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Brain Injuries: A Deeper Look Following the Dangerous Hit to Ryan Carpenter

February 7, 2019, 1:13 AM ET [3 Comments]
Jeff Paul
Vegas Golden Knights Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
On Tuesday night, the Vegas Golden Knights snapped their season high losing streak of four games, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in a shootout. Alex Tuch scored the only goal of the shootout, in the third round. Waiver-claim Valentin Zykov scored his first goal as a Golden Knight. Those positive results should have been the big stories of the game, but unfortunately the night was darkened by a scary hit to Vegas forward Ryan Carpenter.

Ryan Carpenter Injured on Hit by Cedric Paquette (Sportsnet.ca)

Carpenter, known for his willingness to forecheck and get in the dirty areas, skated hard to a puck in the corner of the Vegas defensive zone. He and Lightning center, Cedric Paquette got to the corner around the same time. Carpenter advanced the puck behind the net and Paquette finished his check, a pretty standard play for a forechecking forward. Carpenter's momentum was so fast that the hit flung him hard into the boards, with his head making hard contact with the glass.

Carpenter laid motionless on the ice for a few seconds, seemingly out cold, before responding and trying to get up. He was helped to his feet by teammates Jon Merrill and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in an attempt to get him off the ice, followed by the team's trainer. Carpenter then swatted his teammates hands away and attempted to go off on his own power. After a few strides, he started to lose balance, tipping backward before the referee caught him. The hit happened with 2:17 left in the second period and it certainly looked like Carpenter sustained a concussion.

Video Courtesy of Sportsnet.ca

Now the hit itself will naturally come into question, especially with the NHL's newfound emphasis on cutting down on hits to the head. Paquette led with his shoulder, into Carpenter's shoulder and didn't get overaggressive with the hit. Due to their momentum and Carpenter seemingly not expecting to be hit, he flew hard into the boards, shoulder-first with his head following right behind. The hit neither seemed late, nor egregious. No Vegas players went after Paquette, who stood over Carpenter to check on him immediately following the collision. All signs pointed toward this being a simple unfortunate result of a clean hit. No penalty was assessed on the play.

Following the hit, nobody would have expected to see Ryan Carpenter back on the ice any time soon. Somehow the official Time on Ice report from the NHL showed Carpenter getting time in the end of the third period, but that was not the case. Upon further review of the game tape, Carpenter never took the ice in the third.

Since his retirement, former player Dan Carcillo has been very outspoken for NHL players and the need for more education on traumatic brain injuries. Carcillo spent his NHL career as a known enforcer, finishing with just 100 points and a whopping 1,233 penalty minutes in his nine-year NHL career. Recently, Carcillo appeared on Broad Street Hockey Radio, a Flyers-centric podcast from SB Nation and talked in-depth about brain injuries he suffered. In an eye-opening dialogue, Carcillo spoke about the last concussion he suffered in his last NHL game, ironically enough in a fight against his former Flyer team and current Golden Knight, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

In his story, he talked about how he was in no shape to play that night for the Blackhawks. He described himself as out of shape, having been out of action for the previous 17 days. He couldn't recall why or how he got into the fight with Bellemare, but he knew he shouldn't have been in it. Carcillo was a known fighter, a good one at that, while Bellemare had just one NHL fight to his name, at that point. For Bellemare to catch Carcillo with a punch hard enough to concuss him, shows what the effects of lingering traumatic brain injury can be. That game ended up as the last of Carcillo's career.

During his interview on BSH Radio, Carcillo shared the fact that his doctor said he was the worst case of traumatic brain injury that they had ever seen in a hockey player. Since his retirement, Carcillo has been very outspoken about brain injuries along with a fellow fighter and friend, Nick Boynton. Both men have written enthralling articles for "The Players Tribune" (www.ThePlayersTribune.com) about their struggles following their NHL careers and pondering if the lasting effects was worth it in the end. I recommend their articles to anyone that calls themselves a hockey fan and to all future players.

Multiple former NHL enforcers have died well before a normal life expectancy. Bob Probert died at age 45 and had 3,300 penalty minutes in his career. Derek Boogaard passed at age 28, after a career of fighting. Similar fates were suffered by Wade Belak (age 35), Steve Montador (age 35), and Rick Rypien (age 27). All of the men were found to have existing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In most cases, the men battled with other addicitions and depression exacerbated by their CTE.

While Ryan Carpenter doesn't have a known history of concussions and did not actually take the ice in the third period following the hit, the sheer thought was enough to spark Carcillo to stand up and call the team out. Vegas did not inappropriately send a concussed player back onto the ice, but the main takeaway is that it is great to see a former player like Dan Carcillo taking such an interest in educating the NHL and its players on brain injuries. A day after the big hit, Golden Knight coach Gerard Gallant had the following to say to David Schoen of the Las Vegas Review Journal, "Carpenter's doing real good today. He's probably not going to play tomorrow. We'll decide later, but he's doing a lot better today." It's hard to imagine Carpenter playing any time soon, after watching the immediate effect of the Paquette hit.

With such an adamant force behind advocating for more responsible handling of TBIs, there will forever be more awareness on the potential lasting effects of a rough, full-contact NHL career. In the immediate wake of #BellLetsTalk day, which highlighted mental health awareness on social media, Dan Carcillo made sure to look into the possibility of mistreatment in Vegas, on behalf of the affected player. On top of his daily interactions, he established the Chapter 5 Foundation, which was created to help athletes transition into life after the game, realizing that career fighters and other players with potential brain injury need resources and help following that kind of career.

Be sure to check out his foundation at https://www.chapter5foundation.com and on Twitter at @Ch5Foundation. Dan's personal Twitter account is @CarBombBoom13 and he regularly interacts with players and fans, helping start and further the discussion on brain injuries. There couldn't be a better guy to be in this role than Carcillo, a player who used to enjoy the grind and definitely had a fighter's mentality. He gave everything he had to the game and now he is giving what's left to his peers, in an effort to save them from the problems he and his friends have suffered from. Despite his playing reputation, Dan Carcillo is a beacon of hope for the NHL and all athletes in general.

BSH Radio's interview with Dan Carcillo can be found via their website: https://www.broadstreethockey.com

You can also follow me on Twitter (@VGK_Buzz) for VGK news, observations, and analysis.
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