TORONTO - Keith Primeau is hoping a little green light can help lessen the debilitating effects of concussions that he knows far too well.
The former NHLer, whose career was cut short by post-concussion syndrome in 2006, is helping promote the Impact Indicator, a device with a small light that's worn as part of a chin strap and measures the impact of a blow.
A green light is normal. A dangerous hit and the light will flash red.
"Everything to this point has been subjective, we go to the sideline and ask our coach or trainer or parent whether they feel we've suffered through a possible concussive event," said Primeau. "With this, as a coach, it would enable me to remove a player from competition, to err on the side of caution, to see if in fact (a concussion) was the case."
Primeau hosted a media conference Monday to spread the word about concussion education, and Impact Indicator was only part of his message. It's also part of the information he and former hockey player Kerry Goulet provide on their website—www.stopconcussions.com.
Primeau, 39, played 16 years in the NHL before his fourth documented concussion—while with the Philadelphia Flyers—forced him to retire. He still feels crippling effects: headaches, head pressure, dizziness and fatigue.
"I'm still not able to exercise or exert high energy levels, because it makes me lightheaded," said the six-foot-five former centre.
He coaches his sons Camden and Corey in Philadelphia, and both teams will be outfitted with the Impact Indicator, which costs about $100 per unit for a season. The Toronto Bulldogs, including Mason Primeau—son of Keith Primeau's brother Wayne—will also wear the device, which is a padded chin guard with a tiny LED light.
The microsensor measures the force and duration of a hit. A red light means a level of impact that has a 50 per cent or higher probability of concussion.
Because concussion symptoms often develop over several hours, a red light takes out the guesswork about whether to remove a player from the game before another more devastating blow.
Primeau noted the hit on Buffalo's Ryan Miller in Sunday's game against Boston. The Sabres goalie was hit midway through the first period, stayed in the game until early in the third period and was later diagnosed with a concussion.
Chris Circo, president of U.S.-based Battle Sports Science which developed the device, said thousands of football players in the U.S. have started wearing it since it became available for purchase last month. It's only now available for sale for hockey players.
"What we're trying to do in this fight is put a different set of eyes out on the field, out on the ice, wherever you play your game, to help people understand that high level impacts are more likely to cause head trauma," Circo said. "These are lifelong effects from head injuries, they're not a week, they're not two weeks. They can be forever."
Texans wide receiver Derrick Mason wears the device along with several of his Houston teammates, said Circo.
The target users, however, are young athletes who as pro players will be far more reluctant to wear anything that forces them to the sideline, he said.
"Athletes are notorious. . .99 per cent are not going to pull themselves out of game," he said.
Players on the West Mall Lightning, a midget triple-A team in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, are wearing the device.
"When you get hit, if you get hit hard enough, it makes you feel safer because you know if you're hurt or not so you can go get help if you need it, said Ryan Kosmynka, a 15-year-old player on the Lightning. "Normally it's like: do I stay out or do I go see if I'm hurt or not?"
Kosmynka said the device doesn't feel noticeably different. It doesn't affect field of vision.
Numerous speakers took the podium at Monday's event at a Toronto restaurant next door to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Doctors discussed the importance of baseline testing, while former athletes talked about battling concussion symptoms.
Goaltender Paul Rosen, who won gold with Canada's sledge hockey team at the 2006 Turin Paralympics, said dealing with the loss of his leg in 1999 was easy compared to his post-concussion symptoms.
"Losing my leg was an absolute joke in the way I dealt with it compared to what I'm dealing with on a day to day basis," said Rosen, who suffered a concussion after a sled hit him in the head. "Thing was, they told me to suck it up. We have to get out of this mentality, whether kids are 10 years old or playing professional hockey, is get out of that mentality of suck it up.
"One hit to the head is one hit too many."
Primeau and Goulet also announced the introduction of a scholarship fund to help concussed athletes, in memory of Eric Pelly. The Pittsburgh athlete was 18 when he died in 2006 after suffering a concussion in a rugby game.