Concussions make Kootenay’s Sinclair think twice

By Jeff Bromley

The reality of today’s hockey can be defined by a great many things.

Exuberant NHL salaries that the common fan has trouble relating to.

The transformation of the game from a pastime to a business.

Better, lighter equipment. Bigger, more talented players, the list could go on and on.

Perhaps one of the most defining aspects of today’s game, concussions and the enormous increase in their occurrence, would have to rate at or near the top any list. In doing so, concussions have not only changed the game but also the lives of former players who’ve had to retire due to them. Brett Lindros, Pat LaFontaine, Nick Kypreos to name only a few.

Kootenay ICE forward Colin Sinclair has experienced that change and it’s an encounter that the hard-working forward doesn’t want to make a habit of being a part of. Over Christmas the gritty forward spent most of the holidays in bed trying to recover from one. One that he didn’t even know that he had, at least not when it first happened.

The hit, a check from Seattle forward Danny LaPointe, occurred November 16, a full month before Sinclair was even out of the lineup. The derailment of his Christmas vacation with his family notwithstanding, another setback was that fact that the ICE would be missing a good portion of their first line players due to various world tournaments for up to ten games. It was a chance for Sinclair to shine in a scoring and leadership role that never materialized.

Not to be deterred, Sinclair made his way back from the post-concussion syndrom and was declared symptom-free on January 19. “It took a while to get back into game shape,” said Sinclair after his first game back over a month ago. “I felt when I came back I wasn’t in game shape. When I came back from a month off I felt like I was a step behind. I knew I just had to keep working and work hard in practice.”

Not that the fact that to be concussion-prone in today’s game can be a major setback to any pro aspirations, Sinclair has another concern due to the fact that his brother Darren, who was a gritty, high-scoring forward for the Spokane Chiefs from 1993-96 was forced to retire for professional hockey after three and half years at the minor pro level due to post-concussion syndrome. Older sibling Darren was able to offer advice and a stern warning to Colin while recuperating – don’t come back too fast.

“Darren helped me out a lot, I talked to him about it quite a bit,” said the younger Sinclair. “The problem for him was that he came back too early from one and got another one right away. I told myself that I’d make sure that I wouldn’t do that, make sure that I was totally healed and ready, mentally ready, to come back and play and not put myself at a greater risk to get another one.

“He was totally worried. He called me about three times a week pretty much just to make sure that I didn’t come back until I was fully recovered and the headaches were gone and that I didn’t have any problems or symptoms at all, because it’s just not worth it.”

Sinclair’s style, if it would be fair enough to peg one on him, would be that of a gritty, work-the-corners, physical player who notches the odd point or two. The Brooks, Alberta native doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff either, an attribute that doesn’t exactly go hand in hand with the concussion history of his brother or the recent concussion of Sinclair himself. Now healthy and back to play his physical style, the thought of injury still lingers somewhat. “The physical part of the game always been a big part of my game,” adds Sinclair. “When I came back, I wanted to establish that area too, but maybe a little bit (of apprehension) with the history of my family but I felt good when I came back. No headaches or nothing and I felt I could step right back in there.”

The elder Sinclair’s pro career started out ominous enough when he signed a free-agent contract with the Syracuse Crunch after his final year of junior. Playing for the then Vancouver Canucks top AHL affiliate for three seasons, Darren suffered two concussions while with the club. He then signed with the New Orleans Brass of the ECHL the following season. It was there that the elder Sinclair was hit and made the mistake of coming back too soon, an event and decision that would mark the beginning of the end of a promising hockey career. “There was a long road trip and he shouldn’t have been playing but he was,” said the younger Sinclair of his brother’s plight. “I don’t know if he was saying he was getting hit or not (to the team’s training and coaching staff) but he was getting the headaches and the major symptoms of it (post-concussion syndrome). So finally his last game, which was two and half years ago, he just got rubbed out lightly and the next thing he knew he woke up in the hospital.”

Currently, older brother Darren is back at school pursuing other opportunities while his wife teaches where the couple lives in Medicine Hat, Alberta. The effects of post-concussion syndrome linger however as Darren still has trouble performing some of the tasks most of us takes for granted. “He can’t really do any physical work at all and even with school he’s having a little trouble with a big workload so he had to cut back the classes.”

There is hope that times are changing and with it innovations thought to have been causing the rash of concussion-related injuries. Elbow pads, today’s edition covered with bulletproof Kevlar making them as hard as rocks when hit by players, and, thought to be a major culprit – seamless plexiglass. Both factors being updated with safer attributes with the goal of minimizing the head injuries the prime directive. A clear example during the Olympics was the hit of Teemu Selanne on Canadian defensemen Chris Pronger. The new glass that ‘gives’ when struck as opposed to the seamless version that’s rock solid probably saved Pronger from a major head injury. It might not have been pretty as Pronger was badly cut as a result but it probably saved him from a concussion. They’re also changes that might enable the nineteen-yr-old Kootenay forward a better chance at staying in the game both he and his big brother love. You can also bet that Colin is following his brother’s advice to the letter.

“Yeah, big brother looking out for little brother, I guess, but he made sure that I took the right steps and not to make the same mistakes he did