Home > Analysis > Hockey’s Need For Better Helmets

Hockey’s Need For Better Helmets

Bryce Salvador, pictured here in 2008 after being hit with a puck, has missed the entire season with a concussion sustained during the preseason. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The rate of NHL players sustaining concussions continues to grow, and the dangerous injury has already claimed several key players. Sidney Crosby hasn’t played in eight straight games. Bryce Salvador has yet to play this season. Marc Savard may have had his career ended with his second concussion in as many seasons.

While analysts debate the need to eliminate all hits to the head, there needs to be an improvement in player’s helmets. While improvements wouldn’t completely solve the issue, improved equipment can possibly soften blows to the head.

Hockey helmets aren’t a piece of complex equipment. The shell of the helmet consists of vinyl nitrile, which helps disperse force from points of contact. The inner shell consists of either the vinyl nitrile or expanded polypropylene foam, which absorbs shock to reduce the chances of concussions. And while those sound all well and good, the helmets aren’t the best. I recently had a two-year old helmet crack straight down the middle while playing a beer league hockey game. There aren’t the most in-shape guys playing in that league, yet the helmet still failed. Luckily I don’t have a concussion, but it shows that their not the most effective piece of equipment.

Unlike most pieces of equipment, helmets are meant to absorb repeated blows night in and night out. Players can replace shin pads, hip protectors, etc. But helmets aren’t usually replaceable. Why, then, wouldn’t they be better designed? The challenge, of course, is creating something without making it overly clunky, etc. Therein lies the problem – how can equipment be safer while still feasible to use?

Any improvement in equipment already has a template to work from. Football, which has its fair share of concusssion issues, continues to develop new helmet technology. One of these, the Xenith X1, uses 18 plastic pieces, shaped like hockey pucks, inside the helmet. Air is forced from these pieces until it’s completely flat. Then, the pieces immediately re-inflate, ready for the next impact.

Is this helmet the best? Maybe not. But it’s a prototype, and it shows progress. Players are faster and stronger than ever before. Hits are more violent, and while other pieces of equipment improved, helmets lag behind. New helmet technology may not eliminate all concussions. But it could be a major piece in the fight to eliminate these injuries from the game.

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