called the Olympic Oval home for most of her skating career, said that she remembers lying on the ice and feeling her “heart beating in her skull.” A feeling that stayed with her while she suffered from post concussion syndrome. Groves also said that one of the most frightening things about concussion is that it changes you. “I ran into another friend who had suffered a serious concussion,” she said, “and he put it best when he said, ‘It changes you. You’re not the same person you were after you’ve had a concussion.’ ”

The second panel featured medical experts who discussed the difficulty of saving athletes from themselves. People like Dr. Kelly Brett, the Calgary Flames physician and a physician with Kinesiology’s Sport Medicine Centre, said that there’s a lot of pressure for athletes to avoid admitting that they’ve been concussed, although the feeling was that perception may be slowly changing.

The evening was capped with a rousing discussion on the need to eliminate body checking from Peewee hockey. Former Flame Jim Peplinski called for a national ban on checking for these leagues following kinesology researcher Dr. Carolyn Emery’s frightening revelation that Calgary’s 11 and 12-year-old players are suffering concussions at the same rate as NHL superstars.


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