Canadiens’ Evans the Latest Casualty of Concussions in the NHL

The Montreal Canadiens played a great first game in their series against the Winnipeg Jets, but it was marred by an ugly hit by Mark Scheifele on Jake Evans at the end of the game. The hit became the center point of the entire game, and everyone wanted to talk about it the next day. Some think the hit was dirty, but others don’t – what really needs to be focused on is the health of Evans and his future.

Scheifele Lands Devastating Hit on Evans

The hit has been played many times, and anyone who watches hockey has seen it; Scheifele skated hard from the Canadiens’ goal line and hit Evans at the side of the Jets net – full force – and sent him flying shortly after Evans scored on an empty net. The debate that followed was: was it a dirty hit? If we break down the hit play by play, the initial contact was 50% body and 50% head – Evans did have his body and head lowered while wrapping the puck around the Jets net. Scheifele did lift as he hit him, resulting in his skates leaving the ice, though he did leave the ice after and not before contact.

The result of the hit was Evans receiving a concussion and Scheifele getting a four-game suspension. Of course, Canadiens fans thought the hit was illegal, and Scheifele should miss at least the rest of the series; other hockey fans’ reactions were mixed. Whether you thought the hit was dirty or clean is irrelevant – the NHL Department of Player Safety (DOPS) deemed the hit to be severe enough to warrant a four-game suspension.

Of course, after the ruling, the debate switched from the hit being dirty or not to if the suspension dealt was too long or too short. This is another debate that’s irrelevant because it’s all opinion-based, and the DOPS made its decision; as stated earlier, in the end, Scheifele received a four-game suspension, but more importantly, Evans received a potentially career-changing injury.

Evans Received Third Concussion Since 2018

Evans has a history of concussions, dating back to a rookie tournament game against the Ottawa Senators in 2018. Evans was hit in the head with a stick by Senators prospect Jonathan Aspirot, leaving him motionless for several minutes before leaving the game on a stretcher. Last season in the play-in round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Evans was knocked into the boards by Brandon Tanev and needed help into the dressing room. He missed the rest of the play-in round but returned to play against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.

Jake Evans Montreal Canadiens
Jake Evans, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Scheifele hit left Evans motionless on the ice once again for several minutes, and he looked to be unconscious when the hit was delivered and then landed on the ice hard with his head bouncing off of it. Evans once again was stretchered off the ice but did not go to the hospital. The Canadiens doctors evaluated him and, although diagnosed with a concussion, he just went back to his hotel room. Three concussions in just over three seasons is a recipe for disaster.

Concussions and How They Could Change Hockey

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a hit to the head or body, which causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement causes the brain to bounce around in the skull, which sometimes damages brain cells. Although concussions are generally not life-threatening, their effects can be severe.

Someone who suffers from multiple concussions, like Evans, will find that it’s harder to recover and they could experience long-term effects. These long-term effects, generally called post-concussion syndrome (PCS), can be headaches, forgetfulness and even a change in someone’s personality. The major things that connect concussions and hockey are hitting and physicality; many former players have a hard time dealing with concussions. It’s not that anyone wants to take hitting out of the game – they want to protect the players, ensuring they don’t suffer violent hits that could damage their brains.

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Will concussions change hockey? Yes: the NHL has already set concussion protocols in place, and hitting has been closely watched to ensure hits are to the body and not the head. Many things are changing to ensure the safety of the players; however, the NHL can do more, for instance, punishing players who hit a vulnerable player – as of right now, there is no rule against hits to a vulnerable player. The league is moving in the right direction, and hits will still happen, and players will get concussions – the goal is to limit those concussions and make the game safer and more exciting.

What’s Next for Jake Evans?

Where does all this leave Evans? Well, there is no word on whether or not this series of concussions will affect him at all. Right now, he is out indefinitely and will need time to recover. The more concussions someone has, the harder it is and longer it takes to recover; in Evans’s case, he returned healthily and quickly after his first two concussions, missing a few weeks for each. That, however, doesn’t mean this one will be the same, and the odds are it will take longer.

Right now, Evans is back in Montreal resting and going through the concussion protocols; all things point to him recovering well, but nothing is truly known about his condition or how long he will be out of the lineup. The main thing for him now is to do everything he needs to do to make sure he is healthy, even if that means hanging up the skates – which I don’t think is needed. Playing hockey is wonderful, but your health is life, and this must be the first thing a player thinks about before deciding his future. In Evans’s case, i don’t see him ending his career, but I do see him taking his time coming back.

The NHL Has a History of Bad Form When it Comes to Concussions

The NHL has been in legal battles with former players over concussions and their long-term effects for years. Commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t even acknowledge a connection between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain condition caused by multiple blows to the head and can only be diagnosed after death. It can be debilitating and cause symptoms such as memory loss, personality changes, depression and aggression.

If the NHL is unwilling to listen to doctors about the long-term effects of multiple concussions and how they can alter a person’s life, how can they take leaps forward to protect the players from these issues? Hitting in hockey is a major part of the game, one fans love to see, so taking that completely out will never happen, nor should it. The NHL, however, needs to take steps to ensure that the hitting is done safely by changing rules to protect the vulnerable and ensure hits to the head are greatly reduced. This is not to say they have done nothing, but they clearly need to do more.

If you want to learn more about CTE in Athletes, you can go here: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: The Impact on Athletes.