It was an extremely frightening sight: Cody Hodgson, while attempting to cut into the middle of the ice to avoid a Nick Foligno hit, toe-picked and tripped right into the oncoming Foligno, taking the full force of the hit directly to the head. Hodgson attempted to get to his feet, but seemed to skate like the ice wasn’t quite where he thought it should be, all with a giant smile on his face.
Though he was not knocked unconscious on the play, everything else about it screamed concussion. Hodgson had to be helped off the ice and didn’t return to the game, causing fans to fear the worst.
After the game, however, Alain Vigneault claimed that the young forward was “fine” and that “he wanted to play.” But he continued, “Our medical staff wanted to be extra careful.”
There are a number of reasons to be sceptical about this claim. First, the symptoms of a concussion can frequently be delayed by hours or even days. Second, the medical staff were obviously concerned enough to keep him from returning to the game. Third, teams around the NHL have been very reticent this season to report concussions, likely wanting to avoid the media circus that surrounded the recovery of Sidney Crosby. Chris Pronger, for instance, was originally reported as missing games due to a virus, but has now been upgraded to “concussion-like symptoms,” a catch-all term that was also used to describe James Reimer earlier this season.
The fourthreason is simply the visual evidence. Obviously, I’m not a doctor and even if I were, I wouldn’t be able to diagnose from afar. But Hodgson’s reaction to the hit parallels my own experience with a concussion.
I was 13 years old and was warming up for a baseball game in the afternoon. Both teams were out in the field as coaches hit long fly balls out to us. I was in line, waiting for my turn, when I heard a shout from the opposing team, saying “Heads up!” I looked up just in time to see a baseball coming straight for me. It hit me directly in the temple and I distinctly remember the following thought go through my head: Why is the world going sideways.
I hit the ground and was briefly unconscious. My first thought was Why am I looking at grass? Obviously, I was completely out of it and had no idea what had just happened. I struggled to my feet, smiled at my friends and my dad who had come rushing over, and assured them that I was fine. No big deal. Just took a flyball directly to the side of my head. Then I proceeded to stumble my way back to the dugout, all the while assuring everyone that I was completely fine.
I even insisted that I felt good enough to play in the game. If I recall correctly, my dad wouldn’t let me play, which was the right call. After a few days, I was actually fine and have never had any post-concussion syndromes or experienced another concussion.
It wasn’t just the wobbly legs when Hodgson tried to skate off that worried me, it was the big smile. When you see players injure their legs, shoulders, or backs, it’s usually accompanied by a grimace. But a concussion can lead to a wide range of faces, from confusion to sheepishness. For Hodgson, it’s a smile that seems to be trying to assure his teammates that he’s fine, that he won’t miss a shift. It’s a smile that indicates he had no idea that he could barely skate.
I was immediately reminded of the way Jonathan Toews looked after being hit by Willie Mitchell. The way he wobbled is very similar, though Toews actually fell to the ice with no teammates there to help him to the bench as they instead focussed on going after Mitchell for a clean hit*.
The other interesting thing is Ray Ferraro’s commentary: “Toews came back to the bench, dropped a little bit of an expletive and said ‘I had my head down.’” His first response to the hit has nothing to do with a concussion, instead blaming himself for the hit. It strikes me as similar to Hodgson’s response: instead of thinking about a concussion, he’s smiling, perhaps thinking I can’t believe I tripped into that hit.
Toews missed 6 games with the ever-popular “concussion-like symptoms” which was the right thing to do. Those were the only 6 games he missed that season.
The Canucks should be very careful with Hodgson to ensure he has no symptoms of a concussion or even “concussion-like symptoms” as rushing him back could be dangerous. Fortunately, the Canucks are built in such a way that they can afford to be careful, as they already have an extra centre in the lineup. If necessary, Mike Gillis can call up Victor Oreskovich, Mike Duco, Mark Mancari, or a combination of the above to avoid Andrew Alberts playing forward, and simply have both Maxim Lapierre and Manny Malhotra centre the third and fourth lines.
If Hodgson is actually okay and passes all of the concussion tests with no issues, then this is all a moot point. Fortunately, the Canucks are in the middle of a two-day gap between games, which should hopefully allow any symptoms to manifest before he plays.
Hodgson has been very good this season – he’s currently 6th in rookie scoring and has helped make the second unit powerplay a more consistent threat – but he won’t be too terribly missed for a few games in the middle of December, particularly if it means he’s more likely to be healthy during April, May, and June.