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Dan Shaughnessy

Clear thinking needed on Savard

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / January 28, 2011

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He is one of the Bruins’ best players, so we want to know if and when Marc Savard will be back this season. Now that he has suffered his second concussion in a span of slightly more than 10 months, there is a lot of speculation about how long it will take Savard to return to the ice.

How about never? How about retirement as an option? Anybody thinking in those terms?

It’s none of my business, I realize. I’m not much of a hockey guy and it’s never up to media members to decide when enough is enough for any player. We see guys with declining skills and think maybe we know it’s time for them to go, but usually the competition tells a guy when it’s time to hang ’em up.

Unless a doctor delivers the message. And we don’t know what Savard’s doctors are saying. He has returned to his home in Peterborough, Ontario.

Former Revolution soccer star Taylor Twellman knows what’s at stake when he watches video of Savard getting rubbed out with a stiff, clean check in Colorado Saturday. Twellman suffered a couple of concussions in less than a year and retired at the age of 30 in 2010.

“It’s the hardest thing,’’ says Twellman. “It’s really a sickness. I’ve heard people say, ‘Aw, it’s only a concussion. Why is he out there crying?’ He’s crying because of fear. He’s scared out of his mind. He felt bad for so long and the symptoms are back.

“When it comes to feeling better or playing, you are behind the 8-ball. Finally, I said, ‘Screw playing, I just want to feel better.’

“We all hope Savard heals quickly. The longer the symptoms go on, I would tell him, ‘Be smart about it. It definitely impacts your life after sports.’

“We see those NFL players. You’ve got to be smart. You can’t replace the brain.’’

Savard is 33 years old. He has three small children. He stands to make $28 million over seven years (a pact signed in December 2009), and he’s going to get that even if he can’t ever play again. Why take a chance on another concussion?

Eric Lindros, one of the greatest hockey players of all time, retired because of multiple concussions when he was 34. There were some ugly moments before Lindros quit, particularly when Philadelphia Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke questioned the severity of Lindros’s injuries. Lindros was painted as a baby who was coddled by overprotective parents. They had reason. Lindros’s brother, Brett (51 NHL games), quit hockey when he was 20 because of multiple concussions.

It’s a hot-button issue in the NFL this year. You can be sure folks in Indianapolis are wondering about the future of wide receiver Austin Collie. Collie suffered a concussion in midseason in 2010, came back seven weeks later, and took another hit to the head. He sounds like another candidate for retirement, but I wouldn’t bet on it. He’s young. And he plays football.

Concussions have visited the NHL with a vengeance this season. According to last week’s New York Times, 47 players have suffered concussions this season (the league is averaging 75-85 per year), none more famous than Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, who has been out since Jan. 6. Hockey GMs plan to examine the new “head shot’’ rule when they gather in March, but it’s all too late for Savard, whose problems began when he was cheap-shotted by Penguin Matt Cooke in March 2010.

Savard left the Pittsburgh arena on a stretcher and didn’t return until the second-round playoff series against the Flyers. During the summer, he suffered with postconcussion symptoms, which included depression. This caused him to miss the first 23 games of the 2010-11 season. He made it back for 25 games before former teammate Matt Hunwick ran him into the boards (clean hit) Saturday. Savard returned to Boston and was diagnosed Monday with a “moderate’’ concussion.

“What I saw the other night makes it look like one step forward and two steps back,’’ says Twellman. “Even if he gets rid of the symptoms, he’s had two concussions in a year. Most, if not all, neurologists and concussion doctors will tell you that if you have one more, you’re in trouble.

“I had a serious one in August of 2008. The goalie from Los Angeles came out and swung at the ball and missed and punched me in the face. I dealt with the nausea and dizziness. I sat out five months and let it heal. I felt 75-80 percent.

“Then in May of ’09, I scored a goal on a head ball and my head felt like a sponge. Forty-eight hours later, I had all my symptoms back tenfold. I haven’t played since.

“The longer the symptoms last for Marc Savard, the more he’s got to be thinking, ‘Maybe I’ve got to take care of myself for the rest of my life.’ Some players — Patrice Bergeron [two concussions in two years] is one — say one day they just wake up with no symptoms. It’s been two years for me and I’m still waiting for that.’’

If you have young athletes in your house, this is an issue for you, too. On Monday, Massachusetts public health officials presented the Public Health Council with a set of traumatic head injury rules that could be approved by late spring. Officials want students and schools to more thoroughly report and track all head injuries sustained in athletic competition. It’s an area that can use more regulation.

Maybe we need to redefine the injury. Maybe the word “concussion’’ is too mild. Maybe we’d take these things more seriously if we call them what they are: brain injuries.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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