Spezza: NHL players might see hiding head injury is bad

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OTTAWA, Ontario -- There are plenty of theories intended to explain the spike in NHL players diagnosed with concussions over the past year.

Some point to the increased size and speed of players.

Others suggest changes to the rules are responsible.

And there are many who contend that there are more concussions diagnosed these days simply because medical personnel are more aware of them than in the past.

But, as Ottawa prepared to face the Penguins Friday night at Scotiabank Place, Senators center Jason Spezz a put forth an intriguing idea: That players finally have realized that hiding a potentially serious injury is not in their best interest.

"I think guys are probably being more honest about what they're feeling," he said. "I think that in the past, we've been known to hide a lot of injuries from our teammates, from our coaches, from our trainers, from yourself.

"You've been taught as a hockey player to suck it up and that, if you don't feel right, well, it will go away after a few days."

A pivotal point, he said, came when Penguins center Sidney Crosby took a blindside shot to the head from Washington's David Steckel Jan. 1, then had his skull bounced off the Consol Energy Center glass by Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman four nights later.

Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion Jan. 6 and missed the next 61 regular-season games.

"Seeing what's happened with Sid has opened a lot of people's eyes," Spezza said. "We don't know if the reason his concussions have been so bad is because he had two so close together, but that's been the speculation.

"So, I think that's maybe made players a little more aware, a little more cautious that, if you get one concussion, you can probably survive it and get through it.

"If you get hit that second time in a short period of time, it can potentially be more dangerous. I don't know if there's any evidence to [support] that, but it sure seemed that way."

Spezza's observations came less than a day after Philadelphia announced that defenseman Chris Pronger will sit out the rest of the season and the playoffs because of a concussion apparently caused when he was struck in the eye by a stick blade.

"It's scary when you see a guy get ruled out for the season this early," Spezza said.

"Maybe there's more to it that we don't know. Maybe that's almost the hope, that there's more going on than just the concussion."

Both Michaleks sit

Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek , who had seemed a lock to play against the Senators after missing seven games because of a concussion, had his short-term prospects cloud over when he experienced what he described Friday as "a little bit of headache the last couple of days."

Nonetheless, his outlook was far better than that of his brother, Senators forward Milan Michalek , who sat out his second game in a row because of, yes, a concussion.

This is not Milan Michalek's first, which means he was able to give his brother some guidance on what to expect from his.

"He's got more experience than me," Zbynek said. "He's had a few concussions before, so he knows how to deal with it."

He added that the brothers spent some time together Thursday evening, and that Milan appears to be making progress.

"It seems like he's going better and he's improving," Zbynek said.

"But, obviously with head injuries, you want to be careful and make sure he's 100 percent. He's not there yet."

No saint Nick

A run-in between Crosby and Ottawa forward Nick Foligno got a lot of attention after the Penguins and Senators played three weeks ago, but that incident seemed to be largely forgotten by Friday.

But Foligno, who has been involved in a number of incidents lately, clearly plans to keep the aggressive edge on his game.

"He's one of the players on our team who brings physical play," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "When he goes to the net and plays hard in the hard areas, he's an effective player."

Foligno did not argue the point.

"I'm going to hit," he said. "I'm gong to be the guy hitting people. It's part of my game I need to focus on and be sure I'm doing. I'm not going to shy away from that. That's when I'm most effective."


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.


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