One of the few positive sides to the lockout is that no one is getting concussed in the NHL right now, unless the discussions in the negotiating room are getting a bit more heated than we are hearing from the media. Over the last two seasons, the hockey world has been overly obsessed with the concussion and recovery of Sidney Crosby. Thanks to the lockout, the hockey world is obsessed with wondering when Crosby will head overseas to play in Europe and where he’ll play when he gets there. Clearly, a vast improvement.
The problem of concussions in hockey hasn’t gone away, however. With that in mind, I was intrigued to see a product aimed at diagnosing concussions on last night’s episode of Dragon’s Den. The Shockbox netted a $350,000 investment from Jim Treliving for 10% of the company.
For those who don’t know, Dragon’s Den is a reality TV show in which entrepreneurs pitch their companies to a panel of wealthy investors, aka. Dragons. I confess, I love the show and the weird and wonderful ideas that people come up with for products and services. The Shockbox falls squarely into the “wonderful” category of ideas and the Dragons appeared to agree, with all of them making an offer.
One of the main problems of concussions is the subjective nature of the injury. The symptoms of a concussion can’t be seen from the outside; they can only be experienced. Diagnosing a concussion, then, depends largely on a player self-reporting symptoms and answering questions honestly, when all they really want is to get back on the ice.
Knowing when to look for those symptoms is also a major issue. A blindside hit to the head that leaves a player lying unconscious on the ice is obvious, but seemingly innocuous collisions can also lead to concussions and those are the ones that can be easily missed. The NHL has concussion protocols mandating that players go to a quiet room to have tests conducted when a concussion is suspected, but those protocols don’t always get followed, even when the potential for a head injury is obvious.
Even further complicating matters is that the symptoms may not show up immediately, with a player risking long-term damage by continuing to play, not knowing the risk.
How the Shockbox purports to help is by taking some of the guesswork out of the diagnosis and providing a little objectivity. The Shockbox is a sensor that is attached to a hockey helmet that simply measures the impact of a collision and transmits the information to an app that can be downloaded onto a smart phone. When a hit enters into the danger zone of a potential concussion, it sends an alert colour-coded yellow for a hit that needs assessment and orange for when it’s definitely time to remove the player from the ice.
In this way, an impact that perhaps isn’t seen by the coaching staff will still register with the sensor and be noticed. Also, instead of simply asking a player if he’s okay on the bench, a trainer can tell a player that he “registered a significant impact” or something and check for symptoms. Having some objective standard in place could convince a player to properly assess himself rather than quickly insisting that he is fine.
The app can track an entire team at once, including how many hits each player receives over time and includes symptoms that can be linked to an individual player. Apparently, four NHL players wore special inside-the-helmet versions of the sensor during the playoffs last season, though they declined to be named.
On the show, CEO Danny Crossman had each of the Dragons drop a helmet equipped with the sensor onto the floor and showed exactly what transmitted to the app. Interestingly, only two of them registered as orange and one yellow, indicating that the impacts on the other two helmets were not significant enough to be a concern.
The real market for the product is, of course, hockey parents worried about their kids. One issue is that the Shockbox is yet another cost in an already expensive sport, costing $150 per unit. Kitting out an entire team with the sensor wouldn’t be cheap, though Crossman indicated that the cost might be offset by potentially having lower insurance rates. I don’t know about that.
Some hockey coaches likely wouldn’t be too keen on some hockey parents having another micromanaging tool in their hands and I can see them dreading parents rushing to the bench, smart phones in hand demanding that their son or daughter be taken off the ice immediately. That said, it makes far too much sense to have a more objective standard of when to conduct concussion protocols.
It’s particularly interesting that Jim Treliving, owner of Boston Pizza and Mr. Lube, among other companies, is the one who made the deal. Treliving is a massive hockey fan, particularly of the Vancouver Canucks. You may recall Boston Pizza renaming themselves Vancouver Pizza in BC during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
This particular episode of Dragon’s Den was filmed back in April, not long after Daniel Sedin suffered a concussion after an elbow to the head from Duncan Keith. Some of the comments Treliving made during the episode indicated that Sedin’s concussion might have been weighing on his mind.
Treliving is the director of the Hockey Canada Foundation, which raises money for minor league hockey. He is also the chairman of Global Entertainment Corporation, which owns the Central Hockey League. He was even rumoured at one point to be buying the Phoenix Coyotes.
All this is to say that Treliving has some major connections in the hockey world and the Shockbox could very quickly find its way into professional hockey, which would significantly increase its profile in youth and amateur hockey. I am all for efforts to reduce concussions in hockey and this seems to be one practical way to do so, by properly identifying them earlier and preventing further head injuries too soon after the original.