Ask Jim Lang: Staying ahead of injuries

This past weekend I went to see my buddy’s son take part in the Newmarket Major Tyke house league championship game. You have never seen a bunch of seven-year-old boys and girls happier in their life than when they won that game. With Queen’s "We Are the Champions" blaring over the loudspeakers at the Ray Twinney Arena, the kids received their trophies and did their victory lap. Now that’s what hockey is all about. And now on to this week’s questions.

Shawn from London
Comment: Hey Jim! With the whole head shot debate going on. I have a question. Are there really more injuries as in concussions in today’s hockey? Or does it just seem like there is with all the cameras nowadays? I’m wondering what the numbers are from decade to decade. Keeping in mind there are a lot more players today than 30 years ago. What’s the ratio of players to injuries? And how good is your math?
Thanks Jim!

Answer: Hi Shawn, thanks for a very timely question. First of all, my math sucks. On the condition of anonymity, I spoke with a former member of an NHL teams medical staff with extensive experience dealing with the exact thing you are talking about.

"I would say that the heightened awareness has increased the number of concussions now… The game is faster now – velocity correlates to impact/damage, doesn’t matter if you are hitting the boards or driving a car.."

I also came across an article in Sports Illustrated from 2003 that quoted some stats from an issue of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences. They catalogued the number of reported concussions from 1986 to 2002.
The study claimed there were 17 concussions that were "reported" in 1995. By 2001 that number had climbed to 74. It should also be noted that the study found that the average weight of played went form 191 pounds in 1986 to 200 pounds in 2002.
It goes beyond that. Back in the day, Bill Watters was an NHL player agent in the 1970′s and early 1980′s. Back then, he said it was extremely rare for players to seriously lift weights in the off season. They would run, ride the bike, drink some beer and generally rely on their natural athletic ability and god given strength. Remember that famous photo of Bobby Hull pitching hay on his farm to stay in shape? Sometime around the mid-1980′s coaching methods and philosophies began to change in the NHL. Skating yourself into shape at training camp wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Doug MacLean said he remembers being an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues in 1987 when the team hired a strength and conditioning coach. From there, the sophistication of off season conditioning programs for NHL players has reached new heights. You could make a good case that an elite player in the NHL is among the fittest athletes in professional sports when you combine strength and cardio vascular capacity. Now you have a guy like Gary Roberts who has dedicated his entire life to working out and physical training. Ask Steven Stamkos what it means to work out hard in the off season. There is so much money to be made, it would it be foolish for a player not to work out hard to get bigger and stronger in the off season. Check out this YouTube video of a typical off season workout for an NHL player.

Don Cherry is right when he says it is time to do away with the hard cap elbow pads and football type shoulder pads. You are not going to make smaller and slower athletes. But you can make equipment that will do less damage when the inevitable collisions take place. The league should also take a closer look at Mark Messier’s proposal for a new helmet design that he feels will help reduce concussions. Something has to be done for the good of the NHL. We all love the game too much to see all these great players missing so much time with concussions.


Comment: Hey Jim. Obviously the NHLPA is getting some poor advice from somewhere – even if it’s just from their drinking buddies. If you had to decide, on their behalf, between their current system of leadership and a Badger. What would you decide and why?

Answer: Hi Chris. Under their current status, I would take the Badger. Now if the rumours are true and Donald Fehr takes over as the head of the NHLPA, the Badger is out. When it comes to bargaining and negotiating a CBA, Mister Fehr is walk in the park compared to a Badger. Now Fehr is exactly the kind of muscle you need to win in a boardroom. However, the man doesn’t know a whole heck of a lot about hockey. So even if Fehr gets the job, the NHLPA would need to hire a respected "hockey man", to work alongside him. And by that I don’t mean Glen Healy. Nothing against Healy, I like the guy, but the NHLPA needs a fresh voice running the show.

Penguins fan in BC

Comment: Hey Jim, in the history of college and pro basketball has there ever been a shut out? Also excluding all star games what is the highest scoring game ever?

Answer: Not in the NBA. The fewest points scored by a team in the NBA were 49. That took place on April 10th, 1999 when the Heat beat the Bulls 82 to 49.
The closest thing I could find to a shut out in NCAA basketball took place in the 1944/45 season when Kentucky held Arkansas State to 9 points. As far as the highest scoring game, that took place on December the 13th, 1983 when the Pistons beat the Nuggets 186 to 184 in triple OT.

Marco from Mr and Miss-issauga

Comment: Hey Clubber, these young Buds seem to have found some kind of late season spark. Is it just another illusion or are some of these young Leafs for real, in your opinion? Love hearing the old school Wrestling fan in you come out every once in a while…

Answer: Hi Marco. That’s a tough question. While there are many in the Leafs nation who are drinking all of this late season Kool-Aid, I am still unconvinced. Now if this same group of players can start the season winning at the rate they are right now; well, then I start to believe this team is for real. It’s always a little dangerous to get sucked in to a
late season surge by a team who are out of the playoffs and have nothing to lose.

Trevor from Beiseker, Alberta

Comment: By the way, love the blog it is definitely the best part of my Monday.
I love the CFL, I think it is the best format of football; however, we need more teams. What do you think are the odds of expansion for the CFL? I know Ottawa is trying to come back but why not Quebec City or Atlantic Canada? Football is supposed to be huge in Quebec and now that there are bridges connecting all the Islands I would think there would be enough of a population base for a team in Halifax. What of south of the border? We were working in a couple of cities, can we go back?

Answer: Hi Trevor. Beiseker Alberta? Isn’t that like 12 kilometres south of Acme? I couldn’t agree more Trevor; the CFL does need more teams. The CFL is looking long and hard at the Maritimes. That’s why they’re playing a game in Moncton this season. Assuming Ottawa gets their act together and the CFL returns to the nation’s capital, the league can turn its attention to the Maritimes. The bottom line is the first city to build an adequate stadium wins. So whether it’s Moncton, Halifax, or Quebec City; the first city to build a 25,000 to 30,000 seat stadium, wins. That would give the CFL 10 teams, five in the East and five in the West. Make no mistake; a 10 team league is the CFL’s dream.
Forget about expanding to the USA. The CFL tried that before and with the exception of Baltimore, it did not work. Barring some sort of miracle, I don’t see the league ever trying to expand to the United States again. Then again, if David Braley decides that he wants to place a couple of expansion teams in the States, who is going to stop him?


Comment: Jim, I really like reading your blog every week but if I can make a suggestion: Can you please let us know what you will be discussing a week in advance. Just to make it easier to know what to write about from week to week. Wouldn’t mind getting into some CFL sometime & getting your comments on what you feel will happen this coming year as far as who will finish where in the standings. I realize it’s early yet for that.

Answer: Hi Harold. I appreciate the suggestion but I really don’t know what I will be writing about until I receive the questions. It’s never too early to talk about the CFL in my books. Email that question about the upcoming CFL season in June when training camps are underway. Because I have to think between now and then that Argos will go out and find a quarterback who has actually played in the league. That is if Lions owner David Braley says it’s alright.


Comment: Hi Jim, who has the best nickname in sports history? Was it Don Stanhouse (Stan the Man Unusual)? Mike Hargrove (The Human Rain Delay)? Or my friend and former Vermilion Jr. B. Tiger defenceman Frank Eyben who I call “Yam”?

Answer: Hi Dale, I love this question! Right near the top of my personal list is George Vezina, the Chicoutimi Cucumber.
I always liked "the round mound of rebound" for Charles Barkley. Then there was Andre "Red Light" Racicot, James "Cool Papa" Bell and Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion.
"Broadway" Joe Namath and Michael "Pinball" Clemons are good.
You can’t forget about Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson. You can’t go wrong with CuJo. CuJo was so perfect that almost nobody calls him Curtis Joseph anymore. I was always a huge fan of Walter Payton’s nickname, "Sweetness".
Eldrick "Tiger" Woods is solid. His nickname is so good that it has become his actual first name. Could you imagine a Nike hat with E-W on it instead of T-W?
Link Gaetz boasted one of the greatest nicknames of all time, "The Missing Link".
Babe Ruth had a number of nicknames. The Bambino. The Sultan of Swat. The Colossus of Clout.
That’s what I loved about sports back in that era; they had all the best nicknames.

That’s it for this week. For all those history buffs out there like me, Friday April 2nd is a special day. April 2nd will mark the 65th anniversary when the Canadian Army began their liberation of Holland.