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  • Beukeboom weighs in on NHL player safety Print
    Written by Dan Marrazza   
    Monday, 28 October 2013 23:18

    Almost 15 years after having his career prematurely ended due to concussion issues, former Oilers and Rangers defenseman Jeff Beukeboom sits down with Dan Marrazza to discuss the state of player safety in the NHL.

    November 19, 1998. Los Angeles, California.

    The New York Rangers are visiting the Great Western Forum on a Thursday night, holding a comfortable 4-1 lead midway through the third period when Kings enforcer Matt Johnson spots veteran Rangers defenseman Jeff Beukeboom with his back turned.

    Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound cement truck who’d finish his nine-year pro career with 35 times as many penalty minutes as points, suddenly seems to be on a mission—destroy Beukeboom by any means necessary.

    What happens next transpires in a split second, as Johnson completely obliterates Beukeboom with an unprovoked, blindsided haymaker that bludgeons his target square in the back of his head.

    Johnson is ejected and eventually suspended.

    Beukeboom, meanwhile, lays unconscious and motionless on the ice, his “relatively” major injury-free 13-year career suddenly fast-tracked towards retirement.

    “There’s memories of that night, before and after the incident,” recalls Beukeboom, now a 48-year-old assistant coach in the Rangers organization with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. “But there’s a 10-20 minute span that I have no memory of.

    “I remember the game. I remember what happened after the incident. But I don’t remember the incident, per se.”

    Despite being heavily concussed, Beukeboom, as per standard of a past era of pro hockey, quickly returns to the lineup, a consummate soldier prepared to “tough it out” for the sake of his team.

    Beukeboom just couldn’t shake the after effects of his severe concussion, however, and floated in and out of the lineup the next three months while enduring what can probably be diagnosed as some level of Post-Concussion Syndrome. His career continued this way until February 12 of that same season, when Martin Gelinas accidentally kneed him in the head during a game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden.

    Jeff Beukeboom never played a game in the NHL again.

    Given how the incidents surrounding the end of Beukeboom’s career could be a custom-made case study of exactly the types of things the NHL’s recent crackdown on headshots and awareness of concussions are designed to protect against, I recently caught up with the former defenseman to discuss the League’s rule changes and how he’s coped with his injuries in the 15 years since his retirement.

    First off, we’ve all heard tales of how concussions can affect someone even many years after being sustained. Although it’s been 15 years since your final concussion, do you still have any symptoms?

    Beukeboom: “There’s really no aftermath where I can put a finger on something and say it’s old age (laughs) or something that’s a result of when I played.

    “But right now, I have basically been symptom free since about 2001 or so.

    “It took me 18 months to two years from the last one, which was the cumulative effect when it came to my career and what happened towards the end of it.”

    You mention cumulative effects of multiple concussions. How many concussions do you believe you had during your career?

    Beukeboom: “In total, I think I had five or six majors (three or four before the Johnson incident), but a bunch of little dinks along the way.”

    I’m sure each concussion could be different depending on its severity. But what were normally the types of symptoms that you’d have?

    Beukeboom: “For me, it was a lot of noise sensitivity, a lack of endurance and just a lot of overall fatigue, in general.”

    It’s commonly acknowledged now that the League wants to be more aware of concussions now than it was when you played, and that many more precautions have to be taken. When you played, what was the protocol for returning after a concussion?

    Beukeboom: “Back then, as long as you were symptom free and could get back to baseline, you could get back in.”

    How much different are the precautions that are taken now?

    Beukeboom: “Now, it’s standard procedure where if you’re diagnosed with a concussion, it’s at least a week before you even do anything.

    “The last five or six years when I played, you could see a real concerted effort with trying to get on top of the issue to change the protocols that were in place, though.

    “And the last 13-14 years since I retired, it’s taken that next step again where people are ‘really’ focusing on studies on the brain.”

    It’s a big hypothetical, but do you think your career could have lasted longer if they knew as much about concussions then as they do now? After all, you were only 34 when you played your last game.

    Beukeboom: “It is a big hypothetical and it’s hard to look back when modern medicine and history dictates that you keep evolving.

    “For example, 10-15 years from now, we might find out (where we are now) is completely in the dark ages with stuff that we don’t really know and will eventually find out.”

    Fighting is a hot-button issue as of late. Some are saying it should be removed from hockey to prevent head injuries; others say it’s a vital component of the game that should not be removed. Do you think there’s anything the League should be trying to do to curtail the amount of fights?

    Beukeboom: “To me, it’s irrelevant because the game is changing anyway—fighting’s been on a dramatic decrease in the NHL the last 5-8 years anyway (without anything being done).

    “It’s just the way the game is going.”

    Another change in the game has been the NHL’s decision to make wearing face shields mandatory for players entering the League. Do you think face shields should be mandatory? I mean, you didn’t wear a face shield when you played.

    Beukeboom: “To me, it’s just the next progression. Just like when I played, everybody was going to put on a helmet, eventually.

    “It was just a matter of time before everybody was going to be wearing face shield anyway.

    “When you look at a situation like Marc Staal…maybe preventable, so why not?”

    Proponents of fighting say making face shields mandatory is designed to phase fighting out of the game. Do you agree with that reasoning?

    Beukeboom: “If you’re a so-called enforcer or a tough guy, there’s still ways around it.

    “You can still fight, so it doesn’t really matter if you’re wearing a face shield or not.”

    Another big rule change this year has been hybrid icing, which has been experimented with in the AHL, where you coach, at different points in the past. Seeing what you’ve seen and knowing what you know, are you in favor of hybrid icing? Will it make the game safer?

    Beukeboom: “I think it’s a step in the right direction.

    “It takes away that situation that’s for the most part meaningless—those situations, it would have been blown dead anyway and the guy would have gotten the puck first 90-95 percent of the time anyway.

    “It’s just something the players and the fans have to get used to.”
    Photos by Getty Images

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    Last Updated on Monday, 28 October 2013 23:31