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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Team appreciates danger of concussions (copy)

UW-Madison hockey center Blake Geoffrion lies motionless on the ice after being hit during a game in February 2010. Geoffrion suffered a concussion, the second one that season.

Team appreciates danger of concussions

During his playing days, now three decades past, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves responded to concussions the way most athletes of the time did: he played through them, figuring a simple headache was no reason to miss action. Today, however, Eaves can draw on personal experience and modern medical knowledge from the team's doctors as he monitors the status of senior forward Blake Geoffrion.

""We're always careful when it comes to the brain,"" UW assistant athletic trainer Andy Hrodey said. ""You've got to go very slow and take everything very seriously.""

Geoffrion left Saturday's 7-4 victory after taking a hard hit from St. Cloud junior defenseman Aaron Marvin, who was not penalized for the hit, despite making clear contact with Geoffrion's head. Marvin drew a one game suspension earlier in the season for an illegal hit that concussed North Dakota forward, and Hobey Baker hopeful, Chay Genoway and subsequently ended his season. While the Badgers hope that Geoffrion can avoid a similar fate, caution is paramount when it comes to head injuries.

For Geoffrion to see action this weekend against Michigan Tech, he will have to prove he is fully recovered, and doing so is not as easy as announcing that his headaches have dissipated. The training staff uses brain-monitoring computer software to test the reaction time and memory of each player on the team when he is completely healthy. Those baseline results are then used as comparison after an injury like Geoffrion's, to ensure that the brain returns to an appropriate level of functionality. 

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""I'm not trying to keep them off the ice,"" said Hrodey. ""But I want to do what's best for them, for their career now, and for down the road.""

Eaves knows the importance of Hrodey's cautions philosophy better than most. Concussions played a role in his retirement from the NHL, and he has seen plenty of athletes try to rush the recovery process.

""I'm pleased with the progress because it wasn't that way at one time, and guys came back in all sports way too early,"" Eaves said. ""Whether it was football or boxing, we all came back way too early. We're learning all the time.""

To go along with the technological advancements, the enforcement of rules can also help keep players safe on the ice. Despite the focus on preventing head injuries, however, WCHA officials have come under fire this year for not coming down hard enough on hits to the head.

After the hit on Geoffrion went unpenalized, Eaves has said he will ask conference officials to take a harder look at the play and  consider a punishment for Marvin, especially in light of his earlier hit on Genoway.

While it may be unlikely that Geoffrion takes a similar hit this weekend, the mere threat is reason enough to make sure that he is physically ready to meet the demands set forth by a collegiate hockey game. After missing practice Monday and Tuesday this week, he will have to complete an aerobic workout pain free before being allowed to participate in non-contact drills on the ice.

If he can get that far, then it is up to the training staff to clear him to participate fully in practice. Despite the narrowing time window, Eaves seemed optimistic that Geoffrion, the WCHA scoring leader, is on the right track.

""He'll know [when he's symptom free],"" Eaves said. ""Hopefully he'll wake up tomorrow with that energy level and his head will be clear.""

If Geoffrion plays this weekend against Michigan Tech, he is a good bet to show up in the scoring column for the Badgers. If he sits, it is to ensure that he will be showing up in the scoring column for the Predators very soon.

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