At the start of his fourth NHL and fifth professional season in October 2007, 23-year-old Patrice Bergeron was off to a great start in his first ten games. He'd recorded three goals and four assists so far, leading up to an October 27 matchup with the Flyers. The hit that ensued would haunt the minds of Bruins fans for the days to come.
Bergeron went into the boards for the puck on a routine play, was aware of the player chasing him, but Randy Jones came out of nowhere, not only blindsiding Bergeron but basically elbowing his head at full speed directly into the dasher. He was given a two-game suspension for his trouble. You have to imagine that a hit like that - only five years later - would come with a much harsher penalty, considering the raised awareness of concussions that have come since.
In the months that followed, Bergeron struggled. He gave a press conference on November 8, 2007 - 12 days after the hit - and in January, Peter Chiarelli announced that his recovery had regressed, and that he'd likely sit out the season. In March 2008, Bergeron returned to the ice, and it seemed that he was trying to make a return for the 2008 playoffs. Indeed, before game 1 against Montreal, he was cleared for full-contact practice - a full six months after the initial hit.
He was never cleared to play a playoff game that year. Team doctors seemed to take the utmost care with Bergeron that year, and what's more is he listened to them. With hockey players, it seems like they're always raring to get back on the ice, despite their own health; maybe, in this case, Bergeron displayed a modicum of intelligence that is the reason he's still playing at his peak five years later.
Bergeron has had two minor concussions in the years since - and yes, they can be referred to as minor, as they did not appear to do lasting damage and Bergeron recovered fairly quickly from each of them. Based on the way he himself handled his first injury, I wouldn't imagine that he'd have less care about further head injuries - our defensively-minded future captain is just that.
The shot heard 'round the NHL, Matt Cooke's high elbow on Marc Savard. The hit that inspired rule 48.
The loss of Marc Savard for the Bruins has been a major one. Savard came back a month later to participate in playoffs, for round two against the Flyers in 2010, and scored a major game winning goal, but immediately following playoffs, announced that he was still suffering concussion symptoms. He didn't start the following season with the Bruins - and when he did eventually come back, a soft hit by former teammate Matt Hunwick unofficially ended his career.
Savard is a devastating example of not only rushing concussion recovery, but the long-term effects of concussion symptoms on a human being. He frequents twitter, posting about coaching his kids and maybe coaching in the OHL someday, but his happy, family-oriented tweets (and amazing, oracle-like Bruins game predictions!) are punctuated by sadness, by offhand remarks about headaches, inability to sleep, and how much he misses the game.
The rule put in place by the NHL following Cooke's hit, rule 48, went into effect in the 2010-2011 season, and was cleaned up in the 2011-2012 season to clarify the illegality of ALL hits to the head, not only blindside or lateral. It's a shame that it took a star player from the game to figure this out, but there it stands.
The most recent cncussion case affecting the Bruins was Aaron Rome's hit on Nathan Horton in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
Another scary hit, Rome leaves his feet to leap into Horton, delivering the exact sort of high hit that's supposed to be eliminated in rule 48. Horton sat for the rest of playoffs, but the rest was history - the Bruins rallied to win the Stanley Cup and Horton was cleared to play for the 2011-2012 season. After starting the season with 17 goals and 32 points, a January game against the Flyers ended Horton's season - and really, the rest of his year.
Sestito's hit on Horton had him unable to play, and in fact wasn't cleared until July 2012. The loss of his skillset was probably season-ruining for the Bruins, and they were ousted from playoffs in the first round. Horton made an intelligent move not to play overseas during the lockout, extending his recovery time, and as of now, looks to be symptom free.
So now what?
The NHL and all parties involved have made significant strides towards improving situations like these for players on the receiving end of violent hits. While hits like these are not the only manner in which NHL players can receive concussions - see Shawn Thornton's a few weeks ago - they're a set of hits that can be removed from the game and severely punished, improving player safety in this area. It's evident - even from hit to hit on these various Bruins players from year to year - the older hits would have been punished differently if they occurred today.
But what else can we do? How can we improve treatment of players who happen to receive hits like these? How can we avoid the loss of key players to the lineup forever, while balancing the team's hopes for them to return sooner rather than later? The situation is a tough one to resolve, but at the very least, it's heartening to see the NHL address concussions head on, rather than sweeping them under the rug any longer.
For more articles in this series, check out the following SB Nation hockey blogs today:
Hockey Wilderness (Minnesota Wild)- www.hockeywilderness.com
Mile High Hockey (Colorado Avalanche)- www.milehighhockey.com
Anaheim Calling (Anaheim Ducks)- www.anaheimcalling.com
Pensburgh (Pittsburgh Penguins)- www.pensburgh.com
Winging it in Motown (Detroit Red Wings)- www.wingingitinmotown.com
Nucks Misconduct (Vancouver Canucks)- www.nucksmisconduct.com
Second City Hockey (Chicago Blackhawks)- www.secondcityhockey.com
On the Forecheck (Nashville Predators) - www.ontheforecheck.com